This was a big week for Black America.
First, I debuted my inaugural column for Willamette Week last Friday and, much to my shock and delight, no one called me a nigger in the comment section.
Secondly, it was announced that Harriet Tubman will officially replace Andrew Jackson as the new face of the $20 bill. She, however, has been called a nigger many times throughout every comment section I've seen on this subject thus far.
I'm a liberal guy living in Portland, Oregon. I read Jezebel, I own an Ani DiFranco album, and I go out of my way to call myself a feminist whenever there's a woman within earshot. So I understand how incredibly important it is to have a Black lady on our currency. I mean, she's a woman! And she's Black! We rarely recognize someone who's either of those things, let alone both.
And while Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, and Helen Keller (who's featured on the back of the Alabama quarter—a weird move for a state with pro-discrimination laws currently in review) are dope, they've all been relegated to the change machines at train stations; so it's great to know that pertinent women of American history will soon appear on paper currency.
I get why this is a big deal, and I am genuinely slightly excited about it. But, honestly, in the wider scope of things, who cares?
I'm in too deep. Capitalism is all I know, and money means so much more to me than some symbolic semblance of change. If I woke up tomorrow and the $20 bill featured a Photoshopped image of Pol Pot and Idi Amin pissing on a paupers' grave, I'd be grossed out and disappointed, but I'd still be down to use that money. I understand why it's a step forward to put Harriet Tubman on our cash, but I can't buy shit with the idea of progress, so I don't have any particularly strong feelings about the faces on the bills in my wallet.
Money is money, and if we as a society are comfortable utilizing various forms of domestic servitude and foreign slavery to maintain the somewhat formidable strength of the U.S. dollar, then it almost seems rude to put an abolitionist on any of our bills. Because as a Black woman who fought against slavery, Harriet Tubman probably wouldn't be that psyched to be featured on the cash we use to fuel our capitalistic system founded on slavery.
Also, the $20 bill is 75 percent cotton. Because in America, even our symbolic change is a little bit racist.
This fiscal changeover from Jackson to Tubman won't happen until 2030, but in some ways, it's best we have to wait. We so desperately want to believe that we're prepared to have a Black, female revolutionary on our currency, but are we really ready? Do you honestly think you can live up to Harriet's standards? Because I'm pretty sure I can't, and there's bound to be an awkward transitional phase I'm not sure I'll know how to handle.
Sure, Andrew Jackson did a lot of terrible things, but he never judged me for being a complicit asshole. He embraced me for it, and within that warm embrace I found the confidence to buy food I knew had been picked by underpaid immigrants and clothing I knew had been stitched together by children overseas and drugs I knew had destroyed communities in Latin and South America. I felt I could do all this wrong because I knew I was ultimately still nobler than Andrew Jackson, and when I pulled out my wallet to pay for these sins, his vacuous, white-boy face would always be there, aloofly gazing off towards the distant horizon as if saying, "Hey. I'm an asshole. Buy what you want. Do what you want. Kill whoever."
But Harriet isn't gonna stand for that shit. She will knowingly doubt the decency and compassion of my every purchase; because not only have we chosen to kick a heinous bigot off our money, we've elected to replace him with a woman who is morally superior to every single one of us in every single fucking way. When she claims her rightful throne on the twenty and we pull that bill out of our wallets, Harriet Tubman's eyes will gaze into the depth of our souls with all the bona fide intensity of someone who was born into slavery and still accomplished more than any of us; and my biggest concern is that this woman's perceptive gaze is gonna fuck up my spending habits.
Her silent stare will ask such questions as, "Curtis, are you really about to spend me on a handle of Old Crow and an energy drink?" Or, "Are you seriously willing to hand me over for a Ziploc baggy full of drugs? Will you not free yourself from vice the way I freed so many of our ancestors from the shackles of slavery?"
Her shrewd glance shall speak as if to inquire, "Excuse me, Curtis, but why are you going to the mall right now? Don't you already have all the clothes you need? What makes you think a new look will change who you truly are inside? Are you aware how many times I traveled the vertical length of this nation? Do you know how famous I am for running? Take it from me, you can run away from slavery, but you can never run away from yourself."
"Hey Curtis," her tired eyes will whisper. "Remember how your people used to be slaves in this country for hundreds of years? Do you remember that? People died for your freedom. All the lives lost at Gettysburg were but a drop in the bucket compared to the total sum of violence and bloodshed it took to render our people from slavery. So of course you should spend the extra $1.50 to bump those regular tots up to Cajun tots. We earned it."
All that aside, as marginal a change as this may be, it's still a marginal change for the better. Because symbolism matters. Visibility matters. Representation matters. And, with any luck, seeing some of the most magnificent women of U.S. history on paper bills will inspire the next generation of American girls to do great things. Because with enough hard work and dedication, they too can become cogs in a machine that doesn't give a shit about them.
And lastly, this week in Black America we lost a legendary musician. News broke yesterday that the Prince of Paisley Park had passed away.
We've lost more than our fair share of influential artists in the short span of 2016, but Prince's death proclaims that the end is truly nigh. For the world will not end with a bang or a whimper. Man will not fall to the mercy of angels and demons locked in a war between heaven and hell. Instead, the end of days will come rushing forth with thrashing, rapturous, orgasmic ecstasy when a millennia's worth of tantric sex reaches its climax and Prince finally busts a nut in God.
Happy Earth Day.