As an African American, I am familiar with the sting of feeling slighted.
So I can appreciate the pride Italian Americans take in their culture: Great food, music, art, and architecture are just a few of the things in which all Italian Americans can be justifiably proud.
But the lawsuit filed on behalf of Italian Americans over Mayor Jim Kenney’s decision to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day is ill-advised. It lumps in complaints about the removal of the statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo and a zip code not being included in the COVID-19 priority list. It also accuses the mayor of being prejudiced against Italian Americans.
I understand that some people don’t appreciate how the Rizzo statue was removed from the steps of the Municipal Services Building and that the one of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Plaza may face a similar fate. They liked having their cultural icons front and center. The old way of doing things may have made them feel good but doesn’t allow for the humanity of others.
Frivolous lawsuits tie up courts that are already backed up due to pandemic-related shutdowns. Councilmember Mark Squilla’s participation in this waste of city resources constitutes a dereliction of duty. Call him at 215-686-3458 and tell him to stop wasting your tax dollars on this.
Cities nationwide have taken giant steps toward embracing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which is admirable. We shouldn’t go back to the days when we blindly celebrated the so-called discovery of a continent that already had inhabitants living there for more than 20,000 years.
It’s not about rewriting history. It’s about telling the whole story. That’s not being woke. It’s being factually correct.
As the saying goes, “When you know better you do better.” Which is why I was pleased when Mayor Kenney signed an executive order in January renaming Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples’ Day. He also made Juneteenth an official city holiday. It was a small but symbolic step toward righting past historical wrongs.
The pushback against his decision reminds me of what’s going on in Georgia with the recent passage of restrictive voting laws. Instead of celebrating the history that state made with the election of Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, conservative Republicans have taken the Peach State backward. It cost them Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, too, and hopefully more corporate boycotts will follow.
Closer to home, the lawsuit claims that proper procedures weren’t followed regarding the new holiday designation or in the removal of the Rizzo statue. It also points out that the city could have created a separate Indigenous Peoples’ Day or added a recognition of it to the Columbus Day commemoration. By replacing Columbus Day, Kenney effectively chose one ethnicity over another and doing so was “divisive,” the suit alleges.
The lawsuit argues that Italian immigrants and their descendants faced discrimination in this country, too. For many, Columbus was their guy. The lawsuit says the Columbus Day designation was in recognition of that and shares some ugly claims about indigenous people.
The lawyers will duke it out.
Meanwhile, Philadelphians are a diverse bunch and people have to coexist.
I hope that when it’s all over, the city will continue on the path it’s on, that Columbus Day will no longer be an official holiday and that on the second Monday of October Indigenous Peoples’ Day will be observed in Philadelphia.
People will adjust just as we did after recognizing how miseducated we were. Most of us now understand that Columbus landed in the Bahamas back in 1492 and that indigenous people lived in the Americas long before Europeans even knew this continent existed. He wasn’t the first white man here, either. The Vikings landed in Canada about 500 years before Columbus made his first transatlantic voyage.
Going back to Philly’s old way of doing things would only aid and abet a lie.