Russell Simmons, Harriet Tubman, And Why Rape Is NOT Seduction

August 19, 2013  |  

Rob Rich/

The release of Russell Simmons’ Harriet Tubman sex tape confirmed what I have always suspected: slavery was only for black men; whereas black woman just came along for the long boat ride, just so those self-hating broads could have first dibs at being bed wenches to white men.

Psych. Actually, I don’t believe that at all, but there isn’t a shortage of material floating around the Internet, which definitely leads me to believe a bunch of folks really do feel that slavery, at least for women, was some sort of alluring Zane novel. And that has been confirmed recently in an interview by Uncle Rush himself:

“When I got the call and found out black women were so disgusted by it, it broke my heart,” he says. “I’m sure I’m gonna piss off everybody again tomorrow. I got s**t that’s gonna piss people off. … But it’s not likely it’ll break my heart and make me react as quickly.” When he first saw the clip, he says, he saw a “vision of traditional comedy — the oppressed taking advantage of the oppressor. That was what I saw, though it could have been executed better. … Although in the video, she seduces the slave master, it implies the previous rapes. So I just saw her taking advantage of the slave master, and I let it go.”

This is not the first time that a black man with a platform has spoken publicly about their slave girl seduction fantasy. In fact, in 2010, writer and TV-news pundit Touré made headlines when he said the following:

Many, many, many of our great grandmothers were raped in slavery. But surely a few of them were loved and surely some… were cunning and brilliant enough to use their bodies to gain liberation thus fooling massa. Of course, most were raped, we know that, but some were sharp enough to trade that good-good for status or liberation. They are absolutely not hos. They’re sexually heroic. They’re self-liberating by any means necessary.”

I’m just going to go ahead and say it plain for folks to understand: rape is not seduction.

It’s easy to get swept away in the romanticized versions of the Sally Hemings/Thomas Jefferson story. After all, slavery was called the peculiar institution because some really peculiar stuff happened from time to time. However, a slave master always had the power in these situations. Always. There was no choosing your master. He had the power to have a black slave woman flogged, maimed or even put to death if she refused his advances. He had the power to send children to be sold away from his black slave woman. Even Sally Hemings was reminded by her beloved Jefferson her actual place in his world when he failed to free her at the time of his death. Some sexual liberation. Therefore, the power differential between slave and master meant that these women and their bodies were deemed largely as property. And property can’t consent.

What’s particularly bothersome about the portrayal of the Massa’-seducing black slave woman we hear so much about is the underlying jaded message about black women and possibly women in general. Particularly that the only way a woman could conceivably gain any sort of power is through her private parts. With respects to Tubman specifically, the “parody” is not even historically relevant to all of the real life happenings she undertook to gain freedom for herself and for others. Events like leading the Underground Railroad. Or how she was able to maneuver around capture even with a $40,000 bounty on her head. And how this little petite lady used to carry major heat – not necessarily for the white man, but to remind those fidgety and scary Negros rolling with her that, if you think about turning back, I got the shotgun to ya’ back (*in an Erykah Badu voice*). All of that would have made a great fodder for a parody of her life, such as it had before.

Right after the controversy about the Simmons-backed parody bit exploded, Duke Professor Mark Anthony Neal, who also operates the blog New Black Man (in Exile), tweeted out the series of Tubman-parody videos from a couple of years ago called the Black Moses Barbies. The videos were wildly praised (and shared) for the satirical way it used America’s most beloved doll, the Barbie, to call attention to Tubman’s legacy. The videos were also critiqued for the cartoonish way in which it told that history. In lieu of the Tubman-sextape video, Pierre Bennu, the creative mind behind the Black Moses Barbie videos, released a statement about what made his parody different from Simmons’ parody:

this piece [Harriet Tubman sextape] maligned her incredible legacy in favor of a sexist fantasy; displaying her agency as residing only in sexuality and deceit. i can think of very few cinematic choices that can be more anti-woman, or more disrespectful to the ancestor. not everyone thought that my pieces were funny. some people thought that they crossed a line by introducing humor at all into the legacy of harriet tubman. and they are entitled to that opinion, i honor that everyone’s sensibility is different. what i tried to do was highlight ms. tubman’s incredible accomplishments while also using the iconic barbie concept to talk about gender conditioning/marketing to children, as well as ideas of both womanhood and the iconic american hero.”

I didn’t learn much from the Simmons-backed parody video other than that some folks really do have some deep-seated issues when it comes to women.

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  • Russell Simmons has shown his ignorance, his disrespect for Black women, and his disdain for Black people all at once. He says that he was trying to show an example of “the oppressed taking advantage of the oppressor.” News flash: the real Harriet Tubman did that! Through her intelligence, her common sense, her quick-thinking, and her passionate devotion to the plight of her people, she was able to accomplish so much, the likes of which history hasn’t seen since. But instead of celebrating this remarkable woman, who is one of my personal heroes, he tried to reduce her to nothing more than a sex toy, while debasing the experiences of the countless Black women who were raped. They (the women) were not courtesans moving on from one “patron” to the next in search of gifts and prestige. They were considered less than human and had precious little choices. That there are African-Americans who share the view of Russell Simmons and Touré is disturbing. To try and make light of their experiences in the lowest way possible is unacceptable.

  • hollyw

    UGH. This is just ridiculous. The older I get, the harder it becomes for me to tolerate ignorance of any kind, but especially, ESPECIALLY from highly educated, culturally relevant folks. I’m trying, but it ain’t workin. Just like I cannot STAND being around non-minorities in my clique showing an ounce of stupidity towards marginalized groups, it is so hard for me to look past a well-educated guy who could say that Tubman exchanging sex for the Underground Railroad is at all humorous, or that slaves being forced to prostitute themselves out b/c they literally had no. other. content. to bargain their lives for, is what “sexual liberation” looks like..?

    Idiots. Both of them. It’s like, how can you be sooo smart in every other arena but this?? And STILL! Russell thinks that the ‘real’ reason Black women got upset was b/c forcible rape was implied somewhere in that horrid clip! Like that somehow ruined the otherwise perfectly shot skit?! NOT b/c they insinuated that sex, not intellect, is what freed all those slaves, and had them risking their lives?? That they took a supremely brilliant Black historical figure and reduced her all the way down to the nub of her “good-good (as Toure puts it)” for the sake of a few laughs…that virtually no one gave, b/c the skit sucked anyway!!! …and that they only replicated exactly what The Massa had done to us those 200yrs, followed by men of all races the 250 after that?!? I repeat: UGH!!!