One of President Joseph Biden’s first acts as leader of the free world is meant to represent those who were not always free. The Biden administration announced that a portrait of slavery abolitionist Harriet Tubman shall be printed on one side of the 20-dollar bill in the year of 2030, sharing the currency with former President Andrew Jackson.
“For us to live in a multicultural country for so long and not represent all of the components that make up that society does not show who we are as a country,” professor of communication specializing in cultural diversity and gender communication Victoria Ellison said.
Tubman is known as the “Moses of her people.” Having escaped slavery, she used her freedom to help former slaves escape along the route of the Underground Railroad. Tubman courageously fought for justice, risking her own life for that of others. For these reasons and more, Tubman is an inspiration to the American people, especially to African Americans who owe their current freedom, in part, to her.
“Do I think [racial inequality is] going to be fixed by a 20-dollar bill? No, I do not,” junior marketing major and member of the Black Student Association Keyuna Thrower said.
Recent tensions surrounding the unequal treatment of black people resulting in the Black Lives Matter movement brings about questions regarding the intentions of placing Tubman’s portrait on currency. Some believe that the Biden administration is enacting this change to make it appear as if racial inequality is ending, when in actuality, it is not.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Thrower said.
Thrower suggests that this instance should be seen as a way to start conversations about how real change can occur.
“As a little girl, I would have been super proud to see a black woman on a 20-dollar bill,” Thrower said.
The portrait of Tubman that is said to be printed on the bill is shrouded in controversy as it depicts her when she was a slave, not when she was free. In fact, the image used is from “wanted” posters at the time Tubman had run away; this particular image was originally meant to display Tubman as a criminal.
“I do not feel represented by the image,” Thrower said. “I am not a runaway slave. I am an American citizen. I am free.”
Thrower and others have mentioned that there are pictures available of Tubman from when she was a free woman. They argue that a free and empowered black woman is a better representation of African American people.
“If you want to do something like this, do it correctly,” Thrower said.
Others argue that Tubman would have never wanted to be associated with money. To some, it feels wrong that an individual who used to be bought and sold like property is represented on the very thing many black people were enslaved for – money.
“Money is something we value,” Ellison said. “Our expectations of women and the roles that they play a lot of times are not valued in the United States. So, putting a woman on money, something that is so valued, is a subconscious thing that says, ‘hey, women matter too.’ Especially for black women, who are often discriminated against.”
The removal of former President Jackson from one side of the bill is a source of contention, as some believe that it is not fair to remove him in order to make room for Tubman. A rebuttal to this argument is that Jackson’s troublesome history is not a suitable representation of what American values should be.
“Jackson has a history of oppression against different people,” Ellison said.
Jackson owned hundreds of slaves over the course of his life and played a major role in the violent removal of thousands of Native Americans from their home land. Due to his history of racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing, critics deem it unfit to place him on the same bill as someone who suffered from slavery. Why should the United States continue to celebrate someone who propagated the very evil Tubman worked so hard to destroy?
“We want to represent people from diverse backgrounds, but also people who stood up for the right thing,” Ellison said.
Whether or not the details of this decision are morally correct, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris receive praise for carrying out one of their campaign promises. Fighting against the racial inequality that plagues the United States has been a focal topic among the duo, especially upon the arrival of the first woman and person of color to fill the role of Vice President.
“That is a good first step for them,” Ellison said. “They are showing their intentions of healing a divided nation, but they’re going to have to keep making strides in that fight for inclusion.”