russell simmons (2013)*Russell Simmons, music and fashion mogul and the man behind Def Comedy Jam,  has failed royally in his latest business venture aimed at profiting off humor.

Simmons presented the “Harriett Tubman Sex Tape” video as  the abolitionist’s diary on his YouTube channel, All Def Digital, which caused a firestorm of backlash from the Black community.

The video depicts Tubman willingly having sex with her “massa,” at one point sodomizing him, while a fellow male slave hid in the closet filming their intercourse, as he sang “wade in the water.”  This footage her conspirator gathered was intended to be future blackmail to help Ms. Tubman emancipate the enslaved.

I was appalled at the disrespect against African Americans in general and African American women in particular that  Simmons has exhibited with a sex tape that mocks the life-risking feats of an abolitionist heroine.  The video should never have been created. Period.

“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.”

How can anyone Black or White  have the audacity to be so disrespectful and insensitive toward a woman of patriotism and valor?

The parody is an insult to the historic past of African Americans that perpetuates long-held stereotypes about Black women and sexuality that minimizes the very real slave trade market that exists in Africa today.  Yet, Simmons said on Twitter this video “is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Hundreds of years after being repeatedly raped and objectified as incubators for the production of human cattle (i.e., “chattel slavery”), Black women are still fighting to dispel the myth that they are only good for one thing — sex.  In the media, on the job, throughout society, Black women are constantly castigated based on false portrayals of who they are.  For a Black man, any Black man, but especially one of Simmons’ socially conscious acumen, to find it laughable to perpetuate a damning attitude toward Black women through “art” is an atrocious act, not a funny one.

On his Web site, Global Grind, Simmons issued an apology at the behest  of his “buddies” from the NAACP. The post was titled “I Get It and I Respect It. . .The Harriett Tubman Video Has Been Removed.”

The brief statement provides an explanation for why he felt it was acceptable to run the piece, posted here in its entirety: RUSSELL SIMMONS APOLOGY ABOUT THE HARRIET TUBMAN SEX TAPE

harriet tubman

Harriet Tubman

This apology can not be taken seriously. Russell Simmons is a 55-year-old politically involved marketing tycoon who understands the potential effect of messaging both direct and sublime. He is a Hip Hop Elder champion for the young, Black and underprivileged who just checked CNN’s Don Lemon in early August for comments about the plight of young Black men. Yet in his so-called apology Simmons sarcastically purports ignorance by saying,” I thought it was politically correct. Silly me.” This language does not convey sincerity.

For those of you  who may not know the magnitude of the legacy “Uncle Russ” and company insulted here is a another picture of Harriet Tubman:

“Harriet Tubman is an American hero. She was born enslaved, liberated herself, and returned to the area of her birth many times to lead family, friends, and other enslaved African Americans north to freedom. Harriet Tubman fought tirelessly for the Union cause, for the rights of enslaved people, for the rights of women, and for the rights of all. She was a leader in the struggle for civil rights who was forever motivated by her love of family and community and by her deep and abiding faith.”

These are the actual words President Barack Obama stated in a proclamation establishing the National Underground Railroad Monument in Tubman’s honor, a first for a woman of any race.

The disgraceful 3-minute swipe at humor was wrong on so many levels.

In order for comedy to work, the story must be believable or at the very least imaginable. It’s doubtful that Tubman, a fugitive, who was struck by her master with an iron rod at the age of thirteen and lived with issues from the injury all her life, would have bedded her enemy.  Ms. Harriett was a gun-toting, warrior woman who used her head and heart, not what was between her legs to reckon the escape of over 300 men and women.  Tubman was grossly  mischaracterized in the Def Jam Digital spoof.

As it was then, it is now: Black women–Black people–want fairness and equality and to be treated with dignity. We don’t want any favors or to play cunning games to get what we desire out of life.  We want to experience our inalienable rights justly.  And we want Russ and people like him who are amused by any aspect of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the  Black Holocaust that was American slavery to really “get it.”

If Simmons got it he would have never put the despicable stereotypes on display. They were all there –a sneaky slave wench, the emasculated coon and a lustful all-powerful “massa.” There on the Internet where nothing ever really goes away.  There to be played over and over and over again as reminders that in 2013 people still don’t get it. There as ammunition for irreverent conservatives like Rush Limbaugh to play the “they-did-it-so-why-can’t-I” card.  There to tarnish the Black woman’s name ad infinitum.

To make matters worse, the Def Jams Digital video was released at a time when historical revisionists are playing with details of Black America’s past.  The Texas Board of Education has revised text books to identify slaves as “paid interns.”  Sadly, students are either mis-educated or under-educated about the history of Black Americans in classrooms all over the country. It is quite possible that today’s generation of youth may not know enough about Tubman or slavery to distinguish the truth from a lie or a joke from fact.

russell simmons & harriet tubmanMs. Tubman still has living relatives who are offended by the video.  Rita Daniels, the great-great niece of Harriet Tubman wants a personal apology from Simmons.  In an interview  with the The Grio she said,  “He has got to fix what he messed up by contacting the family, educating himself; [he has to] work on educating other people and by doing something positive to fix what he broke.”

I agree.

Simmons must do more to rectify the damage he has done.  Like Paula Deen, the Rush Communications, Inc. CEO won’t truly get it until consumers demand respect and remove their support from a brand owner who defiles their values.  Deen’s words and actions cost her. How will Russell Simmons pay?

When you have the type of power and influence  Simmons has, particularly related to the younger generation, you should use it to elevate others. That’s who I thought  Simmons was–an agent for positive change in Urban America who brought out the best in Hip Hop culture.

Silly me.

Now I’m wondering, what happened to the Russell Simmons I once knew?

However, a more important question here is what more can be done to serve notice to Simmons (and Hollywood) that the creative assault on Black women won’t be tolerated?

History will begin to vindicate African American women when falsifications about their challenges with racism and sexism that  Russell Simmons backed cease and desist.  It is imperative that Simmons is held to to a greater level of accountability today so future generations of Black women can live unaffected by tarnished images from the past.

Mona Austin is a Washington, DC area based journalist who blogs secular and non-secular items for EURweb, Essence and other media outlets. Contact her via [email protected].

Watch the now infamous “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape”:

Mona Austin is a Washington, DC area based journalist who blogs secular and non-secular items/issues for EURweb, Essence and other media outlets. Contact her via [email protected].

Mona Austin

Mona Austin