Russell Simmons is the latest victim of social media backlash. A video purported to be Harriet Tubman’s sex tape hit his You Tube channel yesterday and the black social media universe wasted no time letting him know just how much he’d erred. Not only did Black Twitter and just about every other place where black folks convene on the internet streets go crazy on Russell, they quickly shared the Twitter handles of the clip’s two actors, the actress playing Tubman and the writer.
To understand the ire directed at Simmons, take a look at the offending video. (Warning: Slightly NSFW, and the “N” word is briefly used.) The scenario is this – a thick black woman playing Tubman makes plans with her black lover to blackmail her slavemaster/lover so she can help more slaves to freedom.
I’m not sure in what universe Simmons felt this was funny but once he tweeted his amusement to the world, the web lit him up. His Twitter feed, @UncleRush was flooded with responses, including one user who called him a “racist house ni—a.” Facebook pages lit up with comments, with some folks going in on Russell, others saying people are taking it too seriously.
The NAACP got involved, calling Simmons and asking to take the offending video down from his website, Global Grind. To his credit, once the response went viral, Simmons, a longtime advocate of free speech, took it down and apologized, saying that he is a very liberal person with very thick skin who never censored a comedian (or any of his rap artists). He also admitted via Twitter that he may have “a sensitivity chip missing.”
A disclaimer: I know and worked for Russell Simmons and Def Jam in the 80’s. While he’s clearly a central part of the creation of hip-hop, I’ve never felt, based on personal experience, that his views on women were particularly progressive. (Another website has made a cottage industry out of mocking his dating habits.) It was a long time ago, and I can’t say Russell has done anything untoward since, but I think it’s fair to say that this is something he should have thought twice about given Tubman’s deservedly iconic status as a historic figure.
Sure, we can all laugh at things that are funny and edgy and political correctness is at epic levels, but Black social media has given the African American community a chance to publicly air their views and this was one that didn’t fly with folks. Given the George Zimmerman verdict, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the upcoming 50th Anniversary Celebration of the March on Washington, folks are feeling a little sensitive about the continuing inequities faced by people of color in this country. And really, do you blame them?
Fortunately, Simmons, who has enjoyed tremendous support from the black community over the years, heard the backlash and acted swiftly. Given that he is a father of two daughters, this incident may help him consider ways he might better contribute to uplifting black women instead of making fun of ones many of us hold in high regard.