I thought we stooped low enough as a society years ago, having the mentality that “It’ll only go up from here.” Apparently, I’m dead wrong, once again.
OneUnited Bank, headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, is the nation’s largest African American owned and operated banking institution. OneUnited Bank felt it was only right to honor Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist famous for pioneering nearly two-dozen trips on the Underground Railroad, responsible for the freeing of some 300 Southern slaves in the mid-1800s.
The method the bank chose to pay Tubman homage was less than ideal. Last year, the federal government proposed a bill that would have replaced Andrew Jackson with Tubman’s likeness on the $20 bill, in commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the constitutional addition that permitted women the right to vote. The bill was well on its way to becoming part of regular circulation, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shot the proposal down last May, citing “potential counterfeiting issues.”
OneUnited thought the next best thing was slapping her picture on a debit card. I don’t know how others might feel about this, but in my mind, that’s beyond culturally insensitive. Come on now — Harriet Tubman deserves much, much more than a piece of plastic.
I get the push for Black History Month — actually, this is part of the “Unapologetically Black” series that OneUnited has been putting together for four years now. The collection features a “King” and “Queen” card, as well as the “Justice,” “Lady Liberty” and “BankBlack” designs. All told, though, anyone in their right mind would know full well that an icon such as Tubman should be given much more proper treatment. Start with, oh, I don’t know, maybe putting her on the $20 already?
The card came under fire mostly for one reason and one reason only: the gesture Tubman is pictured making. According to OneUnited, her arms display the word “love” in sign language. However, if the Marvel film “Black Panther” comes to mind, the connection made isn’t without merit. Several people took to Twitter to bash OneUnited over the supposed “Wakanda Forever” symbol brought to light by the groundbreaking motion picture.
In a statement released by the bank, putting Tubman on a versatile payment method such as a check card will promote her becoming the face of the $20’s carried around in American wallets. Personally, I don’t think even half of Americans know who’s on our various forms of currency to begin with, but I digress.
I completely understand the premise behind wanting to honor such a prestigious and trailblazing figure, but the fact that OneUnited chose to throw her portrait on a slim piece of plastic is asinine. Everyone and their mother knows the impact and magnitude of Tubman’s sacrifices. That magnitude should, at the very least, be taken into account and given something weightier than a card people stick into a reader or ATM to withdraw funds and call it good.
As an alternative, if the $20 bill initiative doesn’t pass, why not put her on the quarter or 50 cent piece? It might not go noticed by most people, but having your likeness in nickel and copper is a heck of a lot more humbling than a flimsy slab of plastic.