ABOVE PHOTO: Russell Simmons
By Terrell Jermaine Starr
The ancestors, from those who perished during the Trans-Atlantic Slave voyage to the souls who were raped and murdered on American soil, are turning over in their graves in utter disgust at the reality that a venture backed by a Black man would disrespect their sacred history by parodying it with a sex tape of their struggles.
On the very first day Russell Simmon‘s “All Def Digital” YouTube page was born, it managed to desecrate Harriet Tubman – one of the greatest Americans our country has even known.
All Def Digital published a video titled the “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape,” which parodies the efforts of a woman who successfully lead hundreds of enslaved Black men and women to freedom. During the three and half minute clip, the implication is that the only way Ms. Tubman was able to free so many Black people was for her to sleep with their White plantation owners.
After the enslaved Black man hides in the closet, the slave master enters the bedroom and Harriet beds him. To make the insult even worse, the video visualizes Harriet Tubman engaging in very aggressive sex with the White slave master. After their tryst, Tubman blackmails the slave master by saying she has “leverage.” The slave hiding in the closet peeks through the closet door with a video camera in hand that supposedly captures their entire sexual romp.
I am not sure why anyone would think this would be funny, nor can I comprehend how any Black actor would agree to participate in such coonery. Perhaps the intellectual depth of their humor amounts to nothing more than the antebellum humor with which house Negros would have entertained their slave masters. What is clear is their astonishing disregard — and ignorance — of their history.
So, for those who do not know who the real Harriet Tubman is, allow me to educate you:
1. Even though Ms. Tubman escaped slavery around 1844 and made it to Philadelphia, she risked her own life by making 19 trips to the south to recover hundreds of enslaved Blacks.
2. There was a $40,000 bounty on her head at the time. At one point, she overheard some men reading a wanted poster, which stated she was illiterate. She pulled out a newspaper to fool the men into thinking otherwise.
3. In case any of the enslaved Blacks she was leading to freedom had second thoughts, she carried a gun which she threatened to use on anyone who wanted to go back to “master.”
Simply put, Mrs. Tubman was surely not a woman who would have opened her legs to a plantation owner to free slaves she threatened to shoot had they wanted to return to him while enroute to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
But there is something even more disturbing about this clip: The disrespect for the dignity of Black women. It is impossible to calculate the number of times plantation overseers — or any White man, for that matter — raped and sexually brutalized female slaves in front of their husbands.
But the Public Broadcasting Service tells us something about their realities that we have long known:
There were no safeguards to protect them from being sexually stalked, harassed, or raped, or to be used as long-term concubines by masters and overseers. The abuse was widespread, as the men with authority took advantage of their situation. Even if a woman seemed agreeable to the situation, in reality she had no choice. Slave men, for their part, were often powerless to protect the women they loved.
It is too bad that not enough free Black men — even those who earn a living as actors, as the one in the clip — choose not to do something that enslaved Black men died doing: protecting the honor and dignity of our Black women. The man who played the slave in this clip, as far as I am concerned, is still mentally a slave. No self-respecting Black man would dare dishonor one of Black histories greatest Black women by parodying her legacy in such a sickening manner. And the woman who played Harriet Tubman is not any better. At least mentally, she too is a slave.
As for Mr. Simmons, I find it hard to believe that any director would approve such an egregious abuse of Black culture if they did not know that he would be OK with it. But I do hope I am wrong. I have tweeted to the Twitter handles of All Def Digital and Russell Simmons seeking comment but have not gotten a reply. But he did have this to say about the video.
Here is a tweet from his handle:
Perhaps Simmons has let us know that he co-signs this coonery. Ironic, given that he would tap Michael Skolnik to defend Trayvon Martin, yet cannot stand up for the dignity of Black women.
The Change.org petition of Crystal Fleming, demanded that Russell Simmons pull the video.
In part, this is what the petition said:
On the same day that Russell Simmons’ “All Def Digital” released this video, he hosted a party for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an organization that aims “to promote understanding and cooperation between and among ethnic groups and to reduce the existing tensions among diverse racial and ethnic communities.” The irony and shame of this coincidence is appalling. Reducing “existing tensions” requires respecting and honoring the history and cultural heritage of all groups, including the enslaved ancestors of diasporic people. Not only does the Harriet Tubman “sex tape” make a mockery of the history of transatlantic slavery, Harriet Tubman’s memory in particular and the painful reality of sexual exploitation and terror in the lives of enslaved women, but the video also contributes to rape culture by perpetuating the myth that women only “pretend” not to enjoy being forced into having sex against their will.
In short, not only is All Def Digital’s video vulgar and in extremely poor taste, it is also dangerous. As an influential cultural producer, father and chairman of the board for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Russell Simmons should not only remove the video but also apologize for ADD’s role in dishonoring the memory of enslaved women throughout the African diaspora and contributing to rape culture.
If Russell Simmons really cares about ethnic understanding, he will heed the call of this petition and end the coonery that his venture promotes.
UPDATE: Russell Simmons took down the tape from his website, but News One retained copy of it that you can watch on their website newsone.com. He also issued the following apology below.
“I’m a very liberal person with thick skin,” wrote Simmons. “My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of actors said in the video, that 162 years later, there’s still tremendous injustice. And with Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master? I thought it was politically correct. Silly me. I can now understand why so many people are upset. I have taken down the video. Lastly, I would never condone violence against women in any form, and for all of those I offended, I am sincerely sorry.”
Do you buy Simmons’ apology? Send your comments on the SUN’s Facebook page on www.philasun.com.