Harriet Tubman's family is asking Kanye West to educate himself after the rapper claimed during an erratic appearance at a fundraiser Sunday for his presidential campaign that the famed abolitionist "never actually freed the slaves," and "just had the slaves go work for other white people." Tubman's great-great-great niece, Tina Wyatt, said West needs to recognize how his own life would be different if not for her predecessor in a Tuesday interview with TMZ.
"If we were left alone, we would be in an entirely different place," she explained, adding that her relative's actions were "selfless," as she was already freed when she began making dangerous trips to free slaves through the Underground Railroad. "She didn't have to come back, she didn't have to risk her life, but she did it countless times," Wyatt continued. "And if it hadn't been for people like her, he would still be on that plantation. He would not be able to be out there saying the things he says, and he wouldn't have the money he has, because they would have it all."
As for his comments Sunday, Wyatt said she didn't even understand what he meant by them, noting that it was discriminatory legislation such as Jim Crow laws that kept Black people who were freed from living as Tubman had desired. "He doesn't even understand who she was as a woman," she added.
When asked what Tubman would tell the rapper if given the chance, Wyatt said her relative would encourage him to "uplift" other people and abandon his late attempt at a presidential campaign. "I don't know if he's doing it or not. I don't know where he's putting his money, but if he's not, it seems like he wants to talk about a lot of things. The thing is, put your money into something that will uplift other people. Him trying to run to be president is not one of them."
West, who faced backlash in 2018 for saying 400 years of Black enslavement sounded "like a choice," has been called out by Tubman scholars as well. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a Rutgers University professor who specializes in African American women’s history, called for West to educate himself in a statement to The Washington Post. "Kanye West is in desperate need of a crash course in American History. His comments were erroneous and serve as a pathetic attempt to stimulate public attention," Dunbar said. "Tubman was one of the most important social justice activists in our nation’s history and West’s words will never erase this fact. He’s a distraction and I suggest we move along and pay him no mind."