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.
Awards and Recognition
- Shortlisted for the Cundill History Prize, McGill University
- One of NPR's 'Books We Love'
"This cogent study of ideas of race and freedom has added relevance and crossover potential in today’s political landscape."—Kirkus Reviews
"What makes Stovall’s work so valuable … is that his study of ‘white freedom’ helps illuminate the stakes of the present and the ongoing struggle over the meaning of American democracy. It is a fight, for some, to be free (or at least more free) of domination and hierarchy, and a fight, for others, to be free to dominate."—Jamelle Bouie, New York Times
"Extremely convincing."—Ilana Masad, NPR
"White Freedom is clear and engaging. It offers fresh insight to the idea of liberty — an idea that is increasingly at the fore of societal concern. Stovall doesn’t preach; he doesn’t try to convince anyone to come to his side. He offers important context to the history of the development of freedom, and engaging analysis supported by carefully researched evidence. Stovall, a professor of history and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Fordham University, gives us all the information we need, and then challenges us to look deeper."—Brock Kingsley, Chicago Review of Books
"[P]owerful and persuasive demonstrations of the complementary relationship between freedom and race. . . . [White Freedom] is a treasure trove of historical detail, but it’s also written clearly and persuasively . . . a worthy addition to the recent surge of work rethinking the connection between race and other fundamental aspects of our social system."—Olúfémi O. Táíwò, The Nation
"A valuable book."—David A. Bell, New York Review of Books
"A read that racked my brain and challenged my own views about how I interpret what social justice and liberty mean for different groups of people and movements."—Kaylah Jackson, Vox
"Stoval has not only made a brilliant and incredibly important contribution to the historiography on freedom and race, but also to our scholarly knowledge on the modern western world more broadly, and to the field of whiteness studies more specifically. The book is a must-read for any historian of the modern period; scholars of other humanities disciplines would nevertheless undoubtedly benefit from learning that the values of freedom and anti-racism indeed have a history; and that history is not how we might have until now thought."—Ruth Ennis, Connections
"Tyler Stovall’s work is important in illuminating previously ignored areas of class, race and colonialism and should be better known and cherished.
"—Kenan Malik, Observer
"Ambitious in scope, White Freedom traces the racially selective course of the historic expansion of individual freedom. This is an impressive work of scholarship on an issue of enduring moral and political relevance."—Thomas C. Holt, author of Children of Fire: A History of African Americans
"White Freedom is a well-researched and well-written book that is certain to exert significant influence on historical scholarship and critical racial studies."—George Lipsitz, author of The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics
"Beautifully written and lucidly argued, Tyler Stovall's White Freedom effectively disentangles the idea of freedom from the grip of racialized thinking. Ranging widely across history and geography, Stovall takes the 'white Goddess' of liberty down from her pedestal, with force, erudition, and elegance."—Christopher L. Miller, Yale University
"Powerful and convincing. In this sweeping history of the idea he calls 'white freedom,' Stovall traces the interdependence of these two key terms since the Enlightenment, arguing that Western conceptions of freedom have been enduringly racialized as white."—Jennifer E. Sessions, author of By Sword and Plow: France and the Conquest of Algeria