You’ve surely heard by now that, come 2020, Harriet Tubman will grace the front of the $20 bill (former president Andrew Jackson will be bumped to the back of the bill). Black icons will also be featured on the $5 and $10 bills. Abolitionist and civil rights activist, Sojourner Truth, will be featured on the back of the $10, along with fellow suffragettes Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Lucretia Mott. The incomparable Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and legendary opera songstress Marian Anderson are slated to share the back of the $5 bill with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
I, like many others, was excited to hear that the rumor of Harriet Tubman twenties was coming to fruition. Though often downplayed and diluted, she is one of the giants of the Black struggle in the United States, and is worthy of such an honor. With the announcement that Dr. King, Sojourner Truth and Marian Anderson will be on US currency is almost enough to bring a tear to your eye. It seems that finally, we’re at least being recognized as vital contributors to America’s story.
When the excitement died down, I sat and thought for a moment. I thought, what does this actually mean? Is this yet another mind game that the powers-that-be are playing with Black folks? Are we being fooled into thinking Black people are accepted and held in high esteem by the majority?
I thought back to what my late grandmother always told me about integration. She was part of the last segregated class to graduate from the prestigious Dunbar High School in 1958. Using the classroom as an example, she always told us that integration was a facade of sorts. In their classes, their Black teachers were telling her and her classmates that they had to be twice as great as their White counterparts, in order to make it in America. In integrated classrooms, they would not get the same message. She would say that Black folks were fooled into thinking that since they were allowed in the same spaces as Whites, that the playing field was level, when nothing had changed, really.
I then thought of my young nephews. They are growing up with things that I never thought would be a reality. They’re going to grow up with Black folks on the money they have. The only president they’ve ever known has been Barack Obama, a Black man. When they read The Adventures of Huck Finn, the N-word might be taken out. Will they have an accurate perception of what being Black in this society means? In this society, a White person with a criminal record still has a better chance at getting hired for a job than a Black person with a college education. Black folks can still be denied housing in certain neighborhoods. Unarmed Black men are still being gunned down in the streets by police and vigilantes for being Black, without repercussion. Americans still refuse to accept that “Black Lives Matter.”
I guess, it’s on us to make sure that the youngins are “woke” to what it means to be Black here. There will definitely be plenty of people telling them, “We’ve had a Black president. You’re on the money. You’ve made it!” We have to make sure that they realize, while having Black faces on money, America still has a far way to go as far as respecting Black folks as equal members of this society. Yes, Harriet Tubman, Dr. King, Sojourner Truth and Marian Anderson on our money is awesome, but we can’t be blinded by it.