Pin It
Submit to Reddit

Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill might be symbolic, but it's a symbol we desperately need 

Time for a fresh face

Several weeks ago, I made an offhand comment about a character in a book I was reading when my son Lucas stopped me in my tracks. The character was an astronaut who also happened to be a woman and, upon hearing me use the pronoun "she," Lucas was so surprised at the notion that women could be astronauts that he demanded an explanation.

A few days later, while we were grabbing lunch at a neighborhood restaurant, he said, "I didn't know girls could play baseball." Confused, I glanced behind the restaurant's bar and saw that a women's fastpitch softball game was playing on the TV.

Hearing those comments, you'd think my child lived in an uber traditional home, where his father and I have rigid and assigned gender roles. But that couldn't be further from the truth. We try really hard to affirm the rights and equality of women every day in our household. "Girls can do anything boys can do," I say constantly.

"What do you mean that's a girl color? Does the color have a vagina?"

"You say 'that's for girls' like it's a bad thing, when, in reality, that's a pretty awesome compliment."

This is my life as the mother of two boys, a constant battle against the negative stereotypes and underrepresentation of women. It's a battle I shouldn't have to fight and one I often feel like I'm losing.

That's why I'm so excited about the possibility of Harriet Tubman being on the $20 bill. Women on 20s, a nonprofit, grassroots organization with a mission to get a woman on our currency, surveyed more than 600,000 Americans about which woman should replace Andrew Jackson on the 20, and Tubman has emerged as the winner. On May 12, the organization presented President Obama with a petition asking him to instruct the Secretary of the Treasury to create a new bill with the female abolitionist's face on it before 2020.

Of course, the campaign to put Tubman on our currency is not without controversy. There are the foolish arguments — like Raven "don't call me black" Symone who thinks "we need to move a little bit forward" and that selecting the conductor of the Underground Railroad isn't relevant to the world in which we live. In other words, disregard its pervasive and catastrophic legacy and get over slavery already.

Other arguments are a bit more sound. Some think it's ironic to put a black woman on the $20 bill when so many black women live in poverty and rarely get to see 20s themselves. Others believe that putting Tubman on our currency is merely a symbolic gesture that undermines her legacy and puts a Band-Aid over the deep wound of institutionalized racism that is bleeding our country dry.

While I agree that it would be ridiculous to pretend that putting Tubman on the 20 would be anything other than symbolic, I actually think that symbols are incredibly important and necessary.

Lucas was shocked about the woman astronaut in my book because all the images he'd ever seen representing astronauts were of men — every book, every movie, every action figure. He didn't know women could play baseball because, even though he played on a coed t-ball team last summer, the faces of male baseball players on television, trading cards and at the stadium are much more ubiquitous. As much as I try to create a world for him in which women are valued and considered equals, the message he's getting from everywhere else is that women don't belong in a long list of places, and that black women have an even lesser position.

Harriet Tubman on a $20 bill is a step toward remedying this situation. No, it won't magically dissolve the gender wage gap or immediately create more opportunities for black women — these are crucial issues we all must continue to fight for. However, it will send the message that women — that black women — belong. I believe that seeing the image of a black woman on our money every time we make a purchase will have an incredible impact on our nation's psyche. And I believe that it can raise awareness about other places in which women are missing or underrepresented.

I want my boys to live in a world where the absence of women causes shock and confusion, not their presence. Yes, putting Harriet Tubman on our money is just a symbolic gesture. It's also absolutely necessary.

Pin It
Submit to Reddit

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

Creative Loafing encourages a healthy discussion on its website from all sides of the conversation, but we reserve the right to delete any comments that detract from that. Violence, racism and personal attacks that go beyond the pale will not be tolerated.

Search Events

Photo Galleries

» more slideshows
items in Creative Loafing Charlotte More in Creative Loafing Charlotte pool

© 2018 Womack Newspapers, Inc.
Powered by Foundation