National Column: Making mountains of pedestals

by Rosie DiManno

While I clearly remember learning in grade school about John Cabot’s discovery of what is now Canada – the navigator and explorer, commissioned by King Henry VII, probed Newfoundland and sailed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1497 – I don’t recall any teacher explaining his name was actually Giovanni Caboto.

This could be condemned as a very early appropriation of an Italian accomplishment by Anglo Saxon culture.

So it should be the Giovanni Caboto Trail, no? And Giovanni Caboto Tower in Bristol. And Giovanni Caboto Catholic School in Mississauga.

If I were that sort of anachronous jackass, wailing and bemoaning over the injustices done to my peeps, from centuries ago to current ethnically insensitive textbooks. If I had endless whinges to pick. If I demanded an apology for Italians interned in Canada during World War II as enemy aliens.

If I didn’t loathe identity politics, which is all snail snot to me.

In fact, the adventuring Norse wayfarers – led by Leif Erikson – actually got here first. Which could have given us the Maple Leif as a national emblem.

Meanwhile, Spain claimed Christopher Columbus, nÈe Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa, who never actually stepped foot on mainland North America, accidentally discovering the Bahamas when he was looking for Japan.

Some Americans would prefer to give him back, belatedly quickening to Columbus as a tyrant who mistreated and enslaved the native Caribbean population. It doesn’t require much digging to discover that the discoverer was a most unpleasant human being who spearheaded the transatlantic slave trade.

The sins of half a millennia ago – a time of Empire and expansion triggered, mostly, by avaricious thirst for trade – can’t be judged retroactively. Our predecessors couldn’t have seen how the world would shift within a century-and-a-half. Just as we, if erecting memorials to contemporary icons, have no idea whether they will still be considered admirable and virtuous a century from now.

And, honestly, I don’t much care. Most people, I’m quite certain, don’t much care, not even about the symbolism inherent in monuments erected to extol Confederate leaders such as Gen. Robert E. Lee, head of a defeated army that rained havoc and ruin on a nation divided. Americans killing Americans, the deepest crevice in this country’s history.

Charles Barkley, albeit occasionally a tool, said of the movement to topple Confederate statuary – an issue that has stirred deplorable pushback by violent neo-Nazis, the radical right and creepy white supremacists: “I’m not going to waste my time worrying about these Confederate statues. I’m 54 years old. I’ve never thought about those statues a day in my life. I think if you ask most Black people to be honest, they ain’t thought a day in their life about those stupid statues . . . I’m not gonna waste my time screaming at a neo-Nazi who’s gonna hate me no matter what.”

I am not underestimating anybody’s hurt. I am certainly not excusing the obscene moral relativism ascribed by the American president to “both sides” in the Charlottesville horrors.

But we are careering out of control, maddened in our grievances, insistent that the whole wide world be coerced into our views – and by “our” I mean the liberal, progressive view which I genuinely do share.

Just stop shouting, Jesus H. Christ. Stop assuming the moral superiority on everything. Stop making mountains out of pedestals.

A year ago, it was transgender rights and washrooms. (For the record, in this corner’s opinion, transgenders should use whichever bog suits their gender identity.) Then we were into pronouns warfare. Now it’s monuments and building names, striking out even a Father of Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald, from the names of public schools if the pinheads at the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario get their way.

South of the border – but also across Canada, in smaller controversies – sports teams using Indigenous symbols and tribal names has been a long-festering quarrel. Settled – although doubtlessly not permanently – by a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in June that, of all things, sided with an Asian-American rock band called The Slants. The band’s founder tried to trademark the name six years ago but was turned down by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the grounds that it disparaged Asians.

Maybe so, the Supremes concluded. But, in a word, tough. Censorship would be worse.

Writing the opinion for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said: “It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

Which took the wind out of the sails of Indigenous activists fighting to get “Redskins” dropped by the Washington NFL franchise, along with “Indians” and “Braves” and other references. This after a poll commissioned by the Washington Post found that nine out of 10 Native Americans weren’t offended by Redskins.

But it’s the tail, too often, that wags the dog.

In the Big Apple, the ideological skirmish of the moment relates to Columbus and a narrow – if loud – crusade to have the historical figure’s statuary removed, particularly from iconic Columbus Circle, where the depiction stands 76-foot high.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a quite tiresome pol, drew a storm of controversy for wading straight into the fray, recently musing aloud (and via tweet) that he might order removal of the landmark statue, erected in 1892 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the explorer’s landing in “the Americas.”

With Italian-American New Yorkers in full-throated outrage, Blasio fell back on that old political wedge, declaring he would establish a panel of some sort to review all “offensive monuments,” perhaps opting for “explanation plaques” rather than toppling.

I’m offended by any such panel. (Just as I was offended, some years ago, by the Italian-American organizations that ripped hit TV show The Sopranos for perpetuating stereotypes of Italians as mobsters. You know why it’s a stereotype? Because it’s true. The Mafia is an indisputable criminal organization of vast power and wealth.)

Over the weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo – bitter opponent of de Blasio – had this to say about the Columbus squabble: “The statue is really not about Columbus, it’s about the Italian-American heritage and I think that that deserves to be celebrated. Again, I’m a little biased for obvious reasons but I believe the Italian-American heritage should be celebrated.”

It. Is. Not. About the Italian-American experience, I mean.

It’s about Columbus, stupid.

Just say so and tell the yowlers to stuff it: Baciami il culo.

In Minnesota, a petition has been making the rounds, demanding for the banishment of a Columbus statue.

To be replaced by a statue of Prince.

I love Prince. But baciami il culo.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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