Pittsburgh is handling its racist statue problem in the best possible way.

Some people don't view Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster statue as racist. Those people would be wrong.

Yeah, I'm going there. Stay with me.

The statue, which depicts a borderline caricature of a black musician in tattered clothing playing the banjo at the feet of a regal, well-dressed Stephen Collins Foster — who is often touted as the Father of American Music — will soon be relocated. The city has plans to install in its place a statue of a black woman significant to Pittsburgh's history.


Image via Wally Gobetz/Flickr.

The Foster statue has been a subject of debate in the city for decades. Damon Young, the co-founder of Very Smart Brothas, has called it "the most racist statue in America," with the depiction of the black musician as "the most ridiculous magical Negro you'll ever see."

Welp.

The issue with the statue is partially how it looks but mostly what it represents.

The statue was originally commissioned in 1900 by a local newspaper that envisioned Foster "catching the inspiration for his melodies from the fingers of an old darkey reclining at his feet strumming negro airs upon an old banjo."

Basically what we're looking at is a white man during the slavery era taking the "inspiration" of a poor black person's music and not only profiting from it but becoming the country's foremost music composer because of it.

If you ever wonder what "privilege" and "appropriation" mean, this statue primely illustrates both.

The appropriation of black people's music has a long, painful history in America.

Frederick Douglass. Image via J.C. Buttre/Wikimedia Commons.

Last year, I read "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" for the first time. The whole book is a must-read for all Americans, but the chapter about slaves singing absolutely gutted me. It also gave me a deeper understanding of why appropriating the music of black Americans is such a long-standing and problematic issue. Douglass wrote of slave songs:

"Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains ... The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek. To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception."

Douglass described the tendency of people — particularly the supposedly more enlightened northerners — to misconstrue the nature of black people's singing:

"I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears ... I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness."

Douglass' narrative was published in 1845, two decades before slavery ended and about the same time Foster began writing his famous songs. If Foster was really feeling inspired from black people "strumming negro airs," then he was profiting from black Americans' artistic expression of pain at a time when they couldn't do so themselves.

American composer Stephen Foster. Photo via Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons.

Some claim Foster was a fairly decent guy for his time, seeking to humanize slaves and not glorify the antebellum South in his songs. On the other hand, he was knee-deep in the blackface minstrel phenomenon, and some of his lyrics are racially charged to say the least.

"But that was a different era!" people might say. Yes, it was. But in this era, it makes sense to move that statue to a place where it doesn't serve as a painful public reminder of our country's history of racial injustice.

The question we should ask is "What is the purpose of a public statue?"

Unlike art for private consumption and enjoyment, a public statue traditionally honors someone or something. It's a way to memorialize a person or an event — to say "We want to not only remember this person's place in history but commemorate them."

Statues are not, as many seem to argue, a history lesson. There are no statues of Adolf Hitler in Germany for a reason, and it's not because the German people intend to forget his part in history. It's irresponsible to keep a statue that depicts an ugly aspect of history in a way that doesn't make clear how ugly it was.

A bust of Adolf Hitler sits among the ruins of the Chancellery, Berlin, 1945. Photo by Reg Speller/Getty Images.

Foster already has an entire memorial museum in Pittsburgh, so replacing this statue will not affect his legacy there. What it will do is remove a visual glorification of black people's oppression as well as open up a space to honor a black woman who has been significant to history.

The mayor has asked the public to weigh in on which black woman should be honored with a new statue.

There are no public statues or memorials honoring black women in Pittsburgh, a city where an estimated 1 in 5 residents is black. "The City of Pittsburgh believes in inclusivity and equality and ensuring that all can see themselves in the art around them," the mayor's office wrote in a statement. "It is imperative then that our public art reflect the diversity of our city and that we accordingly represent our diverse heroes."

Some suggestions so far include pianist Patricia Prattis Jennings, the first black woman to sign to a full contract with a major American symphony orchestra; Helen Faison, the first black female superintendent in Pittsburgh; Gwendolyn J. Elliot, Pittburgh's first black female police commander; suffragette Daisy Elizabeth Lampkin, who was the first woman elected to the national board of the NAACP; and Hazel B. Garland, the first black woman to head a major newspaper chain.

For many in Pittsburgh, the removal of the Stephen Foster statue would have been enough. But replacing the statue with one honoring a black woman is a thoughtful step forward — one that other cities with controversial statues would be wise to follow.

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

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Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


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Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


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Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

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Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


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Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

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L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

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Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

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All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

In the hours before he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, then-President-elect Biden was sent a letter signed by 17 freshmen GOP members of the House of Representatives.

In sharp contrast to the 121 Republican House members who voted against the certification of Biden's electoral votes—a constitutional procedure merely check-marking the state certifications that had already taken place—this letter expresses a desire to "rise above the partisan fray" and work together with Biden as he takes over the presidency.

The letter reads:

Dear President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on the beginning of your administration and presidency. As members of this freshman class, we trust that the next four years will present your administration and the 117thCongress with numerous challenges and successes, and we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.

After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation's capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.