Rape is not a joke, nor is the sexual violation of African American women by enslavers a punchline. Russell Simmons should remove the video and apologize for contributing to rape culture and the denigration of women, African Americans and our enslaved ancestors.
My name is Crystal Fleming and I'm an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Stony Brook University. As a woman of color, a scholar of the African diaspora and a concerned citizen, I write to express my disappointment regarding the shameful portrayal of Harriet Tubman that Russell Simmons recently endorsed.
On August 14th 2013, Simmons launched "All Def Digital", a performance/media venture on Youtube. On the very first day of the channel's existence, All Def Digital published a video entitled "Harriet Tubman Sex Tape". In the video, which is portrayed as a comedic parody, Harriet Tubman conspires with another enslaved person to blackmail their way into freedom by producing a sex tape. While her enslaved friend hides in the closet with a video camera, Harriet Tubman proceeds to initiate sex with her master. But before doing so, she alludes to having been raped in the past: "All these years, I've been actin' like I didn't love our special time together. But tonight that's all gonna be different." Not only did Russell Simmons' media venture release the video, but Simmons himself endorsed it on his Twitter account, calling it the "funniest thing I've ever seen". (http://newsone.com/2678063/russell-simmons-harriet-tubman-sex-tape/)
On the same day that Russell Simmons' "All Def Digital" released this video, he hosted a party for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an organization that aims "to promote understanding and cooperation between and among ethnic groups and to reduce the existing tensions among diverse racial and ethnic communities." The irony of this coincidence is appalling. Reducing "existing tensions" requires respecting and honoring the history and cultural heritage of all groups, including the enslaved ancestors of diasporic people. Not only does the Harriet Tubman "sex tape" make a mockery of the history of transatlantic slavery, Harriet Tubman's memory in particular and the painful reality of sexual exploitation and terror in the lives of enslaved women, but the video also contributes to rape culture by perpetuating the myth that women only "pretend" not to enjoy being forced into having sex against their will.
To make matters considerably worse, Russell Simmons was appointed as the "Good Will" Ambassador to the U.N. for the permanent memorial in honor of the victims of Transatlantic Slavery in 2009 (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/note6203.doc.htm). For this reason, Simmons owes the public and the U.N. an explanation and apology for endorsing this dishonorable video. We will not allow All Def Digital to simply brush this embarrassment under the rug or use this production to generate traffic and revenue for its site.
In short, not only is All Def Digital's video in extremely poor taste, it is also dangerous. As an influential cultural producer, father and chairman of the board for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Russell Simmons should not only remove the video but also apologize for ADD's role in dishonoring the memory of enslaved women throughout the African diaspora and contributing to rape culture.
Finally, we also hope that Russell Simmons uses this as an opportunity to rise in consciousness and compassion around issues of African-American history, sexual assault and the dignity of women by connecting with experts in these areas. A significant step forward would be for Russell Simmons to engage in face-to-face dialogue with rape survivors and support organizations dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence.