OneUnited Bank Faces Criticism Over Harriet Tubman 'Wakanda Forever' Debit Card for Black History Month

OneUnited Bank, the largest black-owned financial institution in the U.S., is facing ridicule for releasing a new Harriet Tubman debit card to coincide with Black History Month.

Tubman freed dozens of slaves after escaping from slavery herself in the 19th century. OneUnited Bank described its card as a "symbol of black empowerment" in 2020.

The bank also said the introduction of the card "will help pave the way" for Tubman to appear on the $20 bill as the U.S. Treasury proposed back in 2016.

However, many people on social media criticized the bank for using an image of a woman who fought against slavery to promote a capitalistic idea.

"Harriet Tubman is the ultimate symbol of fearless organizing and rebellion against a sadistic capitalist enterprise (slavery)," tweeted rapper Noname. "Put Oprah on yall visa card and go."

Sports reporter Norman Seawright III added: "Harriet Tubman ain't escort all those slaves to freedom for y'all to do this...and y'all should know better."

Others also mocked the card for appearing to show Tubman performing the "Wakanda forever" salute from the Marvel superhero movie Black Panther.

"I'm still struggling to get to grips with the fact that OneUnited Bank actually made Harriet Tubman, someone who would have absolutely hated being used for political capital by them, do the 'Wakanda Forever' pose on a debit card," wrote esports journalist Richard Lewis on Twitter, calling it "insane."

"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," marketer Frederick Joseph added in reference to a quote from Black Panther."

The image on the card is a version of "The Conqueror" painting by artist Addonis Parker.

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."

The Harriet Tubman debit card is the first limited edition card offered by OneUnited Bank and will only be available this year.

As well as the Tubman card, OneUnited Bank will also promote the "Right to Vote" theme for Black History Month in order to "elevate the #BankBlack and #BuyBlack Movements to the next level and beyond."

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OneUnited Bank was criticized for the release of its Harriet Tubman debit card. OneUnited Bank