‘Harriet Tubman Sex Tape’: Rape Is No Joke

The video promotes the false notion of slave sexual heroism instead of calling it what it is.

A scene from the "Harriet Tubman Sex Tape" (YouTube)

We absolutely need to have a more nuanced discussion about black women, power, history and context. Approaching 90 years old, my grandmother isn’t ready for it. She’s too hurt by it. But I would hope that some of us — namely Simmons and everyone else involved in the conceptualizing, writing, shooting, acting, editing and promotion of the “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape” — would be better at this conversation by now.

Remember in 2010 when culture critic and author Touré tweeted a slew of madcap commentary about slave women being “sexually heroic” and “self-liberating” and how “though most were raped,” others were savvy enough to trade “that good-good for status”? Yeah, I assume Touré would rather we all forget that, too.

The troubling fact underlying both Touré’s tweets and Simmons’ spoof is that it’s black men who are promoting this false notion of slave sexual heroism instead of summarily swatting it down. The irony that this latest propaganda was released online a mere day after the hashtag #blackpowerisforblackmen blew up on Twitter is lost on no one. Created by Ebony.com editor Jamilah Lemieux, the hashtag served as a virtual reminder that too often, black women have been left out of the equation involving both racism and sexism.

But once the problem is written on the chalkboard for all to see, how do we go about solving it?

“I’m beginning to believe that the first step to eradicating such beliefs is going to be forgiveness,” said author Dolen Perkins-Valdez in an email. Perkins-Valdez is the author of the best-selling novel Wench, about a resort for slave mistresses and their white masters.

“Black men have to forgive themselves for being unable to protect and defend us; black women have to forgive ourselves for the shame associated with sexual abuse,” she continued. “Let’s be clear: Most enslaved black women in sexual relationships with the white men who claimed ownership over them were coerced. Raped. Brutalized. Until we acknowledge that truth in a clear and sufficient way, it is not fair ground for comedic parodies.”

So, sorry, Russell, but thick skin isn’t the prerequisite for taking a joke. Black women’s skin has been thick. What the intersection of race, sexual politics and slavery needs isn’t jokes but someone to actually do it justice. 

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.