For the first time in American history, a black woman will appear on the face of U.S. currency. This past week, the U.S. mint announced its plans to release a commemorative gold coin featuring the face of a black Lady Liberty. But while a woman of color on our legal tender may seem like a progressive step by the Department of Treasury, let us recognize this act of inclusivity for what it truly is: another bullshit diversity stunt.
It’s a lot like how we commemorate some of the shittiest streets in a city with the name of Martin Luther King Blvd. Or award African Americans the honor of a “Black History Month,” yet assign it the shortest month of the year. An unnamed black woman on the face of a $100 coin represents the same hollow gesture because no one will ever use those coins.
Far more likely, the currency will circulate among elite coin collector’s circles, not the everyday public. And although the coin may be legal tender, it’s highly doubtful that it will ever be used as payment. The coin will be made of 24 karat gold, and will be worth far more than its $100 face value suggests. But good luck explaining to the cashier at the corner store that your $100 coin is actually worth $1,500.
The coin’s unveiling comes at a climactic cultural moment for the U.S., just days away from a transfer of power, following an election dominated by debates about immigration, race and political correctness.
Last April, after a public campaign to put a woman on our country’s paper currency, the Treasury announced its intention to replace the $20 Andrew Jackson bill with Harriet Tubman. Unlike a $100 coin, the Tubman 20 would circulate among many Americans every day.
But the progressive wave of support was met with equal conservative backlash. By June, an Iowa congressman proposed legislation to block the plan.
What’s more, with Donald Trump only a day from taking office, serious doubt over the Tubman bill lingers. So much so that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew considered releasing early images of the redesigned bill to prevent the Trump Administration from reversing their plans, according to Time.
After all, Trump is in vocal opposition to the Tubman 20. Trump has suggested that Tubman should instead be put on the $2 bill, which is no longer printed.
“Andrew Jackson had a great history. I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill,” Trump said about the man who secured his wealth with the labor of 300 slaves and organized the genocide of numerous Native American populations.
When comparing the options, putting Harriet Tubman, a real-life historical figure, on a highly circulated $20 bill would be infinitely more meaningful than putting a fictional black woman on a $100 gold coin.
Because this gold coin is nothing near the ordinary jingle in your piggy bank. It’s not the type of coin you want to carry around in your pocket or lose between the couch cushions. But until the U.S. government becomes a little more progressive, you can’t expect your pocket change to change.