Renewed push to put Harriet Tubman on $20 bill met with some skepticism

This week, the Biden administration announced that it would resume efforts to put abolitionist Harriet Tubman's image on the $20 bill, a move first championed by the Obama administration in 2016. Supporters initially praised the move, but some Black activists say putting Tubman on the $20 bill is an uneasy fit with her legacy. “Why would we want to put somebody who fought for freedom from this kind of capitalist oppression?” Feminista Jones, an activist and author, told Yahoo News. “Why would we want to take her image and then make her the face of this thing that so many people lack access to?”

Video transcript

FEMINISTA JONES: And why would we want to put somebody who fought for freedom from this kind of capitalist oppression? Why would we want to take her image and then make her the face of this thing that so many people lack access to?

JEN PSAKI: The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes. It's important that our notes reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman's image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that.

FEMINISTA JONES: My name is Feminista Jones. I am a feminist writer, and advocate, and an activist. When I heard that they were proposing to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, several years ago, initially, I was like, OK, you know, maybe. But then I really started thinking about it, and I realized it was incredibly problematic for me. And I had to kind of dig in why, and I started really thinking about this idea of, well, first of all, why is anybody's face, why is any human being on currency?

I'm not sure that we need to do that. Then I started thinking about the company she would be keeping, and these other presidents, and notable people. And I'm like, well, what does this push for? Is this just for representing for women? Is it representing for African-Americans? What is it?

But then I was just like, this is somebody who was enslaved and was actually living currency. I'm not sure what they're trying to say, like what is this going to do? Now that this conversation has come back and I've brought my article back up and the conversation, again, I'm still seeing that most of the support for this is coming from white women and black men. And I'm not seeing the sisters. I'm not seeing black women particularly really excited about this, and I think, if you're going to put a black woman on a $20 bill, the first group you want to talk to intently about is black women. And if we're the ones saying, pause, wait, we're not sure, then maybe that needs more exploration.

When it comes to representation, I'll be quite honest. I don't care much about it. Because representation without action, without policy change, without improvement of daily life means nothing to me. I don't need to look in magazines and see people that look like me if I'm still struggling every single day.

That's not what's important to me. I think that a lot of people look to representation as a way of breaking barriers or showing what could be. But we're so far from where we need to be as black women. So when people ask, like, what is that black women want? We want our humanity to be acknowledged.

We want to have dignity. We want people to see us as human beings, not as laborers, not as mules, not as servants to other people. You know, I've studied Harriet Tubman extensively, and if there's one thing that I understand is that she just did not get recognized for all of the amazing things that she did.

She died a pauper, and she was a US veteran. They should have honored her as a veteran. She was the only woman to lead a raid for the Union Army. That in itself is just an amazing accomplishment for the yes all women, so why not acknowledge that to the fact that there's so many things that would not exist were it not for black women? So I think that she would want us to be celebrated for that, and that celebration, I don't think she would agree means putting her face or any of our faces on a $20 bill.

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