Harriet Tubman Sextape and Russell Simmons Spark Black Twitter Outrage
By now, you’ve probably heard about the Harriet Tubman Sex Tape. If you haven’t, well, here ya go:
I will say it was a failed attempt at humor. Probably one of the biggest fails I’ve ever seen on the Internet. I mean, they took an iconic figure in our history and tried to turn it into extremely soft-core parody porn involving Harriet and a slave master. For many (and primarily Black women), this made the themes of rape tolerance (something I never condone) and historical oppression come to mind. And what made it worse was that Russell Simmons signed off on the video and endorsed it publicly on Twitter as funny, leading to widespread Black Twitter outrage (Just accept that Black Twitter is a thing. It is whether you like the term or not). Simmons then offered an apology that many found unacceptable, further exacerbating the issue and pushing the dialogue about the video to the outskirts of the Internet.
I accept that people make mistakes. So his apology, which could have been more thorough, and the removal of the video from his digital network was sufficient enough for me to move on. I’m not one to dwell on this stuff and expend energy going at someone on Twitter whose time timeline is already filled with thousands of replies voicing their disgust. So at this point, I was just a calm observer. I watched as people continued to discuss, iterated hashtags, and called for folks to bombard him and the actors from the video — much of which turned into character shots.
I just don’t have the energy for it. This is business as usual in the machine that is Black Twitter. Everyday it’s something new, whether it be a hashtag addressing something or someone, or dragging a person up and down their timeline for what they said or did, online or off. And truthfully, it gets tiring and draining. It’s gotten to a point that when I see people rallying behind whatever the new topic is, my e-head starts to ache and I seek respite offline or my cynicism sets in. “I’m not touching this. I don’t have the energy to be angry today. I don’t know how some people do this on an ongoing basis.” I have this thought at least a few times per week. I also sometimes wonder about people’s intentions, particularly those who are always in the middle of these flash in the pan campaigns against an ubiquitous enemy. Are these people serious? Are they genuinely upset? Or is this a semi-political attempt to throw red meat at their base to get the bees buzzing? Is this an attempt to rack up followers and be seen, or are they using their voice to represent the many that go unheard? Is this fake outrage? Sometimes I can’t tell. There’s too much noise.
Oddly enough, I saw “fake outrage” come up in my timeline. There were folks, like me, who questioned if the heat the Harriet Tubman video was drawing was genuine after a certain point. And of course there were folks who felt that anybody claiming “fake outrage” from Black Twitter was out of their mind. I honestly see both sides of it. But as someone that’s active on the platform for primarily positive reasons and someone that watches a new target of Black Twitter’s aggression emerge everyday, I can’t help but cast a skeptical side-eye. I wonder about the foundation. But more importantly, I wonder about the end goal? Once we’ve voiced our displeasure to the point of acknowledgement by the offending parties, what do we want to happen next? Beyond the personal insults and timeline blitzkriegs, what is our end goal in these online campaigns that expire within 48 hours?
And it’s these questions that make it difficult for me to join the rallies orchestrated by many of my sisters. I think it’s important that I mention that. Because honestly, I don’t see men starting many of these rallies. Perhaps thats’s a separate problem in itself. Maybe it’s not.
I had someone tell me that my silence as a Black man on some of these issues says a lot and speaks to part of the problem — perhaps even some inherent sense of privilege so deeply ingrained that I can’t process it. But my response is simple: I care, but when I see thousands — both men and mainly women — conveying their disappointment through personal attacks and “yelling,” I struggle to join. I find it difficult to manufacture outrage just to be one of the many, only to see the topic disappear from discussion a few hours later. It’s also difficult to understand what we’re trying to accomplish beyond a response. Trayvon Martin? I understood that. Troy Davis? I understood that too. Juror B 37’s book deal? Yeah, that needed to go. Maybe I understood because these situations involved men. Maybe because they involved (loss of) life and death. Maybe because I could see the end goal crystal clear. But for a lot of the other heated dialogue, hashtags, and attacks I see daily? I just can’t get down with it all. It doesn’t feel worth the energy…on Twitter.
I’m sure there’s a deeper message that should resonate in many of these online rallies. But too often for me, the offenders, and many of you, it gets lost in the banter. I don’t know how to fix that. But this is a discussion I’d love to participate in. Help me understand. What are we really trying to accomplish everyday? What is progress supposed to look like? Is there a better way to achieve it? Tell me why I need to be one of the many. Maybe then my outrage won’t feel so forced.