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President Joe Biden has made it one of his early goals to put the Underground Railroad icon on the $20 bill. Photo: Getty Images

Real change or performance? Biden resumes efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

It’s better than Andrew Jackson, but many on social media are skeptical of the real intentions.

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The Biden administration announced on Monday Jan. 25, that they will resume efforts to redesign the $20 bill to feature abolitionist Harriet Tubman. 

The plan for a redesign first came up in April 2016, when the Obama administration proclaimed the new bill would be unveiled in 2020.

But this initiative made little progress under the Trump administration. In May 2019, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the redesigned currency would not be released until 2028. 

Before he was elected, Donald Trump, an Andrew Jackson enthusiast, said that the change in currency was purely based on “political correctness” and suggested that Tubman be put on the $2 bill instead. 

Much like the debates over removing statues of Confederate soldiers and slave owners that occurred over the summer, the argument to remove Jackson’s photo revolves around the topics of painful history and legacies. 

Removing a statue of a Confederate soldier and replacing it with a freedom fighter like Frederick Douglass is not erasing history, it’s simply a choice to focus on the parts of history worth celebrating. 

Although Andrew Jackson was the 7th U.S president, he left a legacy of racial trauma that this country desperately needs to acknowledge and reconcile with, not continue to celebrate. 

Tubman, in addition to freeing more than 300 enslaved African Americans, served as an Army spy, scout, nurse and cook during the Civil War. She was also heavily involved in the women’s suffrage movement. 

Jackson, however, owned hundreds of enslaved African Americans and was a vocal opponent of the abolitionist movement. 

He also played a role in the bloody forced removal of tens of thousands of Native Americans from the south, in what is now referred to as the Trail of Tears. The crime against humanity is bad enough, but his reason behind it was just as sinister: to free up space for more slave plantations. 

While the move is being praised on Twitter by Black women politicians such as Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, and Rep. Barbara Lee, the general reaction from most Black Americans on social media is not overwhelmingly positive. 

Many Twitter users feel that this move is purely symbolic and nothing more than a performance, especially when much more pressing issues are at stake. 

One user made a shrewd observation concerning the significance of Tubman specifically being placed on a piece of currency. 

“Unpopular opinion: I don’t even want Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill. Honestly I think there’s some sort of perversion in doing so. A woman who was traded as capital becoming the face of capital doesn’t sit right with my spirit,” they wrote. 

Scholar and activist, Angela Davis, who turns 77 today, shared similar thoughts on the matter during a commencement speech at the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2016. 

“To simply replace him [Jackson] with the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, is to ignore the role that capitalism played in sustaining slavery, in sustaining settler colonialism and racism more broadly. You might even argue that this simple substitution debases the legacy of Harriet Tubman.” 
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