There might be a murderous racist hiding in your wallet. No, seriously, check it. If you have a $20 bill, you’re harboring Andrew Jackson, the architect of one of the largest Native American genocides in modern history.
Wouldn’t you rather have an awesome abolitionist like Harriet Tubman or a civil rights rabblerouser like Rosa Parks in your pocket instead? You know, a woman of color who fought for equality instead of a white mass murderer? Of course you would.
Well, the group Women on 20s has nominated these two women along with 13 others in their campaign to get a woman on the $20 bill by the year 2020, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Constitution’s 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.
Their website says, “We believe this simple, symbolic and long-overdue change could be an important stepping stone for other initiatives promoting gender equality. Our money does say something about us, about what we value. So together, let’s make our money egalitarian and inclusive!”
They point out that this wouldn’t require an act of Congress — the president could simply tell the Treasury Secretary to do it — and they’ve placed 15 female candidates for Andrew Jackson’s replacement that you can vote on.
As for Jackson, he owned hundreds of slaves at his famous Hermitage plantation in Tennessee, and is most infamous for signing the “Indian Removal Act” while serving as the seventh U.S. President. The act resulted in the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of Native Americans from their southern homelands to the west in a horrid journey known as “The Trail of Tears.”
About 4,000 Cherokees, 3,500 Creek tribespeople, and countless others died during the voyage. While some historians think that Jackson honestly sought to protect Native Americans by giving them their own permanent western grounds, his “good intentions” still resulted in a tragedy.
It’s not like U.S. Presidents are the only ones who get to sit on U.S. dollar bills — Benjamin Franklin sits quietly smiling on the $100 bill.
Plus, the Treasury has actually put three other women on U.S. currency before: suffragette Susan B. Anthony upon the eleven-sided $1 coin in 1979 and 1999, Native American ranger Sacagawea upon the golden $1 coin in 2000, and deaf and blind political activist Helen Keller on the Alabama quarter in 2003.
More important though is Women on 20’s larger point about cash reflecting our values. Working American women still earn less on average than men even though they represent 47 to 51 percent of the U.S. labor force and make at least 80 percent of all household purchasing decisions.
Unemployment and poverty fall hardest on women of color, so getting a female, African-American freedom fighter on our currency might be a good starting place for a larger conversation about how our culture values African, Latino, Middle Eastern, and Asian women — a conversation that could start every time you pull a $20 out of your wallet.