Hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons is getting major backlash since his YouTube network All Def Digital released a video portraying 19th-century abolitionist Harriet Tubman having sex with her slaveowner. While it was intended to be comical, viewers were outraged by the stereotypes shown and the fact that Tubman was shown as a willing participant in the sexual act.
Tubman, a historical icon, was an African-American abolitionist and humanitarian born into slavery who went on to risk her life liberating more than 300 slaves using the Underground Railroad.
Yet, in the YouTube clip, comedians DeStorm Power, Shanna Malcolm, and Jason Horton re-enact interactions they envision Tubman to have had with her master. At one point, she says, “All these years I’ve been acting like I didn’t enjoy our special time together.” After they have sex, the master tells Tubman he loves her, to which she responds, “Look n--ga, I don’t give a damn about who you love.”
Most viewers were in outraged by the video depicting such a revered black figure as a jezebel. The image is a stereotypical one that has existed since slavery and defines black women as sexually promiscuous and readily available for sexual acts.
“@UncleRUSH is aware of the effects of social media. You disrespected all African American women when you did that! Your daughters included!” said one viewer. @UncleRUSH is Simmon’s twitter handle. Simmons has two daughters with former model Kimora Lee Simmons, Ming Lee and Aoki Lee.
"Russell Simmons desecrated Harriet Tubman's legacy to promote a YouTube channel. Think on that for a second,” said another viewer.
Simmons later apologized, writing, “I get it and I respect it. The Harriet Tubman video has been removed…In the whole history of Def Comedy Jam, I’ve never taken down a controversial comedian. When my buddies from the NAACP called and asked me to take down the Harriet Tubman video from the All Def Digital YouTube channel and apologize, I agreed.
"I’m a very liberal person with thick skin. My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of actors said in the video, that 162 years later, there’s still tremendous injustice. And with Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master? I thought it was politically correct. Silly me. I can now understand why so many people are upset. I have taken down the video. Lastly, I would never condone violence against women in any form, and for all of those I offended, I am sincerely sorry.”