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Sunday, January 23, 2022

US coin depicting Maya Angelou was a long time coming

🔴 The demand for more diverse representation in official iconography as well as in public art, street names etc — especially of women and people of colour — has been growing louder in the US and elsewhere in the world.

By: Editorial |
Updated: January 13, 2022 9:35:43 am
Many Americans view the development as one that has been a long time coming.

It seems fitting that the first quarter minted under the American Women quarters programme — to commemorate notable women in US history — should feature Maya Angelou, the globally loved writer, poet and memoirist who died in 2014. In her long and astonishingly creative life, Angelou was many things. Apart from building a prolific career in letters, she had also been, at different times, a singer, actor, dancer, composer, journalist and teacher, as well as Hollywood’s first black female director. With the new commemorative quarter, she’s also become the first black woman to feature on a US coin.

Many Americans view the development as one that has been a long time coming. It was in the Obama era that the proposal to put a black woman on US currency was first mooted — the $20 bill, which currently features the seventh US president, Andrew Jackson, was to be redesigned to feature the abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman. The project fell by the wayside during the Trump presidency, although the current president, Joe Biden, announced last January that the proposal for the Tubman $20 bill will be revived and the process “speeded up”.

The demand for more diverse representation in official iconography as well as in public art, street names etc — especially of women and people of colour — has been growing louder in the US and elsewhere in the world. It comes on the back of movements, such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, that seek to remake the world, not only in its essence — through the politics of empowerment — but also in its visual iconography and symbolism. This was what lay behind the scene, a few years ago, when BLM protestors toppled a slave trader’s statue into the sea at Bristol, UK. While there has been a conservative resistance to this impulse, which is sometimes (mis)characterised as a part of “cancel culture”, the inclusion of Angelou on official currency has elicited little backlash. This is a welcome development in a hopefully more inclusive world.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 13, 2022 under the title ‘Maya Angelou quarter’.

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