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Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson on the Twenty-Dollar Bill: A Monstrous Intimacy

Sheneese Thompson
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of African American and African Studies, Ohio State University, Columbus, United States
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/ Franco Barchiesi
  • Department of Comparative Studies and Department of African American and African Studies, Ohio State University, Columbus, United States
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2018-11-20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2018-0038


The controversy surrounding the announcement by the US Treasury, in April 2016, that the portraits of Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson will “share” the twenty-dollar bill-which the latter has embodied for almost a century-highlights a glaring incongruity: A formerly enslaved black woman and abolitionist leader is being placed in iconic proximity with an exemplary historical representative of the United States as a national experiment built on whiteness, slavery, and genocide. Our essay revolves around three basic questions: Why Tubman? Why Jackson? Why Now? The Treasury’s decision and its subsequent vicissitudes allow insights into the blurring of Barack Obama’s avowed “post-racialism,” which presided over the idea to redesign the currency, into the overt white supremacy and anti-black violence at the onset of the Trump regime, which has de facto frozen the implementation of the new bill. The story serves, namely, as a commentary on paradigmatic antiblackness as a force that, being constitutive of American civil society, has been fortified by the “post-racial” pretences of the Obama era. With reference to Christina Sharpe’s notion of “monstrous intimacy” and Saidiya Hartman’s theorization of “fungibility,” we argue that the twenty-dollar bill affair reflects the ways in which the interlocutory life of civil society is fortified by the continuous positioning, in popular imagination and discourse, of the black female body as inert matter in modes of appropriation, violence, and representation that sustain America’s political and libidinal economy.

Keywords: blackness; anti-blackness; Harriet Tubman; reparations; memory


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About the article

Received: 2018-07-10

Accepted: 2018-10-25

Published Online: 2018-11-20

Published in Print: 2018-11-01

Citation Information: Open Cultural Studies, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 417–429, ISSN (Online) 2451-3474, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2018-0038.

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© by Sheneese Thompson, Franco Barchiesi, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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