Harriet Tubman descendant blasts Russell Simmons

Washington-area resident Tina Martin Wyatt says parody video of 'sex tapes' tarnishes the famed abolitionist's legacy

August 21, 2013|By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun

Media mogul Russell Simmons might have apologized for posting a controversial parody video on his YouTube channel that's become known as "The Harriet Tubman Sex Tapes." But, the famed abolitionist's great-great-great grandniece isn't even close to forgiving him.

In a two-paged open letter to Simmons that was emailed to a reporter at The Baltimore Sun, the artist Tina Martin Wyatt verges on accusing the entertainer of being a race traitor.

"Your parody of Aunt Harriet is not unlike parodies of African Americans by racist individuals in this country and others abroad," Wyatt writes. "What is worse is this parody is done by one from our own culture. … You have allowed yourself to become a tool for those who have sought to destroy us; you have played your role well."

Last Wednesday, Simmons launched his All Def Digital YouTube Channel and included a video purporting to show Tubman having acrobatic sex with her slave master. The video, which was said to have been recorded by another slave hiding in a closet, supposedly was going to be used to blackmail the ole massa into helping Tubman deliver her fellow slaves to freedom.

Roughly five seconds after the Sex Tapes were posted, the video set off a critical maelstrom. "I am grossly disappointed in you," one follower wrote on Simmons' website, globalgrind.com, "and I have thought of you as one of our great leaders practically all my life."

Simmons apologized the next day and removed the video, saying it was the first time in the history of Def Comedy Jam that he'd bowed to pressure to remove the work of a controversial comic. He said he'd interpreted the video as being about Tubman outwitting the slave master, and not as condoning violence against women.

"I can now understand why so many people were upset," he wrote, adding that to "all of those I offended, I am sincerely sorry."

Simmons also has said in published reports that he has spoken directly with some of Tubman's descendants and would begin working on a biopic of the conductor of the Underground Railroad.

Those relatives apparently don't include Wyatt, a Washington-area resident and former art teacher for elementary school children.

Wyatt fears the parody will damage Tubman's reputation in the eyes of youngsters who are learning about the former Maryland resident for the first time. The video, she writes, was the equivalent of "placing your foot upon our neck while you are positioning your other foot to climb."

"I question the sincerity of your apology," Wyatt writes. "This parody and lie is a child's first introduction to Harriet Ross Tubman, Moses of her people."

Note to Baltimoreans curious about how Wyatt thinks her illustrious ancestor should be represented:

A mixed-media piece that Wyatt created is included in the "Homage to Harriet" exhibit currently running at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History & Culture.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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