Maybe Money isn’t the Way to Honor Harriet Tubman
On Wednesday reports confirmed Harriet Tubman would be the new face of the $20 bill and old Andrew Jackson was getting the boot to the flip side.
The news has been met with a lot of enthusiasm. I have to admit the idea of dropping some Tubmans on a new pair of heels sounds kind of bomb, and it’s totally going to piss off the racists and misogynists of the world. There’s going to be a Black woman on money and somehow I can’t see them boycotting money.
But then I had to wonder: what would Harriett Tubman think about her face on money? The same money that dictated her life beyond her control.
The same money used to buy her. Because what else is money for if not to buy things, and when Tubman existed she was considered property, commodity for sale, a thing.
The men whose faces are on money might have worked through life to earn money but Tubman fought her entire life just for the right not to be purchased by it.
So all these years later after she died with barely any money, would she even be proud of being emblazoned on the currency that controlled her?
Let’s do some math, Time published some facts about Harriet Tubman and the money in her life.
When Tubman’s owner died, she and her two brothers escaped and the bounty for their capture was $300 which translates to about $8,500 today. So monetarily Tubman’s life was valued at $100 in 1849 and around $2,800 today.
Rhere might be the misconception that since a Black woman and former slave become the face of American currency, it’s all good on the slavery front and Black people will “finally” let it go. (Hint: that’s NEVER going to happen.)
There is of course the flip side to this idea which is that it’s really nice big “F* You!” to the institution that stole her life.
It’s an ironic slap in the face to the powerful White men who created a system that assigned her monetary value as an object and not humanity.
Whichever you look at it, it is a milestone that the United States of America is prepared to celebrate and recognize a Black woman to the extent they have previously celebrated powerful White men.
This is a huge step in the right direction, but let’s not confused front facing with real progress. Tubman would have wanted us to consider this.