People have an honest difference of opinion about whether Harriet Tubman’s likeness should grace the front of the $20 bill. Whether you view the change as progress and badly needed representation or just disrespectful, that is not nearly enough.
Black America needs far more and is owed much more.
Now that Donald Trump is out of the White House and Biden is in, the plans to replace Andrew Jackson with Sister Moses on the $20 note have begun in earnest. Trump - who convinced a lynch mob to storm the Capitol in the waning days of his presidency, and whose father was arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally - loved Andrew Jackson, who owned enslaved Africans and committed genocide against Native Americans.
45 shelved the Tubman bill, because having a Black shero on money - as opposed to mammy on the box of pancake mix, or the depiction of Black folks picking cotton on Confederate bills - was not a good look to White supremacists.
It is worth noting that they wait until currency goes digital to put a Black person on some paper money, but that’s for another time.
Coming to America’s Prince Akeem Joffer of Zamunda has his own money, “And when I say the boy has his own money, I mean THE BOY HAS HIS OWN MONEY.” In the real world, Black people adorn the currency of the African world and the African and Black Diaspora. Viola Desmond, the Rosa Parks of Canada who was arrested in 1946 for sitting in a whites-only section of a movie theater in Nova Scotia, appears on the Canadian $10 note.
Numerous Black leaders such as Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass (who is on the back of a special collection quarter), Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X have appeared on a U.S. postage stamp, and there is power in Black representation, in having America get used to seeing us in high-profile spaces in the nation we built.
In the case of Tubman, she liberated enslaved Black people and served as a spy for the Union Army, accomplishments many White Americans have not learned and must understand.
That white men have dominated American currency speaks to the historic and ongoing treatment of African Americans by this society. The U.S. dollar, like America itself, always was white real estate, a symbol of white domination, wealth and power built on the backs of Black labor. A self-emancipated enslaved Black woman never was meant to appear on these bills as a leader of the nation - a nation that relegated her to property status, with no rights and three-fifths a person.
I was proud to contribute to the newly released book, “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019,” edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. In my chapter, I wrote about the Royal African Company, the British corporation that was the most important institution in the transatlantic slave trade, and responsible for sending more African people to the Americas than any other entity.
First and foremost, the RAC was a corporate monopoly and a business deal. The whole reason for Black people being kidnapped, tortured, raped, and condemned to forced labor - and now still dealing with over four centuries of trauma - was all about a business deal.
Millions of ancestors still rest at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in the Middle Passage, all a part of a lucrative contract of which Black folks were on the losing end. We lost our freedom, our families, our lives, our homes, and often our minds, as others became staggeringly and intergenerationally wealthy from our physical, social and psychic damage.
This is history that we should not learn only during Black History Month, but all the time. However, understanding that history means doing something about it. A $20 Harriet Tubman bill makes for good symbolism if you think America deserves her.
Perhaps $2,000 per month for every Black American in perpetuity and retroactively, or some other tangible form of reparations is something to consider. This, in a country that claims it lacks resources, yet has pumped trillions of dollars into the markets to keep U.S. capitalism afloat this past year and has become accustomed to disseminating COVID-19 cash payments to millions.
Replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman is no replacement for the policies and legal protections Black people need, including voting rights, economics, and reparations. We can’t stop there.
David A. Love