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Black women finally grace U.S. currency, but is this the best the government can do?

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The United States Mint has begun shipping the first circulating quarters in the American Women Quarters Program honoring Maya Angelou. (Burwell and Burwell Photography/United States Mint/Department of Treasury/TNS)

By Alena Visnovsky

Maya Angelou is the first woman and first black woman to adorn a United States quarter. In early January 2022, the United States Mint began shipping the first Maya Angelou coins.

The Maya Angelou quarter is the first in the American Women Quarters Program. This program will run from 2022 to 2025 and the U.S. Mint will release up to five new reverse designs each year. A variety of American women are going to be honored this way.

I was thrilled to find out that the U.S. had put Angelou on a quarter. Simply the fact that the U.S. government decided to honor a black woman is uncommon. 

Representation like this is paramount for the survival of a healthy country. Many of the men residing on U.S. currency have committed horrendous acts of violence against women and particularly women of color. Ideally, the American Women Quarters program becomes a full replacement process. 

Is it a twisted satire that George Washington, a man who participated in enslaving black folks, now shares a quarter with a black woman? She deserves to inhabit the quarter more than him, so I’m confused as to why he survived the design overhaul and still occupies the obverse side of the quarter. 

After the U.S. Revolutionary War, Washington endorsed the abolition of slavery through minimal legislative action, a view he shared exclusively in private. Yet he remained utterly dependent on enslaved labor. 

Sierra Monaee said in a Twitter thread, “An apology without change is just manipulation.” 

Washington clearly didn’t care too much about the lives of enslaved people. He only took action when he was dead: one of the few locations beyond the reach of social backlash.

But he freed his slaves eventually!” He “owned” fewer than half of the enslaved people under his control. So he and Martha Washington were legally not allowed to free most of them. Not to mention that his half-hearted rejection of slavery is speculated to be economic, and not moral. Which somehow makes the situation worse.

Now, as a white person, I have to be very careful when I’m talking about racial inequality. I also won’t speak for Angelou, who died in 2014 at the age of 86, but did no one think that leaving Washington on the quarter would be distasteful?

Speaking of worthy black women replacing outdated white men devoid of morals. Harriet Tubman was supposed to have replaced Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill by now. Not sure why Jackson was on the bill in the first place, if you know anything about him, you should feel the same.

Unfortunately, the design of the non-face side of the $20 bill still has a statue of Jackson on it. Frankly, that’s ridiculous. Jackson enforced the American Indian Removal Act which violently displaced close to 50,000 Native Americans in hopes of using that land for plantations filled with enslaved black folks. Nearly completed genocide is only one of Jackson’s hideous legacies

White people have always had the luxury of losing interest in the liberation of marginalized groups. They don’t have to care about racism. White people literally have the option of being interested or not. But, minorities don’t have that luxury; they live with bias, prejudice, and discrimination every day with no choice. 

According to a New York Times article, the decision to replace Jackson with Tubman was made in 2016 by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. However, the Trump administration stopped the process.

This same article mentions that the Biden administration has claimed that they are “studying ways to speed up the process of adding Harriet Tubman’s portrait to the front of the $20 bill.” Hopefully actual progress is made this time around. Honestly, it’s very difficult to get anything done when all the current party does is undo what the previous party did before them. 

Because of mandatory counterfeit measures, bills are much more difficult to design and produce than coins. However, if the government really wanted to push these designs through, they would. 

Now, it’d be preferable for the government to follow up with voter protection laws and reproductive rights for black women. As beautiful and meaningful as this quarter is, the government could implement more practical methods of lifting up black women and obliterating white privilege. People of color are more negatively impacted than white folks who need reproductive healthcare. 

I’m ecstatic that Maya Angelou is currently on U.S. currency. It’s incredible, but as always, our country needs to become better and apply additional steps to protect marginalized groups.