Abstract

Interpretive tools used to document and examine black women's insurgency can stifle as much as they reveal. Harriet Tubman is deservedly remembered for her sustained resistance to multiple forms of oppression. Yet, she is often portrayed in ways that misrecognize, distort, or flatten. Tubman is often discussed as an exceptional but lone figure or in ways that animate stereotypes of black women's unparalleled strength. Her life's work is also often fragmented, meaning that her varied activism and different forms of coalition-building remain undertheorized and under-recognized. Furthermore, via lenses of the maternal or salvific, Tubman's militancy is often softened, better to be embraced into the folds of the nation's progress narrative (a triumphal tale that erases the ongoing nature of many forms of systemic oppression she sought to transform). In short, Tubman is often made visible as a historical figure piecemeal, within narrow frames and in attenuated ways. Unfortunately, forms of “checking” Tubman's contributions have gone relatively “unchecked” in feminist scholarship: I conclude by discussing Tubman's relative absence in women's studies, though her life's work can readily be understood as pertinent to many of the field's analytics and themes. Tubman's contributions merit more than passing reference (if that) in feminist scholarship and curricula.

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