So Harriet Tubman, the iconic slave woman who ushered her brethren to freedom via the Underground Railroad, will grace the $20 bill in American currency. It’s been a long time coming. I’m glad for it.
But when I look at her portrait, there’s a lot I see that many black women, over a century later, still feel.
Burden. Pain. Great responsibility.
Her face is deeply lined, and while in those days no one smiled in their portraits because exposure times were way too long, you can see the weariness in her eyes. You can see the toll that the struggle had on her. Harriet Tubman epitomizes what black women feel they need to do–risk life and limb for her people, suffer abuse, and abdicate femininity because there is no male present to protect and provide for that aspect of womanhood to flourish.
There are no flowers in her hair. She’s not wearing a fancy dress with lace at the sleeves. She is a work horse, and worked and worked and worked for her people until she was dust in the ground. All that work came at a price. Not only was Harriet Tubman subject to the brutality of her slave master, but she was in peril of being sold out by the very people she was trying to save.
And while it may seem like a big win for feminism to have a woman on our currency, this woman wasn’t ever fighting to be free from a gilded cage. Her cage was build of iron, chain links, cotton and whips. She suffered more than any white suffragette ever did.
The truth of the matter is, black women are still expected to be the “Harriet Tubmans” of the black community, as evidence by who marches in the streets against police brutality, and just about any other movement involving black people. The black woman is still expected to be a workhorse, and risk life and limb (ever hear of the term, “ride or die?”) for her community, and never, ever truly able to enjoy the fullness of what it is to be feminine.
Harriet deserves all the accolades she gets, because she earned every line on her face.