The historian underlines the racial component present in the ideal of emancipation for all – 03/12/2021 – World

A gift from France to the United States in 1886, the Statue of Liberty wore broken chains in its original design. After a trip across America, however, sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi deemed it prudent to remove any striking reference to the theme of slavery from his work.

The statue received a torch and a book of laws. The chains, he hid them under Lady Liberty’s feet and gown. Few people see it.

For American historian Tyler Stovall, the statue is the perfect symbol of “white freedom”. In the recent “White Freedom”, he intends to demonstrate that the ideal of universal emancipation born in the Enlightenment and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence of the United States (1776) and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen ( 1789) is neither empty nor hypocritical, but it has an undeniable racial basis.

Stovall (who is black) did not open up any virgin territory. His book is based on the work of other historians and should be seen as a synthesis “of the possibilities and results of placing race at the center of modern history”. Let’s say it functions as a “travel” companion, in the era of cancellation and racial activism at Big Brother.

Recent studies such as “Racismos”, by Portuguese historian Francisco Bethencourt, highlight traces of racial prejudice in the Middle Ages. Stovall adopts a more pacified chronology, according to which the race only became an essential marker of differences in the Renaissance, with voyages of exploration.

In the 16th century the word was widely used, and by the 18th century it became a refined concept. This is when Stovall begins his tale, continuing the internal connection between freedom and racism to the present day.

It’s no secret that the founding fathers of American democracy, like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, were all slave owners. Stovall highlights some lesser-known names in the pantheon of freedom fighters who were also slaves, racists, colonialists – or all of that together. For example, the philosophers John Locke, David Hume and Immanuel Kant: the former got rich by investing in the slave trade, the others challenged the world to point out “a single example of a black man who demonstrated talent”.

But it would be wrong to suggest that the book’s mission is to uproot the heroes from their pedestals. Its main objective is to reveal the existence of a historical pattern in which the freedom of whites has always been a priority, and that of other peoples, incidental or reportable.

Thus, France enlisted soldiers from its colonies to fight the Nazis, invoking the defense of freedom, but it prevented a black battalion from being the first to enter unoccupied Paris and, in the post-war period , disappointed the hope of the colonies to be rewarded. greater autonomy. Likewise, the United States reversed its policy of pro-decolonization in Asia during the Cold War and supported French military operations in Indochina to stop the advance of communism.

A book like “White Liberty” tends to attract applause from identity activists and contempt from conservatives. There is also the educated boredom: basically, it brings nothing new, and it is high time to face the perverse contradictions of history without fanny.

I think there is space for “White Freedom” on the useful works shelf. With his thoughtful but never indifferent tone, he demonstrates once again that, if modernity is “an unfinished project”, as the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas put it, fulfilling the promise of racial equality is the greatest task in Europe. suspense.

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