Russell, Russell: About that Harriet Tubman BS

Copyright: The Sin City Siren

If you didn’t see the grotesque “comedy” video — depicting a Harriet Tubman “sex tape” — released by Russell Simmons yesterday on his All Def Digital channel, well, you won’t see it now. Within hours of releasing the sexist, racist, and rape-joke infused “parody,” it was pulled from YouTube. But not before all hell broke loose on twitter.

And of course:

So what was on this video that made Simmons tweet, “Funniest thing I’ve ever seen” upon it’s release? I’ll let Elon James White of This Week in Blackness illuminate:

You’re looking at what is supposed to be a funny spoof about how Harriet Tubman blackmailed her “massa.” You’re supposed to laugh because it shows that she took the power and got the upper hand. Isn’t this hilarious? What? You’re not laughing?

I’m not either.

Humor is above all else subjective. What one person may find hilarious, another might find horrendously offensive. But I have to say, as someone who works with humor, I’m genuinely disgusted by this. If this script came across my desk, I would’ve asked, “Who was smoking what when this was written, and why the fuck did this reach my desk?” The gag doesn’t hold water if you’re aware of the historical context of the simulated situation.

To find this funny, you have to ignore the fact that, in the sketch, Harriet Tubman had been raped by her master numerous times, then decided to engage in intercourse with him to gain control over him. You then have to find it hilarious to watch a rape survivor simulate enjoying sex with her rapist.

What’s that old phrase from my youth? It’s so funny I forgot to laugh. What the fuck, Russell Simmons?

Well, predictably, the video was yanked and a quasi-apology issued. But the damage is done. This whole thing is like walking into a bizzarro universe where rape jokes are empowering, slaves can usurp control from their “massas,” and sexualizing civil rights icons are okay as long as they have lady parts. I feel queasy. I mean … I don’t even know where to begin. Here’s Britni Danielle from Clutch:

Downplaying the very real rapes and abuse Black women endured during slavey? Check.

Casting an obese Harriet Tubman to play into of the negative stereotypes about Black women’s bodies? Check.

Portraying Black women as Jezebels who use sex to get what they want? Check.

Normalizing the idea that all Black women are sassy and always have something smart to say? Check.

Portraying Black men as coons? Check, check, check.

This video is not only completely unfunny, but it’s a slap in the face to Harriet Tubman, as well as the millions of enslaved African Americans who suffered through the unspeakable horrors of slavery.

I’m also saddened that Russell Simmons, who has been outspoken on issues of race and class over past few years, signed off on this disrespectful parody our history for the sake of a few YouTube views.

And then, on top of this, came a kind of radio-silence from the white feminists in my twitter feed (and on Facebook). I searched Feministe, Feministing, and even troublesome Jezebel and found nada. (And, to be fair, there was nothing on my media partner Feminism 2.0, either.) But perhaps it’s a time-zone delay. Maybe most of the big sites, which are largely situated on the East Coast, were put to bed already. After all, I could only find one tweet about this story on Colorlines.

Even so … Where are the white feminist individual voices? The ones that are angry and calling this shit out, like @AngryBlackLady and Zerlina Maxwell? Holy shit! What were we just talking about yesterday?! WAKE UP! You want to be an ally to the struggles of the people of color we’ve been alienating from the predominantly white feminist movement? Are you waiting for an engraved invitation to register your outrage that there is still racist, degrading, rape-joke shit in the world? Carpe diem, motherfuckers!

I will give props to one white feminist I found, Martha Plimpton, who jumped on this story and retweeted a few good posts:

Is this sinking in, yet? Let’s put this another way:

Ouch. That stings. Because there’s some hard truth to it.

Look, I don’t have all this shit figured out, but I can tell when something stinks and needs to be called out. Remaining silent, or worse yet, having no one in your social networks who was even talking about this issue (because you don’t even follow groups and people who might be talking about it) is symptomatic of the race problem we keep talking about in regards to mainstream feminism.

You don’t have to know exactly how to analyze this debacle or even how to talk about it in intersectional terms. Just show up! It can be as simple as showing your solidarity that this is some fucked up shit. You could just tweet, “Russell Simmons’ Harriet Tubman video is degrading, sexist, and deeply triggering to rape survivors. I’m calling that shit out.” And you’d have 13 characters to spare for witty hashtags or to cc @UncleRush.

And, for the love of God, do not ask your one black friend to explain anything to you. If you are having a moment with this in which you are realizing your own ignorance about racism, race-relations, and civil rights. Own it. That’s your white privilege showing. If talking about this stuff makes you uncomfortable, that’s your white privilege. But walking around like this isn’t happening because it’s scary to talk about — that’s some chicken-shit business. If your white privilege is making you uncomfortable … then by all means take it off!

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