To celebrate Black History Month 2018, (1/10/2018-31/10/2018) Urban Radar will be publishing a series of articles dedicated to a diverse range of black artists and their contributions to music, society and black culture. The following article concerns Atlanta-based rapper B Green and his latest track ‘Christopher Columbus’, dedicated to dismantling the colonist fiction that continues to surround the figure.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the presidential bill in 1937 that made Columbus Day a US federal holiday, the world was a very different place. Europe was yet to face the ravages of a second world war; people were still washing their clothes by hand and Christopher Columbus was still largely considered a national hero. Columbus Day was supposed to be a uncontroversial tribute to the founder of the New World; a celebration that was, in theory, on the same level of national importance as the 4 th July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
As is often the case with the shitty decisions of White America, there was considerable opposition from indigenous and African-American populations, who identified Columbus not as a founder, but as a monster. They highlighted instead his barbaric treatment of Native Americans, the fact that he introduced the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and his general propensity for rape, pillage and murder. Whilst those with European ancestry have Columbus to thank for their later supremacy, Native Americans and African-Americans have him to blame, in part, for their centuries of subjugation and discrimination.
Of course, this was 1937, and the voices of anyone besides white, anglo-saxon protestants were treated with all the respect that one might afford a mosquito (and if we are honest, maybe less). It was not until the turn of the twenty-first century, and only after white historians began to corroborate what other populations had been saying for decades, that opposition to Columbus Day entered the mainstream.
Today it is one of the most contested holidays in the calendar. A poll conducted in 2015 found 38% of American adults were not in favour of celebrating Columbus Day and several states and cities have opted not to observe it at all.
B Green belongs firmly in this 38%.
In his latest track—fittingly named ‘Christopher Columbus’— he assumes the persona of a character who claims that he “ain’t Christopher Columbus” but nevertheless goes on to display very Columbus-esque behaviour. Green’s character is a villain, who plows through your town with his crew, lying about his intentions and generally fucking shit up (and not in a good way). He’s a “monster when it comes to make dollar” and, very much like the real Columbus, he’s not afraid to make a few natives (or indeed, the whole population) slaves in pursuit of this goal.
Equating Columbus’s actions to that of a gangster criminal, B Green calls out the hypocrisy in the way that many Americans praise Columbus for behaviour that they would condemn in others. Imagine, B Green implores the listener, if we were to celebrate a modern-day gang for seizing control of an entire neighbourhood of Detroit. Because the difference between that and the actions of Columbus in the New World is not so vast.
Whilst Atlanta-based Green notes that this song was “inspired by every nation that has ever been colonized and every hero whose statue was unjustly erected on the right side of history”, he somehow manages to avoid crossing the line from ‘principled’ to ‘heavy.’ His criticism of colonialism is played out over a bass-heavy, electro-trap beat, making this very much a song for the club as well as for moments of sober reflection on the nation’s bloodied past. It is hard not to draw comparisons to fellow Atlantan rappers Outkast, the pioneers of this breed of intellectual hip-hop that you can also dance to.
Achieving this balance was important to Green. ‘Christopher Columbus’ is supposed to have a mass-appeal, born out of his desire to produce a song that was both catchy whilst still staying true to his cause. This widens up the audience, and Green wants to ensure that “old or young, white or black, everybody should be able to attach to some part of this song.'” Perhaps if more of the songs played in clubs also contained messages of substance—or indeed if more songs with political statements employed a funky beat— the world would be a better place.
Petition to make ”Christopher Columbus’ the official theme song of Columbus Day?
If you want to join us in cranking up B Green’s latest track in staunch defiance of Columbus Day this Monday, follow the links below.
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/bgreengogreen/christopher-colombus-1/s-Fc57k (explicit)