Who makes fun of Harriet Tubman? Russell Simmons. That’s who.
Yesterday evening, a curious hashtag began to appear on Twitter, #harriettubmansextape. It was a video spoof, billed as “an off-record account of how Harriet Tubman blackmailed her master into letting her run the Underground Railroad!”
No. I’m not making this up. I couldn’t if I tried.
The black abolitionist, who was born into slavery, escaped and put her freedom and life on the line repeatedly to free her family and other enslaved African-Americans via the Underground Railroad. And yesterday on All Def Digital (ADD), Russell Simmons’ new YouTube channel, this powerful and courageous black woman was reduced to a sexual parody.
In the “re-enactment,” Tubman (Shanna Malcolm) seduces her white master (Jason Horton).
“Oh, Massa, all these years I’ve been acting like I didn’t enjoy our special time together,” Tubman says, alluding to previous rapes. “But tonight, that’s all going to be different.”
Tubman’s cooning co-conspirator (DeStorm Power), another enslaved African, hides in the closet with a video camera. He encourages Tubman to “drop it like a hot comb” as she bends over. Post-coitus, Tubman threatens to tell her enslaver’s wife about their “affair.” He argues no one will believe her. Tubman offers a knowing glance to the audience watching and tells him to “get to work on that railroad, white ni**a”.
Somehow this video was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t laugh (or know of anyone who did). But Russell Simmons, the same man who rallied for justice in the Trayvon Martin case and against Don Lemon’s ignorance and domestic violence when a young rapper was seen on video attacking a woman, managed to find the video hilarious. “[it’s the] funniest thing I’ve ever seen” he tweeted yesterday.
Oh, is it now? Funnier than Def Comedy Jam even?
I don’t find anything, at all, amusing about the rape of black women or the debasement of a respected American icon. And given the collective outrage when Lil Wayne rapped of his desire to “beat that pu**y up like Emmett Till,” an allusion to the Chicago teen who was infamously murdered in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman in 1955, how did no one veto this idea?
Rape isn’t a joke,. Slavery isn’t a joke. Harriet Tubman and her sacrifices for black people are not a joke. And to selfishly mock the subjugation of black people, the rape of black women and a revered American heroine in exchange for Internet clicks and ad dollars is abhorrent. And unconscionable. And sick. And just plain trifling.
Luckily, I wasn’t the only one baffled and appalled. A change.org petition demanding the video be removed from the site quickly amassed over 600 signatures. And black Twitter launched a full-scale assault on Simmons and the actors who appeared in the video.
“You absolutely disgraced yourself and the women whose blood and tears made your existence possible,” Kimberly Foster, the founder of women’s empowerment site For Harriett, tweeted to the actress who played Tubman.
Social media influencer Luvvie Ajayi didn’t hold back her justifiable venom either. “[You’re] cooning for cash and shamefully shucking for sh*t that should never gotten past “idea” stage,” she tweeted to Simmons, Power and Malcolm.
The collective outrage, largely from black women, led to the video being removed from the site around midnight. Just after 2AM, Simmons apologized for the video, noting that his “buddies” at the NAACP had asked him to take the video down.
“My first impression for the Harriet Tubman piece was about what one of the actors said in the video, that 162 years later, there’s still tremendous injustice. And Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master, I thought it was politically correct. Silly me,” Simmons wrote, adding that he would never condone violence against women.
Condone? Never. But joke about rape and sexual violence? Sure, why not… right?
Simmons closed his statement by saying that he now understood why so many people were upset and he was “sincerely sorry.”
Do you forgive him?