White mansplaining, not tech issues, keeps Tubman off the $20 | Opinion

By Barbara Ortiz Howard

Thanks for Joan Quigley’s opinion piece noting the latest postponement of the $20 redesign comes at a bad time not because it misses the 19th Amendment centennial, but because it is out of touch in our time of deep division. It also represents a serious national security issue.

Our organization, Women on 20s, aimed get a heroic woman on the $20 in its historic 2015 campaign. Women have been excluded from our cultural landscape, especially women of color, and their inclusion is essential to properly commemorating the hard won battle for the vote which continues to this day. In 10 weeks, the campaign gained wide media attention and more than 600,000 votes were cast, with Harriet Tubman emerging as the winner. We could not have been happier as the victory was a way to see the greatness of this African American woman, and to reflect on the American history of slavery.

We petitioned the Treasury to put Tubman on the $20 based on our public mandate and found out that due to security concerns, they had plans to include a woman in the redesign the $10 bill. We asked them redesign both the $10 and the $20 at the same time. We argued against Tubman on the $10 and to put her on the $20 because the $20 is used four times as much as the $10. We also noted, Jackson who is on the $20 was not only a slave owner, but a slave trader and architect of the Trail of Tears and needed to be removed from this place of honor.

After 11 months of discussion in town halls, roundtables with historians, on the Twitter hashtag #TheNewTen and help from Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, Hamilton, the Treasury decided to place suffragists on the reverse side of a new $10 and a prototype of the Tubman $20 by 2020, though the $20 would not be in circulation for a few years. A redesigned $5 was also announced at the time, featuring civil rights heroes.

As of now, we do not have the mention of new $10s or new $20 prototype. Treasury’s excuse is that an extraordinary amount of time is needed to hone security features when the delay itself gives counterfeiters more time to hone their fakes, is lame and contraindicated by their own principles of updating currency every seven to 10 years.

According to the latest timetable given, it will be 25 years plus before we see a new $20, setting up ideal conditions for counterfeiters whose fakery has a multitude of consequences.

So, with national security at risk, why so slow? Shouldn’t they be ramping up efforts rather than slowing them down? And besides our vital national security being at risk, as Ms. Quigley points out, we are overdue in affirming heroes who can inspire the best in us individually and as a nation.

Other countries seem to have no trouble in issuing counterfeit proof bank notes featuring heroic women, people of color and tactile features in a few years instead of few decades. We all know that it is a lack of political will, and an abundance of white mansplaining, not technology issues, that cause of the delays.

It took an Act of Congress in 1899, when Harriet Tubman was nearly 80 years old, to get the veteran’s pension she earned by risking her life during the Civil War. She waited 34 years after her first application to receive her $20-a-month pension.

And as we risk our lives amid fake bills and providing essential work in the age of COVID, are we willing to wait 34 years or for an Act of Congress to get our Tubman $20s?

Pa’Lante!

Barbara Ortiz Howard is the founder of New York-based Women On 20s.

Send letters to the editor and guest columns for The Jersey Journal to jjletters@jjournal.com.

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