NEW YORK - Days of protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police have led to what some consider a long overdue reckoning in this country on race and privilege.
Much like after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virgina, in 2017, there is once again a renewed call to remove statues of confederate generals.
For some, that extends to other controversial figures, including Christopher Columbus. While he has long been honored for his world-changing exploratory trips to this continent, more modern thinking has sought to draw attention to the genocide European settlers carried out, which killed off much of the indigenous population.
But on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended Columbus as someone who represents Italian-American pride, and said the famed statue of the explorer atop Columbus Circle should remain.
"The Christopher Columbus statue represents in some ways the Italian-American legacy in this country and the Italian-American contribution in this country,” Cuomo said. "I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support. But the statue was, has, come to represent and signify an appreciation to the Italian-American contribution to New York, and for that reason I support it."
But critics argue Columbus is certainly on par with any confederate general when it comes to intimidating people and representing white supremacy.
“Not only is it offensive, but it was basis of racism in this country,” said Betty Lyons, the president and executive director of the American Indian Law Alliance. "It is definitely in line with the Confederate flag.”
A bill in Albany would rename the Columbus Day holiday in New York after indigenous people. Critics say Cuomo needs to be more in tune with how people are feeling right now following days of protest.
“I appreciate his great words of wisdom during this COVID-19 crisis,” Lyons said. "However, he can’t have a blind spot when it comes to indigenous people just because he is an Italian-American.”
Cuomo has defended images of Columbus before. But, with a frank discussion taking place in New York and all across the nation about race, and what imagery is appropriate, critics say it might be time for him to rethink his stance.