The Case Against Those ‘Tubman $20s’


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People are excited to replace Andrew Jackson’s face with an abolitionist hero. But Brittney Cooper argues not all honorifics are the same.

The Biden Treasury Department has announced that efforts to put abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s portrait -- in place of President Andrew Jackson -- on the face of the twenty dollar bill will resume. It represents an effort to celebrate her and “reflect the history and diversity of our country,” but some believe that this would do more harm than good.

Dr. Brittney Cooper, a professor at Rutgers University and author of Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, discusses how Black people have long been reduced to symbol, the failings of representational politics, and ways that the nation can actually honor the life and legacy of the formerly enslaved pioneer.

Last month, she addressed the subject in “Putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill Is Not a Sign of Progress. It's a Sign of Disrespect” (TIME).

Companion listening for this episode:

The Origin Story of Black History Month” (01/31/21)

To launch our Future of Black History series, we turned our complex relationships with Black History Month to curiosity in order to uncover how a week-long celebration of Black Achievement became the month-long observance that we know today.

The Life and Work of Ida B. Wells” (05/08/20)

We look back at the life of the oft-overlooked journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, whose intrepid reporting contributed to the fight for racial injustice in America.

“The United States of Anxiety” airs live on Sunday evenings at 6pm ET. The podcast episodes are lightly edited from our live broadcasts. To catch all the action, tune into the show on Sunday nights via the stream on or tell your smart speakers to play WNYC.

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