By Silas Nyanchwani
My thoughts on Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.
America is not a perfect society. But one of their strongest distinction is that they are constantly confronting and reexamining their history, reviewing and correcting the mistakes, even though at times change can be painfully slow.
The choice of Harriet Tubman, the African-American woman who was an abolitionist during the American Civil War, to replace Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of America and a slave owner is one example of how America continuously addresses its racial problems.
History often erases, underplays, and ignores the contribution women make in historical events such as slavery, civil wars, colonization and liberation of countries. Almost all monuments end up honouring the men in retrospect turn out to be genocidal barbarians, I will not mention Churchill or King Leopold. For black women it is even harder.
Hollywood for instance often casts lighter-skinned women in roles that represent black historical figures like Tubman. Before Lupita came along, who started deifying, rather unnecessarily, rarely did a truly black woman stand a chance.
In 2012, the movie “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, Tubman was played by Jacqueline Fleming who is half Danish and half- black. She is obviously lighter-skinned than Tubman, who was black in every way. There was some backlash, and it took Lupita to erase some of the guilt away. But not all of us can be fooled. It is one of those things that riles blacks.
In complex political situations such as racial problems in America, sometimes change comes in tokenism . Goes to show why the struggle never ends. The American dollar bill carries the portraits of the founding fathers, many of whom who did great things to establish the future superpower, but their legacy is permanently tainted by their slave-ownership. Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were all slave owners. Jefferson even sired a child with a slave. Jackson and Jefferson are particularly regarded as the most offensive.
The general public in the West is currently talking about the place of monuments of the aforementioned slave owners and pillaging colonizers like Cecil Rhodes that arrogantly decorate schools, colleges, universities, museums. In a world that now understands their atrocities that still haunt the African continent to date, should they be celebrated? Should they be honoured with schools, scholarships and other legacy things be named after them?
In South Africa and London, already there have been demonstrations by students and intellectuals who want the Rhodes statues to be removed from the universities. It has started and I doubt if it will stop until the statues come down.
Outside my school Thomas Jefferson stands tall. Authoritatively. There are always murmurs from students, both black and white, about his slave-ownership and whether he deserves such a higher respect at an esteemed institution.
Contrary to the popular assumption, generations get smarter, not dumber. And with the internet, it is not going to be possible to revise or erase history from the face of the earth. Bad people will be put in their place.
In Kenya, there will come a time when our children will ask us why Kenyatta is buried outside our parliament. Why we have the police manning his grave, when we have so much insecurity in the country. We will ask, was Kenyatta the only man who brought independence to Kenya?
1. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
2. Kenyatta Avenue
3.Kenyatta National Hospital
5. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
6. Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Library (JKML) at University of Nairobi,
8. Kenyatta Primary,
9. Mama Ngina
10. Kenyatta International Conference Centre.
And that is just within a 20KM radius of the Nairobian CBD. I won’t mention the many years he has exclusively graced our currency.
This kind of bullshit deification will come to an end at one point. We will realise there were other heroes who deserve to be enshrined in our memories. Personally the fact that Bildad Kaggia and Jaramogi are not honoured even with a pavement always boils my blood.
Kenyatta, for all his achievements, he did set the country down a treacherous path, from which it will take us forever to recover from. It doesn’t help much what the son is doing.
In the future when primitive accumulation of wealth will be not only unthinkable, but intellectually frowned upon, we will change some of these things to reflect a better truth of our past. But to get there, people need to be educated, so as we can stop worshiping foolish thieves pillaging the economy as mothers and families die for lack of basic needs, in 2016. Their only desire is to to build mansions with 50 bedrooms, and stash away billions in offshore accounts. Billions they will never use, since they all die sooner or later.
But for those who can think, let us start the discussion of reconciling the past with the future. The truth, whether it is the assassinations of Mboya, JM Kariuki, Ouko, Mbai, Pinto, the Wagalla Massacre, the Molo Clashes, Likoni clashes, Post Election Violence, never goes away. Sooner or later, it always rears its ugly head.