Harriet Tubman Sextape and Russell Simmons Spark Black Twitter Outrage

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russell simmons harriet tubman sextape

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.

Rich

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  • http://venettepierre.com/blog Venette

    I completely agree with you. I found it to be done in poor taste and did not find it funny at all. However, was I outraged? Did I feel the need to protest and call Rev. Al? Not at all. I was starting to think something was wrong with me. Why didn't it bother me as much?Maybe because we have so much work to do to towards issues that are effecting people daily than to be sitting on twitter ranting about the latest "hot topic" only for the day to end and then it's a new day, new issue to rant about. Meanwhile…where is the progress?
    My recent post How To Rock Your First Day At The Job

  • http://www.blacklatinafabulous.com Maris

    Now that I’m in my 30’s I get the wonderful privilege of having some pretty horrible side effects added to my monthly cycle. I pretty much at this point am incapacitated for two days. I remember once being curled up in the fetal position while my then BF looked on wondering why dinner wasn’t ready, and upon hearing I was not well he pouted,

    “But doesn’t it happen every month? Shouldn’t you be, I dunno…USED to it?”

    I say all that to say, and this is really not a personal attack, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “maybe it’s because they’re men”. I think the attacks are so common that people wonder why we’re even angry about it anymore.

    Take how we treat rape and rape apologists like Rick Ross. Sure for a second we are ‘fake upset’, but armed with the knowledge that this happens to over 60% of women over the course of their lifetime, apparently the consensus is that “it’s par for the course, what’s the big deal”. As if being born a woman means you are contracted to endure a set amount of violation over a lifetime, and can only complain if you go over your allotted amount. Street harassment? Ah, it happens to everyone. Gang rape? Okay, you can complain. It sucks. It really f*king sucks. And as long as women are the only ones complaining and men shrug and go, “but isn’t this an everyday thing? What’s the big deal?” I have no clue what can be done to resolve it.

    Yes, your silence matters. It matters a lot

    • SMilez-920

      I wish black men could see their silence from our point of view. Imagine if Black women stayed silent about the issues that affect our black men (husbands, boyfriends, friends, brothers, fathers, uncle’s cousins and sons). They would be just as outraged, hurt (from lack of support) and disappointed. A lot of the things that black men have accomplished socially, publicly or privately, have only been accomplished because of the support of black women. Yet when we look for the support of black men it seems like we have to be damn near dead before they go “ O hey, do you need our help”. We just wish you would listen without trying to tell us “it ain’t that bad”. When someone get’s hit by a cra do you say “hey get up and shut up” or do you go over and ask them “what’s wrong”, “how can I help”?

  • Smielz_920

    They the before the hot hash tag was #blackpowerforblack men (talking about sexism in the black community) and prior to that it was #Solidarityisforwhitewomen (talking about intersectional within the feminist movement). So I think everyone was already on edge and the tape along with Russell Simons co-signed just sealed the deal for a lot of women. I think the video proved a point that a lot of black women who participated in the “blackpowerisforblackmen” were trying to get across. Turing Harriet Tubman’s white master who more than likely raped her into some type of Hunk who she sunk around with on the plantation is disrespectful and lacks sympathy. And it seems like people just don’t have a soft heart for black women sometimes.

    I though the video was tacky and disrespectful. I wasn’t outraged because honestly I see so much bs on Twitter nothing surprises me.

  • http://www.districtdiva.com District Diva

    Cause #BlackPowerIsforBlackMen is all over this post. Yes, you're right, you cared about Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin because they were Black males, single ones, if you will, and you could see yourself in their shoes. And yes, I am so in agreement with the two women above me who explain why your and your brothers silence on the issue, or worse! your decision to write a post about fake outrage and how our pain gives you a headache, instead of, say, how you and your brothers need to stand up and be louder and be angrier about rape culture and violence against women, particularly Black women, the most undefended, unprotected group of people to ever exist (and we birthed the entire world! How's that for irony!) hurts. Am I surprised? Of course not. Just taking notes.
    My recent post How to Discover Your Purpose

    • Slim Jackson

      I feel like you didn't read the post. You zoned in on a couple things, which is what it is. To write an uplifting post would've been dishonest. That's not what I feel. I really wanted to capture the essence of many black men when it comes to online movements. I won't disagree or discard what you said, but I feel like you made my point in an indirect way.
      My recent post Should Job Seekers Have a Blog? Well, That Depends…

      • http://www.districtdiva.com District Diva

        "I won't disagree or discard what you said," except for the part about you accusing me of commenting without reading your very disappointing and eye-opening post. And of course I'd never ask anyone to write something they didn't feel or believe to be true. Now that I am aware of your apathy, my expectations have been appropriately adjusted. You've definitely made my point pretty directly with this post and response.
        My recent post How to Discover Your Purpose

  • nightfall914

    You know I fully get it. Its not about not caring its that the medium of Twitter outrage in many cases become disingenuous. I have these convo's and speak with many women on it with regularity. But honestly Twitter can be way too extreme and polarizing. And the problem is that for all the men that look to help and stand up in their own way. They get attacked for not doing what others feel they should. And thats compounded by the fact that in the midst of whatever issue is currently being highlighted NO ONE thinks to highlight the positive things needed to combat the issues. I've seen a gang of #' campaigns the week. So no one thought or said " Hey lets show the Internets exactly what we" and push a #BlackLove #BlacKUnity #OneLove type message either?

    There must be balance or it comes across as just the usual twitter noise. This isn't about being tired of the issue. It's about seeing a pattern that most of the time is more of a venting tool then a problem solver. What is our end game once the Digital Static fades away?
    My recent post Comment on Kendrick’s MC Wake Up Call…Who’s Listening? by BK. (@Yobk)

  • Darrk Gable

    The larger point made is what people will gloss over. Black Twitter seems to wait in anticipation of the next person/entity it can bring down; especially after singing its praises beforehand. Yes, the "sextape" garbage was foul, and a great point of contention, but the question is when will the folks who can't wait to drag folks, use their influence for good?

    On a semi-related note, I am interested in seeing how this 30 day #BeKind challenge on Twitter holds up.
    My recent post Midnight Love: The Memories In The Music

  • LilFlip

    How is voicing disgust about the Harriet Taubman sextape "Black Twitter" waiting in anticipation of the next person/entity it can bring down? First of all you must be on your Miguel sh*t because "White Twitter" does that sh*t all the time but for some reason criticism is only thrown towards "Black Twitter", second of all the video was sexist and racist and deserved to be ridiculed.
    A black woman and her Twitter account were the ones who were able to get that shady juror from publishing a tell-all book on the TrayvonMartin trail, but I guess that victory wasn't deemed good enough or positive enough for you.
    If Rich wanted to make a point about "Black Twitter" using its power for good instead of evil perhaps he should have used a better example.

    • Slim Jackson

      Wasn't really my point. Your tone though. No need for the aggression. Makes me not even wanna engage in a discussion, which was my point.
      My recent post Should Job Seekers Have a Blog? Well, That Depends…

    • h.h.h.

      "A black woman and her Twitter account were the ones who were able to get that shady juror from publishing a tell-all book on the TrayvonMartin trail, but I guess that victory wasn't deemed good enough or positive enough for you. "

      and how many black men hit up Russell Simmons publicly to let him know he was wrong? how many black men wrote about how that was a foolish move?

      but that's not good enough for y'all?

      i see the circle, we're still at war. coolbeans.

      • Monica

        If you know of any black men that hit up Russell Simmons to let him know he was wrong speak on it.
        Rich implied that "Black Twitter" often gets rilled up in "fake outrage" if people are upset enough to call out the executive producer of the film then how can you suggest those feelings are insincere?
        But you know what I what I see where Rich is coming from, I find many of the actions of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpron to be "fake outrage" and only calculated moves for political and personal gain. How are you ever to really know when someone's motivations are sincere?
        However once again instead of trying to sit back and listen and try to understand where black women are coming from black men in general try to silence us. It is the same as white people trying to silence black people when race is brought up.
        Proverbs 18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.