February means Black History Month in the United States and this week that brought some controversy with a Harriet Tubman debit card. Now, the Chief Operating Officer of OneUnited Bank, the company responsible for the card, is doubling down on their use of Tubman’s likeness. The actual card depicts the American historical figure in a pose that looks a lot like the Wakanda Forever salute from Black Panther. As one can imagine, a lot of people were upset by this, but Teri Williams, the COO, is trying to clear the air with TMZ. In an interview with the publication, she tells the interviewer that this has been mostly a misunderstanding.
“We absolutely stand by the card,” Williams elaborated. “I also think of this as a little bit of background because a lot of people don’t even know what OneUnited Bank is. We are the largest Black-owned bank. We’ve been in business for 50 years. We are unapologetically black. We really wanted to celebrate Harriet Tubman. We actually came up with the idea of this card back in 2016, when it was announced that she was going to be on the 20 dollar bill. The question that I have asked is, ‘Why is it that only white people are on money?’ When it was announced that there was going to be a $20 bill with Harriet Tubman on it, we said great and we would like to lean into that with a debit card with her image on it.”
“The gesture, the hand gesture that people are commenting about is the sign language gesture for love,” she continued. “It is to represent not only love for yourself, but love of our community.” It is worth noting that the image on the card is based on a painting by Adonis Parker called “The Conqueror.” Parker actually gave a similar response to Williams when asked about his work by The Washington Post.
In the initial press release, the company said, ”We have the power to place Harriet Tubman on a global payment device in celebration of Black History Month. This symbol of Black empowerment in 2020 will pave the way for the Harriet Tubman design on the $20 bill."
Today, the company has probably enjoyed a boost of traffic in light of this card hysteria. But, a lot of people are still wary or even skeptical of OneUnited for their part in this. One thing is for sure, next year’s Black History debit card will probably be a bit more low-key.
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