Ironically, the biggest supporter of any campaign to remove Jackson from the $20 bill might be Jackson himself. He was a fierce opponent of paper money and the central banking system, and would probably be horrified to see his face on our national currency. Leaving him on the bill as a form of mockery could be the best insult. But complicated historical slights don’t translate: His face on our money implies an honor that Jackson’s legacy doesn’t deserve. Worse, it obscures the horrors of his presidency.
Of course, contemporary Native American communities have much bigger problems than whose face is on a bill. The Pima Indians in Arizona have the highest rate of diabetes in the world. A Native American woman has a 1-in-3 chance of being raped during her lifetime—more than twice the national average. There’s an epidemic of suicide among Native American teenagers and youth. Rates of unemployment in Native American communities are disproportionately high—not surprising, since inferior reservation lands are often unsuitable for farming and a lack of infrastructure makes it difficult for other businesses to succeed. Dropout rates at reservation schools are among the highest in the country. There’s a housing shortage on tribal lands. Native American areas have been disproportionately used as radioactive waste dumps. Jackson’s visage on the $20 doesn’t compare.
But this issue isn’t merely cosmetic, or a nod to political correctness. Symbolic change and practical change have a symbiotic relationship. By confronting and correcting the symbols of our violent and racist histories, we prompt conversations about how that legacy continues to affect marginalized communities today.