(Author's note: To be read with Sharpton-like inflection)
In the renewed debate over whether to rid our currency of the penny, it's awfully conspicuous that the coin being targeted for elimination is the one coin that's a different color from the rest. More precisely, it's the coin that's "copper" amid a sea of "silver" ones that is, the brown coin amid a sea of white coins. It also happens to be the coin paying tribute to the president who freed the brown people, in contrast to the white coins, which sport presidents who were slaveholders.
It was insulting enough when the "copper" coin with the "copper"-friendly president was designated to represent the lowest monetary denomination, but now they want to be rid of it altogether. Even penny slots in Las Vegas won't take pennies. They take either bills or bills and white coins only.
In his article advocating for the extermination of the penny, National Review editor Rich Lowry writes, with emphasis added, "The poor pathetic penny has become clutter in the nation's pockets," and he describes the cumbersome process of collecting pennies to exchange them for "useful" money. Accusing "penny defenders" of being nothing more than "nostalgic," Mr. Lowry points out that it costs 1.23 cents to make one cent, and that this translates into a subsidy of four billion dollars this fiscal year. Further, "more than $10 billion worth of pennies and other coins sit idle."
Now we're getting somewhere! Although there are other coins that are "idle," it's the brown coin that's being singled out. Obvious analogies to stereotypes of black folks on welfare subsidies aside, I resent Mr. Lowry's implication that the penny which he calls "worthless," "nettlesome," and not "worth the bother" shouldn't be considered money at all. This is racism, pure and simple.
It appears that on U.S. military bases overseas, the penny has been gone since the 80s. Had I heard about this then, I surely would have made a stink. After all, what kind of message does this send to our fighting men and women, in particular our disproportionately black fighting men and women?
These bases round all transactions to 0 or 5, and that is what the penny-lynchers suggest the rest of us do. Of course, "rounding" means rounding up. And rounding up means making poor folks poorer. Now, obviously, if you remove all transactions ending in 1-4 and 6-9, a penny might seem "useless." However, if you were to remove all transactions ending in 0 or 5, then all those white coins would seem pretty useless, wouldn't they? In fact, wouldn't it make more sense to do that, since transactions not ending in 0 or 5 outnumber those that do?
Indeed, with white people fast becoming a minority in this country, why should white coins outnumber coins of color? Isn't it time for our currency to reflect the ever-changing society that it serves? We need a rainbow coinucopia. White coins are the ones that should be considered "nostalgic." Meanwhile, if it's too burdensome to continue minting and using the penny, assign it a higher value and give it a makeover. Why not make a black coin? I'm not talking about a coin calling itself "copper" or "bronze" that's what Latinos trying to hijack our civil rights movement call themselves. I'm talking about an unapologetically black coin, stamped with the closest thing to a black president this country has seen, William Jefferson Clinton.
Economists cite $300 million a year to be the value in "time lost" using pennies. But think about the confusion and inefficiency that will be caused if we abort the penny. A person could no longer describe himself as "penniless," since we all would be. He'd have to say, "I'm nickelless," and then it sounds like he's saying his name is Nicholas which has the potential to create as much inefficiency as that $300 million.
And what would happen to expressions like "a penny for your thoughts?" Most people's thoughts aren't worth a whole nickel.
If pennies have no value, why is it that you meet people named Penny, but never anyone named Quarter or Dime? Because Penny's parents believed their daughter to have no value? I don't think so. In fact, when we want to say someone is being cheated or not valued, we say they're being "nickel and dimed" not pennied.
We're often told that race relations have come a long way in this country. I say prove it. Fair-minded people everywhere: it's time to mobilize; the penny requires our affirmative action. Let's keep our cents and our sense about us.