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The racist legacy behind the Western idea of freedom The era of the Enlightenment, which gave rise to our modern conceptions of freedom and democracy, was also the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. America, a nation founded on the principle of liberty, is also a nation built on African slavery, Native American genocide, and systematic racial discrimination. White Fr The racist legacy behind the Western idea of freedom The era of the Enlightenment, which gave rise to our modern conceptions of freedom and democracy, was also the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. America, a nation founded on the principle of liberty, is also a nation built on African slavery, Native American genocide, and systematic racial discrimination. White Freedom traces the complex relationship between freedom and race from the eighteenth century to today, revealing how being free has meant being white. Tyler Stovall explores the intertwined histories of racism and freedom in France and the United States, the two leading nations that have claimed liberty as the heart of their national identities. He explores how French and American thinkers defined freedom in racial terms and conceived of liberty as an aspect and privilege of whiteness. He discusses how the Statue of Liberty--a gift from France to the United States and perhaps the most famous symbol of freedom on Earth--promised both freedom and whiteness to European immigrants. Taking readers from the Age of Revolution to today, Stovall challenges the notion that racism is somehow a paradox or contradiction within the democratic tradition, demonstrating how white identity is intrinsic to Western ideas about liberty. Throughout the history of modern Western liberal democracy, freedom has long been white freedom. A major work of scholarship that is certain to draw a wide readership and transform contemporary debates, White Freedom provides vital new perspectives on the inherent racism behind our most cherished beliefs about freedom, liberty, and human rights.


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The racist legacy behind the Western idea of freedom The era of the Enlightenment, which gave rise to our modern conceptions of freedom and democracy, was also the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. America, a nation founded on the principle of liberty, is also a nation built on African slavery, Native American genocide, and systematic racial discrimination. White Fr The racist legacy behind the Western idea of freedom The era of the Enlightenment, which gave rise to our modern conceptions of freedom and democracy, was also the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. America, a nation founded on the principle of liberty, is also a nation built on African slavery, Native American genocide, and systematic racial discrimination. White Freedom traces the complex relationship between freedom and race from the eighteenth century to today, revealing how being free has meant being white. Tyler Stovall explores the intertwined histories of racism and freedom in France and the United States, the two leading nations that have claimed liberty as the heart of their national identities. He explores how French and American thinkers defined freedom in racial terms and conceived of liberty as an aspect and privilege of whiteness. He discusses how the Statue of Liberty--a gift from France to the United States and perhaps the most famous symbol of freedom on Earth--promised both freedom and whiteness to European immigrants. Taking readers from the Age of Revolution to today, Stovall challenges the notion that racism is somehow a paradox or contradiction within the democratic tradition, demonstrating how white identity is intrinsic to Western ideas about liberty. Throughout the history of modern Western liberal democracy, freedom has long been white freedom. A major work of scholarship that is certain to draw a wide readership and transform contemporary debates, White Freedom provides vital new perspectives on the inherent racism behind our most cherished beliefs about freedom, liberty, and human rights.

30 review for White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea

  1. 5 out of 5

    Karen Adkins

    Stovall's history covers a lot of ground chronologically (late 18th century to the present), while simultaneously focusing tightly on a single concept--how liberty is defined in racial terms (as a quality reserved for white people, based on their presumed underlying rationality and discipline, and in opposition to BIPOC folks). He's a historian by training, but has written this in a way that will engage folks who are interested in thinking more deeply about the history of racism. I was particula Stovall's history covers a lot of ground chronologically (late 18th century to the present), while simultaneously focusing tightly on a single concept--how liberty is defined in racial terms (as a quality reserved for white people, based on their presumed underlying rationality and discipline, and in opposition to BIPOC folks). He's a historian by training, but has written this in a way that will engage folks who are interested in thinking more deeply about the history of racism. I was particularly engaged with his early chapters, where he points out that alternative models of liberty existed during the social contract era when political liberty was conceptualized as a white concept. Piracy and childhood are his examples, and he makes the case well (I actually wanted these chapters to go a bit more in depth into some of the primary literature in all three cases, but I think that is more because of my own academic interests than his failing to make the case). I particularly valued the conclusion of the book, where he makes the case that a racialized past for liberty doesn't condemn it for the future. It's a cautiously optimistic conclusion, which essentially argues for us to learn the lessons from our past. Would that we might start.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    Convincingly demonstrates how conceptions of freedom and liberty are historically and intrinsically shaped by white identity and this remains true today. While the book focuses mostly on US and French history, it has a global perspective that I appreciated and learned a lot from. The beginning is especially interesting as Stovall connects seemingly disconnected cultural artifacts such as Peter Pan, the Statue of Liberty, and Pirates of the Caribbean in order to illustrate white freedom as a very Convincingly demonstrates how conceptions of freedom and liberty are historically and intrinsically shaped by white identity and this remains true today. While the book focuses mostly on US and French history, it has a global perspective that I appreciated and learned a lot from. The beginning is especially interesting as Stovall connects seemingly disconnected cultural artifacts such as Peter Pan, the Statue of Liberty, and Pirates of the Caribbean in order to illustrate white freedom as a very particular and carefully crafted construction of freedom and liberty. "The paradox between liberty and racism was no paradox at all; instead, racial distinctions played a key role in the rise of modern ideas of freedom and cannot be separated from those ideas."

  3. 4 out of 5

    David Anderson

    "Stovall, focusing on France and the United States, argues that 'two seemingly opposite philosophies, liberty and racism, are in significant ways not opposites at all' (x). They are reinforcing concepts of the same social system." --Alan J. Singer, Liberty, Freedom, and Whiteness: Reviewing Tyler Stovall's "White Freedom". History News Network https://historynewsnetwork.org/articl... "But as he demonstrates, at the heart of the two nations were both a commitment to liberty and a vision of society "Stovall, focusing on France and the United States, argues that 'two seemingly opposite philosophies, liberty and racism, are in significant ways not opposites at all' (x). They are reinforcing concepts of the same social system." --Alan J. Singer, Liberty, Freedom, and Whiteness: Reviewing Tyler Stovall's "White Freedom". History News Network https://historynewsnetwork.org/articl... "But as he demonstrates, at the heart of the two nations were both a commitment to liberty and a vision of society in which this liberty was unequally distributed and deeply racialized. The result was freedom for those at the top of the racial hierarchy, supported by and premised upon the unfreedom of those at the bottom. "According to Stovall, then, the dueling realities of freedom and slavery, liberty and domination, master and slave, are not just a clash of opposites; instead, they have been and continue to be counterparts in the making of modern history. To be free, Stovall notes, has long meant to be white, and to be white has conversely long meant to be free." --Olúfémi O. Táíwò, Liberty for Whom? The Racialized History of Freedom. The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/cul... One of the best works of historiography I've read, period! Most highly recommended; 5/5 stars and a must read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    In White Freedom, Mr. Stovall makes a bold and forcefully-argued thesis: that there is an unacknowledged yet fundamental racial dimension to the American conception of freedom. By clear yet remarkably nuanced readings of the history, iconography, and ideology of the "Land of Liberty," Mr. Stovall sheds much needed light on an unsettling, vicious aspect of Americans' favorite virtue. Mr. Stovall's book will be discomfiting reading for many, myself included, who have thought deeply about the nature In White Freedom, Mr. Stovall makes a bold and forcefully-argued thesis: that there is an unacknowledged yet fundamental racial dimension to the American conception of freedom. By clear yet remarkably nuanced readings of the history, iconography, and ideology of the "Land of Liberty," Mr. Stovall sheds much needed light on an unsettling, vicious aspect of Americans' favorite virtue. Mr. Stovall's book will be discomfiting reading for many, myself included, who have thought deeply about the nature of freedom in America but have failed to discern (or acknowledge?) its racist character. It is for this very reason that White Freedom should be required reading for undergrads taking their first course in political theory of American history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rolf

    While the central argument here is rather intuitive and has been made before (that the idea of freedom has, in the modern era, always been racialized), it is made pretty clearly and compellingly here, and the historical grounding of the argument is really strong and provides a lot of compelling specifics.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jared

    The scope of the book was intimidating, but it was quite convincing. The very notion of freedom has always been tied up with whiteness and continues to be. The parts about French history were particularly interesting to me.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    good review of recent history (300 years) from a

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Excellent points and opinions spanning a great deal of time. A little dry and therefore difficult to get through. Overall, a great read with a fantastic perspective.

  9. 4 out of 5

    William Huan

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mark Ahlman

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joyatee

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Berger

  14. 5 out of 5

    Monica

  15. 5 out of 5

    Warren

  16. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn

  17. 5 out of 5

    MCTTAN

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  19. 5 out of 5

    Theresa Anne

  20. 5 out of 5

    Maxamed Ibrahim

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy Creer

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Diehl

  23. 5 out of 5

    Garrett

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura Sackton

  25. 5 out of 5

    Niamh

  26. 5 out of 5

    Maurice Weller

  27. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mara

  29. 5 out of 5

    helena

  30. 4 out of 5

    Corey Grantham

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