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Harriet Tubman’s inclusion on the $20 bill is a step in the right direction

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Courtesy of Women on 20s.

Sorry Mr. Jackson, but this is for real.

The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman would be replacing President Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 bill, so make some room.

In addition to Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, both the $5 and $10 notes will be getting much-needed renovations as well. The $10 note will celebrate women’s suffrage, as the back of the bill will feature prominent first-wave feminists Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony. Meanwhile, the $5 bill will commemorate historic moments that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial, with figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt placed on the back of the note.

Sounds like the American currency is about to get much more diverse. Staring at the faces of old, bigoted yet memorable white men all day can be a bore. Unfortunately, in addition to the racist and sexist plebs of the Internet, not everyone is satisfied with this brand of inclusivity, particularly noting the inclusion of strength incarnate, Harriet Tubman.

While not a particularly recent piece, in the wake of the news popular social justice writer Feminista Jones’ article on Tubman has ignited some heated debate.

Jones wrote about the miscarriage of justice inherent in having Tubman as the face of something she spent her life fighting against—the American economic system. While some may concede to the fact that what Jones said is true, and frankly I’d be inclined to agree with them in theory, her argument falls flat under scrutiny.

True, the American economic system was founded on the exploited labor of African slaves and the grandiose theft of indigenous people’s land. However, to say this is the modern interpretation or function of the economic system would be disingenuous, to say the least. Now, a sociological conflict theory could be made on the merits of this assertion, but that’s a conversation for another day. In layman’s terms, the American system of today is much different than it once was.

The inclusion of Tubman on the American currency is not a tacit endorsement of capitalism or the inherent exploitation in much of the country’s wealth. People are included on money as an act of reverence—a memorialization, not because they were beacons of financial free-for-alls.

Tubman was black and a woman. She was everything this country hated. Yet, she had the strength and perseverance to fight for her people at every turn. That is why she is being immortalized on the $20 bill, and she is a freedom fighter America should be proud of. Let’s try to not be cynics at every turn. Nothing is beyond critique, but this battle seems like one waged for nothing but the sake of warfare.

Maybe this is nothing more than an empty gesture, but it’s revolutionary nonetheless. The ends justify the means. So long as people do not let this supplement justice or act as a stand-in for freedom, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging proportionate representation wherever it may manifest.

A broken clock is right twice a day, and here the system got it right. Lower the pitchforks, folks, and let’s celebrate by making it rain Tubmans on all the haters.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Tubman was a good person who did worthwhile things for her people, but her picture will be replacing that of a great man who did great things for his country, for *all* the people.
    We simply don’t have enough currency to use to honor each individual minority’s good people.

    • Tubman did great things for the country, she fought for the Union during the Civil War and freeing people out of bondage and mistreatment, American people, helped the United States. She was also a feminist who fought for women’s suffrage in her 91 years of life. Jackson was pro-slavery, and anti-Indian, he lead one of the most deadly forced migrations in world history, and the single most deadly forced migration in American history. He was against women’s suffrage. If by doing great things for “his country” and “all the people” you mean white men in America, then you’re correct. Tubman was beyond white men, she fought for women, both black and white, and black men. That alone encapsulates a greater proportion of the American public than Jackson’s hyperfocus on the “woes” of white men.

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