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Sun Aug 18, 2013, 11:53 AM

The Rape of Harriet Tubman

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of Harriet Tubman. I had the opportunity to celebrate that fact when organizing a special symposium back in March, resulting in some thought-provoking critical papers on her legacy of resistance, which I’m currently guest-editing for Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism.

One of the more interesting conversations that came out of this event questioned why, on the anniversary of her death, we have yet to experience an epic cinematic treatment of her life. She certainly qualified for that great Hollywood biopic. Against all odds, as a disabled enslaved woman, she escaped to freedom–having learned of the Underground Railroad network that included support from black and white allies–and once she made it to the other side returned to slavery 17 more times to free countless other slaves.

Tubman used all sorts of wit and trickery to enable her dangerous journey in this secretive network, and even believed in her divine right and power to engage in liberation. She collaborated with John Brown on the raid at Harper’s Ferry, recruiting slaves for the project, but her illness at the time prevented her from taking part in the uprising. During the Civil War, she served as a Union army spy, nurse and soldier, and in 1863, she led a successful military campaign on Combahee River in South Carolina, resulting in the liberation of 750 slaves.
In short, she’s the stuff of legend–for black history, women’s history, American history. The fictional Django from Django Unchained ain’t got nothing on her!
But on the year of her centennial anniversary, what does Tubman get instead of the great Hollywood biopic? She gets a “sex tape.”

You read that correctly. Recently, in an internet launch of his new YouTube channel, All Def Digital, rap media mogul Russell Simmons featured a failed comedic video titled Harriet Tubman Sex Tape–the first in the line-up of this new series. It didn’t take long for black audiences on social media to utterly denounce this video and petition against it. Within 24 hours, Simmons removed the video from his channel and issued this apology:



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Reply The Rape of Harriet Tubman (Original post)
ismnotwasm Aug 2013 OP
BainsBane Aug 2013 #1
ismnotwasm Aug 2013 #2
BainsBane Aug 2013 #3
ismnotwasm Aug 2013 #4
BainsBane Aug 2013 #5
ismnotwasm Aug 2013 #6
seabeyond Aug 2013 #7

Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Sun Aug 18, 2013, 12:00 PM

1. Was he trying to comment on the frequent rape of enslaved women?

Narratives written by former enslaved women all talk about their experiences being raped by masters. Why that would be called a sex tape though, seems strange.

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Response to BainsBane (Reply #1)

Sun Aug 18, 2013, 12:13 PM

2. More about blackmail per the article

I agree both the title of the article and the term 'sex tape' are misleading

It is amazing that Simmons could not have predicted the outrage upon seeing such a video–which infers that, in order to build an Underground Railroad network to free the slaves, Tubman basically used blackmail against her white slaveowner by conniving with a fellow male slave to create a “sex tape” of their sexual encounter that she could later use as “leverage.” Then again, this is what porn culture will do to one’s perspective–something Simmons has perpetuated in his decades-long involvement with sexist rap music and culture.
Just reading the video’s premise was enough to make my blood boil, but sometimes, especially when you do media analysis as part of your scholarship, you just have to be a witness. So I viewed the video, and I don’t believe I am exaggerating when I say that, on this centennial anniversary, Harriet Tubman got raped.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Reply #2)

Sun Aug 18, 2013, 12:30 PM

3. A few thoughts

The idea of a tape is obviously absurd, but I suppose he was trying to update a concept for modern viewers. Blackmailing masters who had sex with enslaved women strikes me as highly, highly unlikely. The practice was so ubiquitous, planters's wives knew it was happening, which has sometimes been attributed to the extremely brutal treatment mistresses could inflict on young female slaves.

If Harriet Tubman had sex with her master, it was rape. On that point I disagree with the Ms. author. Since she was owned, she had no right to refuse his sexual advances.

Enslaved women, however, were sometimes able to use such relationships to their advantage. This had to be understood in the context of literature on slave resistance and with full awareness of the absolute brutality of the institution. Consider, for example, Sally Hemmings, whose long-term sexual relationship with her master, Thomas Jefferson, led to her children's being freed in his will, while the rest of his slaves were sold off to pay his debts. There are problems with taking out stories of resistance to tell to the general public because they can sometimes be interpreted as diminishing the brutality of the institution of slavery. Historians who write such works know of that brutality, but the casual reader or observer may not.

There is a story of an enslaved woman, Celia, who responded to repeated rape by finally killing her master. Her story has been chronicled in a highly readable, short book: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/celia-a-slave-melton-a-mclaurin/1102736801?ean=9780380803361
Documents from the trial are online: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/celia/celiahome.html

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Response to BainsBane (Reply #3)

Sun Aug 18, 2013, 12:44 PM

4. Interesting

Yet another book for my 'too read' list

The author of the article is outraged at the narrative of "The Harriet Tubman Sex Tape" and does bring up actual sexual assault;

Slavery was “hell,” Tubman described in her narrative, dictated to Sarah Bradford since she could neither read nor write. She experienced a great deal of trauma while enslaved, but if there were any experiences with rape–which marked the experiences of far too many enslaved women–Tubman remained silent on the issue. It’s still also possible that, as hellish as her experience might have been, she was spared from a deeper hell that sexual violence brings to the picture. Which is why Simmons’ “sex tape” adds insult to injury.

It’s a hell of a sobering reality to realize that, 100 years after Tubman’s passing, our porn culture–intertwined inextricably with rape culture–would produce such a demeaning narrative about one of our great American heroes. It happened not because there is any basis in history for such an imagined scenario (Tubman simply would not engage in sexual leverage–it’s not part of the essence of who she was) but because our culture continues to trivialize rape (which is what we must categorize any unequal encounter between a slaveowner and slave, regardless of “consent”) and debase women’s experiences. Ironically, the horrendous truth about sex tapes is that they tend to be used as leverage not against men but against women! It is women who are often blackmailed or demeaned when sex tapes are made available on the Internet. Women are the ones who have everything to lose, considering the slut-shaming that still clings to female sexuality. Sure, some celebrities might parlay such “porn” videos into a career, but the intention of sex tapes is public humiliation.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Reply #4)

Sun Aug 18, 2013, 12:49 PM

5. Yes, I read that

and I think she's write in general about sex tapes.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Sun Aug 18, 2013, 02:17 PM

6. A little more information from Jezebel

Russell Simmons Apologizes for Icky Harriet Tubman Sex Tape Video

The founder of Def Jam and the former Mr. Kimora Lee Simmons apologized Thursday for releasing a video that depicted Harriet Tubman, the woman that freed the slaves, blackmailing her slave owner by secretly filming a sex tape with the two of them together.

The video, which has been pulled, was originally on Russell's new YouTube channel All Def Digital. That channel launched this week as a vertical for comedy and music videos intended for a black audience. "Harriet Tubman Sex Tape" was, according to the Kansas City Star, "the first in a series of history-themed comedy sketches planned on the channel." Sort of like Drunk History but for black people because history is for white men.


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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Mon Aug 19, 2013, 11:41 AM

7. IF i am getting this correctly, it is the giggle from men that create all women as porn cause


it is fun you know, and not to be taken seriously... and really it does not filter thru out society


sex tape


truly offensive and fickin disrespectful and totally adolescent and so welcome in todays society.

IF i am picking up on this correctly.

Frank: I would defend their freedom of speech if I thought it was in jeopardy. I would defend their freedom of speech to tell uninspired, bigoted, blowjob, gay-bashing, racist and rape jokes all under the guise of being edgy, but that's not the edge. That's what sells. They couldn't possibly pander any harder or be more commercially mainstream, because this is the "Oh no, you didn't say that!" generation, where a shocking comment has more weight than the truth. No one has any shame anymore, and we're supposed to celebrate it. I saw a woman throw a used tampon at another woman last night on network television, a network that bills itself as "Today's Woman's Channel". Kids beat each other blind and post it on Youtube. I mean, do you remember when eating rats and maggots on Survivor was shocking? It all seems so quaint now. I'm sure the girls from "2 Girls 1 Cup" are gonna have their own dating show on VH-1 any day now. I mean, why have a civilization anymore if we no longer are interested in being civilized?

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