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Why Harriet Tubman on the $20 Might Not be the Best Idea

Keep Harriet Tubman – and all women – off the $20 bill

On one hand, replacing the face of Andrew Jackson – a man whose wealth was made on the backs of enslaved Black people – with Tubman’s image sounds like the an idyllic reversal of fortune. But in examining Tubman’s life, it’s clear that putting her face on America’s currency would undermine her legacy. By escaping slavery and helping many others do the same, Tubman became historic for essentially stealing “property.” Her legacy is rooted in resisting the foundation of American capitalism. Tubman didn’t respect America’s economic system, so making her a symbol of it would be insulting.

American capitalism historically has been used to oppress and disenfranchise women and people of color. At various points in our nation’s history, women were forbidden to own property, married women were forbidden from working, and Black women were restricted to jobs as cooks and maids. Even today, economic injustice continues in the form of unequal pay, limiting women’s ability to reach their full economic potential. For every dollar a White man earns from his labor in the United States, White women earn 78 cents, Black women earn 64 cents, and Hispanic women earn just 54 cents. This isn’t a result of a lack of effort to rise up. Even with a college degree, Black women earn less than White men without one. Single Black women have a median net worth of just $100.

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