It’s been an eye-opening week in social media. A while ago I heard about the Russell Simmons and Jason Horton project titled ‘Harriet Tubman Sex Tape.’ By the time I went to find the video, it had been taken down. So feel free to hold the fact that I haven’t seen the video against me, but I don’t think it was necessary, and could have quite possibly been triggering.
I, nor anyone else, should not have to explain why there is a problem with a parody sex video of Harriet Tubman. It’s 2013. Are we really doing this? We are going to take a Black woman hero, one of the most revered figures in abolitionist history, hypersexualize her, and then put it on the internet?
I shouldn’t be surprised. And yet…
“Araminta Ross became a “slave for hire” at the age of 5. She did domestic work, field work, cared for children. She once said that one of her mistresses would savagely whip her almost every day, first thing in the AM. As a result, she would put on “all the thick clothes she could” to protect her body from the blows. When she was teenager, she stood before an overseer who was in pursuit of another slave. He took a lead weight & crashed it on her head. She was deeply wounded. She said that the blow “broke her skull.” She was carried back bleeding. She had no bed. They lay her on the floor. She was sent back to her parents who thought she would die. She survived. She went on to become Harriet Tubman. She freed slaves daringly & without fear. This is the person who [Russell Simmons] laughed at.”
A couple of thoughts I have about the video:
I honestly don’t think what kind of sex Tubman was or was not having was relevant. The video is historically inaccurate, insensitive and in poor taste. The video both hypersexualizes Tubman and desexualizes her at the same time. And keep the context in mind, of course. Harriet Tubman was a slave. Which means that in addition to being beaten, she was also repeatedly raped and abused in other forms.
I did see a clip of the video here, and I don’t encourage you to watch it because A) I think it is a waste of time, and B) I don’t want to give the people involved with this video any views. But I will say that in the skit, the filming of the movie was done in secret. The cameraman was hidden in a closet. So we have a historical figure who dealt with numerous accounts of abuse, dealing with… surprise! More abuse. Rape isn’t funny. Neither is racism. Black women’s lives and sexuality, past and present, still manage to be the butts of our jokes…
The worst part about this Harriet Tubman video is your talents were essentially exploited @shannamalcolm
— Kimberly N. Foster (@KimberlyNFoster) August 15, 2013
Our pain, suffering, and cotinuous struggles are not real to them, @shannamalcolm. They don’t care. They used you to silence our history.
— Kimberly N. Foster (@KimberlyNFoster) August 15, 2013
EDIT: It was pointed out to me by a reader that Jason Horton did not write, create or produce the video. I wasn’t saying that he did, but I can see how it would be construed that way based on what I wrote. So to be clear, Jason Horton acted in the video, and that was the extent of his involvement. I apologize for any misunderstanding.
Right now on Twitter a well-known Black woman blogger @Karnythia has started a trend online with the hashtag #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen. I have seen related tweets coming from publications such as Al Jazeera and Colorlines.
Of course, there are the people who automatically jump to the conclusion that #Solidarity is about hating on White women who want equality for ~*everybody*~, and that people of color participating in the tag are just race-baiting. That’s a given. And I’m sure most of said people are not actually reading the hashtag, they are just responding to the name. For those who aren’t aware, it should feel like a punch to the gut. I promise you that being excluded from the mainstream feminist movement feels much worse.
To be clear though, this hashtag is about holding “allies” accountable. It should be self-explanatory! For too long, White, straight, cis, able-bodied women have been the face of feminism.
Read #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen to understand what marginalised people are trying to say. Feminism is supposed to be for people marginalized by patriarchy, but so far it only uplifts the women pictured above.
Here are some gems from #Solidarity
#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen = fighting against fetal personhood bills and not saying one word about voter ID laws.
— Steph Herold (@StephHerold) August 12, 2013
— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) August 12, 2013
— Chill Scott (@SpikeVee88) August 12, 2013
#solidarityisforwhitewomen means WOC pain and anger is described as “women screaming at each other” (how’s that for “unfeminist” behavior?).
— Grace (@graceishuman) August 12, 2013
Click the link above for more!
Charlamagne says, “I just think it’s b******t when you get on Saturday Night Live and you have a sign behind you that says ‘Not For Sale’… You can’t denounce corporations when you’re in business with corporations! You’re in business with Nike, and you’re helping them sell sneakers. You’re in business with Def Jam… What exactly isn’t for sale Kanye?”
I normally disregard what Charlamagne has to say about… well, anything, but this is an interesting argument (that I disagree with) because it’s way more complicated than Charlamagne is making it out to be.
Yes, Kanye sells sneakers and records and he’s in the media even more now that he and his girlfriend Kim Kardashian has had a baby girl. But who is to say that Kanye cannot criticize the culture we live in without actively being a part of it? Charlamagne’s argument reminds me of people who are trapped in their circumstance… like people who buy from Walmart, knowing the evils that Walmart perpetuates, but cannot shop at alternative places because of cost, gas, lack of transportation or what have you. The system of capitalism (which I won’t get into right now in detail) is so intricate, that you cannot really partake in something that isn’t at least slightly problematic.
Of course, Kanye could refuse to sell sneakers and not make records and be a starving artist like he originally intended, but let’s be clear here- Kanye West, the brand, and Kanye Omari West, the person, are two completely different things. And the brand, not the person, is what is for sale.
I had the privilege of reading a fantastic article on FlavorWire by Tom Hawking about how Kanye West’s persona can be read as a caricature of what is expected of him as an infamous, rich, Black rapper. I happen to agree with the author: One could easily surmise from listening to Kanye’s lyrics in each of his albums that he has opinions on culture, religion, politics, racism, self-discovery and self-love. Examples include:
“So here go my single, dog, radio needs this / They think they can rap about anything except for Jesus / that means sex, guns, lies, videotapes / but if I rap about God, my record won’t get played, huh?” – Jesus Walks, The College Dropout
“They want her to live, and she’s trying / I’m arguing what kind of doctor can we fly in? / you know the best medicine goes to people that’s paid / if Magic Johnson had a cure for AIDS / and all the broke mother*****s passed away / you’re telling me if my grandma was in the NBA / right now she would be okay?” – Roses, Late Registration
“The system’s broken / the school’s closed, the prison’s open / we ain’t got nothing to lose / mother****** we rollin.” – Power, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
A huge flaw in Charlamagne’s thinking is that he doesn’t think Kanye can be critical and yet enjoy materialistic things. Kanye himself says he doesn’t come from the projects, but he didn’t always have money the way he does now. What exactly is the problem with enjoying the money you’ve earned yourself? Or enjoying a career that you’ve worked hard and consistently for, while also criticizing the industry and the things other people will do for said money? How come any musician that raps about women, money, nice cars and materialistic things have “sold out” cannot also rap about politics, racism or self?
Not all rap music is going to be about coming from the projects and selling drugs, just the way not all rap music is not going to be about platinum chains and product endorsements. The problem comes in when you automatically categorize certain topics under “good music” and “bad music.” There is a pretentiousness in “conscious” hip-hop that argues that “gangsta” rap or rapping about partaking in materialism has “killed” hip-hop and every rapper is apparently supposed to be like Common or Talib Kweli. Not every rapper wants to stick to that formula, and people say they’ve “sold out”. People become very invested in person’s character, not realizing that people change and grow. Producer of Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” Kanye West is not the same as “808s and Heartbreak” Kanye West, who is not the same as “Yeezus” Kanye West. Rapping about the same thing all the time would eventually get boring, and I personally would argue one of the best things about Kanye West is his adaptability. Kanye’s albums all sound different, yet you can tell each one is Kanye West. His style and influence is undeniable.
Let me stop while I’m ahead… What are your thoughts on Charlamagne’s comments?
Beyoncé has something to say to the people out there waxing poetic on Black celebrity-hood and respectability politics.
Rebecca A. Gowns: Most of all, I love the small “But of course!” line thrown in there, delivered by a bitchy passive-aggressive white girl. “I’m a grown woman! I can do whatever I want!” Beyonce belts, and in the background, there’s that tiny valley girl voice: “But of course!” That’s gotta be intentional; this song is just as much a response to her (white feminist) critics as “Bow Down” was. What makes it extra delicious is that this is the only spiteful part of the song — “But of course!” — and it’s coming from some weird non-Beyonce character (a single character, with not a single echo, chorus effect, or call and response acknowledging her). Beyonce made the hater a part of her song. This is a trophy song, a song to celebrate her and all her achievements, and it’s topped with the head of her enemy.
Gowns pretty much summarizes how I feel in this quote above about the song. Read the lyrics here.
When I was in the fifth grade, this new girl came into my homeroom class. I remember looking at her and thinking, “this is the most amazing girl I have ever laid my eyes on.” She had star quality, I could recognize this at ten years old. She had big, bright eyes and smooth mocha skin, and a gorgeous smile. At some point that first day, I had volunteered to help clean out her desk for her- I don’t remember why, but I am assuming that she had the desk of someone else who had moved away and there was a hot mess in there.
I am not the best at cleaning, but I was focused for this girl. I cleaned that desk like nobody’s business. I bet if my mother were there to see it she would yell at me for not keeping my own personal spaces this neat. And when I finished, I left a note for her inside the desk asking if we could be friends. I remember when she opened it and saw the note, she laughed and said yes, and we smiled at each other.
Thirteen years later, this girl lives in New York City and I haven’t seen her in a while. Shame on me, we live so close to each other! But she’s quite busy herself, being an actress, singer, dancer, songwriter… just all around artist. Check the credentials. I’m still just as much in awe of her as I was when I first met her as a geeky bookworm with too much hair.
Her latest jam is ‘Retrograde (Remix)*,’ a Afro-futuristic song by James Blake featuring Benoit’s spoken word between syrup-sweet lyrics like, ‘We’re alone now / Can I be the girl you love?’ You can listen to it here:
Ms. Benoit has a show tonight at S.O.B’s at 8 pm. Sadly, I have a prior engagement and I cannot make it. But I figured I would share the info with all of you, because I am POSITIVE that the show will be simply fabulous. Go. Seriously, this is a freebie.
I know you’ll see the futuristic diva she is in her songs and videos, but I hope you’ll also see the dazzling child I saw so many years ago.
[For reference, this is the original song by James Blake, from his album Overgrown.]*