The problem began with one word: “America.”
That word, honoring Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, was coined in Europe in 1507, when it was used on a map of the New World. But back then, the only Americans were indigenous. It was our world, but it wasn’t our word.
By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, white people were simply referred to as “the Americans.” My ancestors were called American Indians. It’s a label twisted by accidents of history: The Italian explorer who gets his name on two continents and another Italian, Christopher Columbus, who dubbed indigenous people “Indians,” presumably because he thought he was in the East Indies.
American Indian: Two labels we didn’t choose. We might