Home / World News / Opinion | What Does ‘White Freedom’ Really Mean?

Opinion | What Does ‘White Freedom’ Really Mean?

Specifically, it means that we should think of freedom in at least two ways: a freedom from domination and a freedom to dominate. In “White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea,” Stovall shows how both are tied up in the history of race and racial thinking. In societies like those of the United States and republican France, he writes, “belief in freedom, specifically one’s entitlement to freedom, was a key component of white supremacy.” The more white one was, he continues, “the more free one was.”

This “white freedom” is not named as such because it is somehow intrinsic to people of European descent, but because it took its shape under conditions of explicit racial hierarchy, where colonialism and chattel slavery made clear who was free and who was not. For the men who dominated, this informed their view of what freedom was. Or, as the historian Edmund Morgan famously observed nearly 50 years ago in “American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia,” “The presence of men and women who were, in law at least, almost totally subject to the will of other men gave to those in control of them an immediate experience of what it could mean to be at the mercy of a tyrant.”

As an ideology, Stovall writes, white freedom meant both “control of one’s destiny” and the freedom to dominate and exclude. And the two moved hand in hand through the modern era, he argues, both here and abroad. In the United States during the early 19th century, for example, the right to vote became even more entangled with race than it had been. “Not only was suffrage extended to virtually all white men by the eve of the Civil War, thus breaking down traditional restrictions based on property and class, it was also and at the same time increasingly denied to those who were not white men,” Stovall writes. “The early years of America as a free and independent nation were thus a period when voting was more and more defined in racial terms.”

After the Civil War, as liberalism began its march through the global order, racial distinctions within polities became more, not less, salient. That was especially true after the forced end of Reconstruction. “The rise of white manhood suffrage along with Black disenfranchisement in the United States exemplified this theme, as did the coterminous expansion of liberal democracy and authoritarian colonial rule in Britain and France,” Stovall contends. “As freedom became increasingly central to white masculine identity in Europe and America, as it increasingly belonged not to elites but to the masses of white people, it seemingly had to be denied to those who were not white.”

Of course, there have always been competing visions of freedom: freedom separate from race hierarchy and freedoms that do not rest on domination. In the 20th century, especially, anticolonial movements within European empires and the struggle for civil rights in America posed what Stovall calls a “frontal challenge to the racialization of liberty.”

About brandsauthority

Check Also

2022 travel trends

PENNY THOMAS shares key trends redefining camping as we know it Related

%d bloggers like this: