When OneUnited Bank released a limited edition Visa debit card portraying Harriet Tubman as a “symbol of Black empowerment,” they weren’t quite braced for the mixed messages Tubman’s image has apparently sent. Based in Boston, OneUnited Bank is the largest national black-owned bank, and they have been planning to feature Tubman on one of its debit cards since 2016. With the best of intentions, however, the image they chose may have caused more controversy than unity.
In an interview with NBC News, the bank’s chief operating officer, Teri Williams, said that the bank wanted something different depicted on the debit card than the passive poses that typically characterize Tubman. They chose an artist’s rendering of Tubman with her fists crossed over her chest, portraying the American Sign Language symbol for “love.” But many people believed Tubman was making the “Wakanda Forever” symbol, which was popularized in the 2018 Marvel superhero movie “Black Panther.”
Even the Twitterverse exploded at the image of the new debit card. Trying to clarify the image, OneUnited Bank responded by tweeting that “Harriet Tubman is the ultimate symbol of love — love that causes you to sacrifice everything, including your own life. The gesture is the sign language symbol for love. It’s so important that we love ourselves.”