Russell Simmons Speaks to Your Black World about the Harriet Tubman Video


by Dr. Boyce Watkins

Russell Simmons seems to understand one thing about the recent Harriet Tubman Sex Tape video that was released on the Internet:  It was a huge mistake.

After the uproar on the web, Simmons was apologetic and remorseful, saying that he was deeply sorry for what happened.  As soon as the video began to receive negative attention, he made the wise decision to take it down and admit that he was wrong.

Russell reached out and spoke to Your Black World about the situation, providing a deeper explanation on what happened, and why.  It appears that the crux of Simmons’ initial support for the video came under the umbrella of artistic freedom.  But as we all know, no umbrella should have an infinite size.

I am the vehicle and arbitrator of all creative content for argyle culture, GlobalGrind, All Def Digital and the Unirush Financial Services. I’m responsible for all of my philanthropic, social, and political endeavors (no one else).  Mostly, as a protector of artists, the piece in question was the oldest form of comedy — the oppressed taking revenge on the oppressor. It was, at the time in my misguided opinion, acceptable. But when members of the black community expressed their disappointment in me, I understood their pain and it broke my heart…

I decided to pull down the piece, to the disappointment of some in the creative community. It is their belief that I may not stand for the artists in the future. Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever not sided with the artists. Traditionally, I side with the artists, as I will continue to do, but this time is different. All of the artists involved who I have spoken to are now in agreement with my choice.

Let’s move on, but if not, don’t blame anyone but me. I’m willing to take the heat. I have been taking it all of my adult life. Love to the artistic community, but in this case, more love to the black community — especially black women.

I don’t pretend to be best friends with Russell Simmons, in fact, he’d originally known me as a critic.  I also don’t pretend to understand exactly why there are some artists I’ve met who have mixed opinions on the quality of their interactions with Russell over the years. Some artists seem to love him to death, and some sound like they want to punch him in the face.

But here’s what I do know from working with Russell on our mass incarceration campaign that we took to the White House.  He does care about black people and put it on the line when it counted.

Russell and I wrote an open letter to President Obama asking him to end the mass incarceration crisis, which has served as the single greatest threat to black prosperity since slavery.   The US prison population has spiked 800 percent since 1981, with nearly half of the convictions being low level drug-related offenses.  This has destroyed black families by taking fathers out of the home, and also led to a mental health crisis among African American males.  It is the bleeding that must be contained if we are ever going to move forward, since prisons only serve to create more criminals and social deviants.

In working closely with Russell, I watched him put the full weight of his name and leverage behind the initiative, getting signees onto our letter as diverse as Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, the presidents of Morehouse and Spelman, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and nearly 200 others.  It was a full-time, around the clock effort by a dedicated team of people.

The letter got the attention of the White House, and many experts believe that it played a critical role in getting Attorney General Eric Holder to make one of the most significant announcements on drug policy in the last 20 years.  Because of Russell’s willingness to work on this campaign, thousands of people, many of them black, will be coming home to their families, and lives have been changed for the better.  I am personally appreciative because I’ve seen relatives have their futures destroyed after being given long sentences in these horrific, deadly facilities.

Behind the scenes, the initiative wasn’t easy, and I can’t say that the White House was always supportive of our work. Even the most polite and contrite requests being made toward the Obama Administration are treated like raw treason.  When the pressure was heavy, and relationships with the White House were at risk, I was impressed that Russell continued to move forward, largely because he was deeply committed to helping black people who’ve been hammered by Draconian prison sentences.  He lost a lot of powerful friends over this.

I can name a lot of celebrities, politicians and public figures who would not have made this sacrifice.  I’ve witnessed a lot of discussions that literally made me sick to my stomach when I realized just how little some of our public figures care about the people they claim to represent.  So, I must confess that my respect for Russell grew tremendously when I saw how he handled the mass incarceration issue behind closed doors.  If he’d been a man of lesser courage, that letter might have been dead and buried or traded in for personal favors.

But again, this is my opinion based on my perception of the truth.  This is not a blanket endorsement of everything that Russell Simmons has done for his entire career.  It is not, in the least, an effort to condone that disturbing and uncomfortable video.  But it is to say that none of us should be defined by one or two things we do, and that when we make mistakes, there can sometimes be avenues for at least partial redemption.

When the backlash came forth, Russell apologized swiftly and sincerely.  He also made sure to communicate to me and to the world that he was most deeply concerned with offending black women.  As a father of three girls, I also feel that black women deserve to be loved and respected, not demeaned in the way the iconic Harriet Tubman was in this video.  Due to our commitment to sexist leadership structures, black female heroes are few and far between in our community, so the ones we have should never be debased in any way.

Russell could have ignored the criticism in the  same way that Lil Wayne did when confronted on his verse about Emmett Till.  The truth is that many of our entertainers earn the bulk of their money from white people, so they can ignore the black community and still get rich.  So, Russell’s apology does not appear to be financially-motivated, but might actually be due to the fact that he cares what black people think.

Had Russell not apologized, I would not be willing to write this article.  If the apology had been half-hearted, I would have had a different response.  I wish I could tell you how many former friends I have who were livid when I wrote something about them that they didn’t like.  I’m not afraid to write what I believe about ANYONE, which is why I don’t have many friends.  In fact, I dare say that friendships aren’t worth having if they force you to change who you are.

Take it for what you’d like, but these thoughts come from the bottom of my heart.  And no, I wasn’t paid to say this.   In fact, the most profitable way to be a black man with a PhD is to keep your mouth shut, serve a corporate master and collect a quiet and bulky paycheck.  In fact, I argue that many of those who sit and criticize the work we do without being willing to contribute to it are as shiftless and weak as the selfish politicians on Capitol Hill.

To understand the work being done in the trenches, you have to get in there.  And, despite the fact that he is a complex human being, Russell Simmons has been willing to go into the trenches for black folks, which I think should be laid on the table for consideration before labeling him as some kind of unconditional sellout.  Sometimes it’s more complicated than that.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series, “The 8 Principles of Black Male Empowerment.”  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.


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  1. Dire que je ne connaissait pas votre site, vous etes maintenant bookmarker !

  2. Generally I don’t learn article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to try and do so! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice article.

  3. I’ve always admired and loved Harriet Tubman since I was a kid. she is my heroe! forget Wonder Wonder, Harriet Tubman is my heroe. I’m obsessed with her. and sometimes when I think of her courage and how she walked with God, I cry. She even fought in the Civil War!

    Russell Simmons is only sorry he got caught. but then again, he was probably paid by whites to do this! I wonder if Russell knows his video is implying that black women are whores who can only succeed by using their genitals.

  4. it’s pretty pathetic that dr. boyce would spend this much time and expend so much energy defending a black man who supposedly cares so much about the ‘black community’ but who clearly thinks so little of black women. his defense of simmons is eerily reminiscent of people who’ve defended numbers of racist offenses by explaining all this other ‘good stuff’ that the racist offenders have done.
    what the fact that Simmons called up his rich & powerful friends to get them to sign a letter has to do with his complete disregard for and disrespect of black women, i have no idea. this is such a typical black male response this sort occurrence, where once again black women are shut down in favor of some supposed greater black agenda that’s really all about the plight of black men. if you don’t believe me, head to twitter and search the hashtag #blackpowerisforblackmen. i doubt we’ll hear dr. boyce’s or mr. Simmons’ voices on that topic anytime soon.

  5. Typical black man. The only thing he shows black women is disrespect while marrying an Asian giraffe.

  6. Russell Simmons and other surrogates of white supremacy keep disrespecting, denigrating, and desecrating our cultural icons, our martyrs, our women and our people in general. At some point these apologies are not enough. Boycott Simmons and all of these surrogates, just like Florida.

    “The letter got the attention of the White House, and many experts believe that it played a critical role in getting Attorney General Eric Holder to make one of the most significant announcements on drug policy in the last 20 years. Because of Russell’s willingness to work on this campaign, thousands of people, many of them black, will be coming home to their families, and lives have been changed for the better.” — Dr. Watkins

    It is truly disappointing that a scholar like Boyce Watkins would make such a statement which has no basis in fact. No one will be released from prison as a result of Holder’s directive, because it only affects future cases.

    “At no time in this 55 months (into the Obama administration) have the White House, its Attorney General, or its allies in Congress ever seriously pushed for the repeal of mandatory minimum drug sentences, and there is no full court press on this now either. Holder merely says that he’ll instruct federal D.A.s not to file drug charges which under federal law invoke the mandatory minimum sentences in small scale cases where the feds see no violence or gang affiliation.” — Bruce Dixon

    In fact the Obama Administration is fighting to keep people who should be released from prison incarcerated. Search the Blewett case and read the evidence for yourself.

    [On May 17, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the crack cocaine sentencing reforms set forth in the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) — lowering the crack-to-powder cocaine ratio from 100:1 to 18:1 — must be applied to all federal prisoners sentenced before the 2010 enactment of the law. Based on a finding that those sentenced before the FSA’s enactment were victimized by the racially discriminatory crack laws the law sought to remedy, the Sixth Circuit’s decision in United States v. Blewett. could open the door to resentencing for thousands of federal prisoners.] — Christopher Zoukis

    Barack Obama and Eric Holder, showing their true unjust colors, are appealing this decision.

    “Last month, President Obama quietly did something that should shake every American to the core. Seeking to enforce federal crack cocaine laws that have since been repealed, the Obama administration asked a federal appeals court to ensure that thousands of human beings, mostly poor and mostly black, remain locked in prison – even though everyone agrees that there is no justification for them to be there.” – Alec Karakatsanis

    [The Obama administration is fighting a federal court ruling that would free the remainder of the mostly Black prison inmates convicted under now-defunct, viciously racially disparate crack cocaine laws. The First Black President and his Black attorney general are determined to keep “5,000 people in jail who have no reason to be there.”]– Margaret Kimberley

    Dr. Watkins should be ashamed of himself for spewing this self-serving propaganda.

  7. This is what I feel is the number one problem that destroys us a collective:black men are cowards when it comes to calling out other black men when they disrespect black women.

    I don’t care if he apologized and anything that he has supposedly done for the so-called betterment of black people is put to the rear after this. It took the voices and actions of several black women who are lesser known to take action against this vulture capitalist while the majority of you stood by silent.

    The ones who should have been the loudest are the same ones who attack President Obama every chance they get. Where were they? If they’re not man enough to to stand up for their own communities, I didn’t expect them to stand up to Russell Simmons. Once again this is nothing but a case of selective outrage on their behalf.

    What he did was worse than what Paula Deen did and if some prominent white man did this, black men would be attempting to exert their non-existent manhood or maybe they’d do what they did a few days ago—absolutely nothing, since it pertains to the denigration of black women.

    Harriet Tubman’s legacy puts Russell Simmons’ legacy to shame. She is to be revered not mocked and the women of today who emulate her courage are out here leading the way as warriors and soldiers because we have no other choice but to be because black men sure aren’t.

    Your response is so typical of black men who think that those who have a few dollars are more important than respecting black people. Simmons’ is another one who has self-lynched himself due to his arrogance and ego.

    All I can say is to shut them all down by any means necessary, every last one of those poverty pimps who do nothing but push the victim mentality doctrine so that they can capitalize off of many of you.

  8. I’m not buying the bulls**t he’s selling. Never have, never will. His initial twitter response about this video was a joke and still hadn’t taken it down until the NAACP jumped on him. This video was NO MISTAKE.

    Dr. Watkins, you can make excuses for him because you work with him, but don’t insult the intelligence of the rest of us. Russell Simmons is an opportunist without a sincere bone in his body. As an economic/finance professor and “pro-black” fighter, how can you work with someone who is part of the problem? From his stance on destructive hip-hop content to that predatory Rush Card, the only thing Russell Simmons cares about is how he can exploit the black community. He’s the most two-faced and forked-tonged celebrity I’ve ever seen. He’ll do and say anything as long as it will keep him in the spotlight and getting checks.

    He needs to take his money and retire somewhere. There’s nothing worse than an old fool who doesn’t know when his time is up.

    • I agree 100% with you Gigi. One of the reasons why Black people are not respected throughout the world is that we except abuse, and simply roll over.

      Russell Simmons is the quintessential predatory capitalist. He’s in the same category as the Africans who assisted in the kidnapping and enslavement of our ancestors.

      Dr. Watkins, and the rest of the so-called Black academic elite do not speak for me. As a matter of fact, they, as well as many of the Black bourgeois are often the one of the greatest impediments in the fight to advance economic and political parity for Black people.

      • You are so correct in your statement and that is a true fact, but many people can not see that they are the main impediment in our fight to advance economically and politically.

    • I agree with you completely Gigi

    • Gigi, agree. One correction though — it was Yvette Carnell who took Russell Simmons to task for the tape, not the NAACP, and it is she that we have to thank for the exposé.

      Would also add that RS is specimen of the success of the illuminati goal of infantilizing the collective consciousness of the whole of mankind, one individual at a time. ‘They’ know that human physiology is a uniquely divine designed instrument through which the primal energy of consciousness of God can function and are using sell-outs like the Russell Simmons to create fear and doubt in our minds.

      Hopefully, this was a “wake-up” call for RS who, if so, has Yvette to thank for her lovingly diligence and reprimand.

    • Gigi you nailed it. Boyce and RS are so two faced I bet they don’t know which face to wash in the morning.

  9. Dr Watkins, Russell Simmons and the rest of you guys do so much good for so many black people that you will never even meet and I just want to say on behalf of the countless number of little people that you fight for: THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!!

  10. he’s definitely a coon and white folk Sambo

  11. I’t so much I want to say. This is about selling your soul to the devil.

    I think about Dave Chappelle who walked away from a 50mil deal with Comedy Central. He knew the contect of the show wasn’t right.

    Money has replaced morals, values and self respect within the black community. We don’t understand the history of our existance in this world. We have been indoctrinated a mental system and culture not of our own.

    A few months back Russll Simmons wrote a blog titled “Saving Israel: Why I support the Saudi Plan”. That blog spoke volumes on what Russell Simmons is all about.

    There’s a lot of Russell Simmons in the black community.

  12. EXCUSE ME I have just lately heard that HOLDER’S speech on mass incarceration of drugs was done to cover up the fact that someone in the justice department told BARACK OBAMA there there are a number of people jailed and should be released, but Obama had it held up for another two years. IF TRUE, another reason why I give less than a damn about this “first Black President.” These brothers and sisters who just made a mistake, will they REALLY be going home soon?

  13. In my humble point of view, RUSSEL SIMMONS IS FULL OF SHIT. I notice that he said that some in the “creative community” were angry that he took the video down. So in other words, in the Black “creative community”, we have a bunch of male and female punks who believe that they should have a right to smear our heroes, when not one of those niggers would have dared to make an “ANNIE FRANK SEX TAPE.” SMEAR THE HEROES! THE PEOPLE WHO TOOK UNIMAGINABLE CRAP OFF OF WHITE PEOPLE SO THAT THE “CREATIVE COMMUNITY” COULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANTED TO BE. These people that ROSA PARKS and DR. KING fought for turn out to be the brain dead Negroes CARTER G. WOODSON talked about who know their place and will cut a hole in the wall to make a door. This nigger mentality of the last 20 or 30 years that if it makes money, its alright, no matter who it hurts. WELL AS I SAID ABOVE, RUSSELL SIMMONS who is the creation of the Ashkinazim Jew I understand, nor the rest of those worthless SAMBOS in the so called “creative community” wanted money enough to disgrace ANNE FRANK did they? TO HELL WITH THEM!

  14. Russel should know the True OURstory behind a pioneer like Harriet Tubman.


    He’s ‘suppose’ to be an adult, and he should be and EXAMPLE to the youth instead of ACTING like them. You could not have paid a khazar, to degrade one of their so-called heroes; therefore, his comedic act was not funny at all!

    This is why we need OURstory told because, if these hip (slop) and sc(rappers) would LEARN their True OURstory; they would not DEGRADE their OWN kind! You NEVER hear these buffoons talking about ‘ki.kes’, ‘crackers’, or ‘yops’ because they ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DEGRADE CRACKERS!

    This onion head negroid is just another dumb azz negroid with money…NO CLASS or KNOWLEDGE of his True OURstory!

    I’m not ‘sin free’, but I KNOW when not to commit a sin, especially the sin of DEGRADING former Black Rebels, Revolutionaries, and Realists!!!

    What is his chinese looking azz doing for the community with his millions besides talking out of the left side of his azz cheek?


  15. I Love Russell Simmons’s Spirit. People Make Mistakes but What He Stands For When It Comes To Mass Incarceration Over Shadows His Bad Sense of Humor. They Man Made NO EXCUSES Like Some of These Politicians Black Folk Support Yet We Continue To Vote Them In For Another 4 Year Term. As a Black Woman, I’ve Learned To Choose My Battles Wisely….