On this day, one hundred and 4 years ago, Araminta Harriet Ross aka Harriet Tubman passed away from pneumonia on the land that she bought, in a resting home she commissioned and had named after her in Auburn, New York.
We don’t know when exactly, Tubman was born, as she was born enslaved, like her mother and therefore, the record of her entry into this world was not recorded. So today, as was designated by congress on March 13th, 1990 ,we are to celebrate our dear Mother Harriet Tubman on the day of her passing.
And I want to ask you, what are you doing for Harriet Tubamn day? (I need my emoji eyes right now.)
As I remember my years in school, I do not recall every having a celebration for Tubman. I barely recall any instruction around her. I mean, I knew she was the conductor of the underground railroad…and…well… that was it.
I never learned about her life before or after the underground railroad. I hadn’t learned in my formative years that she was a soldier, a spy, a nurse, a scout, an abolitionist, and a cook. Moreover, I hadn’t learned she was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a homeowner, a community organizer, a care taker, a philanthropist and very much the epitome of womanhood. I never saw her as a full and complete person. Instead, she was a faint figure who had done something impactful; freed slaves but was still shrouded in shame, in white America’s shame for slavery.
I never got to see Tubman as anything more than this psuedo heroic slave woman who, I don’t know, disappeared into thin air after freeing…I don’t know how many people.
It wasn’t until I became an adult that I truly began to learn about the totality of Tubman’s life. It wasn’t until I did my own investigating, free from the bondages of white supremacist schooling that I could reclaim my connection to Mama Harriet.
It’s on days like this, when the law says, we celebrate this person, that I remember that the law never trumps fear, shame and guilt. Because, honestly, why isn’t today as celebrated in schools as March 2nd, which was National Read Across America Day aka Dr. Seuss Day? Especially when Dr. Seuss was a racist misogynist. I know my timeline will not be flooded (like it was on March 2nd) with teachers and students celebrating and honoring Tubman. Shoot, I know my timeline won’t be flooded like it was yesterday, as we honored Biggie.
Oh boy, a horrible thought just came to mind. Left to our own devices, if schools did celebrate Tubman today, it would be through some tired, worn out slave narrative that would probably have students of the diaspora feeling more embarrassed than beaming with pride. Because as we know well, we as a country have a really difficult time talking about anything that has to do with slavery, freedom and black people.
I mean, leave it to Uncle Ben and Barry Obama and enslaved Africans were immigrants looking for a better life….so the only thing we should celebrate is their ingenuity. At best, schools will talk about the underground railroad as if that’s all Tubman did and at worse, they would center the Civil War and therefore white hegemonic patriarchy as her narrative and label her a patriot.
Luckily, we have the media’s help in helping us to see Mother Tubman in a more dynamic and full way. (I write this line, with such sarcasm) But honestly the show Underground pays tribute to Tubman and all those fled to freedom and reminds us of what was at stake for descendants of enslaved Africans.
So, I’m left to wonder, what is the best way to honor Tubman on this day, during this month of Divine Feminine celebration? For me, if I were in the classroom, I would be focusing on Harriet as a woman, centering her womanness in our investigation of her and I would be exposing my students to the reality of her accomplishments and the way that this government was intending to cement her in our brains…and wallets.
Earlier this week me, my mother and Cathleen were driving down to visit, for the first time, the Smithsonian National of African American History and Culture. Like many road trips before, the conversation flowed freely and ranged widely. And as we neared DC the talk turned to Harriet Tubman and the significance of her becoming the face of the $20 bill. For many, having a stack of Harriet’s is being seen as a tribute to Black excellence.
For others, Tubman on the $20 is a slap in the face to her legacy, ideals and beliefs.
I. personally believe that if you have a problem with Mother Moses being on money, you have just declared your deep hatred for children. Yep. I said it.
When I learned that Mama Harriet would be on the $20, all I could think about was what it would symbolize for Black children to see someone who looked like their granny on our money, in America. Harriet looks like my granny, dark skin, stern face that says, play with me if “ya bad” and the most determined of demeanor.
If I were in front of students today, we would be a holding a cypha to rep Tubman, hard body. When I did a cursory search on Youtube for student centered videos for her, I only found white girls in elementary school who made hip hop songs about her.
It made me wonder, how do they get access to her and my children don’t? How do they get to engage in creative ways to keep her legacy alive, and my children don’t? How is it that they have all this knowledge and pride in Tubman as a woman and my girls can’t?
Baby, we got a lot of work to do. Because, as the picture says, because of them, we can…and we can’t allow our young people to not learn about all who came before them.
So on this day, March 10th, 2017, I implore you, pour out a little proverbial liquor for the homie Tubman. Put some “respeck” on her name and in anyway you can, honor her with your students. My motto is execute and revise, so if you didn’t prepare in advance of today, it’s ok. You always have next year.
And to all the readers who don’t work with students, you can teach your co-workers a thing or two today. It’s ok, the workplace needs Tubman love too.
Mother Moses, we honor you!
As always, in solidarity.
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