Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Show Me the Money: The Significance of Harriet Tubman and the Twenty Dollar Bill


     I like the old, weary, accomplished photo of Queen Harriet.  There is a story to be told in those wrinkles that reside upon her beautiful face.  There is a narrative connected to that feeble, Black, female body that lead enslaved Black bodies to freedom up North.  There is sadness that sits in that chair as she contemplates what her people overcame and what was to come for the American Negro.  And that is why I chose this particular picture of  "Moses" or "General Tubman" (it is peculiarly ironic how all of her monickers were masculine yet she is now the first female to grace paper U.S. currency that has always been occupied by the faces of white males) to preface my attempt to justify and celebrate her being chosen to be the next American icon to grace the "front" of the third most used U.S. piece of currency (the 5, 10, 20, then the dollar)--the twenty dollar bill.

     The late, great, Black American singer, writer, and composer, who can only be rivaled by a Chopin, Beethoven,  Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, or Mozart, Prince Rogers Nelson once sang, "Money didn't matter yesterday, and it sho' don't matter tonight."  But, I must, though it pains me to do so because Prince is my favorite and the most influential artist in my lifetime, beg to differ within the context of those sentiments.  Sure, money cannot buy you love or satisfaction or acceptance or self and societal worth, nor can it rid the world of greed or poverty, which were the major literary themes addressed within the lyrics in his 1992 "Money Don't Matter 2Night tune. But, in this particular instance, money can purchase a place, if not a position, of power and profundity to a Race of people who have been systematically denied the aforementioned since setting foot on what is now the United States of America.  Maybe (Lady) Moses' likeness being on the $20 bill will help lead Americans out of the wilderness of gender inequality and racial bias as did the historical and biblical Moses literally did the Egyptians from the grasp of the despot Pharoah.  We can only imagine what the psychological effect on Black people and women will be when, in 2020 or 2030, they will own and spend currency with the face of a woman and an African-American on it.  The literal pictorial of the renowned freedom fighter will induce Google searches and historical research so that Americans will know who it is that adorns the money in their pockets, wallets, and purses.  Who knows?  Maybe Black folks will think twice before haphazardly throwin' Tubmans as they would Benjamins.  Folks may possibly cease makin' it rain---or at the least not rain Tubmans down upon the naked bodies and at the feet of occupationally disenfranchised strippers at both high-end and ratchet gentlemen clubs.

     Like any logical and apt scholar of American and Black American History, I am aware of the distasteful irony that persists within academic dialogue and scholarly discourse when thinking of the possible disrespect of putting Tubman on a piece of currency that is validated and given "worth" by the same government that enslaved her and her people and created a perpetual second-class citizenship of people of the darker hue and African descent.  I can almost guarantee that, if a quiji board and an available medium was used to contact Harriet in the afterlife, she would rather have women obtain wage-equality than her face be plastered on a bill that a woman, at this point in History, is only entitled to 70%.  The mere visual of Queen Harriet on U.S. paper currency will be transformative for our children's generation and generations to come.  Rejoice sometimes.  Everything should not be trivialized by academic and Black Nationalistic debates, damn it!   So, yes, money didn't matter yesterday, but if we are to measure societal victories, money sho' does matter tonight.

                                                                                                         -Gee Joyner