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The Problem With Putting Harriet Tubman’s Picture on the $20 Bill


When the story broke that Harriet Tubman, abolitionist and champion of the underground railroad, would replace Andrew Jackson — a racist ethnic cleanser — on the $20 bill by 2020, my reaction was lukewarm, if not outright disgusted.

Of course, the racists went berserk and lost their bigoted minds on the web. No surprise there. And black America’s favorite drunk uncle, Ben Carson, said some more crazy shit on FoxNews that you were hoping to prevent by spiking his Stella with Nyquil. But hearing pissed-off white supremacists sound off or Ben Carson’s speak crazy talk didn’t bother me. Like some critics, the problem I have with putting Tubman’s face on U.S. currency goes much deeper.

The fact is, a dark-skinned article of “property” (because that’s what she was) who stole herself, returned to the south and undertook a violent plan to steal more of that peculiar form of “property” will now be the face of the blood money made off this “property.”

Tubman spat in the face of the republic’s profit credo by smuggling black bodies north from the stench-filled, infested, hellish bowels of the Southern slaveocracy.

Related: Why Are Black Women Voting For Hillary?

Now, the Treasury Department of the republic that cut short the Reconstruction project — leaving newly freed Blacks to the whims and perverted fancies of a bitter, vengeful and defeated South that, even now, continues to cling to its Confederate heritage — a republic that, over and over again during the freedom struggles of the twentieth century rebutted black calls for federal intervention into civil rights violations and crimes by deferring to “states rights” — a republic that still can’t be bothered with ratifying and debating HR 40 (“The Conyers Bill”) or expunging the records of masses of “superpredators” locked up for nonviolent drug offenses — is gearing up to ink the face of Black America’s “Moses” to inarguably the most popular piece of currency next to the dollar bill. As if Hillary Clinton barging into Harlem for a photo-op playing dominoes and name-dropping Tubman every moment she gets. making like the two were soul sisters in a past life, wasn’t bad enough.

Were she still alive, Tubman would have been, undoubtedly appalled by the current state of Black America and, in all likelihood, would have set out to urge her people to take up arms against our modern-day slave owners. 

Still, some Blacks will argue: it’s something, right? It’s progress.

Well, let’s see. In a fraction of the time it took for the Harriet Tubman $20 bill story to populate the internet, a follow-up had gone viral, offering a clarification or caveat.

Turns out, Andrew Jackson hadn’t been removed from the bill altogether, but merely bumped to the back. That detail quickly sobered folks the fuck up — many of whom, like myself, hadn’t fully processed the death of the $20 bill as we know it in the first place.

So, progress? Not really. Just the rebirth of the Missouri Compromise.

But the internet wasn’t finished. It unleashed another avalanche of information. Get this: civil rights leader and capitalist critic Martin Luther King, Jr. is heading to the back of the $5 bill, while suffragist Susan B. Anthony will make her debut on the $10.

I mean, wow!

Look, although it may not seem like it, I did find all this discussion about diversifying U.S. currency and the interpretations of efforts to diversify paper money incredibly moving. So moving, in fact, that I decided to do a quick Google search and dig up a few more numbers on currency.

This next tidbit probably ranks up there with the irony of a tale that’s been circulating online about Tubman staging a sit-in to get $20 dollars to steal one very important piece of “property” from the slave south — her father. You be the judge.

Warning: I’m about to unapologetically rain on somebody’s parade.

The currency numbers I assembled were gathered by The Pew Center and AAUW. They speak to the “progress” of Blacks, women, and women of color since the great recession.

What do we find when we look at wealth disparity based on race?

Source: Pew Center

Source: Pew Center.

What about income disparity based on gender?


Source: AAUW.org

What about when we adjust women’s income disparities for race?


Source: AAUW.org

Hell, I don’t know about y’all, but after reviewing these numbers, I’m all “progressed” out.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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