The Other Columbus: Oh great, this guy again

On the impending reinstallation of the once-banished Christopher Columbus statue.
The Christopher Columbus statue in its former location at the Ohio Statehouse, photographed in 2006.
The Christopher Columbus statue in its former location at the Ohio Statehouse, photographed in 2006.Wikimedia Commons

Go back and look at news articles written in the summer of 2020 that featured commentary from people – the mayor, local artists, activists, random citizens – who made a case that the statue should come down.

“For many people in our community, the statue represents patriarchy, oppression and divisiveness," Mayor Andrew Ginther said at the time. “That does not represent our great city, and we will no longer live in the shadow of our ugly past.”

Now, four years later, the city has announced a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation in the amount of $2 million – money that will be used to fund the study of how, when and where to return the Columbus statue to a public place. With millions of dollars committed, people have recently been compelled to engage in a campaign to figure out how that installation should be displayed in a more mindful way, which leaves me both saddened and exhausted.

Outside of a museum, no city that I'm aware of that once flew a Confederate flag in public space has invested in a reassessment that allowed for that flag to be run back up a pole, but with better marketing. Even if I were made aware of such an example, I would counter that the city of Columbus shouldn't strive to emulate that behavior. Erecting the Columbus statue again, at all, isn't right-correcting history. It's having your political cake and eating it, too.

It seems clear to me that because substantial money was given with a directive to better frame the statue's existence, there isn't really any space for meaningful discussion. There's space for saying a discussion was had. But all of the campaigning for this development has felt very much like trying to sell people on a thing that's basically already been determined. The damning history of Christopher Columbus that is constantly being brought up doesn't mean much if not reinstalling the statue isn't an option.

As far as the fact that money was generated to "reimagine" the statue's place in public, there isn't much to add. There was an option here: Don't take the money and keep the statue mothballed or otherwise situated. It's not a Gutenberg Bible. It's a statue of a despicable colonizer whose only connection to the city is that we're named after him. Statues get removed all the time when the moral and political cases for them expire. A lot of people made that case just fine four years ago. It is interesting to see many of those same voices now making a case in the other direction because someone dropped a check on the table.

There certainly aren't any cultural or moral reasons to reconsider the statue. I wouldn't say the politics or optics have shifted so much as atrophied. In light of the severe and numerous retractions over the performative changes enacted and rolled back since 2020, I guess three to four years is the expiration date on Columbus' appetite for social justice.

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