Harriet Tubman Is Worth $12.80, Not $20

harriet-tubman-pictures-1I love that the U.S. Treasury will recognize Harriet Tubman on the widely-circulated $20 bill. But in the U.S. today, black women make 64 cents to a white man’s dollar. So let’s put Harriet Tubman on a bill worth $12.80. Because she wouldn’t make Andrew Jackson’s $20.

Or, let’s stick with the $20 bill and close the gendered, racist wage gap. Popular media tells us that women make 78 cents to a white man’s dollar. But that’s white women. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Native American women earn 65 cents, black women earn 64 cents, and Hispanic women earn 54 cents to a white man’s dollar. While we’re talking about what Andrew Jackson and Alexander Hamilton did or didn’t do for America, then, let’s also talk about what we do or don’t do for Americans. 

We don’t, but we should, commit to public education. Someone with a university degree typically earns 62% more than someone with a high school degree, and twice as much as someone without a high school degree. Equitable access to higher education might help close that wage gap. If Tennessee can manage free college education, surely the rest of the country can figure out free university. Seriously y’all.

Colorado’s marajuana tax is putting millions into public schools. Maybe we should legalize weed and rebuild our schools so that all students have a better chance at high school graduation, college preparedness, and competitive careers.

We don’t, but we should, guarantee paid paternity leave and free child care. Forcing women of any color to choose between career and caregiver challenges our ambitions and earning power, and limits the labor pool too.

We don’t, but we should, admit that popular culture hypersexualizes women – even more so women of color – and expects less academic and financial success of women. Let’s all change our minds. No more rape culture and victim blaming. No more ignoring or interrupting women in business meetings. No more firing women of color for natural hair.

I like musicals. I like Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography. But I’m frustrated by the media’s tendency to shift focus away from Harriet Tubman and towards the popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton musical. The hotness of a broadway ticket isn’t the conversation we need to have around the Treasury’s recent press release.

Picturing Harriet Tubman on a popular bill is heartwarming. It’s valuing her efforts, if a bit after the fact. Or, I would argue, a bit before the fact. Because at present, the wage gap suggests that a black woman isn’t worth as much as a white man (or even as much as a white woman). If Harriet Tubman were living today, her earning potential would likely be 63% of a white man’s. That’s disturbingly reminiscent in both math and ideology of the three-fifths compromise.

If the Treasury really wants to honor Harriet Tubman, the U.S. should make sure we really value women of color. Maybe putting Harriet Tubman on a $12.80 bill would help us better understand the gendered, racist wage gap, and better understand how much work we must do to close it.



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