Confused comic book fans flooded social media this week, wondering why an abolitionist was doing a hand gesture from the movie Black Panther. The controversy started on Thursday when OneUnited Bank announced it was putting Harriet Tubman on a bank card, revealing a design that got people talking almost immediately.
The image, on a Visa bank card, shows Tubman looking forward, wearing a red and white head-wrap. But what got most people confused was the hand gesture the depiction used, with crossed arms in front of her in a motion that many Marvel movie fans spotted right away.
The image is part a special campaign OneUnited started to celebrate Black History Month, showing “unapologetically black images” on its cards. But it made a lot of people confused. Many thought it was the “Wakanda Forever” salute from Black Panther, and were utterly confused as to why a woman who died in 1913 would be using it on a debit card.
Let me guess. A white marketing executive from Beverly Hills came up with the idea of a Harriet Tubman Visa Debit Card doing the Wakanda Forever salute.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) February 13, 2020
So what’s going on here? After plenty of hubbub about the design, OneUnited tweeted out an explanation: the hand gesture is derived from the American Sign Language symbol for love.
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.
— OneUnited Bank (@oneunited) February 13, 2020
Still, the image was jarring enough that it seemed clear the intention was to surprise. And, you know, immediately think of Harriet Tubman in Black Panther. As the Washington Post pointed out, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler said in the DVD commentary for the film that the symbol was, indeed, derived from the ASL sign for love, among others. But plenty of people were suspicious of the explanation, and of a bank using Tubman’s image at all to peddle their services, in general, which is maybe (?) the bigger issue in all of this.