This is an email from Keepin' It 💯, a newsletter by ZORA.
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. “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.
Christina M. Tapper, deputy editor
Zero to 💯
Who kept it 100 this week? Let’s take a look.
Chloe Bailey… exists: 💯/💯
We already love her as part of the powerhouse duo ChloexHalle. But Chloe Bailey is branching out on her own via her social media and she has us mesmerized! She stopped the world with her #BussitChallenge (the knees and the genes are strong with this one). She’s giving us sneak peeks into her music production process. And she celebrated hitting 1 million followers by sharing some sexy choreography that’s stopped the internet once again. Give us more sis!
Nia Dennis has us cheering for her gymnastic routine: 💯/💯
The UCLA gymnast danced her way into the hearts of millions with her viral floor routine. In addition to flawless execution, Denns’ routine was an ode to Black excellence and culture. She featured music from Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliott, and Tupac. Sis hit the crip walk, the heel toe, the nae nae all while flipping and spinning across the mat. We love to see it!
Amanda Gorman to read a poem at the Super Bowl: 90 /💯
She will be the first poet ever to perform at the Super Bowl. Gorman, who spoke at Biden’s presidential inauguration and has since signed to IMG models, will read a poem honoring people who served during the pandemic. The NFL is still problematic af but we’re happy to see little sis getting some shine and honoring essential workers.
A Black woman is attacked at a Harlem liquor store: 0/💯
A 31-year-old mother was brutally attacked by a group of men after declining to let them pay for her wine. They kicked her, bit her and left her with bruises covering her body. Demonstrators have since mobilized outside of the liquor store where the incident took place to show support for the woman as the search continues for her attackers. It’s nice to see the community rally behind her but when will the community start PROTECTING BLACK WOMEN before violence like this occurs?
DaniLeigh’s light skin anthem that nobody asked for: 🚮/💯
The music artist decided what the world needs now is a song about “Yellow Bone” women. The colorism and anti-Blackness was clearly lost on her until Twitter quickly pointed it out. The singer later issued an “apology” that was just as bad as the track. She really could’ve kept her song and her apology to herself.
Editor’s note: In last week’s newsletter, we incorrectly spelled poet Amanda Gorman’s name. We regret the error.
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“You are your best thing.” — Toni Morrison
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