Earlier in the week Russell Simmons tweeted the link to what he alleged was (paraprhasing) the funniest video he had seen, and Django wept, and the internet, particularly #BlackTwitter, went HAM. In case you don’t know about it or haven’t seen it, the video, executive produced by Simmons, starred YouTube celebrity Shanna Malcolm as Tubman, and the premise behind the skit was that Tubman and another slave blackmailed their slave master into being quiet about the Underground Railroad. The way they did this was that Tubman seduced said master while the other slave hid in the closet and recorded their sexual encounter.
If that ain’t a stupid idea…
As a member of the media who has worked at some terrible companies and sat in my share of awful meetings, I can assure you that I’ve heard some bad ideas that actually did come to fruition but that takes the cake. I watched it, didn’t laugh, and also felt that it was disrespectful yet I wasn’t outraged because I know what world we live in. People do stuff like this all the time. That doesn’t make it OK but the egregiousness of human behavior, especially when the internet is involved, doesn’t surprise and barely moves me, especially when people are seeking attention. Actually, I believe that it was done for a few reasons.
1. They genuinely thought it was a cutting-edge, funny idea. Look around you, there’s a lot of trite individuals winning for inanity or mediocrity. How do you think so many bloggers and reality stars blow up? The public feeds this.
2. They new it would generate traffic and got the attention they were looking for. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in Russell Land (which also includes Shanna Malcolm and anyone else who was involved in the project), the word on the street is, “No press is bad press.”
3. They didn’t consider the angle that most of the offended were coming from, strong enough if at all. That would be that not only is it disrespectful to Tubman’s legacy, but it also makes fun of the abuse that African women in America have and still endure.
I don’t believe they were purposely trying to glorify rape. I think it was a genuine oversight for which they rightfully got their wigs snatched.
However, I wasn’t a fan of most people’s responses. I’m big on honoring and paying homage to ancestors so again, I didn’t appreciate it but I also believe that people should be able to create what they want and whether it’s criticism that follows or praise, so be it, but even criticism should be delivered in a certain way. Not being rude doesn’t mean that you’re sugar coating but talking down to someone just creates defensiveness and a failed attempt at progress.
Instead of using this as a real teachable moment, people @-attacked (that’s at-attacked) the individuals involved with condescending tirades and insults and then several of the Black intellectuals or self-perceived intellectuals wrote blogs and editorials galore about how wrong this was. Most of these posts just seemed judgmental and more about showing off how witty they could be when ticked off, while admonishing the Big Bad Wolf. That is ego, and no real messages are communicated when hubris is involved–so much for using something that could be a teachable moment as a, well, teachable moment.
There was also a Change.org petition floating around to urge that Russell apologize and take the video down. Russell has since apologized. It was disingenuous and he even threw an “LOL” but that’s what you get from forcing someone to apologize for something they may not truly be contrite about. I don’t know what’s in Russell’s heart but I don’t believe that he’s as genuine as he’d like people to believe. I digress. The video has also been removed but you can probably still find it as I’m sure people have ripped and reposted it.
My grievances aside, I was tweeted the link to an open letter written by Brother Salim Adofo of the National Black United Front (good organization, by the way), in response to this debacle and I was moved by how thoughtful it was. Not only did Brother Salim urge other African men to take the mistreatment of African women seriously but he emphasized his hopes that this was really a teachable moment (of not for Simmons, another misguided individual), accepted Simmons’ apology (holding grudges is easy forgiveness is the hard part), and pointed out important literature on the plight of our African ancestors that seems to miss quite a few people. I took notes as well and definitely plan to take up on Salim’s suggestions.
For that type of response, I am grateful. It was well thought out without judgment and self-importance, and I wish more people took that approach when it came to such matters. I urge you to read Salim’s response. I also urge you to stop giving so much of your attention and time to negativity. This is why videos like that constantly get created. We’re in a phase now where people cater to spectacle and not the sincere because people claim to want positive but don’t feed it enough.
#31WriteNow day 16.
P.S. I haven’t read every single response so I’m not making a blanket statement. I’m sure there are other good ones out there but I’m going by the bulk of what I’ve seen.