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]

Five Intersections – LGBTQ Pride Month and Black Lives Matter

Every year since the Stonewall Rebellion in Greenwich Village, New York City in late June, 1969, June has been traditionally observed initially as Gay Pride Month, and now LGBTQ Pride Month. But this year, all in person June celebrations and parades have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now everything has been overshadowed (and rightfully so) by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. His murder combined with the additional recent unaddressed murders of Breonna Taylor (Louisville, Kentucky) and Ahmaud Arbery (South Georgia) has now led to ongoing mass demonstrations around the world against racism and police brutality.

So I do feel it is important for the LGBTQ+ communities to pause and recognize the intersections between racism and “The Black Lives” matter movement with LGBTQ Pride and ongoing battle for LGBTQ equality. Here are 5 intersections:

1) Built upon the base. Though June is LGBTQ Pride Month, we all must place the highest priority on the most recent events around the murder of George Floyd, and the need for community and national engagement with the never-ending work that must continue around addressing systemic racism (see my earlier blog on personal and systemic racism). LGBTQ+ people and allies must be involved and take action around racism, recognizing that much of LGBTQ+ equity progress has been built upon the foundations of racial equity work. Let us never forget and be always grateful of the path Black Americans and racial justice activists paved for LGBTQ+ equity.

Bayard Rustin was the main organizer of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington on leading gay rights advocate in the 1970s and 1980s.

2) Intersectionality. Everyone is comprised of a complex mix of their own unique diversity attributes, and we really cannot simply separate one attribute of our diversity and consider it in isolation of our full selves. We have to consider our own race, gender, abilities, etc. as we consider our queer identities.

3) Oppression and issues. Many of the same issues impacting communities of color also impact LGBTQ communities. These include issues of healthcare discrepancies, issues around education, economic development and employment, etc.

4) The importance of allies. Racism is an issue that the white majority must own and take strong action to fix. The issues around racism cannot be laid at the feet of black people to fix; it is the white majority in power that built and controls the mechanisms that perpetrate systemic racism. In the same way, the LGBTQ community must rely and value the work of our straight and cisgender allies who advocate for our equality. Furthermore, many Black organizations, like the NAACP, have been strong allies to the LGBTQ community and include our issues prominently in their work. Link to archive of the NAACP’s LGBTQ equality work.

5) Commons foes. Communities of color and LGBTQ communities must realize that we do face commons foes; whether it be well-intentioned people who may not know how to engage us in the best way, or mean-spirited bigots who want to hold on to their power and oppress others. Marginalized communities must unite to engage and build allies while building larger coalitions to fight discrimination and oppression.

May we all work together to build a stronger nation and stronger world where we all leverage our diversity for the common good of all.

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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 for your diversity speaking or training needs, or pass my name onto your HR department.  [email protected]