The Changing Face of Liberty
Diversity in Currency
At the moment, the only coin in circulation with a person of color is the Sacagawea dollar; this is also one of only two coins that features a woman. Last year, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving announced that Harriet Tubman would be the new face of the $20 bill, with smaller bills featuring women also in development to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020.
And yet while people fight to keep a president who performed genocide on Native Americans on our actual currency, even the thought of putting a black woman—a personification, mind you, not a specific person—on a collector’s edition coin is outraging others.
Though many comments on the Mint’s social media pages are complimenting the new design, others are expressing their unbridled disdain for the movement towards diversity.
“There’s a good reason that Lady Liberty was always depicted as a white woman. Liberty itself is a white Western value. Europe was the first place in the history of the world to end slavery, and its traditions of innocent until proven guilty, respect for reason and evidence, and other elements of classical liberalism grew out of white Western culture. The Statue of Liberty is a celebration of Western culture–but now, like the musical Hamilton, liberals want to put a black face on everything because anti-white racism is the only racism still allowed today,” wrote one man. Luckily, others corrected his ignorant post reminding him that slavery and thus liberty have existed since ancient times. The same could be said for allegorical depictions of Freedom and Columbia.
“I see this as trying to change history. Lady Liberty is not black, not once in our past history was she ever black. Liberty was modeled after the Roman Goddess of Liberty. Not one depiction of the Goddess has her as a black woman with corn rows. I find it offensive that people think it is okay to change history to suit their agenda,” wrote another person. Others were eager to remind the angry commenters that even the Statue of Liberty, perhaps the nation’s most familiar embodiment of the goddess, was originally modeled after a Muslim woman.
Others took a different approach to the inclusive design, wondering if these communities even want to be used for the purpose of looking fair and equal on currency. “It’s kind of a joke. It’s like putting your hostage up for display & telling everyone she’s glad to be there,” wrote one person on the Mint’s Facebook page.
But whereas our money is so often a reflection of our past, this coin shows a bold step of looking towards the future. The US Mint Chief of Staff, Elisa Basnight, said at last week’s ceremony, “Lady Liberty, as depicted in coinage throughout the years, is modeled after our society’s continued evolution. As we as a nation continue to evolve, so does Liberty’s representation.”
Principal Director Rhett Jeppson wrote, “We have chosen ‘Remembering our Past, Embracing the Future’ as the Mint’s theme for our 225th Anniversary year. This beautiful coin truly embodies that theme. The coin demonstrates our roots in the past through such traditional elements as the inscriptions United States of America, Liberty, E Pluribus Unum, and In God We Trust. We boldly look to the future by casting Liberty in a new light, as an African-American woman wearing a crown of stars, looking forward to ever brighter chapters in our Nation’s history book.”
Jeppson continued, “Our Founding Fathers wanted ideals on their coins. So really, what you see us doing today is trying to embody the ideal of Liberty, interpreted today, in a modern way, with recognition in honoring our past, recognizing that, but looking to who we are as a people today.”
Lest we forget the motto of our nation, E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.” We are a nation built on diversity and tumult, and our differences only make us stronger. Perhaps our ever-changing populace is the reason we’ve managed to stay so strong in a world of stagnantly homogenous countries. If people are truly upset that an allegorical character who’s been used in cultures across the world is going to look different on a commemorative coin needs to reevaluate their priorities and question why they cling so steadfastly to the flawed past.
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