Age of Exploration or Exploitation?

December 20, 2017
By Anonymous

A student sits in class learning about Christopher Columbus, watching the clock stand still, wishing to get home to the sweet smell of steak cooking and her Mom, who promised to take her shopping after school. No need to pay attention in class, everyone knows in 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue; he’s America’s brave, selfless hero. As a white child living in West County Saint Louis, today is nothing special. However, to Native American child living on a reservation experiences like this--coming home from a school to the pleasure of having a father buy the family a delicious ingredients for an even better meal and a mother spending money just to spend time with her child--might seem anything but ordinary. This is not because Native Americans do not try to be successful or because they all decide to live together and away from society or because their percentage of alcoholics is higher than most cultures. No, the reason is because these white children’s “brave and selfless hero” destroyed the deprived people’s culture that was once flourishing, strong and beautiful. It might be easy for lesser educated white people, living their “first world” lives to declare, yes the age of exploration was absolutely worth whatever it took to get here. But, just one look at any Native Americans life living on a reservation and it is clear how not worth ‘it’ the Age of Exploration really was.


After taking mindlessly notes on every textbook, history class lecture, and school projects most students come to know the real story about these historical childhood heros. Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, and of course Christopher Columbus were in fact not victorious, but villainous. The truth about these so called titans of exploration is that all three of these men wiped out entire civilizations, shattered cultures, persecuted and murdered thousands of people. The Aztecs, Incas, and hundreds of Native American tribes were slaughtered for the small benefit of gold, territory, and pride. The Spanish government was not supportive in Cortes’ exploration, much less the conquering of an emperor. Cortes even went so far as to burn his soldiers ships, so they were forced into staying and killing the Aztecs in order for him to allow them to go home. In a similar matter, Pizarro deceived the Incas by befriending them to gain their trust and resources, then soon after he overthrew their empire, killed them, and conquered their land. Columbus not only tortured and killed thousands of Native Americans, but he stole essentially everything from them. He stripped them of their pride, riches, and culture and whipped them like animals for their failure to provide gold. They lost all their sense of humanity, killing off an entire civilization one by one, Columbus destroyed an entire culture. One of the Native American tribes Columbus “found” was the Arawaks, a large community of people that lived on the island of present day Haiti. According to Howard Zinn before Columbus and his men came, this culture flourished with 250,000 people, in less than 50 years there were 500 people due to the torture and mass murdering by Columbus. It was even found in “a report of the year 1650 showing none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island” (Zinn 5). Explorers like Columbus, Cortes, and Pizarro demolished entire civilizations for gold, glory, and God. Out of the three of these men only one was actually directed to take action in the way they all did; therefore, most of these doings were simply for self fulfillment. Putting tribes, cultures, and communities into extinction for egocentric desires cannot be worth it in the eyes of people in the present day world.


Even if people say all of the disrespect, selfishness, and murder was in the past and things are better and different now, these atrocious choices cannot be overlooked. Most Americans to this day still refer to Native Americans as Indians, simply because Columbus wasn’t educated well enough to know where he was in the world causing him to mistake America for India. The only reason the Native Americans were later discovered as Native Americans was because Amerigo Vespucci’s studies showed that Columbus was in fact not anywhere close to India, naming this newfoundland America and “Indians” Native Americans. Not only are the Native Americans not highly respected by the vast majority of Americans, but they feel second class to caucasian people, as if they have to be white in order to be successful. Throughout The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian an accurate description of a Native American child's life living on a reservation is shown. The Native American’s feelings of being second tier also shine through when Junior says, “I knew that two or three of those Indians might not have eaten breakfast that morning. No food in the house. I knew that seven or eight of those Indians lived with drunken mothers and fathers. I knew that one of those Indians had a father who dealt crack and meth. I knew two of those Indians had fathers in prison. I knew that none of them was going to college. Not one of them” (Alexie 195). They are constantly stuck in this endless cycle of an unsuccessful and disconsolate life because they are seen as less than when compared to white people. Many Native Americans that strive to be successful first feel as if they have “white wash” themselves in order to be given the same chances and opportunities as everyone else. More and more people are starting to believe that “when it is finally all written, all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghost” (How To Write The Great American Indian Novel Alexie). This exemplifies that to have a “happy” and “successful” America all of the Native Americans will throw out their culture and impersonate a white life in order to have a what they long for. This differs quite drastically from the “melting pot” America that thousands of people brag about, so was it really worth the Age of Exploration to have a hypocritical country, saying they’re democratic and equal?


Although the Age of Exploration was not worth the way the explorers got there, this movement towards modernity led the world to reap several advantages that people now see as necessities. Without the voyages and explorations from this time the Waldseemuller map that laid a base for travel, knowledge, and exploration for generations to come, may have never been created. The first semi-accurate map of the world was a huge step for the advancement of mankind, but the same discoveries could have been made without destroying cultures and killing thousands of people. Another reason some might say the age of exploration is worth it is because the added trade routes around the world led to increased economic prosperity. The triangular trade connected Europe, America, and Africa for the first time, this not only started a world economy but led to worldly relations as well. Although this is of utter importance, this action, once again, could have happened without years of persecution of Native people and mass murderings. Therefore the map itself or worldwide connections cannot justify these explorers cruel and selfish actions, making the age of exploration clearly not worth it.


Lastly, how Native Americans are treated in the present day directly reflects on future generations. The football team The Redskins’ name is proven in several ways that it is offensive to the majority of Native Americans, yet the owners, coach, and fans refuse to change the name promising that it’s not offensive. It’s not just a coincidence that out of these people claiming that the name is not offensive there is practically no Native Americans. If children grow up around white people telling Native Americans that they cannot be offended by a racial slur with years of discrimination and persecution behind it, how will that kid grow up to think and act? This similar manner of older generations infecting the young with toxic prejudices is presented time and time again in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. When Junior starts to get closer with Penelope her father explained to Junior that, “if [he] got [his] daughter pregnant, if [he] makes some charcoal babies, [he would] disown her” (109). Penelope’s father openly shows that he would disown his child not because she got pregnant, but because it would have been with a Native American boy. The act of disowning his own daughter, his own blood, because of racism exemplifies how Penelope’s father hopes to influence his daughter’s choices and opinions on Native Americans. This vulgar cycle is poisoning children’s minds, causing future generations to continue to treat Native Americans as a lower class. This way of thinking started with Columbus, and the age of exploration, bringing even more of a reason why the Age of Exploration is not worth years of racism past through generations.


People claim that demolishing thousands of lives and cultures during the Age of Exploration is worth the gold and land Europeans and Americans received, but this new wealth found from gold and precious metals actually led to poverty as investors and businessmen started to take advantage of their new found wealth. This discovery of the New World as well as its exploration pulled Europe from sagging in its economy and its political power. The Age of Exploration restored the self-confidence of Europe more than it helped people around the world. The Age of Exploration could have still transpired without all of the deadly and destructive ways that came with it. The destroying of cultures and disrespect for generations to come is not the worth the land and wealth, that could have been found another way, the Europeans later came to lose.

The author's comments:

My english and history teacher greatly inspired this essay!


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