You’ll have to forgive me for the rather ineloquent title. Unfortunately, “Ultimate Douche Bag” is reserved for someone else whom I loathe with unbridled disdain and “bloody, sold out idiot” just seemed apropos for the moment. Because surely, this is idiotic.
Have you seen this? This is Russell Simmons contribution to “comedy”:
Apparently, Mr. Simmons thinks the sexualization of a Black feminist icon by parodying the and very painful instances of rape that Black women and girls were subjected to, without hope of justice, as recently as 1950, is “funny”.
I watched the video and experienced a range of emotions.
Sadness and pain.
Humor and amusement were nowhere to be found in that spectrum.
Here’s the thing about me and the formidable Harriet Tubman. I’ve blogged about her on more than one occasion because I encountered her very early in life when I was first introduced to the subject and history of slavery. I read “Roots” cover to cover at age 12. I visited my first slave dungeon by 10. I had been informed of the atrocities meted out on the people of Congo by the demented and satanic King Leopold of Belgium, whom among other things introduced mutilation as a form of punishment to the natives of the Congolese colony under his rule. Somewhere in there, I met a little girl named Harriet Tubman, who could have been me had I the misfortune of being born a just a hundred and fifty years before.
At age 8, Harriet Tubman was sent out to work for a white woman as child-minder for the new mother’s infant baby. When the baby would cry, the woman would whip Harriet in punishment. As a kid myself, I thought this was incredibly unfair and rather stupid. That’s what babies do – they cry.
When she was a bit older, she was hired out again to work for a fur trapper who used her to perform the most dangerous tasks of the trade. These included but were not limited to entering and submerging herself the swampy waters of the Georgia back woods in order to bring out the traps and their catch. I imagined (and certainly know now) that it was scary, unpleasant, back breaking work for a little girl.
By the time Harriet grew into womanhood she was working in the field doing the manual labor of a man twice her size. She was dark-skinned, not a house Negro. She knew the woods and understood how to move through it silently. She had a special bond with her father, who loved and cherished her. It was rumored that her lineage was that of the Ashanti, but there is no proof of that. The fact that she may have been from Ghana made her all the more special to me.
We didn’t learn about Harriet Tubman in school while I was growing up in Ghana. We hybrid kids had to memorize facts about her and other heroes of the African-American struggle for Kwanzaa plays and presentations at the DuBois Center in Cantonments. Facts like the two pound weight that she was struck in the head with for refusing to help a white man restrain his run-away slave and the coma she found herself in after having blood and sweat trickle down her face for two days never seemed to leave me.
Our lesson about Ms. Tubman usually stopped at the part where she led a few hundred slaves to freedom up North and never lost a passenger as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. As an adult I would discover that she served as a Union spy and had a distinguished career serving in America’s military as a scout and a nurse during the Civil War. She was promised a salary and compensation for her part in furthering the success of Lincoln’s army, which of course, she never received.
I found out later that she would also be called upon by women in the Suffragette Society to give speeches about her exploits and presented to their ranks an example of the strength of womanhood – a strength that men who ran American society long purported did not exist. And yet here stood this sinewy woman – brain injured and destitute – defying all that was said about her, her sex and her race. That she was a stupid beast of the field only fit for mindless toil and perhaps the drunken, violent advances of her white master or any man in a position of power for that matter. She was the very opposite. She was a cunning master of disguise. She had wit and foresight. She was graceful, kind and determined. She died in poverty so that others less fortunate than she could have at least some small comfort by virtue of sharing the little that she had within her possession.
And that – that is what makes Russell Simmons’ video so sickening to me. How can a man – a father of TWO daughters – overtly disrespect and denigrate the woman who laid the foundation for his own mammy to earn the right to vote and stand with her head held high in American society? How could he find humor in this portrayal of Harriet Tubman as the stereotypical obese Mammie-figure, riding and gyrating on her master while screeching in “slave talk” before culminating the whole ridiculous scene with an insipid “gotcha” moment?
“Ise got what you White folk call ‘leverage’. Now git ta buildin’ that Underground Railroad!”
And then out pops the camera lens… and this is where we’re supposed to laugh? Major fail, Russ. Dave Chappelle on his worst night wouldn’t have dreamt up this one. Dave is a genius… and this is whatever the unrecognizable, bastard, bowl-legged child of Wit is.
Of course, there will be some Black men who find this insanely funny. There are those Black men who take pleasure at the constant defamation and abuse that Black women of a hue this-side-of-brown face every day in America’s media and popular culture. Call it what you will – self-hate, mentally caged or whatever – but this is the crop of scum sucking individuals who feeds the veracious beast at “media outlets” like Simmons’ All Def Digital (ADD), who unequivocally prey on Black, poor, disenfranchised women’s flesh to fatten itself before hunting down more high-end quarry to further their careers and the lives of their little networks. Had Russell Simmons first parody been of Hilary Clinton achieving the presidency in 2016 through the use of a sex tape… well, I don’t have to tell you what would happen next, do I?
But no. ADD’s debut video was of one of Black Womanhood’s most sacred sisters, which is easily done. After all, hip-hop as we know it was built on the literal backsides of buxom Black women and in the most disgusting forms. It would make sense for this hip-hop mogul to launch his comedy career on the legacy of one of America’s strongest Black women. That’s what we’re here for, right? To “take it”.
Your mother and all the women in your life, including your two little girls, should she ashamed of you, Russell Simmons. But I guess since they fall into that delightsome “browning of America” category you’re always so proudly touting (they’re not really BLACK, are they?) you have nothing to fear for raising their disappointments.
Just go back to making socks, or whatever it is you do, and leave the comedy to the professionals.
Rest in perfect peace, Harriet Tubman, and know that there are some of us who will never sit silent in the face of your disrespect; not while we draw breath!