Last week saw the video release of "Harriet Tubman Sex Tape" through Russell Simmons' YouTube channel, All Def Digital. As a student artist focusing on the portrayal of women in society, especially that of black women, I have a lot of strong feelings about this video.
I watched social media as the backlash occurred. Twitter was alive with both those who praised and chastised the video. I was a part of the latter. Russell Simmons is facing considerable criticism—as he ought—but I partially blame this on the watered-down version of slavery taught in schools.
What the creators of this "sex tape" missed is the fact that the rape of black women is a serious historic tool of racism and white supremacy. Masters raped their female slaves regularly. It was a facet of everyday life. We have the anti-miscegenation laws of the time to prove it.
The thought in this video is that there would be social and legal consequences for such an atrocious action when the truth of chattel slavery is that most often there were no consequences. Black people were property and white masters had no legal or social obligations to treat their slaves fairly or humanely.
The other huge issue is the portrayal of Harriet Tubman. She is one of the most badass people to ever walk this earth. To portray her as a conniving seductress taints her reputation. Not only that, but Tubman's portrayal reenforces victim blaming in contemporary society. To this day, black women are stereotyped as promiscuous. Much of this dynamic stems from a white society that blamed them for the rapes they were subjected to. And I don't even want to get into how hurtful and hateful this is toward survivors of rape. Or how Shanna Malcolm, the actress that plays Tubman calls her predominantly white followers "McNigglets."
I just want to know who cosigned this mockery? This is black self-hatred to its core. Not only that, but when will black comedians realize that this type of degrading comedy is not edgy or, frankly, funny? How can we as a people call for an end to racism when we so deeply internalize these same stereotypes?
I would ask for:
1. A real apology from Simmons. Not one apologizing for the public's offense to the video, but one fully acknowledging the oppressive nature of video and the lack of insight by all those that took part.
2. The promotion of history told from the African-American and other perspectives, as opposed to the white colonial view normally taught in schools.
3. A historically accurate feature film about the amazing life of Harriet Tubman.
If that happens, maybe future generations will be educated enough to not think disrespecting the legacy Tubman is alright.
Click here to add ensuring real history is taught in schools to your GOOD "to-do" list.
Image via Wikimedia Commons