” I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy. …” Treasury Secretary Jason Lew
Black people must not allow our struggle to be subsumed into the American political imaginary. Laboring under the myth of progress, it is assumed that Black labor, particularly the labor of Black liberation, is a function of the quest to make America “Great”.
It is assumed that dissenting voices are available to be encompassed in the myth of American democracy and the American imaginary as a part of what makes America unique in its value system and extraordinary in its ideals. It is assumed that this dissent is a part of American dissent and does not own itself. This assimilation of Black Liberation struggle into the discourse of the American imaginary is part of what allows America to export its special brand of imperialism and violence around the world and market it as freedom and democracy.
Black fungibility allows for the black body to be consumed in any way desired by the American imagination. Harriet Tubman, whose life was a threat to the perceived order of American governance, can now be consumed and traded, bought and sold hundreds and thousands and millions and trilllions of times. Now in death, she is to be the literal currency that symbolizes American prosperity, but not just prosperity, progress. Harriet Tubman’s life is enslaved again for the American imaginary, all under the guise of a progress that makes America an expert in freedom and liberation in its own mind.
We must make the incredible leap then, that Harriet Tubman’s liberation labor was retroactively to legitimize the colonialist/imperialist nation of the United States, that she labored to be the beneficiary of a system that amassed its wealth on the bodies of Black people, on the bodies and the land of Native people. We must make the leap, if her face on the 20 dollar bill is acceptable, that her liberation labor was indeed in service to the American “ideal” and not to the liberation of her people. We must make the leap that the dividends still being received by the descendants of slave owners is co-signed by the spirit of Harriet Tubman herself.
Let us be clear, American wealth was amassed by the genocide of Native people, and the MAAFA of people of African descent. This is a travesty that is sustained by the continued erasure of Native people and their sovereignty of this land, by the continued MAAFA of black people and by the blood of millions around the world.
Black people must not allow our liberation to legitimize the myth of America and to distort the labor and life of Harriet Tubman. This is not new for America. just as gynecology was built on the torture of Black women and Henrietta Lacks’ cells were stolen for American innovation, the liberation work of Harriet Tubman is being co-opted under the myth of progress that works to retroactively enslave black women by stealing their bodies and their labor for the benefit of the “greater good”.
If America was being sincere about honoring Harriet Tubman’s legacy, then Assata Shakur would not still be a fugitive. If America was being sincere about honoring Harriet Tubman’s legacy, then we would have an honest discourse about reparations. If America was being sincere about honoring Harriet Tubman’s legacy, America itself would cease to exist, because it would recognize that the foundation of America was illegitimate for the aforementioned reasons.
But America is not sincere in its desire to honor or even remember the legacy of Black Liberation struggle. America has amnesia about the foundation of this country, and therefore renders invisible the struggles of Native people- who must be invisible in order for America to be legitimate- and conveniently victim-blames Black people for their position of subjugation that is necessary to retroactively absolve America from its actions in the MAAFA by insisting that our position is a result of moral inferiority. It must purify itself and create a historical amnesia in order to justify its continued existence.
To buy into the myth of progress that is symbolized by Harriet on the money is the legitimization of a system that has never acknowledged our humanity let alone our work to dismantle the channels of our dehumanization.