May 15, 2015

Muse: How Harriet Tubman On The $20 Bill Could Laugh New Blackness To The Underground

The other day I went to the bank to do a few transactions and smiled at the $20 bills that were counted and placed before me after I did my withdrawal. Smiling not because it was some money going towards some cute kitten heels I've been eyeing on ModCloth, but because the roosterheaded former President Andrew Jackson face looked up at me, wonky eyed and all, and I thought, "You're time is up, dead presidential dude." I say this because the Women on 20s campaign announced this week that after several voting rounds, that their winner to replace Andrew "Trail Of Tears" Jackson on the $20 bill is none other than abolitionist and humanitarian, Harriet Tubman.

It's a surprising bit of news considering that the faces on our currency haven't been altered since they were first drafted in earliest decades of the 20th century, but more so that after all these years, a woman, and a Black woman at that, is seriously being taken into consideration as a replacement. Stiff competition abounded as the pool of names included such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but Tubman won out with over 11,000 votes, a surprise victory after Roosevelt had been in the lead during the grassroots campaign's first round of voting.

Backed by US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the Women on the 20s campaign hopes to make the currency change by 2020, which will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment issuing women's right to vote. At the moment, things aren't final yet as there is still a process to enacting this historic change, but the idea is out there and I can't hide that I co-sign the heck out of it, but with the idea of change comes disagreement, as others aren't as enamored with this changing of the greenback guard and some for reasons that truly escape me.

In her continuous crusade to be as ignorantly obtuse possible, actress and former Cosby Show child star, Raven Symone mentioned during a taping of The View that she was in disagreement of having Tubman on the $20 bill, and favored civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, instead, elaborating that having Tubman on the bill would be "regressive", and that the need for more "fresh" and "progressive" visages would be operative. While I understand Symone's reasoning to rep for Parks as the rise of the current #BlackLivesMatter movement mirrors the movement Parks and countless others tirelessly and fearlessly worked towards 60 years ago, her argument is based on name recognition alone.

While this isn't to belittle Parks and her contributions to the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, she wasn't the accidental civil rights activist that she's been spun into, as her arrest that December day in 1955 had been an organized, almost calculated situation by the NAACP, whom Parks was the organization's secretary at the time. Several months prior to Parks' arrest, 16-year-old Claudette Colvin and 18-year-old Mary Louise Smith were arrested for resisting bus segregation. While Parks had helped raised money for Colvin's case, male leaders of the NAACP wouldn't consider it as Colvin was a "young dark-skinned girl" who was a child born out of wedlock --- not the "ideal candidate" to represent a brewing movement. Smith was also passed over because she too was "poor and dark-skinned", thus, Parks was singled out and chosen by the NAACP to become the face of the movement because she fit their wanted image of a "light-skinned, middle-classed elderstateman".

While unpleasant tactics like this weren't rare cases in the Civil Rights Movement, this particular one is a mar towards what Parks' arrest really represented, and what it became painted as in the history books. When I found this out, I wasn't shocked (colorism and classism is our downfall, y'all...) but was still disappointed, as it somewhat undermines almost all the other nameless ones who were involved in making this movement a possibility, and it pits Parks as someone not worthy of recognition just because she --- to no fault of her own --- "fit the image bill" and was used as a pawn, when her intentions and heart were in the right place from the beginning.

Still, it baffles me as to why anyone would say that having Tubman's face on the $20 bill is "regressive", when that is far from the truth, as without Tubman there wouldn't have been a Rosa Parks, much less a Civil Rights Movement.

Tubman wasn't chosen to lead any sort of movement. She wasn't banned from helping just because the color of her skin or because she didn't fit some petty criteria. She saw opportunities to free herself and others, and she took it and didn't second guess. Even when she was suffering from severe head injuries that thwarted her vision and the risks to bring slaves from the South to the borders of Canada were highly dangerous, she succeeded at helping 300 slaves to freedom through her Underground Railroad system using tactics that lead her in later years to be a vital spy and nurse for the Union army during the Civil War. Coined "Moses" by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Tubman's bravery and sacrifices is far from being "regressive" in this sense, but Symone would only understand that if she had only taken the time and effort to go to Google or learned something past what we are partially taught in school.

Still this is Raven Symone we're talking about. Just a year ago she was expressing that she was "colorless" and disassociated herself from being called an "African-American", later on vilifying our First Lady Michelle Obama by agreeing with someone's racist assessment of her looking like an ape. Now all of a sudden she is an "expert" evoking opinions on a culture she so vehemently tried to re-imagine and almost erase to fit her own lopsided thought process?

Nice try, Olivia Kendall.

This flip-flop of racial idiocy is yet another strange plant in the bumper crop of Black celebrity personalities that include Kanye West, Don Lemon, Stacey Dash, and Pharrell Williams, who like Symone, have dressed themselves up in the glittery shields of "New Blackness" where they dine out on respectability politics and warm their feet by the warped fire logged ideas that they are "above racism" and above the issues that plague Black-Americans in the US as they have fame and the vast monetary means to skirt around such "ordeals" --- or as Williams described during an interview with Oprah Winfrey:
"The "new black" doesn't blame other races for our issues. The "new black" dreams and realizes that it's not a pigmentation; it's a mentality. And it's either going to work for you, or it's going to work against you. And you've got to pick the side you're gonna be on."
Keep on tap dancing because you're happy, Pharrell, because the rest of us are not.

The whole "New Blackness" deal, while laughable, is delusional and ignorant beyond grasp and crippling to a mindset of impressionable individuals, who see their faves spouting this jumbled jargon, and believe it, when news feeds and the images we see on the day-to-day tell a different tale of the Black experience in America. We do not need these kinds of lopsided, fluffy marshmallow ways of thinking, as it tends to snuff out and disparage the history that has brought us too this point. We need to instead acknowledge and utilize a powerful image that was Tubman, who historically showed us what strength and proactive thinking and doing can achieve. And yes, Tubman's image can still apply to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and really, this instillation of pride and persistence is something we need right now more than ever.

I understand that there are some issues to having a Black woman on US currency, and there is warranted grumbling over that, but think of this way, Tubman's face being present is more about honoring a woman and the history that entailed her than it is about what is detrimental to the women who followed her. More of a reminder to us all that slavery happened, that it wasn't an imaginary ideal, or something that Black people "made up" so that they can "feel" oppressed. More of a reminder that there were Black people who actively worked, fought, and helped others to gain their freedom and their dignity, something that the movies and the history books fail to express. More of a reminder that Black women need to be accounted for in this country more than ever before, and not treated as subhumans and mocked for their achievements like Mr. Rush Card himself, Russell Simmons did with his disgusting Harriet Tubman "sex tape parody".

Even more importantly it's a reminder of not just Tubman's accomplishments but of Black Americans who dripped blood, slung sweat, and let the tears flow as they built this nation from the ground up and that these accomplishments will not be ceased to silence or belittled anymore. In a twist, (and according to the US Department of the Treasury) you cannot deface any form of currency or it will not be accepted anywhere --- so sorry racists, bigots, and New Blacks, you cannot hide, regress, or destroy what you do not want to see and embrace --- it will be front and center, fully in your face.

In a small way, seeing the strength and dignity that is etched into Tubman's face on our currency will help dim the lights of New Black City and help us all move forward. It will acknowledge Black Americans as the AMERICANS that they are, and once we become mindful to this it will lead to younger generations understanding the significance of the fight, of our past and current struggles, and how we need to feed on those things in order to further survive and to further change and inspire minds.

Money certainly does and can change everything.

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