RACE + POLITICS
Is Democracy Falling Out of Popularity With White Americans?
Are we moving in the wrong direction? Let’s unpack this.
One of the most iconic American symbols, the Statue of Liberty, was a gift from France. So, why did the French give America a statue in the likeness of the Roman goddess Libertas in 1885? French artist and abolitionist Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi wanted to celebrate this born-again version of America, the triumph of the Union army, which liberated all enslaved African people within her borders. The Statue of Liberty became a gift to celebrate a newly founded multiracial democracy.
Without abolition, we would not have the Statue of Liberty gazing over the New York Harbor. See, France abolished slavery in 1794, and the Confederacy’s attempt to maintain slavery did not bode well amongst the French, who had long abandoned the barbaric practice. We never hear about why the French gifted the statue in public schools, which sends a message that Black liberation is inconsequential. Yet, at the Statue of Liberty Museum in New York, the curators clearly state that the Statue of Liberty “was created to celebrate freed slaves, not immigrants.”
Lady Liberty was originally designed to celebrate the end of slavery, not the arrival of immigrants. Ellis Island, the inspection station through which millions of immigrants passed, didn’t open until six years after the statue was unveiled in 1886. The plaque with the famous Emma Lazarus poem — “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — wasn’t added until 1903 (Brockell, 2019).
Democracy has always been a temperamental topic in America because only White, landowning men had the right to vote and have agency when the nation began. So, the Statue of Liberty represents an expansion of democratic principles, and in that way, it has become an appropriate symbol to welcome immigrants. Unfortunately, however, somewhere along this arduous colorblind journey, many Americans have forgotten the true purpose of the Statue of Liberty. In the same way, many White Americans have become disenchanted with the concept of democracy.
The principles of freedom and self-governance sounded great when this only protected White people’s…