Jazzi McGilbert is the founder of Reparations Club, a gift shop and community space featuring a mix of goods made by black and brown creators. It opens in Los Angeles next month.
Lately, currency has become my go-to tool for civil disobedience. If I’m in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s, not much gives me more satisfaction than paying for my cereal and cookie butter with a $20 bill bearing the face not of Andrew Jackson but of Harriet Tubman. You might have read about the TubmanStamp — a pocket-size rubber stamp that perfectly superimposes the face of Harriet Tubman over that of President Andrew Jackson on $20 bills.
The subversive accessory has been years in the making. On April 20, 2016, the U.S. Treasury announced plans to add Our Lady Tubman — the iconic abolitionist and feminist — to the front of the $20 bill, bumping the controversial Jackson to the back. But following you-know-who’s January 2017 inauguration, those plans were quickly scrapped after he allegedly said to Omarosa, “You want me to put that face on the twenty-dollar bill?!” But now, thanks to New York–based artist Dano Wall, anyone can add Tubman’s face to the $20 themselves.
The handheld stamp — which Wall offers on its own without ink, in a set that comes with a pad, or as a free download for anyone with access to a 3-D printer to do it yourself — is designed with a semi-circle on one side, making it easy to line up with the circular Federal Reserve seal on the front of the bill (once aligned, you simply stamp to perfectly cover Jackson’s face with Tubman’s). If you’re wondering whether a stamped bill still works as legal tender, it does under U.S. law because you’re not changing its value, using it to advertise a business, or destroying it beyond recognition. Trader Joe’s isn’t the only place I’ve paid with stamped bills; I’ve also used them in vending machines, at Target, and at the bar at Soho House in Los Angeles (where in addition to being accepted, they’ve always sparked interesting conversation).
The stamp is even on its way to achieving historical value (four museums, including an arm of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, have acquired it as part of their collections). Who knows? It might even become a collector’s item. Beyond its symbolic value, buying it does some concrete good, too: Wall is donating proceeds to civil-rights organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Rachel Cargle’s Black Women’s Therapy Fund. And for me as a black woman, the stamp’s most profound appeal will always be the ease with which it allows me to rebelliously imprint the face of a former slave (like my ancestors) on a form of the currency once used to trade them.
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