Is Statue of Liberty racist? Washington Post columnist calls it 'symbol of hypocrisy'

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Philip Kennicott called Statue of Liberty a 'meaningless symbol of hypocrisy' in a controversial new column for WaPo


                            Is Statue of Liberty racist? Washington Post columnist calls it 'symbol of hypocrisy'
The Statue of Liberty is seen over a wind-blown American flag scarf on Liberty Island on July 20, 2020, in New York City (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

Spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement, one section of America has been calling for a massive analysis of American history. In a bid to rethink racism and the past, many once-beloved monuments, works of art and places have become contentious and have been dubbed racist. The latest to join that long list is the Statue of Liberty, with a new column calling it a "meaningless symbol of hypocrisy".

On June 28, we reported on a National Archives report that dubbed the US Capitol Rotunda as an example of structural racism. It also called the famed works inside "oppressive and exclusionary". Weeks before that, famed children's author Enid Blyton was drawn into the controversy after English Heritage updated her 'blue plaque' to reflect themes of racism in her works. On June 11, Randolph Township in Morris County, NJ, became the first school district to cancel all holiday names, in a bid to avoid "hurt feelings". 

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Conservatives have frequently hit back at the "cancel culture", slamming the attempts to dub most of American history and culture as racist. The Statue of Liberty is expected to become the next cause of debate, following a rather controversial column by art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott.

Philip Kennicott (Philip Kennicott website)

Is the Statue of Liberty racist?

If you ask Kennicott, the answer is an absolute yes. In a July 4 essay, he called the New York City icon a "meaningless symbol of hypocrisy", and an example of "unfulfilled promises". Titled, 'Maybe it's time to admit that the Statue of Liberty has never quite measured up', the essay slams the iconic statue as irrelevant to non-white Americans. Citing the absence of the statue from an exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Kennicott says "compared with other icons of national identity, it is ambiguous and ambivalent".

Kennicott chronicles the varying meanings of the statue, from the time it was installed to the Reagen era, and even 9/11. "These meanings have overlapped, morphed and risen and fallen in relative importance over the more than 130 years it has sat in New York Harbor," he wrote. Kennicott added, "It may well be that there is more genuine liberty embodied in the rejection of a symbol than the acceptance of it."

This isn't the first time the meaning of Lady Liberty has been called into question. Throughout history, there have been numerous debates about the statue, which gained increasing prominence in the Donald Trump era after the former president's anti-immigrant rhetoric. The column naturally spurred massive controversy, with many users slamming Kennicott on social media after he shared it on his Twitter account.

Visitors walk past the Statue of Liberty as it reopened on Liberty Island on July 20, 2020, in New York City (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

'There must be better things to write about'

"You'll get no argument from me that the US has fallen well short, particularly with blacks and Native Americans. Yet the promise of liberty draws thousands of immigrants to the US each year. It also allows you to write columns without fear of going to prison. Think about that," one person replied to Kennicott's tweet. Another tweeted, "Goodness me Philip… to echo Bill Maher, the Statue of Liberty isn’t a Republican… it’s a statue! There must be better things to write about?"



 



 

"Just say it….you hate America and what it stands for. At least you’ll get it off your chest. You really need to travel abroad to regain your perspective on how great America actually is. Does it have warts? Yes, but I’ve been to 55 countries and we can hold our head high." one person slammed. Another said, "Western freedom is still the best freedom in the world. Your silly piece is proof of that."



 



 

One user said, "Enough already, if it didn't representative immigrants why the hell do they keep coming - move on to something more constructive to the argument."



 

Kennicott isn't the first to drag lady Liberty into the debate over cancel culture. A 2020 New Yorker article also used the statue to talk about racism in America. "It is harder today to convince others that Americans embrace — or practice — the ideals that Lady Liberty represents," the article concludes. The fury over Kennicott is unlikely to abate any time soon, as past examples have shown.

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