Recently, on NPR, I heard an amazing interview with Tyler Stovall, the author of White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea. This title is definitely at the top of my ever-lengthening To-Be-Read List. It sounds like a very eye-opening book.
Just the interview opened my eyes on one topic: The Statue of Liberty. I’m paraphrasing here, because I was driving as I listened, and was unable to take notes. But it stuck with me because it’s a perspective I’ve never heard before.
I have always loved the Statue of Liberty. All my immigrant grandparents came here through New York City, and I think that imagining their excitement as they saw that statue welcoming them to their new home is what fueled my desire to travel at an early age. I really felt proud that this statue was given to us by France, and that it was a symbol of our celebration of immigration and freedom.
After all, Emma Lazarus’ poem, engraved at the statue’s base, includes the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
God bless America, right?
Stovall points out that this statue was placed in New York Harbor for a very good reason. That was the hub of White, European immigration. You see no such statue at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. That’s where the majority of Asian immigrants first landed (when they were allowed to come, that is). You see no such statue on the Mexican Border, where most Latinx people enter this country.
We are all about giving us your tired and your poor, as long as they look White. We’re all about your huddled masses, as long as they’re Christian. We refuse that wretched refuse if it doesn’t pass muster in terms of eye slant or hair texture.
Another thing Stovall pointed out is that that statue is in New York City, which was a major slave hub. According to this article, NYC received its first slaves in the 1600’s. It had an official slave market starting in 1711. By 1730, 42 percent of the residents owned slaves. That’s a higher percentage than any other place in America except Charleston, SC.
New York continued to dominate the slave trade even decades after the abolition of slavery. So it’s rather ironic that there’s this huge Statue of Liberty placed there, of all places, and the only thing that seems to remind us of the heinous slave trade in the area is a little plaque that was placed at the site of the Slave Market, and that only went up in 2015.
Perspective. And more evidence of the need for Critical Race Theory. Just sayin’.
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2 thoughts on “A Fresh Perspective on the Statue of Liberty”
Her origin story and history is fascinating. More complex than average Americans would expect. Surprised that the cornerstone is a freemason plaque. Looked up their connection and learned a slightly different perspective… https://scottishritenmj.org/blog/freemasonry-statue-liberty And then I came across another perspective on her meaning… https://medium.com/the-collector/the-statue-of-liberty-is-the-embodiment-of-juneteenth-c3014b00d236 Native Americans must see the white mans path for liberty, in this country, as the destruction of theirs. I can’t imagine they feel much pride over Lady Liberty as they struggle to breathe free on their own land. I’ve never been able to say the pledge of allegiance without choking on the words, ” with liberty and justice for all,” so I refuse to say it until it’s a reality. While we may have fallen short of the ideal of inclusive liberty, the designers did choose a woman to represent it. That’s a start. We need a series of new statues that embody the true diversity and struggles of this countries’ many paths, to liberty, as we continue to stumble along them.
That’s an excellent idea. And they should be all over the country, too.