Russell, You Let Harriet Tubman Down

Russell, You Let Harriet Tubman Down

After an unspeakably offensive video parodies Tubman, Jamilah Lemieux says #Blackpowerforblackmen has been painfully validated yet again

Jamilah Lemieux

by Jamilah Lemieux, August 15, 2013

Russell, You Let Harriet Tubman Down

NOTE: to the sister who played Harriet...do know that this conversation isn't over yet...

we don’t need a conversation about the intersectional burdens faced by Black women when a 55-year-old political influencer, philanthropist and cultural architect can say that parodying Harriet Tubman (HARRIET TUBMAN) with a sex tape skit is “the funniest thing” he’s ever seen. Explain to me how there isn’t some sort of hurtful disconnect among our ranks when a woman vents about street harassment and is told that she’s colluding with White men to bring her own race down. 

Simmons’ folks took the video down last night after massive (and predictable) outrage across social media. He issued an apology some time later, saying this in his defense: “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.”

He thought that a parody of a large Harriet Tubman riding atop a White slave master (I wish I had enough words to get into the subtext here about the sexuality of Black women who don’t look like the "exotic" model types he has a penchant for) was “politically correct.” Why? Because she wasn’t getting hit with closed fists or having her hair ripped out or crying? Also, perhaps Simmons is unclear on what “politically correct” means?

Do any of you think that he would have green-lit a parody video that found young Frederick Douglass giggling as he was mounted by a White man—you don’t think that only Black women were subjected to the indignities of slave rape, do you? Maybe if we spend a bit more time thinking about the men who were assaulted, some of these brothers might actually have a bit more compassion. Or not. Probably not. My vote is for "not." 

Much like Riley Cooper’s “n*gger” outburst a few weeks ago, that “bed wench” comment was not just for the target of that man’s ire. Jamilah isn’t the “bed wench,” Black women by-and-large are “bed wenches” in the eyes of someone who needs but a hair trigger to drop such a slur. And while Simmons may self-identify as someone who is pro-woman and activist-minded—and many times, he is—his inclination to call that video “the funniest thing” he’s ever seen and to fail to recognize how horrifyingly offensive it is to Black women as a whole, and our revolutionary ancestor Harriet Tubman in particular, speaks another story. 

As word of the Def Digital video made its way across Twitter last night, quite a few people made a point of mentioning the irony or significance of it being released on the heels of #blackpowerisforblackmen. Being "right" during a game of Charades or while watching Jeopardy is fun. Being "right" when fighting to get the men of your own race—and many of the women, too!—to acknowledge existence of Black women’s unique intersectional burdens is not. And for many, this episode will easily be waved away with “He took it down and apologized…what else do you want?" In fact, there were some who were so quick to accept their apology, they seemed to question their own right to be angry in the first place. @UncleRUSH was able to RT a few gems of support: 



Just as this video does NOT give White racism a pass under the failed "How can they respect us when we don't respect ourselves?" trope some of our cousins try and pull out on these occasions, the failure of some women to understand or recognize this video as blatant sexism and feel justified in having a "mad Black woman" response (for the record, I rolled my neck and punctuated every word I typed with a clap while working on this piece) means one thing for sure: there is so much work left to do. And considering that Black women are the mules of the world, as Zora Neale Hurston famously wrote, the work will tragically continue to fall upon our backs. It's time to follow sister Harriet's lead and be less forgiving of those who refuse to walk the road to freedom, regardless of their gender. 

Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. 

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