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Russell Simmons, Harriet Tubman and the history of myopia

Julianne Malveaux | 8/22/2013, midnight
Harriet Tubman and Russell Simmons.

Your apology doesn’t address the mindset that allowed this parody in the first place, the dozens of editors, producers, and assistants who saw nothing wrong with this, and the many Simmons “fans” who laughed at the depiction of a historical figure like Tubman as a sexual object who used her vagina for “freedom.”

It is as if you are laughing at every Black woman who was enslaved and had no choice when “massa” decided to rape her repeatedly. It is as if you do not recognize the painful history of every Black woman who was raped, not only during slavery, but thereafter, when the goal was to keep Black men “in line” by violating Black women. It is as if you put a myopic blinder around your eyes, and chose to ignore history and its resultant pain. Can you imagine (often happened) the violation of a child, a violation so intense that baby girls who dreamed of being mothers were told they could not have children?

Russell Simmons, once upon a time, you were the ambassador of a generation. Even now, people are mesmerized by your gentle manner, your quest for peace and spirituality and your practice of yoga and Pilates. Wrap your spirituality around your video and tell us where the two intersect. How could you? Why would you? How dare you?

When you diminish our legacy for entertainment purposes, “pulling” the video is not enough. You need to work at eliminating a mindset that makes you and others think that the denigration of African American women is OK.

Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and writer and president emerita of Bennett College for Women.

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