Harriet Tubman Is The New Face Of The $20 Bill – And That Means A Lot
If you’ve got any $20 bills with Andrew Jackson’s face on them sitting in your wallet you might want to get them framed, because as of this morning they are a collector’s item. Politico is reporting, with many other news outlets including the The New York Times posting their own stories, that Treasuring Secretary Jack Lew is set to announce the replacement of Jackson on the front of the $20 with legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman. The seventh president will likely stay on the bill in some fashion on the back.
The announcement comes about a year after a non-profit group called Women On 20s popped up to lobby for putting a woman’s face on our currency. They conducted an online poll and after 352,431 votes were tallied, Tubman edged out Eleanor Roosevelt for the top spot. Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller (the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation) finished second and third, respectively.
Another candidate for replacement was taking Alexander Hamilton off the $10, but that drew a lot of ire considering Hamilton’s role in creating the Treasury Department and the foundation of our American financial system. There’s also that huge God damn musical sensation Hamilton that has renewed interest in the Founding Father. Lin-Manuel Miranda – who created, wrote and stars in the production and just won a Pulitzer for it – even personally appealed to Treasury Secretary Lew to keep Hamilton from getting nixed.
But regardless of whether we’re talking about Jackson or Hamilton or Benjamin Franklin, the fact that only white men appear on United State’s currency is pretty embarrassing. After the suffrage and civil rights movements you’d think we would literally have put our money where our mouth is by now, but getting the federal government to do an about face on, well, anything isn’t just like trying to turn an aircraft carrier. It’s kind of like trying to make the Earth spin in reverse.
Replacing the face of Andrew Jackson – a man whose wealth was made on the backs of enslaved black people – with Tubman’s image sounds like an idyllic reversal of fortune.
But not everyone is convinced late is better than never. In a Washington Post article titled “Keep Harriet Tubman – and all women – off the $20 bill”, writer Feminista Jones presents a compelling argument for why Tubman on the $20 could actually be disrespectful to her legacy, even if the move is well-intentioned.
“On one hand, replacing the face of Andrew Jackson – a man whose wealth was made on the backs of enslaved black people – with Tubman’s image sounds like an idyllic reversal of fortune,” writes Jones. “But in examining Tubman’s life, it’s clear that putting her face on America’s currency would undermine her legacy. By escaping slavery and helping many others do the same, Tubman became historic for essentially stealing ‘property.’ Her legacy is rooted in resisting the foundation of American capitalism. Tubman didn’t respect America’s economic system, so making her a symbol of it would be insulting.”
These points are all, sadly, very true, and so is Jones’ statement that, “America’s currency is viewed as a place to honor people of historic political influence. To suggest that black women are part of that club by putting Tubman’s face on the $20 simply would cover up our nation’s reality of historic and lingering disenfranchisement.” But putting Tubman on the $20 could be one more act that forces the club to finally open its paper doors and let others in. This country was founded on abhorrent treatment of anyone that’s not white, and the part Andrew Jackson played in evicting Native Americans from their land certainly played a role in his ouster from the currency. For being a bastion of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the U.S. also has a despicable track record with women.
But in fear of sounding disgustingly squishy, that was history, and putting Tubman on our currency can be the future if we let it. And by “let” of course we mean “if we work relentlessly to make sure women, people of color and the LGBTQ community finally start being honored for the roles they have played and will continue to play in fundamentally shaping this country.” You know, or something like that.
And regardless of whether you are for or against putting Tubman – or any woman for that matter – on the $20 bill, let’s all make each other a solemn vow right now: When the new notes come into circulation there will be no making it rain with 20s, or use of 20s in recreational environments where making it rain is likely to occur. The image of Harriet Tubman’s face being scattered into the wind only to end up on a floor is just… well it’s just too terrible. Respect your new 20s, everyone!