Illustration for article titled For Black History Month, Someone Thought Harriet Tubman on a Debit Card Throwing Up the Wakanda Forever Salute was Clever
Screenshot: Newsweek

You know... maybe we should all just go back to celebrating Black History Month by — oh, I don’t know — teaching black history.

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Don’t get me wrong; theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with being a little extra during this time by staging elaborate displays meant to celebrate the culture or making special commemorative book covers, license plates and whatnot featuring black images, but since so many institutions and companies can’t seem to do it without getting it all wrong, perhaps we should all go back to basics.

It seems like every February there’s either another educator who thinks it’s appropriate to recognize BHM by having students play “slave games” or stores like Barnes & Noble who think it’s cool to celebrate black history with books by white authors so long as you slap limited-edition covers on them that feature black versions of white people.

Well, the next company hopping aboard the BHM Fail train is OneUnited Bank. According to Newsweek, OneUnited, the largest black-owned bank in the U.S., has recently come under fire for releasing a new Harriet Tubman debit card to coincide with Black History Month calling the move a “symbol of black empowerment.” Now, a debit card with the iconic freedom fighter’s image on it, in and of itself, isn’t a huge faux pas. But a lot of black people are going to take issue with slapping the face of someone who spent much their adult life in open rebellion against the racist and capitalistic practice of buying and selling slaves human beings on a card used in the capitalistic practice of exchanging currency for goods and services, and they’d have a point.

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But the even more tacky and embarrassing part is that they have Tubman throwing up the “Wakanda forever” salute made popular by the Marvel superhero movie Black Panther.

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Because seriously, Wakanda shit is this?

Unless in the next Avengers movie, it turns out that Tubman had been given the Captain America treatment and was frozen in Ice for a century-plus then brought back to life to join the team and help them defeat white supremacy Hydra, this was just completely unnecessary. (Also, y’all are just going to have to excuse the little blerd moment I just had.)

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And, of course, Black Twitter was having none of it.

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Now, again, OneUnited is a black owned bank, so this offense was drag-worthy but not cancel-worthy. We’ll talk a little shit about them for a few days but, mostly, they’ll get a pass. Just as long as they don’t try to defend this nonsense.

Wait... no... don’t... *sigh* shit.

Speaking to Newsweek, Teri Williams, president and chief operating officer of OneUnited Bank, said the hand gesture seen used by Tubman is actually sign language for love.

“Harriet Tubman sacrificed her life for the love of others. Black love an important message, especially right now,” Williams said.

The bank also said Tubman’s gesture is a symbol of love in a tweet appearing to respond to the criticism. “Harriet Tubman is the ultimate symbol of love—love that causes you to sacrifice everything, including your own life,” the bank tweeted.

“The gesture is the sign language symbol for love. It’s so important that we love ourselves.”

Williams also denied that using Tubman’s image on a debit card in any way defaces what she stood for.

“Our message...is to be unapologetically black, to fight for social justice, with an end goal to close the racial wealth gap,” Williams said.

“Without that context, the Harriet Tubman Card may be misinterpreted. However, we respect all opinions, even if they’re not positive. We still believe the card is a celebration of Harriet Tubman’s legacy and she deserves to be on the $20 bill.”

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I guess you shouldn’t expect a bank to understand anti-capatalist sentiment, but to be black and not understand why this looks more like mockery than commemoration is, at best, ridiculously tone-deaf. But perhaps the worst part of Williams’ justification was him pretending the salute is a “symbol of love” and not a symbol of Marvel’s Black Panther rather than just taking his L and leaving it alone.

Welp, maybe we’ll all get it right next February.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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