No, Putting Harriet Tubman On The $20 Bill Is Not "Honoring" Her
The U.S. Department of the Treasury recently announced that famous abolitionist Harriet Tubman, a former slave, would take Andrew Jackson's place as the face of the $20 bill. But Jackson — a slave owner whose presidency saw the passage of the Indian Removal Act — will still be present on the back of the bill. And though many insist that this is an "honor," putting Tubman on the $20 bill is not a reparation. In fact, it once again commodifies her body with a price.
In a post on its official Facebook page, the Treasury described Tubman as "fighting for liberty" during her lifetime. She absolutely did fight for liberty — from a system that exploited her and other black bodies to build American capitalism. To now turn around and put her on a symbol of capitalism seems to be a white liberal attempt to "feel good" about supposed progress in combating racism. Using the image of a former slave in a capitalist scheme is not only disrespectful, but also doesn't tackle larger structural problems.
While many have argued that we should at least celebrate the fact that Andrew Jackson will no longer be the main figure on the bill, his continued presence is the only honest thing about this endeavor. Jackson, who oversaw the Trail of Tears and owned slaves himself, represents everything that American capitalism and imperialism have attempted to build. Capitalism was constructed through the subjugation and exploitation of black and brown bodies, and that is how it sustains itself today. That is not what Tubman fought for. Indeed, it was what she tried to escape and prevent.
There are other ways we can actually honor Tubman today. We should end the War on Drugs, which has perpetuated the exploitation and incarceration of black and brown folks. We should fight the school-to-prison pipeline. We should stop underpaying workers. We should actively combat modern slavery and human trafficking, rather than pretend that slavery is all in the past. But what we should not do is use Tubman's image to absolve the country of its sins. Reparations still need to be made for all of the systemic injustice the U.S. has carried out, and many Twitter users have been making that clear.
Representation doesn't mean much in a country where whiteness is normalized. If Tubman were still around today, she would probably be out on the streets fighting police brutality and the use of torture in our prison system, and white liberals would make sure to question her "tactics." She didn't escape slavery and fight brutality only to be traded back and forth again. If we want to really honor Tubman, we should work to end the racist, capitalist system that enslaved her in the first place.