+
A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
We are a small, independent media company on a mission to share the best of humanity with the world.
If you think the work we do matters, pre-ordering a copy of our first book would make a huge difference in helping us succeed.
GOOD PEOPLE Book
upworthy

Inclusivity

Photo by Jeff Burak on Unsplash

Most Americans associate Lady Liberty with welcoming immigrants, but that's not what she was meant to represent.

This article first appeared on 07.07.20.

If Americans were asked to describe the Statue of Liberty without looking at it, most of us could probably describe her long robe, the crown on her head, a lighted torch in her right hand and a tablet cradled in her left. Some might remember it's inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

But there's a significant detail most of us would miss. It's a feature that points to why Lady Liberty was created and gifted to us in the first place. At her feet, where her robe drapes the ground, lay a broken shackle and chains—a symbol of the abolishment of slavery.


Most people see the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of our welcoming immigrants and mistakenly assume that's what she was meant to represent. Indeed, the opening words of Emma Lazarus's poem engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty—"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"—have long evoked images of immigrants arriving on our shores, seeking a better life in The American Dream.

But that plaque wasn't added to the statue until 1903, nearly two decades after the statue was unveiled. The original inspiration for the monument was emancipation, not immigration.

“The Statue of Liberty we now associate with immigration was a gift from France to commemorate the emancipation of American slaves. Before you lift your eyes to her torch of enlightenment, first pass them over the broken shackle and chains at her feet.”

According to a Washington Post interview with historian Edward Berenson, the concept of Lady Liberty originated when French anti-slavery activist—and huge fan of the United States' Constitution—Édouard de Laboulaye organized a meeting of other French abolitionists in Versailles in June 1865, just a few months after the American Civil War ended. "They talked about the idea of creating some kind of commemorative gift that would recognize the importance of the liberation of the slaves," Berenson said.

Laboulaye enlisted a sculptor, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, to come up with ideas. One of the first models, circa 1870, had Lady Liberty holding the broken shackles and chains in her left hand. In the final iteration, her left hand wrapped around a tablet instead and the anti-slavery symbolism of the shackle and chain was moved to her feet.

Writer Robin Wright pondered in The New Yorker what Laboulaye would think of our country today. The America that is embroiled in yet another civil rights movement because we still can't seem to get the whole "liberty and justice for all" thing down pat. The America that spent the century after slavery enacting laws and policies specifically designed to keep Black Americans down, followed by decades of continued social, economic and political oppression. The America that sometimes does the right thing, but only after tireless activism manages to break through a ton of resistance to changing the racism-infused status quo.

The U.S. has juggled dichotomies and hypocrisies in our national identity from the very beginning. The same founding father who declared "that all men are created equal" enslaved more than 600 human beings in his lifetime. The same people who celebrated religious freedom forced their Christian faith on Native peoples. Our most celebrated history of "liberty" and "freedom" is inseparable from our country's violent subjugation of entire races and ethnicities, and yet we compartmentalize rather than acknowledge that two things can be equally true at the same time.

Every nation on earth has problematic history, but what makes the U.S. different is that our problematic history is also our proudest history. Our nation was founded during the heyday of the transatlantic slave trade on land that was already occupied. The profound and world-changing document on which our government was built is the same document that was used to legally protect and excuse the enslavement of Black people. The house in which the President of the United States sits today was built partially by enslaved people. The deadliest war we've ever fought was over the "right" to enslave Black people.

The truth is that blatant, violent racism was institutionalized from the very beginning of this country. For most of us, that truth has always been treated as a footnote rather than a feature in our history educations. Until we really reckon with the full truth of our history—which it seems like we are finally starting to do—we won't ever get to see the full measure of what our country could be.

In some ways, the evolution of the design of the Statue of Liberty—the moving of the broken shackle and chain from her hands to being half hidden beneath her robe, as well as the movement of our perception of her symbolism from abolition to immigration—is representative of how we've chosen to portray ourselves as a nation. We want people to think: Hey, look at our Declaration of Independence! See how we welcome immigrants! We're so great! (Oh, by the way, hereditary, race-based chattel slavery was a thing for longer than emancipation has been on our soil. And then there was the 100 years of Jim Crow. Not to mention how we've broken every promise made to Native Americans. And honestly, we haven't even been that nice to immigrants either). But look, independence and a nod to immigration! We're so great!

The thing is that we can be so great. The foundation of true liberty and justice for all, even with all its cracks, is still there. The vision in our founding documents was truly revolutionary. We just have to decide to actually build the country we claim to have built—one that truly lives up to the values and ideals it professes for all people.

Bridgerton actor Nicola Coughlan in 2021.

The internet, for all its many wondrous things, can also be a cesspool of body-shaming, both outright and insidious. We see this most persistently perhaps with celebrities, who take on the role of dissection subjects regarding their weight. Whether being deemed “too thin” or “too fat,” comments about a public figure’s weight seems acceptable to some, simply because they signed up to be in the spotlight. But our better judgment knows this is not the case.

Nicola Coughlan, who plays the plot pivotal role of Penelope Featherington on the hit Netflix show “Bridgerton,” is no stranger to being inundated with this type of harmful, completely unnecessary feedback from fans.

So much so, that she recently posted her own truly heartfelt plea to her Instagram, asking for people to stop commenting on her body. Though we've seen multiple celebrities justifiably speak out against this, it’s hard not to be moved by her words in a whole new way.

Coughlan began her post with both civility and directness. “Hello! So just a thing- if you have an opinion about my body please, please don’t share it with me.”

This was apparently after receiving messages every single day following her breakout role.

She continued:

“Most people are being nice and not trying to be offensive but I am just one real life human being and it’s really hard to take the weight of thousands of opinions on how you look being sent directly to you every day.”

Her approach reminds us of the very real people we are often damaging through projections of outdated beauty standards and downright unfounded opinions.

Yellowjackets” star Melanie Lynskey had also recently been invaded by an influx of supposedly well-intentioned spectators since the hugely successful Showtime series premiered.


“Most egregious are the ‘I care about her health!!’ people,” Lynskey tweeted. “You don’t see me on my Peleton! You don’t see me running through the park with my child. Skinny does not always equal healthy.”

And of course, she’s not wrong. Despite our general assumptions, being thin is no real indication of a person’s health. And in some cases, it can reveal a risk for certain diseases. Even the formerly gold standard of measuring a healthy weight, the BMI, aka body mass index, is considered flawed today by experts.

Clearly, the only weight needing to be shed is our truly unhealthy relationship with outdated body expectations.

Coughlan knows that being a public figure often invites a public examination. “If you have an opinion about me that’s ok, I understand I’m on TV and that people will have things to think and say,” she wrote, with the caveat, “but I beg you not to send it to me directly.”

Certainly, Coughlan shouldn’t have to resort to begging. But here we are. And maybe this is how the message needs to be heard. When it’s so easy to leave thoughtless or downright toxic messages on social media, we need to be reminded how it affects the hearts of real people on the receiving end. Empathy online is just as important as it is IRL.

That’s what makes her plea a masterclass in grace. She speaks out without anger or accusation, though she could. Instead she comes from a place of compassion.

Coughlan ended her post by saying, “anyways here’s a pic of me in my hotel in NY about to go to SNL, it’s unrelated to this post but delighted with my hair in it.”


Even in a battle for boundaries, Coughlan’s never one to refrain from having a sense of humor (she did also star in the hilarious “Derry Girls”, after all). And, she wasn’t wrong about the hair.

Reading Coughlan’s post, I can’t help but wonder, if she was able to treat perfect strangers with so much respect and kindness, can we not return the favor?

2021 Mullet Champ kids finalists.

The mullet haircut has meant many different things. In the ’70s it meant you were a cool rocker such as David Bowie or Paul McCartney. In the ’80s it was the preferred haircut for hockey players and baseball dirtbags. The hairstyle also has a rich association with Southern culture and country music.

The mullet fell out of fashion in the mid-’90s when the flamboyant business in the front, party in the back hairstyle began to be seen as the epitome of trashiness. The haircut has been known by many names throughout history but would forever be known as the mullet after Beastie Boys released a punk rock B-side in 1994 called “Mullet Head.”

You're coming off like you're Van Damme

You've got Kenny G, in your Trans Am

You've got names like Billy Ray

Now you sing Hip Hop Hooray



Since then, the hairstyle has been so maligned that it’s usually only worn with a sense of irony or a complete lack of awareness. However, 11-year-old Allan Baltz of Jonesboro, Arkansas has changed the narrative around the hairstyle, by showing that a mullet head can be a person of not only style, but decency, with his recent charitable act.

In 2013, Allan and his twin sister Alice were in foster care and went to live with Derek and Lesli Baltz of Jonesboro, Arkansas. The children were only supposed to be with them temporarily before being reunited with their parents, but they soon realized it wouldn't be an option.

After living with the family for two years, the twins were adopted by the Baltz's.

"We were really terrified that we weren't good enough parents to keep them forever," Lesli told Southern Living. "So, we really worked through that a lot, and it became obvious that they were meant to be ours whether we felt like we were good enough or not."

During the height of the 2020 lockdowns, Lesli was looking for a way for the family to have fun. So they all began growing strange hairdos. Her husband grew a large mustache. Alice dyed her hair red and Lesli changed hers to teal. But Allan went the craziest by growing out a long, beautiful mullet.

He loved it so much that he took it up a notch by having it permed.

"He thought it was hysterical. It was hideous, and it embarrassed his sister. Everywhere he went, people were like 'Nice hair, man.' He thinks it's the greatest thing, and he really owns it,” Lesli said.

Soon friends began to push Allan to enter the 2021 USA Mullet Championships competition. At first, he didn’t think he had a chance of winning the contest, but after learning there was a $2500 cash prize for winning the kids division, he was all in. Allan saw the competition as a way to pay it forward and help kids who are in foster care.

"He instantly was like 'Oh, OK. I can do it, and we'll give the money to kids in foster care,'" Lesli said. "He didn't hesitate. He didn't say, 'I can get a bike, then give some money away.' It was just instant that he wanted to give it away."

Allan submitted a photo wearing his father’s mountain biking sunglasses and his best suit. Because, let’s not forget, a mullet means business in the front. After weeks of campaigning, Allan won a decisive victory, gaining more than 25,000 votes.

During his campaign, Allan was vocal about what he’d do with the prize money, inspiring others to donate to his two charities, Together We Foster and Project Zero. The campaign and prize money resulted in $7,000 being donated to foster care charities.

"People also started volunteering … and donating clothing, beds, and diapers," Lesli said. "A few people that we know decided to start fostering because of Allan's story. The way that people hear it and it inspires them to do something about the foster care crisis is really incredible. We're just sitting back in awe and hoping that it continues to inspire more people to make a difference."

Allan’s generosity has helped countless kids in the foster care system. But he’s also done something else that’s pretty special. He’s brought honor back to the mullet.

Image from Strut Safe's Instagram.

In March 2021, a woman named Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered in South London as she was walking home.

Simply walking home alone at night proved to be life-threatening. But this aspect of the story is no new news. Women have long shared their fears on the subject.

Constant glances over the shoulder and walking with keys between the fingers have become well-known protection rituals against potential violence. And these efforts, though necessary measures of self defense, can at times feel like small band-aids over a larger wound.

As Alice Jackson and Rachel Chung, two students in Edinburgh, attended one of Everard’s vigils, an idea struck them. And it’s helping women in the U.K. gain not only a sense of safety, but something else too. Something of equal immense value.


Jackson and Chung together created Strut Safe, a volunteer organization where women can request a pair of volunteers to escort them home, or stay on the phone with them while they are in transit.

According to Strut Safe’s website, all volunteers are vetted and subject to a strict code of conduct. And as of now, they have more than 50 volunteers across the U.K.

In an interview with indy100, Chung shared how Everard’s death inspired a call to create change.

“The idea of ‘she was just walking home’ was, I think, a very prominent idea. So many of us don’t always feel safe when walking home so we basically decided that we wanted to put something structurally and tangible in place that anybody could call…We wanted to be the universal number for people to get in touch with if they feel unsafe walking home,” she explained.

“The view we take is if we’re there on the phone with you, we’re there with you in live time so if something did happen we are going to be able to alert the authorities,” she added, likening it to “being a professional friend.”

So just what is a phone call like? Well, that depends.

Sometimes, it’s merely gossip. Other times, “you come off a 20-minute call that's been really emotionally intense, really serious,” Chung tells BBC News. “The caller might have been running at the end, crying. And then you'll hang up, and you're sitting on your sofa, the telly paused, and there'll be silence.”

Though the goal is to be available every night, Strut Safe currently runs its services Friday and Saturday nights between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., and Sunday night from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.

That goal might not be too far off, as social media has added exponential visibility to the service. Currently Strut Safe has more than 70,000 followers on Instagram.

Writing this, I can’t help but be reminded of a Twitter thread, created by activist Danielle Muscato, which went viral back in 2018.

Muscato asked women what they would do if men had a 9 p.m. curfew. The answers were both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Running with both earbuds in, enjoying quiet nighttime strolls, looking up at the stars are some examples.

The answers, though varied, all have a similar theme: freedom.

Muscato's thread offered some long-overlooked insight as to just how un-free many women felt over something easily taken for granted.

Luckily, the volunteers at Strut Safe are helping to change this narrative and helping women reclaim empowerment through their services.