I applaud the decision to put Harriet Tubman, fugitive slave who helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom on the face of the 20.00 bill. She was my childhood hero.
Not everyone agrees. According to Donald Trump, she was a great person, but putting her on the 20 bill, is just about political correctness, whatever that means. Political correctness seems to be the term that people like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity use to shut down the conversation when the issue of race, discrimination or offensive language toward other groups come up.
I welcome the controversy because it inspires conversation, learning and awareness of history, heroes, and acts of heroism. We need to have this discussion because most people just talk amongst themselves and seem afraid to talk about issues related to race.
I have to confess, until this decision, I paid little attention to who was on the 20 bill, and I have no doubt that the same is true for the many of the naysayers who say they are devastated that Andrew Jackson’s face will no longer grace the front of these bills.
Why was Harriet Tubman my childhood hero?
As a young 9 year old Jewish kid in the Bronx, I grew up around people who had survived the concentration camps, genocide and enslavement in Nazi Germany. I saw the numbers that the Nazis had branded on the wrists of Jews and other people in the camps, like the slave owners had tattooed on Black slaves. I also heard about the 6 million Jews who never made it to freedom but who perished in gas chambers, burned alive and murdered at whim. Harriet Tubman reminded me of the stories I heard of brave people who helped Jews escape the camps or hide them when the Nazis went searching house to house.
I also knew the story of Moses who had freed the Jewish slaves in Egypt, and when I read the story of Harriet Tubman, who the slaves referred to as their Moses, I identified and idolized. She was the topic of numerous school book reports and presentations, and when we had to say who we wanted to meet living or dead, I said Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman was one of my inspirations for marching for integration and joining the civil rights movement.
As I read the online comments by people who object, I read hate, I read fear, and I read lack of information. I’d like to talk to the people who are afraid and who lack information, although some of the outcry is so nonsensical there is no way I can respond.
To the person who wrote- “Harriet Tubman on the 20 bill equals white genocide. or the person who said “she only helped Black people”
I would say- she is not the downfall of the white race. In fact she was the only woman and only Black conductor of the underground railroad- the rest were White men who understood that the institution of slavery was destructive to everyone of every color.
Some people have said “We’ve always had Andrew Jackson on the bill, why should we change?” That’s the same thing people have said to me in organizations- “We’ve always recruited from the same schools, why should we change? Or we’ve never had a woman in that position, we’ve never had a person of color, woman, Muslim, Jew etc, in our club, we can’t change now.” MY response is that we have to change and that those traditions were created to discriminate.
• Tradition can be good. It can bring people together but it can also exclude people, continue discrimination and stop communities from progressing.
• Keep the traditions that move us forward or build our human community, eliminate the traditions that are detrimental and harmful, and create new traditions to bring us together.
• Have conversations with people who are different than you, find out who Harriet Tubman was and why she is important to our history as a nation, and to the history of Black people who were enslaved.
We can’t change history but we can honor the people in history who changed the future and helped make the present what it is today where one group is not the property of another.
I look forward to my first Harriet Tubman $20.00