The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Cultural Colonialism

| Monday, October 14, 2019

For many, Columbus Day is a 19th century holiday in a 21st century world. It is not a harmless celebration of the old world meeting the new. It is the glorification of colonialism, a catch-all term for the social maladies that no longer plague a diverse and progressive society: paternalism, exploitation, coercive conversion. Yet it is exactly the denouncers of this holiday who enforce the subtle but pervasive colonialism that defines the cultural moment.

This is the age of cultural colonization of Trump voters, with elitists as its conquistadores. To be clear, this declaration of new age colonialism has nothing to do with Trump himself, whose poor policy decisions, unbecoming character and lack of dignity for himself or his office have defamed American democracy. It also has nothing to do with college educated, white collar Trump voters, whose motives and place in society are an entirely different beast. And, before being labelled racist or insensitive, I am referring to cultural colonialism, which lacks the harsher physical abuse and enslavement that, at times, marked the colonization of the New World. Rather, I am describing the cultural conquest of a Middle America subjugated by coastal elites.   

Before denying the allegation, ask yourself honestly who the most overtly reviled group in America is. Certainly a number of minorities pop into one’s head as possible answers, but none of them in popular culture would be described, without backlash and rebuke, as backwards, provincial, even savagely simple-minded. At this point — especially if, like me, you are from a city or the prosperous suburbs thereof  — you might retort “But they are all those things!” I’d imagine that is what many of Columbus and Pizarro’s friends thought too. How quickly we condemn what we cannot understand. 

 There is no room to consider why it is they feel differently about certain issues, and suggesting some of their concerns might be valid is blasphemous. No attempt is made to understand, only attempts to find platforms to vent frustration that they will not change or that they have a voice at all: If only we could show them why they are wrong about trade, the environment, political correctness, the Confederate flag, the role of government, gay marriage … If only Trump voters were better educated on the issues … Not everyone in this country should be able to vote. It appears paternalism has sunk itself deep into an ideology built on despising it. And if blue collar Trump voters are not hated, then they are pitied. Their small town, community-oriented life is a dreary existence compared to our sacred, godless cities. If only we could save them from themselves.

Like Spaniards forcing Indians to convert to a new God, like explorers mocking traditional headdress, the coercive conversion of rural Trump voters is as palpable as it is sanctimonious. Every year there are more offenses added to the list of prohibited words, more atrocities we label the modern white man responsible for, more guilt we demand they feel about who they are, how they think and the way they live. The drivers of culture are pushing the speed limits and getting angry at passengers experiencing whiplash. All the while, the job security of trade barriers gives way to the efficiency of globalism. What a shame they put so much faith in an economic system that has no remorse sacrificing pawns. Granted, it is not quite exploitation because it is voluntary. They wanted that system, they were proud to finish the day with dirty hands. And for that, they are shown no mercy when they vote for a man who, for once, pretends to empathize. 

Still, it is almost understandable that many have such have trouble looking past opinions of Trump country that seem hostile towards their own. Yet ironically, those same people are all too willing to ignore the brutal cruelties and murderous habits of certain Indian tribes, opting instead to whitewash them in order to unilaterally sanctify them. 

Put aside Columbus’s legacy, a poorly informed yet often debated topic around this time of year. Put aside the fact that, for hundreds of years, this day has been a celebratory moment for Catholics under persecution in America. Let us, as many liberals do, ignore the nuances of the holiday and simply brand it a celebration of colonialism. I can envision a world, not too different from our own, where liberals are the defenders of such a holiday, precisely because it represents colonialism, an idea that in name they renounce, but in practice they worship. Perhaps Columbus Day can yet serve a new purpose, to remind us of a lesson that should have been learned long ago about those foreign to us, whose lifestyles and culture might offend our own: we have just as much to learn from them as they do from us.

Sophia Sheehy is a junior from Cavanaugh. She is the co-President of BridgeND, a club aimed at bridging the political divide in this country. If you agreed with the article, please come join the discussion. If you thought the author was brilliantly spot on and clever, please come to Cavanaugh.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Mondays at 5 p.m. in the McNeill Room of LaFortune Student Center to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Tags: , , ,

About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

Contact Bridge