Friday, April 22, 2016

Sign of the Times

It was 1:23pm yesterday when my BFF sent this text:
Prince died?!
And 1:24pm when I responded with:
Then I opened a new window on my browser to check the headlines, and by the time I had changed the channel to see a sober-faced Brian Williams confirm what I had just read in the headlines, the Babe awoke from her nap. Then the rest of my day unfolded in the familiar way that we have come to expect when an iconic presence transitions--we publicly mourn. I read every update on my FB feed, scrolled through my Twitter timeline and watched Prince videos late into the night.

Now that Prince is gone the obligatory thing would be to write about my fandom and how it has ebbed and flowed in intensity since my childhood. I could try to compile an unwieldy and perpetual list of my favorite Prince songs. I could recount how I first saw "Purple Rain" while waiting for a bus outside the window of a video store. I could recall how everyone in college claimed to have made the ultimate Prince mixtape. I could admit that I was envious of Vanity, Sheila E, Mayte and pretty much every other woman he loved. I could share the story of how I got to see him in concert at Verizon unexpectedly about ten years ago. I could truthfully say that I have never seen "Graffiti Bridge"...

I could write about all of that and lament how mortal/melancholy/unaccomplished/inspired I feel at the transition of yet another cultural icon from our midst. And perhaps I might say something witty and memorable, but honestly (and forgive me for re-posting what I initially wrote on my FB page): I cannot even...

Instead, I will return to the topic I was working on before the music died--my excitement about the Harriet Tubman twenty dollar bill. In the moments before I received that text, I was trying to be productive. The Babe had been napping for more than an hour, so in addition to working out a few details for her birthday extravaganza (that I will tell you all about once I've fully recovered), I wanted to post a belated, yet quick editorial on the matter to the Busy Black Woman FB page.

My initial reaction was excitement at the very idea that the image of a woman would actually be printed on money that we use and not merely engraved on coins that we save and never spend. I get the irony of Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave, replacing the image of President Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder. I appreciate the argument that this is mere window dressing and does not atone for the injustices of slavery and its legacy of racial inequality. I respect the opinion of those who are offended by the idea that Tubman will now become a symbol of commerce. I am amused by those who complain about political correctness and historical white-washing (actually it is historical color-correcting, but I digress). Still, I celebrate that I [we], too, sing America.

And to tie all of this together in the clumsiest way I can to bind the spirits of Harriet Tubman and Prince...this is all a Sign of the Times in which we live. We exalt, denounce, memorialize, and navigate our way through this thing called life in a different world with less distinct boundaries and hierarchies. In another time, it was inconceivable that we would elevate the story of an escaped slave to a place of honor and reverence. It is a sign that we continue to evolve as a nation that strives to reconcile itself to shortcomings of its lofty promises. It is a sign that within a 24-hour span of debate and divergent opinions on any number of topics, we can unite in disbelief and grief over the death of a musician (who once called himself a slave...and in a few years we will still be buying his music, with Tubmans).

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