Discovering ‘Columbusing’

Travel Blog  •  Pam Mandel  •  07.11.14 | 10:41 AM ET

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.

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in a variety of print, radio, and web publications and she's contributed to two guidebooks, one on British Columbia and one on Hawaii. She plays the ukulele, has an internal beacon that is surprisingly capable of locating the best baked goods in town, almost any town, and speaks German with a Styrian accent. Learn more on her personal blog at Nerd's Eye View.

3 Comments for Discovering ‘Columbusing’

TomR 07.20.14 | 11:44 AM ET

Columbusing isn’t just “discovering” things already there, but caucasians also remaking or “inventing” things other people already did and then claiming independent creations.

pam 07.20.14 | 1:16 PM ET

Yeah, I’d say that’s a bit more colonizing than discovering—that reinterpretation of culture—but I don’t disagree at all. There are lots of ways to appropriate culture naively.

Henri 07.26.14 | 9:34 AM ET

Sometimes you do have to pause and breathe deeply when you hear what travellers have “discovered”

On this bogus travel blog only nonsensical and lame travel articles are published - and the revelations in some of the post beggar belief.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.