One wouldn’t think it particularly controversial to point out that white males have had it pretty good for a long time. With very few exceptions, a brief glimpse into just about any state’s general assembly would reveal a sea of pasty, stubbly whiteness for as far as the eye can see.
Given how apparent the problem is, you might not expect the whirlwind of criticism we’ve seen from the Treasury Department’s decision to replace Andrew Jackson’s face with Harriet Tubman’s on the $20 bill. Yet here we are, amid a (sadly predictable) furor that has, as always, fallen roughly along the familiar Democratic-Republican partisan divide.
What’s the Criticism All About?
Let’s get the ugliness out of the way first. As you would expect, the Republican frontrunner, one Donald Drumpf, has been particularly outspoken when it comes to condemning this change.
Having apparently become quite comfortable with being the poster child for ignorant outrage, Drumpf has called the Treasury Department’s decision an example of “pure political correctness” and gimmickry.
He makes the same mistake most Republicans make: Assuming that, because something is politically correct, that it is not also morally correct. Trump and others like him, such as Philip Klein, author of “Overcoming Obamacare,” have criticized the Obama administration (as though it was his decision alone) of “dividing” the American people with “needless controversy.”
They appear to see this not as the positive step it is, but instead as a deliberate backwards traipse through American history with the intent to “demote” white folk heroes. They have no idea how silly they sound.
A Potentially Legitimate Criticism
In fairness to both sides of this so-called controversy, one legitimate concern is worth mentioning:
Swapping portraits on even one of the most frequently used pieces of legal tender does absolutely nothing to address the root causes of gender-based discrimination. It does not provide an answer to the nation’s women and minorities who are still waiting on formal legislation to do away with the gender or race pay gap. It does not stop men like John Kasich, a Republican extremist if ever there was one, from forcing the closure of Planned Parenthood clinics in his home state of Ohio.
These are not the criticisms being made by Trump and his ilk. They don’t care one whit about the intention behind this act — just that it turns something familiar into something, well, different. This seems a foolish sort of change to be afraid of, but then, the fears that govern the mind of modern Conservatives are seldom based in reality.
Most of the grown men in my life aren’t nearly as afraid of women as these politicians apparently are. More to the point: The politicians are playing to their strengths as they always do, by using this as a “wedge issue” to distract us from the actual problems facing our country — things like income inequality and disastrous multinational trade agreements.
They pretend to be men of substance, but they’re nothing of the sort. They’re obscurantists and obstructionists, forever confirming that the “Conservative” label is not just accurate, but also well-earned.
The Erosion of White Male Privilege
Let’s get real about this. American currency is given a visual overhaul every few years simply as a matter of fact. A set schedule actually governs it — and while it mostly has to do with updating anti-counterfeiting measures, it’s frequently used as an excuse to improve the visual appeal of our money.
What better way to do that than by replacing Andrew Jackson’s mug with the face of a true female revolutionary?
In other words: Nothing about this change is arbitrary. The bill was going to change anyway — the only difference is we’re being forced to reach deep into our national conscience and come to terms with just how exclusive the paper money portrait game has been, pretty much since the founding of this country.
Make no mistake: This is quite obviously a step in the right direction, and is long overdue in a country that pretends as hard as we do that we’re enlightened and progressive. Yes — it’s perfectly true that swapping the portrait on the $20 will have no practical impact on the women in this country, but a symbolic victory is still a victory — and the stuff that true revolutions are made from.
A country is only properly judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens — and nothing makes a person quite as vulnerable as being pushed to the sidelines and out of the spotlight, year after year and generation after generation. White males have had it pretty good for a long time — let’s stop pretending their long-running, exclusive hegemony over the developing world was ever legitimate.
The Constitution of the United States is not sacrosanct, and neither is the design of our currency. You can start looking for these refreshed twenties in your local ATM starting in 2030.
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