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Not Everyone's Excited for Harriet Tubman's Debut on the $20 Bill


Last week it was announced that Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, becoming the first African American and woman on American currency. The internet rejoiced, celebrities and citizens took to twitter to express their happiness for the historic moment.

But, not everyone is celebrating this feat. The debate to put Tubman on the bill has been going on for months since the launch of the Women on 20s campaign last year. Since then people have been voicing both support and disdain for the U.S. Treasury's decision.

For many activists this isn’t just a bad move, it’s an insult.


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. 
-Feminista Jones, Washington Post 

Feminista Jones penned an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that our money represents the same capitalist system that enslaved Tubman in the first place.



Harriet Tubman did not fight for capitalism, free trade, or competitive markets. She repeatedly put herself in the line of fire to free people who were treated as currency themselves. She risked her life to ensure that enslaved black people would know they were worth more than the blood money that exchanged hands to buy and sell them. I do not believe Tubman, who died impoverished in 1913, would accept the “honor,” were it actually bestowed upon her, of having her face on America’s money. And until the economic injustice against women in America ends, no woman should.

For Ahjamu Umi, author of the blog, A Better World, Tubman's feature on the bill distracts from the fact that many American institutions have yet to even acknowledge the impact of slavery.


First, it is impossible for the capitalist system to properly honor Harriet Tubman's efforts to lead the underground railroad to liberate Africans from slavery when this system has yet to even acknowledge the system of slavery itself.  The capitalist system has never acknowledged the extent to which the slavery system has devastated, terrorized, and traumatized the African masses.  It has never acknowledged that hundreds of millions of Africans were brutally murdered during this system.  That we live all over the world, mostly in places that don't want us, as a result of this system.

And amidst the hype, many were surprised to find out that Tubman would actually be sharing the bill with Andrew Jackson, who would remain on the back.


How and why Jackson is still on U.S. currency is a riddle to me. Even more difficult to understand is why the great freedom fighter - Harriet Tubman after being subjected to so much cruelty by slaveholders during her life, will in memoriam be forever connected to one. It seems a cruel joke to me. And one that makes me wonder if having an African American woman on a greenback is worth the indignity of it all.
Tamara White, XOJane

But the online atmosphere has been generally celebratory, from memes to think pieces praising the decision.

In a Q&A with Vox.com, Dr. Kate Clifford Lawson, a scholar on Harriet Tubman, saw the feature as a symbolic ode to Tubman's famed entrepreneurial spirit.

“... Tubman was an entrepreneur. Even when she was enslaved, she convinced her enslaver to allow herself to hire herself out and earn extra money ... She ran a brickyard. She sold vegetables. She traded with people. She ran a hog farm. She was an early business woman. And she knew that economic power meant freedom as well. And so she used her own self-determination to give herself economic power. And she sought that for other people. And so putting her on the $20 validates all of her efforts toward self-determination and economic power.

Yoni Appelbaum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, pointed out a more historical significance to Tubman's feature on the $20 bill specifically, being the same amount of money Tubman demanded to buy her parent's freedom.







Years later, Harriet Tubman is still making history. The debates contribute to the discussion and offer critical insight on the state of our society - how far we've come, and how far we still have to go.

(Photo: Independent.co.uk)

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