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Statue of Liberty
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.

Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

via Dion Merrick / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.09.21


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