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France is giving the United States another Statue of Liberty.

Another symbol of liberty to a country that’s still oppressing its people.

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NYC has another Statue of Liberty on the way. France is sending us a smaller version to be placed on Ellis Island just across the water from Liberty Island where the original stands as a beacon to freedom…or something.

This new bronze statue, nicknamed the “little sister,” is one-sixteenth the size of the world-famous one that stands on Liberty Island.

“The statue symbolizes freedom and the light around all the world,” said Olivier Faron, general administrator of the CNAM [National Museum of Arts and Crafts]. “We want to send a very simple message: Our friendship with the United States is very important, particularly at this moment. We have to conserve and defend our friendship.”

(cont. CNN)

If you want to put a symbol of “freedom and light” anywhere, it shouldn’t be in the United States.

If you want to give the Statue of Liberty to the United States all over again anyway, give it in the spirit with which it was originally intended in the first place — as a gift to celebrate Black Americans.

I grew up with the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of hope and freedom for immigrants. “Give us your tired, your poor…” and all that, but Lady Liberty had been there for twenty years before those lines by Emma Lazarus were inscribed onto a plaque and installed at the pedestal. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of immigration (the voluntary kind, not the shackled and chained way most Black people got here) for two reasons. One, immigrants latched onto the massive sculpture, which is understandable because she was the first image of New York for most European immigrants arriving by boat on the way to be processed at nearby Ellis Island. Two, the creator, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, pitched the idea to raise funding from Americans in the most general terms of “liberty” without specifically referencing Black Americans. His plan worked since the United States did indeed agree to pay for the pedestal if France paid for the actual statue, but it was a pivot away from the original idea.

Édouard de Laboulaye was a French abolitionist and it was he, along with his social circle of abolitionists, who conceived of a massive gift to present to the United States after the Civil War — once slavery was outlawed. The proposal of Lady Liberty initially held broken and shackles to signify the broken chains of slavery instead of the tablet she holds today. The chains eventually made their way into the final version down around her feet, the original significance lost to most people and barely noticed.

The years immediately following the Civil War were filled with promise for Black Americans and de Laboulaye wanted to recognize that. We made great strides in education, civic engagement, and politics, but the South regained its footing and struck a compromise in the 1876 Presidential Election that saw federal troops removed from the Old Confederacy. Black people were back in chains, invisible shackles placed on our communities through coalitions built between lawmakers and law enforcement, private businesses and private citizens. When Bartholdi finished Lady Liberty, there was no way to “sell” the idea to the United States as a celebration of slavery’s end. Black America hated the idea, because we were being oppressed, terrorized, and murdered, and White America would’ve scoffed, because they were doing the terrorizing. She was pitched as a symbol of liberty, immigrants saw her as the first welcoming image of the United States, and then the government solidified that feeling by using words from Emma Lazarus.

Today, it’s more important than ever to remember why the Statue of Liberty was conceived in the first place, not a symbol of general liberty and freedom, but as a symbol of Black liberty and freedom. We are still fighting to have our history accurately taught in schools. We are still fighting to be the country de Laboulaye thought we were becoming when slavery ended. And we are still fighting to live up to the promise Lady Liberty has symbolized to millions of immigrants. This little sister will probably be all over the news as we get closer to July 4th, so whenever you see her, make sure you remind somebody that the Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a gift to celebrate the end of slavery, but the US put Black people back in chains too quickly for her to actually symbolize liberty and freedom for us.

 

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Race

Seneca Village, Black displacement, and the history of Central Park.

Let’s have a look at the first free Black settlement in NYC.

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Some tweets about Central Park have been going viral the past two days and they are missing valuable context and clarity. Yesterday, I saw this one:

Black people owned less than 1% of the land that would eventually become Central Park.

Seneca Village was about 5 acres of land. Central Park is almost 850 acres of land. So no, the area was not called Seneca Village. There were lots of little villages with their own names dotted throughout the area.

A third of the people in Seneca Village were white. In fact, most of the people in Central Park were white — they were Irish and German farmers.

The United States is a terrible country founded upon theft, greed, and subjugation. All of this land was stolen from Native Americans in the first place, so this is not an effort to impart any warm and fuzzy feelings about US history. Hyperbole is the enemy of truth, and exaggeration in one area of history serves to undermine facts in another. We live in a country where textbooks speak of slavery as a valid business model with a few mean employers. Because of that, when we are trying to force the reality of the horrors of slavery and racism into the American narrative, we can’t afford to embellish other injustices.

When you say Black families had their homesteads razed to make way for Central Park, the average person will picture roving bands of white people setting fires and violently chasing Black people with dogs and weapons. It happened all over the country throughout our history. Countless Black communities are forgotten today because the history of white America is written in Black suffering.

The location of Central Park wasn’t a decision made with race at the forefront. Seneca Village was indeed the first free Black settlement in NYC after slavery was outlawed. Free Black men could vote if they owned enough property, and around 15-20% of those property-owning men lived in Seneca Village. The city did take control of that property through eminent domain to make way for Central Park. All of these things are true.

These things are also true: At its peak the population of Seneca Village was less than 300 people and a third of those people were white. The total population of the area now known as Central Park was almost 2,000 people, and the majority of them were Irish and German farmers. The city used eminent domain to take all of their lands, but that doesn’t mean the lands were stolen from them. All of the residents who owned their property were paid for it — double or triple what the original selling price was — but they couldn’t say no to the sale. The city forced them to sell and move elsewhere. Aside from that though, most of the population of NYC lived below 14th Street, which meant much of the rest of Manhattan was semi-rural and people farmed land all over the island that they didn’t own. When the city decided to build Central Park, they forced the squatters to start paying rent to the city, and when they couldn’t pay, they were kicked out.

The image being painted on Twitter is that Central Park was full of communities of prosperous, land-owning freedmen who lost their voting rights when NYC decided to build a park where the Black people live. And that’s a fair assumption! NYC is full of racist building projects, and US history is full of racist legacies where successful Black towns were essentially punished or destroyed for simply thriving. That’s not quite the case for Central Park. Most of the displaced people were white. Most of the residents of Seneca Village were poor and 80% of them didn’t own the homes they lived in. Those who owned property, which in turn meant they could vote, were paid more than they’d originally invested.  They could use that money buy property elsewhere, which meant they could still vote.

But! This is still the United States. While racism may not be the central figure in the creation of Central Park as it was in other tales of yesteryear, it’s still there as a supporting character.

When NYC wanted a park, the original location chosen was a place called Jones’s Wood. The prosperous white families in that area successfully fought the city, so a new location was scouted and the city settled on the area now known as Central Park. Seneca Village was a very, very tiny portion of the land area and the Black residents there were a small percentage of the mostly white population that would be displaced, but there were very prominent Black families in Seneca Village. The majority of the residents were indeed poor farmers, laborers, and domestic workers who didn’t own land, but the people who did own land were important to the Black community in NYC at large.

The Lyons Family in Seneca Village were conductors on the Underground Railroad.

All Angels church was one of the few interracial congregations in the country. When riots broke out in Lower Manhattan as white racists attacked Black abolitionists, Seneca Village much farther north was spared any damage. As a result, this much more rural area attracted other prominent Black activists, and by the time Central Park was planned, 20% of the Black voters in the city lived there. The residents of Seneca Village put up a fight against the city just as the residents of Jones’s Wood had, but where those prosperous white families ultimately prevailed, the prosperous Black ones did not, and the city moved forward with its plans.

The two biggest takeaways from the creation of Central Park and the history of Seneca Village is the lack of violence and the displacement of white people. Those two factors counter the image most of us have when we hear the city took land from Black people to make a park. There are no stories of Black displacement where most of the people affected were white, and there are few stories of Black displacement from the 19th Century where the government engaged in protracted legal battles with the residents and ultimately paid property owners for their land.  Seneca Village should be remembered as the first free Black settlement in NYC, but we don’t have to paint it as another Tulsa to drive home the history of racism in the US. There are enough Tulsas to go around.

 

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Some sources if you want to read in more detail:
NY Times: Seneca Central Park
Columbia University: Seneca Village
CentralParkNYC.org: Seneca Village
Documents of the Assembly of the State of NY 

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Race

Leave slavery out of your abortion conversations.

Why do seemingly well-meaning white people like to compare various struggles to slavery

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Another day, another White Liberal unnecessarily using slavery to make a point.

(Twitter)

Joyce Alene is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. She has appeared as a legal analyst on various cable news channels and she was an attorney for the Obama administration. And she thought it was a good idea to compare abortion rights to slavery.

Not sure why this repeatedly has to be explained over and over, but it is very much possible to discuss persecution without bringing Black people into it. There is never a need to compare any struggle in this country to the worst atrocity in the history of the United States, and doing so makes you look unserious. What we are dealing with right now in regard to reproductive rights can be discussed on its own merit. We should be horrified by what’s happening, period. No hyperbole is necessary. No conflation with genocide is needed.

Why do seemingly well-meaning white people like to compare various struggles to slavery, when absolutely nothing the Modern White American faces has any similarity? Nothing the Colonial White American faced had any similarity. Leave slavery out of the conversation.

It’s a double insult. On the first side, Good Whites can’t come to grips with the foundation of America’s success in the world firmly resting atop slavery, so comparisons to modern struggles are subconsciously made to lessen the severity of what happened. Even the most liberal of White Americans has a difficult time accepting the fact that everything you see owes it existence to slavery. There would be no United States without the economic engine that was chattel slavery. From Yale to Bank of America to whiskey — the legacy of slavery is everywhere.

On the other side, too many Good Whites feel such a strong need to identify with the oppressed that they will manufacture similarities that don’t exist.

Or possibly a third side:

If you acknowledge that it’s a bad take and you don’t mean any offense, then you only said it to be shocking and to grab attention. You have trivialized slavery as a gotcha for clicks, and that’s even worse.

Women are being oppressed. Yes, restrictive legislation on reproductive rights disproportionately affects poor women and women of color, but all women are at the mercy of an evangelical government that believes it has the divine right to subjugate Eve’s daughters. That is enough to work with. Comparing it to anything other than that is a distraction and a disservice. Women deserve rights on their own merit.

 

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Race

We gotta invite Tigger to the Cookout now.

Maybe it sounds so much like n—-r some people just lose their minds.

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Some cartoon characters are Black because they’re created that way.

Some cartoon characters Black because we decided they are.

And some cartoon characters are just cartoon characters. I don’t recognize any Winnie the Pooh characters from my daily life, so they’re just animals to me, but we might have to welcome Tigger into the family. There’s no other explanation for why this white lady is so mad that he’s on a flag.

Tigger must’ve played rap music in her driveway or looked at her purse on the elevator or something, because this lady is acting like that flag says Black Lives Matter And Yours Does Not. I am very certain there are no rules (by this non-existent housing association) prohibiting a cartoon character flag and this woman feels like “rule” is the same as “I don’t like it,” which is unsurprising given the age and hue of the protagonist in this short film. My first retail job was at Bath & Body Works in a Southern shopping mall, and if there’s one thing I know for certain about that particular demographic it’s that they definitely believe personal opinions are facts, feelings are rules, and there is a manager of something somewhere who will side with them so they can get their way.

Bless the restraint of this homeowner. I probably woulda cussed that woman from here to Tara and then I would be gone with the police after she called 911 on me.

 

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