Once upon a time in this country we call America, there was an institution called slavery. You may have heard of it; horrible thing it was… race based slavery. Within this institution, some of the most appalling and harrowing atrocities were meted out against people – men, women AND children – of African descent. We often like to package these atrocities into neat little bites for quick consumption when we talk about slavery.
Severing family ties.
But until you’ve filled your head with slave accounts wherein a woman describes how a fellow slave had to suckle her child because their master’s dogs ripped her breasts off her flesh when she tried to escape, or how a man had his right eye plucked out for talking back to an overseer, or how a boy as young as 8 was whipped within an inch of his life for not moving fast enough on the plantation, you don’t really get a sense of the “hell” that slavery was.
Within this institution we know as slavery, Black men, women and children were powerless. Any hint of resistance was quickly quelled with brute force. This was re-enforced with beguiling words from scripture which said only good slaves – slaves who offered complete fealty to their masters – would please God and therefore enter into heaven. Heaven was the only escape a slave could hope for. Many a spiritual hymnal sung in the fields spoke of Heaven, freedom and going “home”. And yet, some dared to resist. We know a few of their names: Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth. There are hundreds of other renegade slaves who fled hell on earth ,whose names we will never know. But these we do know, and they are revered to us.
This is why what Russell Simmons did is so shocking.
I have made no secret of my admiration for Harriet Tubman, and this whole affair has caused me to see her life through new eyes. Just like the murder of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s eventual acquittal for that murder caused me to see America in a new light, so do I see my Black community differently.
When I think about Harriet Tubman, I think about a little girl who was hired out to work at age 5. She was routinely beaten by the woman who ‘rented’ her as a child. In fact, Harriet said the first thing her White mistress would do in the morning was beat her. How awful, I thought… but never once did I consider how Harriet’s own mother and father must have felt about this. To have your child taken away from you to toil and have her returned whipped and scarred – and have absolutely no power to say anything about it. Not a mumbling word in protest.
We do know that Harriet had several of her sisters sold away from the family, and when a slaver came to take her brother, her mother stood at the door with an axe vowing to bury it into the head of anyone who came into the cabin to take her son away. There was no sale that day or any thereafter. This was the first act of resistance that Harriet witnessed, she later narrated. It ignited the flame for what would become a life-long passion for the cause of freedom and equality.
As far as we know, Harriet Tubman did not suffer any sexual abuse, although she was routinely physically punished. Her master lobbed an iron weight at her head and cracked her skull; when she became ill she was not provided medical treatment; she was whipped. All along, her parents were powerless to whisk her away from the harmful and dreadful life she was born into. Like all Black men in that time, her father would have been unable to protect or repulse any White man who violated his wife or child. All he could do was stand and watch. I can’t imagine how her father must have felt. It was well documented that he loved his little girl very much. But thank God, at least she was spared the violation and anguish that comes with being sexually assaulted.
Until last week, of course. Because that was when Russell Simmons and his team decided to rape Harriet Tubman. You know my feelings on this. I won’t rehash them.
What was shocking to me following this incident was Russell Simmons’ glib and arrogant response to the entire series of events. What was further appalling was the virtual silence from our “Black leadership”. There was no public word of reprimand. No call for a summit on Black gender relations. No overt expression of dismay that a 57 year old Black man would do such a thing and call it “the funniest thing” he’d ever seen. Instead, there was a hallow echo of some surreptitiously sent email advising Russell Simmons to take down the video and apologize. Here at last was an opportunity for Black men to stand up and protect the virtue of Black women, and they chose to hide and say NOTHING. As far as I can tell, only Spike Lee had the guts to publicly condemn Russell Simmons, who in turn insulted the Oscar winning film-maker by saying “maybe he should spend less energy condemning me and work on making a decent film”. Arrogant prick.
When something this painful happens, and I am pained by what Simmons and his political/celebrity cohorts have done, it changes who you are. It changes how you think. It changes how you see people. And I have begun to wonder: have my allegiances, fleeting as they may at times be, been misplaced all this while? I tend to vote where my conscience leads me, and the Black leadership has made it abundantly clear that my conscience should lead me to vote Democrat and liberal ideals. Of course I don’t always do so, but I have adhered in the past. But why should I going forward? What objectives have the male, Black establishment laid out for women like me? Women who are college educated, well-travelled, world view minded, who conceive and keep their babies? Unlike many of my less fortunate sisters for whom the government is both father and husband, I have no need for many of the social programs that the liberal wing of our government hands out as a carrot. What is in it for me? Why should I support a group of people who does not support or protect MY womanhood?
This is why I say and ask this: In his ‘apology’, Russell Simmons said he is “a very liberal person with thick skin” and it’s hard to offend him. I look at this man, I look at his life and I see the roots of a pathology that has plagued my entire existence. With that one sentence, he instilled in me a very real need to vote Republican in the next election. I am saying this openly: I don’t care who the next Republican candidate is or what he/she stands for; I’m voting for them.
Russell Simmons and men of his ilk have built their fortunes on the naked, wiggling backsides of brown girls like me for the last 30 years. Somehow, he managed to convince just enough esteem-deprived sistahs that using their sexuality would help them get their “power back”. Tell me then – how many of these now-called video bitches and ho’s have gone on to become high powered CEOs, or start their own ventures, or even wind up as directors of anything within the Simmons empire? I’ll wait while you scramble for an answer.
It makes sense that Russell did not see anything wrong with this tragic attempt at comedy at first glance. He hasn’t had an authentic relationship with a Black woman since he wriggled his way out of his mother’s vagina. Mr. Simmons helped to create an entire culture that has destroyed the fabric of the Black family and community in the name of “free expression”. Whenever I hear a Black woman being called a “bitch”, it’s from liberal lips. Whenever I see a Black woman being chased down the street and hit, it’s from “thick skinned” hands. Whenever I see a dude hanging out on the corner pretending to be a rapper instead of being at home pretending to be a dad, the actions are being carried out by some guy who it’s “difficult to offend” (read: he doesn’t give a f*ck).
And these are the people the NAACP throws their weight behind? This is the type of man whom our leadership circles its wagons around? This is the political ally of the liberal establishment?!This is an architect of a culture so abusive towards women that Queen Latifah was compelled to pen U.N.I.T.Y in which she incredulously (and angrily) asked “who you callin’ a b*tch?!?” in retort. This brand of hostility was so new to us! Who knew the day would come when being called a b*tch would be the so common place it hardly causes one to flinch.
Even Tavis Smiley – whom I respect greatly – had nothing to say publicly on the issue! But hey, as Michael Skolnik says, Uncle Rush has a “good heart”… which all, I suppose, it takes these days to be forgiven for assassinating and defiling a (black) woman’s character. You just have to have a “good heart” and fund raise for a couple of charities. I have already sent my apologies to Mitt Romney and Rush Limbaugh on behalf on the entire Black race – for they too I am sure are men who harbor “good hearts”.
My mother-in-law and a few others say I am being too hasty in this decision to turn my back on Black leadership for the short term, but I am resolute that I must be wooed back to center. “Give it time,” she says. “This is just one instance!”
Not for me. I’m 35, and my entire adult life has been marked by a culture that denigrates Black women, openly and unabashedly. I can’t think of another American art form that disrespects its women the way hip hop does. Not country. Not pop. Not rock. Not nuthin’. For me, this isn’t “one instance”; it’s the final straw.
Now, at least with the GOP I know what I’m getting into. There are certain tactics and behaviors I can expect from them. What I don’t expect is the same treatment in a different form. I’m tired of choosing between the lesser of two evils. If I must choose evil, I elect evil outright! I’d rather be mauled by a lion in the open savannah than bitten by a snake slithering in the brush behind me. And that’s exactly what Russell Simmons is – a snake – and his “buddies” at the NAACP are equally serpentine.
Holla at your girl when you collectively grow a pair; but in this moment, you just lost one. I wonder what life as an openly Black Republican will be like?