Russell Simmons, Harriet Tubman, and the Continued Degradation of Black Women

Harriet Tubman is considered an American hero freeing hundreds of black folks from the horrors of slavery during her time. Last month a video was released that desecrated her legacy and made her appear anything but heroic.

The video was the creation of Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital company which released the parody and subsequently has had some serious questions to answer. First, a little back story on Russell Simmons. This is a man who is considered one of the original hip-hop moguls (he co-founded the record label Def Jam), a man who launched the clothing line Phat Farm and a man who used his own name to promote the ‘Rush Card.’

So Russell has been in the music/media/entertainment industry for awhile now. Online video has exploded in recent years and Russell has decided to put his hat in the ring. This was not the way to make a first impression however.

In the video we see Harriet Tubman using her sexuality as a way to trick her master into freeing more slaves. We also see a slave hiding in a closet with a crude video camera recording the encounter. The slave then jumps out of the closet in sort of a gotcha moment and pledges to use the video evidence against master as some sort of blackmail. Yup.

Needless to say, people were pissed. And rightfully so. Simmons had to personally apologize to the family of Harriet Tubman and later issued a public apology through this video. What’s even more concerning, is the fact that Russell Simmons claimed that he didn’t know the video was offensive until his friends from the NAACP gave him a call telling him the damage he had done.

An even more disturbing fact is that this video (along with a host of other media outlets) devalues the contributions that black women have made throughout our society. Whether it’s marriage articles, or personal net worth, or out of wedlock births, it appears as if black women have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to media representation these last few years. To see this lack of sensitivity and disrespect shown to a historical icon by a fellow person of color is disheartening to say the least. What this parody video says is either Russell Simmons did not know enough about the significance of Harriet Tubman to see the pain this video would cause, or simply didn’t care enough about her legacy in the first place. Either way, Harriet Tubman deserves better than this.

2 thoughts on “Russell Simmons, Harriet Tubman, and the Continued Degradation of Black Women

  1. Shameful. But not surprising because many Black filmmakers remain critically unconscious about their History and the insidious workings of White supremacist ideology. This is parody/satire that we really do without. For the record, I would like to include Lee Daniels (Precious)and dear ole John Singleton (Baby Boy) to my hit list of Afro-American filmmakers who are trafficking in Black urban pathologies doing their community a grave disservice. All they are doing in re-inscribing rather interrogating / dismantling some vicious racist stereotypes/discourse about Afro-American without any critical CONTEXT that is linked to larger social systems and institutions that Black folks did not create. Blame / accountability for all struggles is wrongfully displaced back onto the shoulders of the Black characters and by extension all Black people. For a white person watching these films and who dont know any Black folks personally, it's a confirmation of all the mythology they “know” about us.

    When Black artists / cultural producers don't know their history and our struggles against White supremacist, they are doomed to produce works like this. Then we have only ourselves to hold accountable.


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