When I became aware of the Women On 20s campaign, an effort to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, the feminist/Black feminist/Womanist in me was elated. I was almost pissed I didn’t think of it first! The thought us women of today paying it forward to the brave ones before us? And through such a well-flushed out, original initiative? Yes! I thought it was a terrific idea.
When I inquired some more, WO2os urged all of us to cast a vote for three out of the fifteen women to be selected for the final ballot. As I perused the list, it was impressive. They were all deserving of being on the $20 bill. But my heart softened when I saw Sojourner Truth, Eleanor Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman. Shortly after, I casted a vote for the previous names mentioned.
On the week of May 10, it was announced that out of the finalists of Roosevelt, Tubman, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller (you couldn’t think of a more apt last name for a project like this), Tubman had won as the people’s choice with 118,328 votes. Cartwheels in my head abounded. Harriet Tubman! The woman who courageously freed as many slaves as she could, through the Underground Railroad, in the Civil War era. Soon after, she became an abolitionist. Her legacy touched me as a little girl. To be as brave as her, I could only imagine.
Since the news, plenty have expressed enthusiasm over the idea of a woman period on the $20 bill. But like any great moment, a few naysayers have chosen to attack. In this case, it is the historical aspects of Tubman’s HERstory. Why can’t we just honor our sister? Tributes to her are long overdue.
The most glaring displays of ignorance, about Tubman on the bill, has come from two Black women, actress Raven-Symone and Sierra Mannie, a freelancer for TIME.com. And weeks before Tubman won the vote, the gossip site TheYBF was not too celebratory of an upcoming HBO biopic about her.
Symone, while live on The View unabashedly commented that someone other than Tubman should’ve been selected:
No offense to everyone that’s going to be mad at me for saying this, I don’t like that idea. I think we need to move a little bit forward. Let me just preface that I understand the history, I get it Trust me, I was taught, I was in that culture. … I would’ve chosen Rosa Parks. I would have chosen someone who is closer to the progression that we’re doing now. I know you have to understand history so you don’t repeat it, but that doesn’t happen in our world, because we still repeat history of hating other cultures over and over again. I would choose a different woman, no offense.
“We need to move a little forward”? The purpose of this whole campaign is to move forward and integrate the contributions women have made for America and its claims of “liberty and justice for all.” As a women and of color myself, it was hard to see Symone so loudly declare that she didn’t feel Tubman was worthy of a notable recognition. Tubman would’ve saved her ass too if she was alive in her day. And the actress-singer didn’t bother to mention names beyond fellow finalist Parks. She wanted someone “…closer to the progression that we’re doing now.” If she had looked at the candidates herself, she could’ve voted for Shirley Chisholm (the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first to attempt and earn the Democratic ticket for the U.S. presidency), Barbara Jordan (first Black woman elected to the Texas Senate since the Reconstruction era and the first elected to the House of Representatives) and Margaret Sanger (who opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. and commenced the Planned Parenthood program). All three ladies would’ve been fitting choices based on Symone’s complaint. Hillary Clinton is currently eying the 2016 elections. And reproductive rights for women are still being challenged in 2015. Symone betrayed Tubman because she could and at this point, she’s becoming notorious for going against the grain of popular or noble opinion. That now sadly includes trying to discredit the legacy of Harriet Tubman.
Over at TIME.com, Mannie (who infamously wanted gay White men to stop being influenced and inspired by Black women), proclaimed that by placing Tubman on the $20 bill was a “weak pat on the back” and that she was “underwhelmed” by her winning the virtuous campaign.
Here’s an excerpt of what else she had to say:
Black women — from slaves to First Ladies — have served and suffered for as long as we have existed in this country, in every imaginable way. But despite the centuries of black female triumph as we toil through merely living in this unfriendly nation, built on our backs, the rest of the world gets to pick and choose whether or not we’re worthy of acknowledgement. We are either muted, the unseen, or blaring, painful to the senses. And the strident force in blocking us out is pervasive.
Is it just me, or was that passage alone actually supporting Tubman on the bill? Mannie insists that America needs to do more for Black women than just place the heroine on the money (fair enough). But all those reasons she listed are exactly why Tubman deserves to be there! She wrote “we are…unseen…” So, wouldn’t having Tubman on the bill make her and the struggle and triumph of Black women an everyday prevalence? I couldn’t help but wonder if Mannie just wanted to be controversial. Just like Symone.
And lastly, there is the TheYBF. A guilty pleasure gossip site of mine that focuses on the hearsay of Black and brown celebrities. As a part of their post about HBO producing a Tubman biopic, (starring 2-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis) TheYBF chose to not express excitement and instead sadly headline: “Do We Need This? Viola Davis Set To Play Harriet Tubman In HBO Movie?”
Do we need this? Considering that she risked her live to save and free others, yes, I think we do this. What we don’t need is another post about Kylie and Tyga.
Here’s what their blogger had to say:
‘Why does Viola need to play a slave (even though she’s playing an abolitionist) when she has already played the poor negro on a few occasions,’ some have asked. Especially when she’s getting so much acclaim and praise as a genius lawyer in the hit ABC series. Many are asking, in the larger sense, ‘Why are “they” constantly casting and greenlighting black A-listers who can play roles such as doctors and lawyers and inventors in the roles of slaves?’
Not to mention, Hollywood could care less about our history and ultimately is in the business of making money. And alot of it. The Butler, The Help, Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave have made MILLIONS of dollars at the box office. Millions of dollars made off the portrayal of blacks as slaves. Is the influx of slave-era films necessary? (For the record, we’re definitely here for educating the masses properly as much as possible about black and American history.) Is there a fine line between what could be seen as necessary educational depictions and exploitative depictions with ulterior motives?
I understand that by the time 12 Years A Slave won Best Picture and Lupita Nyong’o was put on the map, we’ve all had our share of “slave movies” or Black people in subservient roles. Slavery is not the only form of history Black people have or are allowed to claim. Trust me. I too sometimes have gotten annoyed that when it comes to the Black and brown race, our vast heritage is sometimes reduced to just slavery. But you’re going to use a biopic of Tubman as the culprit to say enough is enough? Where is your loyalty to preserving the legacy of great Black women and great Black people? If it was up to the TheYBF, there wouldn’t be a biopic released this year on the historic blue singer Bessie Smith just because of her tumultuous life. They would write something like, “Aren’t we tired of seeing Black women in a negative light?” Yes, just like we are tired of going to your page and seeing a post about another fake fight between Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta cast members. (At least Smith had talent in spades).
And did you notice a pattern from all three of the featured complainers? They were all tired of speaking on either racism of the past or bothered that Tubman is forever linked to the era of slavery. It is unfortunate that they do not acknowledge Tubman beyond her ties to slavery. Tubman was more than the girl that freed the slaves. It was her most profound achievement, but she was also a selfless trooper and an ambassador of real girl power. We should always be honoring our sister and not trying to deflate what she’s done or attempt to forget about it because we have had some truly tough days about race in America last year and so far in 2015.
As I already expressed earlier, I for one am excited about her on the bill. In the 15 years to come, children will see Harriet Tubman on it and asks who she was and be informed or reminded. Her legacy and contributions will be more pronounced than ever. It is unfortunate that for some of my fellow Black women, they do not hold the same adoration or thoughts of such sweet moments.
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