MONEY + RACISM
It's Okay To Have Mixed Feelings About the Maya Angelou U.S. Quarter
We have a Black feminist poet on one side and a slave-owning president on the other. Let's unpack this
As a Black woman, I know I'm supposed to feel overjoyed that Maya Angelou became the first Black woman to be honored on a U.S. quarter. And, of course, I am. But, there's still the other side of the coin to consider — slave-owning George Washington. American irony will be minted in history that the same nation honoring a Black feminist poet would equally honor a White man who enslaved more than a hundred Black people. Generations from now, people may laugh at the fog of cognitive dissonance America finds itself in today.
We should honor Black women, men, as well as immigrants on our money — at least that's how part of me feels. On the other side, it's disrespectful to put marginalized groups on money without that same federal government taking action to protect their civil rights. Without honoring Black women through policies, and legislation, celebrating a Black woman on a quarter seems like a hollow gesture.
I suppose this is how some Black Americans felt when the French gifted the Statue of Liberty to praise America for emancipating enslaved Africans. But, unfortunately, the conditions Black people experienced during this era didn't reflect true freedom. Racism condemned many Black Americans to live in poverty with no property or resources.
“It was a freedom that understood what it was against but not what it was for, a malnourished and mean kind of freedom that kept you out of chains but did not provide bread or shelter or a means to get ahead. It was a definition of freedom far too easily satisfied, freedom ready with justification and rationalizations as to why some were allowed to live like gods while others were cast into misery and poverty, freedom ready with the quick answer, “Hey this is a capitalistic society, a capitalistic system, and capitalistic rules.”
— Matthew Desmond (p.184) in The 1619 Project