Black Twitter is aflame with mixed reactions to the idea of Harriet Tubman being on the $20 bill. Here’s my thoughts.
The petition was launched by Women on 20s, a nonprofit grassroots organization committed to promoting gender diversity on paper currency. In a 10-week online poll, hundreds of thousands of people voted for which female leader they wanted to see represented on the $20 bill. Harriet Tubman, the revolutionary leader of the Underground Railroad, won with 118,328 votes.
Famed génocidaire President Andrew Jackson is currently featured on the bill.
The whole campaign feels very white-feministy. A quick look at the leadership cemented my initial feelings. Prime among the decision-makers is Sofia, a 9-year-old Junior Ambassador who, despite a precocious political imagination, lacks the necessary worldview to fully consider how placing women — especially Black slave women — on paper currency comes across.
The ironic realities are too strong to ignore. Harriet Tubman, a radical anti-establishment escaped slave, was a vehement thorn in white supremacy’s side. In mental liberty and decidedly against the status quo, Harriet Tubman made thirteen trips to the Southern slave states to help free over 70 slaves. She’s noted for saying that she could’ve freed “a thousand more” had they known they’d been slaves. Coined “The Underground Railroad,” she was monumental in orchestrating an inter-state clandestine network of abolitionists.
And the paper currency she could potentially be placed on, was used to titillate white folks into violently securing her capture. The paper currency which may bear her image facilitates the same enterprise that she was strongly against — slavery. Slavery is still constitutionally legal, lest we forget.
This in mind, her inclusion on a $20 bill reinforces emotional and cultural violence. Seeing her face — and everything she stood for — codified on capitalist currency is a gesture meant to devalue her pro-Black ideology, and sedate her radical legacy.
This violence is further magnified in the midst of the Black Lives Matter Movement, when Black folk are more intentional and aware of the nefarious and oppressive ties between police brutality, slave economies, and the prison industrial complex, and these mechanisms’ undue burden on Black women.
I’m compelled to say “Leave our heroes alone.” Similar to what white supremacist revisionist history has done to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I fear that it’s doing (or will soon do) the same to Mother Moses.
But — and this is a big ass but — maybe her face on the $20 bill will invigorate us (the Black community, especially) to think more critically about how we spend our money as a form of Resistance. Maybe seeing Mother Moses’ face will remind us that Black dollars don’t circulate nearly enough in Black communities; that our money leaves our communities and goes to others who serve to economically oppress us.
I’ll be real, passing along $20 bill embellished with Harriet Tubman’s face will give me a cultural sense of pride when spent at a Black-owned establishment, and a piercing sense of shame and anger if spent elsewhere.
I’m still navigating between disgust and excitement, and I might have more later. Keep up with me on Twitter, and sound-off in the comments section below.
*Featured Image Credit: www.cbsnews.com