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It's Columbus Day, Let's Argue About Columbus Day

Will you be wishing your co-workers and customers a Happy Columbus Day? Be forewarned: Some of them might want to give you a swift Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria to the gut for doing so.

Columbus Day celebrates explorer Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World, and there are parades and other events throughout North and South America to mark the occasion. Columbus Day has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1937.

In 2012, however, an undetermined percentage of Americans view Columbus Day as all sorts of politically incorrect. In fact, three states -- Hawaii, Alaska, and South Dakota -- do not recognize Columbus Day as a federal holiday, and cities and municipalities across the country are now celebrating "Native American Day" and "Discoverer's Day" and "People's Day" instead.

But maybe you're not up on your Columbus Day trends and make the mistake of saying, "Happy Columbus Day!" to a co-worker who gives you the evil eye and proceeds to sound just like The Huffington Post:

So, while Columbus' legacy has been good for white Europeans and their progeny, it set in motion no end of ethnic cleansing, genocide, dispossession, disease and despair for Native Americans (both in North and South America) that to a great extent prevails to this day, notwithstanding the ubiquity of Indian gambling casinos. It also set the stage for the forceful importation of millions of blacks from Africa, their being dragged into slavery and their legacy of persecution and discrimination that has only been redressed recently.

Oops. You meant it only as a friendly greeting, but now you feel like you've missed the boat somewhere. Suddenly, you're looking for a conversational life raft. What to do in this situation?

The best thing to do is to apologize -- no offense was intended -- and then move on as quickly as possible. Do not start a debate, even if you still feel justified in wishing everyone from co-workers to customers a "Happy Columbus Day." Remember, you're there to get the work done.

If you're a manager, then you might want to be aware of this workplace undercurrent today. It could be there, drifting just underneath the surface, especially if your office is multi-generational. Maybe a management memo is in order, maybe not. That's up to you, and you know your staff better than anyone (I hope). If you hear employees arguing third grade history in the hallway, however, then it might be a good idea.


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