Student’s Petition to Remove Thomas Jefferson Statue is Not Radical Enough

Maxwell Little, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, has started a petition on Change.org asking that a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson be removed from the campus because it “delivers a nonverbal code which affects [him] emotionally and psychologically.”

Little quotes the authors of the book Nonverbal Communication, Burgoon, Guerrero, and Floyd, who write:

“…facial expressions, gestures, vocal behaviors, and touch can convey meaning, but we often overlook the communicative value of things such as architecture, decorations, color, time cycles, or punctuality. In truth, however, the ways we manipulate our physical world and time can send profound messages about who we are, what we value, and how we want others to treat us.”

Little goes on to write:

“The Jefferson statue on campus sends two signals: the first coding nonverbal element is that the University of Missouri belongs to a specific class structure, those who are great land-holders, wealthy and white. Secondly, it represents the discrimination of immigrant poor and landless whites, maltreatment of the Indigenous American and the dehumanization of black individuals who Jefferson himself viewed as inferior, owning over 200 slaves while believing that blacks were unintelligent and never could be equal to whites.”

In a shocking turn, Mr. Little, a black graduate student at the university, is missing the most controversial nonverbal oppressive element of them all. It’s used every day in campus restaurants and bookstores: the $20 bill.

If the Jefferson statue so deeply offends Maxwell Little emotionally and psychologically, how could he have missed this? I suggest the following petition, rather callously overlooked by Mr. Little:

All campus stores and restaurants that are cash-only should move to a credit card-only system, because the sight of racist slave owner Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill may be emotionally and psychologically damaging to students of color.

Every time a student of color purchases textbooks or food at a cash-only store or restaurant, they’re only able to do so because they have a piece of paper with Andrew Jackson’s face on it. The nonverbal element of the $20 bill suggests that a person of color is only valued because they hold a bill bearing Andrew Jackson’s likeness. It’s as if he owns them; it’s monetary slavery.

Additionally, students of color must use ATMs to get cash, and the bills that most often come out of ATMs bear the likeness of Andrew Jackson. Either they do this or they don’t get their Panda Express. Either they do this or they don’t get the textbook for their African American Tribal Law class. As each Jackson-faced bill click-click-clicks out of the ATM, students of color are forced to face the man who owned hundreds of slaves. It’s either that, or not eat. The university is implicitly telling students that if they want food, if they want to survive, they must abandon their dignity, and fully submit to Andrew Jackson, slave owner.

Frankly, I’m embarrassed and disgusted that Maxwell Little didn’t even consider this as a petition. For him to sit back in his privileged position as a male graduate student at a well-regarded university, and not even for one second consider the monetary slavery and emotional rape of the $20 bill is sickening.

Shame on you, Maxwell Little.