News in 2015 that Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman were selected to be featured on United States currency was at first blessing. Now it’s feeling more like a curse.
The facts, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury: the front of the new $20 will feature the portrait of Harriet Tubman, whose life was dedicated to fighting for liberty. The reverse of the new $20 will depict the White House and an image of President Andrew Jackson.
The new $10 will celebrate the history of the women’s suffrage movement, and feature images of Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul, alongside the Treasury building. The front of the new $10 will retain the portrait of Alexander Hamilton.
The new $5 will honor historic events that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial in service of our democracy. It will feature Martin Luther King, Jr., Marian Anderson, and Eleanor Roosevelt. The front of the new $5 will retain the portrait of President Lincoln.
|...Harriet Tubman. Don't confuse them.|
Initially I was overjoyed by the word that Sojourner Truth, a Battle Creek resident, would be gracing the $10. An abolitionist and women's rights activist, Truth was born into slavery, around 1775, as Isabella Baumfree in New York – a northern state (hey, just keeping it real).
The person who claimed ownership of this cherished human being was Colonel Charles Ardinburgh. She was sold to John J. Dumont when she was 10 years old. Wonder how her mother and father felt about that? But I digress…
Though her given name was Isabella, she referred to herself as “Sojourner,” a move said to have been made after hearing the name whispered to her from a higher power. Later she added “Truth” to uphold her mandate to preach nothing but truth to all people – especially men. Truth spent much of her career in Washington, D.C., then eventually moved to B.C. when she lived out her days.
Why the history lesson? Perspective.
Positioning activists of color and women on U.S. currency will suggest to a lot of folks that America has arrived, with respect to equality and social justice. Indeed, imprinting such human symbols on greenbacks that pass through the hands of people – both on our soil and around the world – carry subliminal meaning. The message? That declarations such as “We the People”, “Justice for All” and the like are factual embodiments rather than as of yet unattained aspirations.
|Rally at Sojourner Truth Monument in Battle Creek|
The United States continues to suffer from debilitating social diseases. These maladies are perpetuated, in part, by people who systematically elevate icons of justice to pedestals of reverence. In turn, they are then co-opted and appropriated so as to benefit the status quo. In the case of Truth, Tubman and other newcomers on our currency, to profit capitalism. More specifically, neoliberalism.
As any marketing person worth their salt will tell you, when it comes to mass communication, perception quickly becomes reality. Bang it enough in print, online or on TV and fantasy becomes fact. That’s because we’re too lazy to want to discriminate between hype, opinion and fact.
Placing a handful of individuals on dollar bills will ultimately result in the same failed thinking that resulted from the successful election of a single individual of color as president: that there’s no longer “a problem.” Sadly, nothing is further from the truth. America continues to have its collective head in the sand.
Though the bills are still years from going into circulation, the good thing is that these nontraditional icons being placed on our money is promoting critical conversations. At least in some quarters. Conversations related to racism, sexism, poverty and other social ills plaguing us. I’m encouraged by that. By all means continue these discussions. At the same time, let’s not allow small wins like new small faces on dollar bills distract us from the big picture challenges facing us.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.