Columbus in Red
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
This year on Sunday evening before Indigenous People’s day the Christopher Columbus statue perched on the hill beside Coit Tower was doused in red paint and the words: “Destroy all monuments of genocide and kill all colonizers" were sprayed on the stone ring around it.
By the time I arrived to see the protest statement for myself, city workers had taken a power washer to the statue and blown most of the paint away. Yet, even after their efforts, red paint remained on the shoulders of the statue and flecks of red were sprayed everywhere in the vicinity of the statue.
For me the incomplete cleanup amplified the protest message rather than erased it as intended. Traces of the Columbus myth as discoverer, and colonialism’s devastating impact on the original inhabitants of the Americas, linger everywhere in the United States, culturally, economically, and socially.
Coverage in the local press was as ambiguous and dichotomous as opinions about the statue. It appeared reporters weren’t sure who they were writing for, those who still believe the myth, or those who have spent a short time digging into history. So every article included some mention of how Columbus has become a divisive figure in recent years and a short gesture at why, as well as a comment on the vandalism of public property.
The knee-jerk “graffiti of public places is bad” reaction was common, including in a statement by the local district representative on such. Since I tend more toward the view that graffiti is a form of resistance, and immediate commentary on who we are ignoring in our society, this outrage rang hollow. Whenever I hear it, I look to see who benefits from erasing the social commentary.
Without fail, I find the answer to be: those in power.
It is uncomfortable work critically examining and dissembling the stories we build our beliefs on. But historians have done the work on Columbus, and on the myth most Americans were taught in schools. We know it is so deeply wrong that it truly can not be viewed as anything but propaganda used to prop up the inequities and immoral perspectives of white supremacy in this country. New curriculum examining the history of what really happened when Columbus landed on the island that is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic is finally beginning to be adopted in some locations. It will be a good day when the myth is fully dismantled and we understand the scope of it's damage.
While I was disappointed I was too late to capture the action as performed, I am thrilled it occurred and hope it spurred visitors to look a little bit deeper into why the artists might have taken it.
June 18, 2020 Update:
In the wake of George Floyd's murder and the large scale protests that have followed, statues memorializing the white supremacist history of the United States have become targets. Today the San Francisco Arts Commission ordered the statue I wrote about above removed.
Nonviolence Methods employed:
 No. 26: Paint as Protest