In Defense (and Who Would’ve Thought That’d Be Necessary?) of Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill


I was going to start this post by saying, outright, “I can’t stand black people,” but then I realized–

I’d be falling prey to the same sort of self-abnegation that I’m about to call out in this post.

So I changed my mind.

But it took me a minute because I was angry. So incredibly angry.

At this latest social media scuttlebutt surrounding Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill.

Because today should’ve been a good day for us.

It should’ve been a win.

HARRIET TUBMAN got tapped to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill–

Making her the first black person and woman to have her face featured on a piece of American currency.

And rather than rejoicing or making pithy jokes about how they won’t be able to get change for twenties from now on (“because black woman can’t be broken”) like the majority of Black Twitter–

An ignorant few have gone on rants about how–wait for it–UGLY Harriet Tubman is.

As if that’s a thought to have–and/or share–about someone as august as Harriet Tubman.

I’m outraged by this–needless to say–for a couple of reasons.

One–it’s completely disrespectful and disjunctive.

Harriet Tubman is an ancestor, and a hero, so she shouldn’t be judged by her looks.

She didn’t win the Miss America Pageant or swimsuit cover of Sports Illustrated. She was given a form of recognition in perfect keeping with her legacy.

But the fact that she is being judged for her looks points out just how superficially women are regarded in our society. Still.

The unfortunate, and egregiously unfair, truth is women have to be pretty, no matter what they accomplish, in order to be respected in our society.

Men can walk around with what looks like a squirrel’s carcass on their heads and be taken dead-ass seriously.

But unless women–black and white–are presenting with a face full of expertly-applied make-up while trailing a mile synthetic blond curls behind them, they’re nothing.

And that’s complete and utter bullshit.

It’s beyond disheartening, to me, that black people–who have their natural appearances routinely devalued in our society–can’t see that.

Harriet Tubman was born between 1820 and 1825 to parents that were slaves. She says that one day, as a child, she was lashed five times before breakfast.

During an incident at a store, when she was a teenager, when she refused to help restrain a runaway slave that had been caught, she was hit in the head with a two-pound weight. She suffered seizures, headaches, and narcoleptic episodes as a result of that injury for the rest of her life.

Still, she went on to escape slavery. The first time she fled, she went with her brothers, who actually got scared and decided to go back to the plantation. Harriet saw them safely home, then she escaped on her own in 1949. A young woman in her early twenties. She walked 90 miles from Maryland to Pennsylvania along the Underground Railroad, risking her body and life.

She went on to guide her parents, siblings, and 60 other slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

She helped John Brown enlist supporters for his attack on Harper’s Ferry (look it up if you don’t know about it).

She met Frederick Douglass–at his house–on one of her escape trips to Canada.

She led a military expedition during the Civil War–the Combahee River Raid–that liberated 700 slaves (social media maven Crissle tells the story hilariously on “Drunk History”–without disrespecting Harriet Tubman one time, mind you).

And she even underwent brain surgery before passing away among her friends and family in New York in 1913.

She lived to a ripe old age despite being born in one of the most dangerous times for black people in American history and putting herself in danger repeatedly to help her people.

She was called “Moses” for her vision, bravery, and fierce leadership.

We continue to hold her up today as a model of racial integrity, female strength, ultimate bravery, and compassionate humanity.

So I ask again–


Harriet Tubman is the embodiment of all our so-called American ideals–courage, sacrifice, righteousness, even patriotism (she was a Union nurse and spy).

She did all those glorious things our heroes do–fought for freedom, helped her people, made history, never let her impediments hold her back.

So she deserves to be on that $20 bill–or anywhere else anyone wants to put her as a recognition of her contributions to American culture.

Anyone focusing on her appearance, in the face of her biography, should be ashamed of themselves.

Or they should at least have the decency to be quiet about it.

Harriet Tubman once said, “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

I say–if you can’t get beyond judging women for their looks, or black people by European beauty standards, for that matter, then you need to liberate your mind.

Unless you’re three- or four-years-old, your range of descriptors for people–and criteria for categorizing them–should have stretched light years beyond “pretty” and “ugly” by now.

And, if it hasn’t, then you have some work to do on your personal and intellectual development.

Harriet Tubman was a beautiful woman. She sacrificed herself for her people. She didn’t have to, but she did. That’s beautiful.

Her actions were both “pleasing to the mind” and “of a very high standard,” which are two dictionary definitions of the word “beautiful,” if you want to get pedantic.

She should not be dragged down by shallow, cretinous criticism of the way she looks.

That’s ugly.

This woman lived through SLAVERY. And she defied it.

So it’s asinine to treat her like a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model.”

I think we can do–and be–better than that.

Don’t you?






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