Black Lives Matter and the $20 Bill – an Awful American Travesty

Tagline: What happened to the plans to place Harriett Tubman on the US $20 bill?

A previously unreleased conceptual design of a new $20 note that was produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and obtained by The New York Times depicts Harriet Tubman in a dark coat with a wide collar and a white scarf. This preliminary design was completed in late 2016.

Yes, I am a diversity and career development consultant. Yes, I am a competitive adult figure skater. My newsletter subscribers, clients and friends know this about me. But I am also a numismatist. What is a numismatist? A collector of money … not in the sense of hoarding it away, but appreciating the beauty, history and aesthetics of coins and paper money.

So how does this tie to my work as a diversity consultant and all the current focus on racism and “Black Lives Matter” during the recent weeks? Yes, there is actually a very recent sad story of sexism and racism as it relates to our US currency.

First, think about who is all the coins and paper money you see in circulation. All white men! Yes, a long time ago we had the mythical and beautiful “Lady Liberty” from the initial coinage of 1792 until the early 1900s. We also had the Indian head pennies and Buffalo nickels featuring stereotypical American Indian profiles glamorizing the days the “old west,” but denying the injustice of the horrible genocide of Native Americans at the hands of the white settlers. And the American oppression of the native population still continues.

Before featuring only US Presidents on coins, they included the mythical American Indian and Lady Liberty

But these were all replaced with US white male presidents.

So what is this little-known American sexist racist travesty involving the American $20 bill? As an American Numismatic Association Member for almost 40 years and an avid reader of their “The Numismatist” Magazine, I was informed of this tragedy… the derailment of plans to place African-American abolitionist Harriett Tubman on the $20 bill.

The background: Discussions began as early 2013 within the US treasury department on redesign of some of our paper money. At first, the $10 bill was being considered for redesign, but that shifted to the $20 due to the popularity of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” (Alexander Hamilton is on the $10 bill.) Then a campaign called “Women on 20s” was started to advocate for placing a woman on the $20 bill in 2020 to mark 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the US Constitution granting women the right to vote.

After an online voting process, African-American abolitionist Harriett Tubman beat out second-place vote getter former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. President Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jack Lew then announced plans for Harriett Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson on the US $20 bill in 2020.

So then what happened? During the 2016 Presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump did make this one of his campaign issues, calling the decision to place Ms. Tubman on the $20 as “pure political correctness” while valorizing the current occupant of the $20 bill, seventh president Andrew Jackson.

Then on May 22, 2019, current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the pushing back of the $20 bill until 2028, citing the need to prioritize money printing processes to further deter counterfeiting. Many believe (including this blogger) that this was a phony excuse from a sexist and racist administration. There really is no reason why the $20 bill redesign could not occur concurrently with anti-counterfeiting design measures.

Where do we go from here? Back in March, 2019, Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced a bill to the US Senate to require the Treasury to place Harriett Tubman’s portrait on all $20 bills printed after December 31, 2020, but the bill has yet to receive a vote.

Hopefully a new President will appoint a new Treasury Secretary who can quickly reconsider this and drastically improve on this obscene 2028 timetable. Meanwhile let’s continue a grass roots efforts to fight all forms of racism and sexism in our society, including our failure to recognize the outstanding contributions of women and people of color by not placing them on our money.

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Blog author Stan Kimer is a diversity consultant and trainer who handles all areas of workplace diversity and with a deep expertise in LGBT diversity strategy and training, Unconscious Bias and Employee Resource Groups. Please explore the rest of my website and never hesitate to contact me to discuss diversity training for your organization, or pass my name onto your HR department.  [email protected]