Liberty’s white roots and the racial history of that idea
We Americans value freedom. We point to the birth of our democratic republic — our “shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere,” as Ronald Reagan put it — as the culmination of an age of enlightenment and a global triumph of liberty.
But any honest reflection on American freedom considers that we are also a country born of ruinous colonization and slavery.
America’s founders and leaders have doled out freedom in fits and starts. The enjoyment of liberty has been undependable for many of us, to say the least, and never truly paired with equality.
Professor Tyler Stovall teaches history at Fordham University. His new book is White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea. In it, he defines white freedom as “the belief (and practice) that freedom is central to white racial identity, and that only white people can or should be free.”
White Freedom charts how the heralded Age of Enlightenment that inspired the United States—an age dedicated to the ideals of liberty, progress, scientific inquiry, constitutional government, and separation of church and state-- coincided with the Black slave trade that dug, planted, harvested, and built its foundation.
The implied racism of the subtitle is real and central to the idea of American freedom, one created for white men. We endure that legacy, some more than others, to this day. Stovall’s work considers how we might create and realize actual, universal freedom.