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Discovering ‘Columbusing’

According to Know Your Meme, the term “Columbusing” was coined by College Humor in a satirical video in which a white guy explains to his black friend that he’s “discovered” the bar where the black friend has been hanging out. “You can’t discover some place that people have already been to first,” argues the black guy. The white guy persists: “Yes, I can, that’s exactly what Columbus did.” It’s funny—and painful. (You can watch the College Humor video here.)

An ironic follow-up: NPR appears to have Columbused Columbusing. In a more serious take, “Columbusing: The Art of Discovering Something That is Not New,” Brenda Salinas asks when cultural appropriation is—and is not—okay.

She writes:

Buzzfeed Food published an article asking, “Have you heard about the new kind of pie that’s all the rage lately?” It’s a hand pie, a little foldover pie that you can fit in your hand. They have flaky crusts and can be sweet or savory. You know, exactly like an empanada, a Latin American culinary staple.

On face value, it seems stupid to get worked up over an empanada. I mean, it’s just a pastry, right? But “discovering” empanadas on Pinterest and calling them “hand pies” strips empanadas of their cultural context. To all the people who grew up eating empanadas, it can feel like theft.

She suggests people—travelers and otherwise—ask themselves a few questions to be sure they’re not wantonly Columbusing:

Who is providing this good or service for me?
Am I engaging with them in a thoughtful manner?
Am I learning about this culture?
Are people from this culture benefiting from my spending money here?
Are they being hurt by my spending money here?

I’d add “What happened here?” and “Where did this idea originate?”

The cure for “Columbusing”? Curiosity.

World Hum

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