The Barbershop Talks Prince's Legacy And The New $20 Bill
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we gather some interesting folks to tell us about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs this week are Danielle Belton, blogger and editor at The Root. Good to see you again, Danielle.
DANIELLE BELTON: Oh, good to be back.
MARTIN: Also, welcome back to Anil Dash. He's an entrepreneur and writer about tech and culture. Hi Anil.
ANIL DASH: Hello, glad to be here.
MARTIN: And a big welcome to Barbara Ortiz Howard. She's the owner of a construction and restoration business in New York City, but she's also the founder of Women on 20s, an organization that's been pushing the Treasury Department for years to make a change on our change. And guess what? There's been some news this week. So Barbara, welcome to you as well.
BARBARA ORTIZ HOWARD: Thank you. It's great to be here.
MARTIN: So let's jump in with the big reason why we invited Barbara to be here this week. You probably know this by now that Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, will be replaced on the $20 bill by Harriet Tubman, the freedom fighter, the great former slave who led some many people to freedom. Barbara, congratulations - I mean, it just - you know, we always say to ourselves, you know, in America, you know, individual with a great idea can make a difference. But you really did it.
HOWARD: (Laughter) We are very pleased, indeed. And we're celebrating this day, and this week is really gratifying.
MARTIN: Can you just briefly tell us how did this idea come to you? How did you get this idea to begin with?
HOWARD: I had always been a bit involved in women's things. When I grew up, in high school, you know, was kind of the intersection of civil rights, women's rights, the end of Vietnam. You know, we worked towards that and it gave me a perspective of how this could develop. And now I'm standing in - can I say it? - Starbucks, and I'm going to pay. And I said oh, we don't have any women on our money; that's the problem. I spoke to the other people in the Starbucks, like, hey, wait a minute, you know, did you notice there's no women on the money? And then they were all like yes, lady, we know that, you know?
MARTIN: It's funny because it's one of those issues, Danielle Belton, that's almost, like, hiding in plain sight, right, or hiding in your wallet. And it was surprisingly emotional for me when I actually thought about it because I think about when I've traveled overseas to countries where people of African descent run things and you see people of African descent on the currency, and what that has felt like to sort of think in my own country to have currency with somebody who looks like me on it, I was surprisingly emotional about it. And I just wondered, Danielle, how it struck you.
BELTON: Well, I was of two minds about it because on one hand, like, it's so important. I mean, who we value in our society, who we kind of elevate to these higher statuses, we put them on the money. And so to put a black woman on the money, a former slave who fought for emancipation and freedom like Harriet Tubman is a very, very powerful thing. But at the same time, I was kind of torn because a colleague of mine at The Root, Kirsten West Savali, wrote a piece where she argued against putting Harriet Tubman...
MARTIN: Give us her argument.
BELTON: ...On the 20. Well, her argument essentially boiled down to how - what money represents in our society and how black women have been historically treated in America. And she felt that putting the 20 - Tubman on the 20 wasn't progress, but it was hush money, a way to silence how black women have been treated by our society.
MARTIN: Let me just read a paragraph from her piece. She said that (reading) specifically there's something both distasteful and ironic about putting a black woman's face on the most frequently counterfeited and most commonly traded dollar bill in this country. Haven't we been conmodified and trafficked enough? That was provocative. How do people react to that?
BELTON: Strong - I mean, people had a strong, visceral reaction. You had people who agreed with her and understood her sentiment, and you had other people who were still very much like who is important is on the money. We want Harriet Tubman to be important. We want Harriet Tubman...
BELTON: ...To be a celebrated figure.
MARTIN: And how do you feel?
BELTON: I am of two minds. Like, on one hand I'm really proud and excited about it. On the other hand, I kind agreed with Kirsten.
MARTIN: You know what? It's interesting, speaking of being of two minds, it turns out that Andrew Jackson is actually staying on the $20 bill. He's just moving to the other side, and he'll be a smaller portrait. And some people, Anil, were not loving that. In fact...
MARTIN: ...We actually got a Twitter poem about this as part of our April Poetry Month celebration. You know, we've been inviting people to send us poems at tweet length. And we actually got a poem about this that said Harry Tubman on the 20 with Jackson on the other side, like having Lincoln on the penny and John Booth waiting outside. That was tweeted to us from @CarrieRough (ph). Right, so Anil, how do you - what do you think about it?
DASH: Oh, I'm feeling that. I mean - I mean, this is why it's so moving to see the idea of representation on our currency can come from an ordinary citizen working on it 'cause that's the - I mean, that's the romantic thing that, you know, I tell my child, that you tell your kids this is possible. That's only true if we're self-critical. I mean, the entire predicate for any kind of action from, you know, undoing historical wrongs like how we've treated Native American all the way to the currency in our pockets is you have to believe that you can actually have an impact.
So I think the fact that we can reevaluate somebody like Andrew Jackson and say no, you know what? Our values have changed and evolved and we've learned - boy, that's the - I mean, that's the whole premise of the country.
MARTIN: Barbara, can I ask you does it diminish the victory for you in any way the fact that Andrew Jackson remains on the currency, even though he's on the flipside?
HOWARD: Well, I certainly don't think this dialogue and conversation is over. And what my view is is that I don't want to - this to be an erasure or a scrubbing of our history. We still have to be able to tell that story. And I'd like to see this become a story of - from removal to reconciliation.
I'm calling it a win, but I'm not calling it a day, and we need to continue. This is the beginning of moving forward in an era where we're going to start respecting one another a bit more.
MARTIN: You know, in some countries, they rotate, kind of the way we do with stamps, you know, which - where we put lots of different folks on stamps. So Danielle, if you could pick, who would you put on...
BELTON: Oh, my goodness...
MARTIN: ...Our currency?
BELTON: ...That's such a tough question. The first person who popped in my head was Ida B. Wells because she's one of my favorites 'cause she's a journalist.
MARTIN: Yeah, that sounds good. Barbara, what about you, any other faves for you?
HOWARD: Well, you know, we did get what I consider a trifecta by the way 'cause we're not only changing the 20. We are changing the 10 and the five. And on the back of the 10 is going to be a vignette, from what I understand, of five prominent women in the suffrage movement, which includes Alice Paul, of course, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Lucretia Mott.
MARTIN: Anil, what about you? Who's your vote for who you would - else you would like to...
MARTIN: ...See on the currency?
DASH: That's a good question. I love actually, you know, what Treasury had done for years on the back of the quarters where they had each state had something and these different stories. You know, because it's on my mind right now - it maybe leading into a later conversation - right now my pick would be to put Prince on there.
MARTIN: Well, there you go...
DASH: ...Because he can represent us all.
MARTIN: He can represent us well. You know, that does bring us to some other news of the week. Anil just told us once again, you know, the world is saying goodbye to a beloved superstar.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KISS")
PRINCE: (Singing) You don't have to be beautiful to turn me on. I just need your body, baby, from dusk till dawn.
MARTIN: This does - making me feel a bit better listening to "Kiss," right?
BELTON: It helps. Every little bit helps.
MARTIN: And, you know, we've been getting some Twitter poem tributes to him this week as well. Here's one from @KickingDoors (reading) so this is the sound of doves flown, purple dreams and cherry moons, our love burst kiss going crazy and our Prince called home.
So I think that was lovely that people felt moved to kind of remember him in this way. I know Anil, you just mentioned that you're big Prince fan. And even though...
DASH: Oh yeah.
MARTIN: ...Of course, you know, I'm assuming you weren't personal friends. But...
MARTIN: But, you know, I was thinking about this. Why is it that when somebody - you love their music, it really - that loss does feel personal? I know I was thinking about - certainly I was thinking about Michael Jackson. I mean, we were actually trading stories, like remembering where we were...
MARTIN: ...When he died. And I was thinking - why do you think that is, Anil?
DASH: Well, you know, music is the thing that in many ways helps us form our identities, especially - and I think people went through this with Michael Jackson or with David Bowie or whomever, you know, that was formative for them. For me it was Prince. Where you are - you know, usually a teenager, usually finding your identity, finding yourself - you find an artist that is speaking to you and that sort of, like, nobody's ever - whatever, you know, nobody's ever had their heart broken before, nobody's ever felt this way before, whatever, you know, nobody's ever driven in a little red Corvette before. And here it is, this thing that I'm feeling and this person's giving voice to it.
And you find yourself in it, right? So what a great artist does is give you permission to be yourself. And I think every single fan everywhere in the world that I've ever talked to has a story about feeling like an outcast, feeling like a freak, didn't know where they fit in terms of, you know, whether it was gender or race or any other part of their identity. You know, and seeing it reflected back to them all in this one person who was kind of in many ways an all of the above while still being singularly, you know, rooted in the black American music tradition was like this profound thing.
MARTIN: You posted a picture of Prince floppy disk on Twitter. I have to ask, what's the deal with that?
DASH: So there's a - well, as any fans would know, back in 1993 on his 35th birthday, he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. And he had a, you know, Prince-style press conference at his Paisley Park studios up in Minneapolis.
And his press person was like well, you know, his name is no longer Prince. It's this symbol here, you know, pointed at the symbol. And if you need to put it in your stories, we've made a font and we'll give it to you on this floppy disk - and sort of becomes this legendary artifact of what a tech pioneer he was that there was this object. And so I after many, many years was able to procure one.
MARTIN: That's awesome. You know, there was a song - can we play it? - there's a song we can play about this. "My Computer" I think it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY COMPUTER")
PRINCE: (Singing) I scan my computer looking for a site. Make believe it's a better world, a better life, a better life.
MARTIN: This is from the 1996 alum "Emancipation." And, you know, again, he was an early black nerd, too, right?
DASH: Oh yeah.
MARTIN: Danielle, what about you? What do you want to tell us about Prince's music an how did it have an impact on you?
BELTON: Oh I am a huge Prince fan for the longest time. Like, when you came up with theme songs for yourself, you know, my first theme song was "Baby, I'm A Star" from the "Purple Rain" soundtrack 'cause I felt so positive about my life, you know, so it just made sense. But I was deeply, deeply affected; I'm still kind of in shock. Like, I'm still just kind of drifting through because he meant so much to me.
MARTIN: Barbara, final thought from you on this? I mean, I know that we didn't invite you here to talk about Prince, but you - certainly, you know about Prince. What's your thought?
HOWARD: Of course. No, I mean - I mean, he transcended. You know, so even if you're not someone who listens to music all the time, you're - you know, you're touched by him. And he did have a special beauty, and he had an aura that was very, very special.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE RAIN")
PRINCE: (Singing) I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain, purple rain, purple rain...
MARTIN: So that's our bittersweet Barbershop this week with Anil Dash, Danielle Belton and Barber Ortiz Howard. Thank you all so much for joining us as we go out on "Purple Rain."
BELTON: Thank you.
DASH: Thank you.
HOWARD: Thank you having us.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "PURPLE RAIN")
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