Kanye West’s Tubman tweet turns out to be rooted in erroneous fiction
A quote thought to be from Harriet Tubman but which has been debunked by historians was used by the rapper to defend his rhetoric
As Kanye West continues to dig a deeper hole with his public rhetoric, he keeps spewing out misinformation about slavery and Black culture – and this time he’s trying to use abolitionist Harriet Tubman to justify his defective debates.
After saying slavery was a choice, West tired to justify his comments with this tweet:
I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. – Harriet Tubman
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 2, 2018
Tubman is one of the most inspiring leaders of the Underground Railroad and was a badass Union spy who led hundreds of people out of slavery. The problem is there’s no primary source that links Tubman to that quote.
You tried it!
Twitter user and Author Raquel Cepeda took West’s inaccurate tweet to task:
Harriet Tubman never said that. Sigh. This is what happens when colonialism wins: it makes you think you have free thought but, in fact, you are just being used as a pawn to disempower others in the community. https://t.co/XNK2SY2lKY
— Raquel Cepeda (@RaquelCepeda) May 2, 2018
According to Snopes, there is no original sourcing for this and it was “entirely made up, and became popularized starting sometime in the 1990s. There is no documentation, nor historical basis for this quote.”
In a 2016 blog post, Rice University professor (and slavery historian) Dr. W. Caleb McDaniel said that distributing this fake quote is harmful to Tubman’s legacy and to today’s anti-slavery activism efforts:
“Modern historians know the truth: enslaved people resisted their condition in countless ways, large and small. If they were not able to attain freedom, it was not because they didn’t want it or because (as the fake Tubman quote would have it) they “did not know they were slaves.” It was because powerful forces were arrayed against them. The idea of “tacit consent” distracted attention from that fact.
“I worry that the fake Tubman quote could have the same “red herring” effect in conversations about modern trafficking. It encourages activists who quote and read it to believe that the only thing standing between modern slaves and freedom is knowledge, self-awareness, education, and a willingness to actively dissent. But the corollary comes uncomfortably close to the paternalistic idea that those who somehow “choose” not to be freed or don’t “know” they are slaves must tacitly consent to their own exploitation.”
That alludes to West’s remark that being enslaved for 400 years was a “choice,” which he later tried to clarify, saying he was referring to “mental slavery.”
West even tweeted:
if this was 148 years ago I would have been more like Harriet or Nat
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018
But Nat Turner, led a revolt and Tubman, navigated slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad and never ran her train off track or lost a passenger. West’s erroneous remarks are nothing like the real life actions of these people.