BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- We should have left the historical figures on our money alone. Let Alexander Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers on our currency rest in peace.
One need not be pro-man or anti-woman to believe that diminishing the men on our paper bills in order to elevate a female, by 2020, as recently decreed by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, is pure folly.
What’s truly fallacious is the idea, as voiced by the people over at womenon20s.org, the grassroots organization that helped propel the effort through social media to get a woman on our currency, that doing so will “compel historic change.”
Putting any one of the number of extremely brave, talented or stereotype-busting women on paper money will ... what? Break glass ceilings? Get more women into power positions in Silicon Valley? Up the number of women in science and engineering? Make the case for an excellent president who happens to be female rather than hoping for the first female president at any cost?
First just ask yourself: When was the last time you had a stack of paper money in your hands?
Tipping in cabs, restaurants, hair salons and nearly everywhere else is easy to add onto a debit or credit card purchase. The Salvation Army uses phone apps to collect donations at Christmastime. My own children get their allowance direct deposited into their junior checking and savings accounts, which they manage via an iPhone app.
Cash will probably never become extinct or obsolete, as so many futurists have predicted. But we’re coming really close, really soon.
Second, women have been on money already, and those efforts elicited collective yawns. Who but hard-core coin collectors have a stash of Sacagawea or Susan B. Anthony coins?
Third, and most important: Is this who we really want to be? A society in which we have major systemic issues that keep us from fulfilling the promise of equal opportunity, but instead of focusing on those, our government officials bow to the social-media campaign du jour?
This is as much of a disgrace as the diminution of the man who, according to historian Richard Brookhiser, author of “Alexander Hamilton: American,” not only saved President George Washington and our new country from its first debt crisis and established our central bank, but also established the New York Manumission Society to work for black liberty in 1785, prompting persistent rumors that he had African-American blood.
Many outraged history buffs have responded to the widespread amnesia about why Hamilton made it onto the 10-spot in the first place with a call to instead yank Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill as was first posited by womenon20s.org.
Jackson was many things -- some of them terrible -- but he earned his place in history (more so than Grover Cleveland, whom he replaced on the $20 bill) by being someone who actually came from humble beginnings, became president and played a major role in advocating for wider participation of non-landed gentry in democracy.
We used to revere our early presidents, warts and all, but it appears that’s now too politically incorrect for a time in which those who rule the social mediasphere seem to believe that one gender must be torn down in order to uplift another.
Let’s face it: Whoever gets to share the $10 bill with the man venerated historian Ron Chernow called “the most important person in American history who never reached the White House,” will be no more important to the advancement of women than Diane Sawyer finally getting the ABC anchor chair after most people stopped watching the nightly news or Marissa Mayer taking the reins of Yahoo only after it had been left for dead by several other executives -- and perhaps less so than the first female Dr. Who.
This country needs smart, strong women in positions of leadership across all sectors of industry and government. Instead we get the token of being added on to the design of a dying form of currency.
Worse, the $10 bill “victory” will provide vindication to all the narrow-minded jerks who already believe that women and minorities seek their own advancement less than they do the oppression of white males.
In a true gender-neutral world, the feds would ignore social media and put their attention and effort into finally ditching the money-losing penny and offering further details on how the new $10 bills will better serve those with visual impairments. But we’re clearly not there yet.
Esther J. Cepeda is a Nationally Syndicated Columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
For information on booking Esther for public speaking engagements, click here.