Symbolic Victories – Harriet Tubman and America’s New Currency

On April 20, 2016 it was announced that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with a variation of Martin Luther King Jr, Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt on the back of the new $5 bill with Sojourner Truth sharing the back of the $10 with other women of the suffrage movement. Alexander Hamilton will remain on the front of the $10 bill and Abraham Lincoln will remain on the front of the $5 bill. These changes are not being implemented right away with the change to the $20 not expected to come until 2030.

The time it'll take to implement these changes is not the biggest issue that some have with this move however. One can very easily question the timing of a decision as sweeping as this on the heels of social unrest and a Presidential campaign exposing the side of America this country wants to hide. The day before this announcement was made, the decision made to not give jail time to the murderer of Akai Gurley who will not be named here, was given. So this being announced the day after that is interesting to say the least. However the murder of Black people in general has been totally ignored during the election cycle in the mainstream media and even in parts of New Media as well. It's obvious that during election season everyone's attention goes to who will be the next President. However let's not forget that these crimes against Black people are still ongoing and have not stopped. No legislation has been passed and the issue is only barely getting national attention. I commend the protesters and activists who have forced this issue to be discussed on the Democratic side even though it doesn't seem to have hurt Hillary Clinton's candidacy at all. Democratic voters have made the political decision to give the Clinton's a pass on their involvement in mass incarceration. How that plays out going forward will have to be seen.

The whole reason who's on the $20 bill is even a topic of discussion is due to a campaign launched by 'Women on 20's' to replace Andrew Jackson who is on the bill currently by himself. It's easy by some to write off human rights crimes of the past and relegate it to the way things were done back then. As if that somehow absolves the guilty parties of their crimes. The Indian Removal Act that President Andrew Jackson signed into law on May 28, 1830 brought the end to the Indian right of self-governance. It was the forced removal of tens of thousands of indigenous Americans off their native lands that led to the now infamous 'Trail of Tears.' Andrew Jackson was also heavily involved in the First and Second Seminole Wars. The Seminole Indians were victims of both the Spanish and American colonial powers. The Spanish began the depopulation of Florida, but the Americans would also contribute in later years with the help of Andrew Jackson first as General, then as President. Even during his time as President, Jackson's policies were controversial as Slate points out (HERE) how the Supreme Court found the Indian Removal Act unconstitutional. Jackson didn't seem to care and in a complete act of dictatorship ignored the Supreme Court's decision. Thousands died as they were forcibly removed from their lands in an act very reminiscent of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians today...and much like today...there are those who rationalize barbarism and genocidal ethnic tendencies. Let's also not forget that Andrew Jackson isn't even being removed completely. The 7th President of the U.S. is simply being placed on the back of the bill which makes what was already a back look even more ironic given he's going to share the bill with a woman who fought against an institution Jackson himself propped up and profited from.

I think the better question we need to ask of the Treasury Department is how Harriet Tubman's descendants will be compensated for slavery? If you really want to show how much we've progressed, then let us begin to have a serious discussion about reparations. That is what makes this a symbolic victory despite making us all feel good about seeing Black people on American currency. Symbolic gestures are used instead of corrective measures such as policies. We commemorate Harriet Tubman and MLK while having the largest prison population on the planet. A prison complex that would be the envy of Joseph Stalin and the architects of the Soviet prison gulags. Due to a sizable segment of the American population who seem pressed to slow down progress and not right the wrongs of the past, reparations is disregarded outright by the radical candidate in this election, Bernie Sanders. If Sanders can't even bring himself to even take the discussion seriously and he's the most Progressive by far, then you can only imagine how the moderates and conservatives of America feel about the issue. It seems to most Americans, the best way to heal the past is to pretend it never happened in the first place. At least that appears to be the case when dealing with African-Americans, Native Americans and practically all other groups of non-Europeans in America. 

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