The nation’s largest Black-owned bank is honoring Harriet Tubman with a debit card, but many people on social media have their doubts. Some suggested it was more of a tribute to Wakanda, the fictional African country featured in the movie “Black Panther,” while others wondered how much of an honor a debit card is.
Teri Williams, the bank’s president and chief operating officer, told HuffPost that the card has been in the works since 2016 when the U.S. Treasury, under President Barack Obama, announced that it would be putting Tubman on the $20 bill.
Then, “we made the decision to launch the card after [the Treasury announced last year] the Tubman $20 was being delayed,” Williams said, adding there was no connection with the Academy Award-nominated biopic “Harriet.”
In a press release announcing the card, Williams made clear what the bank’s goal was.
“We have the power to place Harriet Tubman on a global payment device in celebration of Black History Month,” Williams said. “This symbol of Black empowerment in 2020 will pave the way for the Harriet Tubman design on the $20 bill.”
Courtesy of OneUnited Bank OneUnited Bank releases a Harriet Tubman debit card in honor of Black History Month.
But what struck many people on social media was that the card’s design appeared to show a 19th-century freedom fighter making the “Wakanda Forever” salute from the 21st-century Marvel film.
wakanda bullshit is this https://t.co/z8bak5fWhy
— Trey Smith (@SlimiHendrix) February 13, 2020
Phew. I’ll only say this once…Wakanda is a fictional country.So there is really nothing like a Wakanda salute🙅🏾♀️irl.Therefore, there is no way the legendary Harriet Tubman would have been making a “Wakanda salute” 170 years ago.Real life is not a Hollywood movie. 🤦🏾♀️ https://t.co/K5lRNt3ucv
— Obianuju Ekeocha (@obianuju) February 14, 2020
Turns out, the image of Tubman on the debit card ― which comes from “The Conquerer,” a painting by Miami artist Addonis Parker ― is supposed to depict her making the American Sign Language word for “love.”
“She was about love,” Parker told The Washington Post. “It took sacrifice and love for her to do everything she’s done.”
The paper notes that the ASL sign for love is “generally interpreted by crossing your arms and balling your fists directly in front of your chest,” but space considerations required Parker to move Tubman’s arms up a bit.
He also pointed out that “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler has said the “Wakanda Forever” salute was also partially inspired by the ASL word for “love” or “hug.”
Williams said the card is supposed to represent Black economic empowerment, social justice and Black love. Still, many Twitter users weren’t convinced that a debit card was the right way to go.
it's amazing how differently the idea of harriet tubman on u.s. legal tender feels than putting her face on a debit card. https://t.co/y7Y5wtmsPX
— bomani (@bomani_jones) February 14, 2020
“Bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than Harriet Tubman hitting the Wakanda salute on debit cards.” https://t.co/ovOLNtSrlM
— Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) February 14, 2020
I hope the spirit of Harriet haunts y’all. Amen https://t.co/haUanAJdbv
— Angie Thomas (@angiecthomas) February 13, 2020
Williams acknowledged the card has its critics but said she appreciated their passion. And despite the social media snark, she feels the card’s introduction has been a success.
“A lot of people love this card ― our website traffic has increased tenfold,” she told HuffPost.