We Don’t Need a New $20 — We Need a Stimulus Check

We can’t settle for symbolism. We gotta do more to meet the needs of our community.

Image: Mike Licht/Flickr

On Monday, we learned that President Joe Biden’s Treasury Department plans to expedite the process of redesigning the $20 bill to feature an image of Harriet Tubman. While the idea to replace Andrew Jackson as the face was raised more than four years ago, and opposed by Donald Trump, the Biden administration wants the new $20 bills to happen stat.

“The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “It’s important that our money reflect the history and diversity of our country.”

It’s unclear when the new money would be available if the Treasury Department’s plans work out. But what is clear to me is even with the symbolism and all, this doesn’t feel right.

We can’t talk about the Underground Railroad without speaking Harriet Tubman’s name. She escaped chattel slavery and guided Black people to freedom in pre-Civil War America. Tubman was also considered property. She was capital. So putting her face on currency is both problematic and performative. It’s an empty attempt at representation that offers no groundbreaking change to the material lives of Black people.

Representation matters. Seeing images of our people mirrored back to us is profoundly important when everything around us is white-washed. But we can’t settle for emblems dished out by an establishment maintaining social hierarchy and capitalistic power. An establishment that loves to market gestures like this. Gestures that remind us of American history — the Confederates put enslaved people on their bank notes during the Civil War.

So, if we’re talking money, let’s spend more time speeding up what’s owed to Black women and our families rather than who’s featured on a $20 bill. Priorities.

As Carvell Wallace so brilliantly lays out in his recent You Are Here column: “How about if we collectively and unceasingly worked toward the liberation of Harriet Tubman’s daughters and sons, her progeny? To do that would mean a dismantling of the systems that bond us to begin with. A dismantling of white supremacy for one, not just a verbal rebuke of it, but floor to ceiling tear down. … To work toward the liberation of Harriet Tubman’s afterbearers would mean reparations. Not just for the centuries of stolen labor, but for the centuries of economic disadvantage, redlining, mob violence, poll taxes, lynchings, white supremacy and racism in schools, government, all institutions. Reparations for crack, for COINTELPRO, for mass-incarceration.”

Personally, I’m over gestures. I’m into accountability and needs being met. A new $20 bill or not, our community needs much more than what’s being offered. Especially when Black women still suffer greatly from the perpetual wage gap while being saddled with enormous student loan debt. We’re also currently weathering pandemic job loss at high numbers. Do we even stand to stack Tubmans abundantly if and when they arrive?

Black women deserve to be invested in. Let’s accelerate that work to make sure that happens.

We want to hear from you, ZORA fam. How do you feel about Harriet Tubman being the face of the $20 bill? Chop it up with us, respectfully, in the responses.

Rule breaker, champion of women and education, and recovering sports journalist.

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