Russell Simmons’ Non-Apology Is Not Enough

by Kirsten West Savali


Hip-Hop pioneer, philanthropist and media mogul Russell Simmons has arguably made a career profiting from the degradation and objectification of Black women, so his stamp of approval on a Harriet Tubman Sex Tape parody should not have sent shock waves of horror down the spines of Black women.

But it did.

It didn’t surprise outraged Black women solely because Simmons’ newly launched media venture All Def Digital chose to mock the grotesque inhumanity of slave rape in its inaugural outing. It didn’t anger us merely because Harriet Tubman was a warrior who led grown men — paralyzed with fear — to their freedom only to have her legacy assaulted by a man who stands on her shoulders.

We weren’t appalled simply because the hypersexualized, manipulative depiction of Mother Harriet is a deeply misogynistic, historically flawed, stereotypical portrait of Black women which haunts us in contemporary “reality” television and pop culture.

No, we remain infuriated by his pathetic, cowardly, patronizing non-apology and his obvious belief that his male and economic privilege insulates him from further critique.

Read Simmons’ pseudo-apology below:

In the whole history of Def Comedy Jam, I’ve never taken down a controversial comedian. When my buddies from the NAACP called and asked me to take down the Harriet Tubman video from the All Def Digital YouTube channel and apologize, I agreed.

I’m a very liberal person with thick skin. My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of actors said in the video, that 162 years later, there’s still tremendous injustice. And with Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master? I thought it was politically correct. Silly me.  I can now understand why so many people are upset.  I have taken down the video. Lastly, I would never condone violence against women in any form, and for all of those I offended, I am sincerely sorry.

~Russell Simmons

See below for what he really meant, as read between the lines by yours truly:

In the whole history of Def Comedy Jam, I’ve never taken down a controversial comedian, so respect the fact that I’m doing you a favor. When I realized that I was getting bad press, I grudgingly removed the video, but I still believe that Harriet Tubman in a strap-on banging “Massa” from the back is “the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

There are more important things to worry about than sexism and the virulent Rape Culture that poisons society  – like ending the War on Drugs. Listen, sex is power. Better to screw for a cause, than for free. And quite frankly, I got too much money to be worried about this bullshit, so I took down the video. Happy now?

U.O.E.N.O how sorry I am.

But just so you’re aware, slave rape isn’t really violence. If you can’t understand that, my bad. For real.

– Uncle Rush (Card)

Though the initial “apology” was disrespectful enough, he added insult to injury when the criticism didn’t cease:

Ironically, Simmons’ devastating disregard for the sexual violence that Black women were forced to endure during slavery came on the heels of the hashtag #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen created by EBONY Digital News + Lifestyle Editor Jamilah Lemieux. Taking a critical look at sexism and misogyny within the Black Power movement, #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen exposed the ugly truth that the words of El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) still ring true over 50 years later:

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black women. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

Russell Simmons could have shown maturity and clarity, but there is clearly none there as it pertains to handling the legacies of our foremothers with the respect they deserve. He should not have apologized “if people are hurt” or if we’re “offended.” He should have apologized because he has two young daughters who may one day have their bodies viewed as commodities by vulture capitalists looking for a cheap buck and a quick laugh. He should have apologized for mocking Harriet Tubman’s legacy of courage and strength.

Simmons could have set aside his ego and bravado, his blatant sense of entitlement, and declared his gross disrespect a learning experience on how to be a better ally to Black women. He could have said that he was embarrassed and ignorant, but that moving forward he will use my platform to raise awareness of Rape Culture and the many ways that Hip-Hop fuels it’s existence within the Black community.

He could have acknowledged that Black male slaves often had to grit their teeth while their wives were violated by slavemasters, and that maybe — just maybe — having a Black slave in the closet telling Harriet Tubman to “drop it like it’s hot” and to “shake it fast” is utterly reprehensible. He could have admitted the hypocrisy of calling CNN‘s Don Lemon a “slave” for his misguided views on Black culture and accountability, while he himself traffics slave rape porn as a “joke.”

He could have humbly apologized for diluted Harriet Tubman’s strength to the V between her thighs. 

Instead of saying any of these things, the Def Jam founder’s response upon being called to further accept his role in raping the legacy and defiling the dignity of one of our soldiers was primarily “…Lol. Sorry if people are hurt :-(”

So even though some Black male scholars, activists and civic leaaders who raised hell for Trayvon Martin and blasted Lil Wayne for his desecration of Emmett Till’s legacy largely remained silent — and, once again, some White feminists, as with Quvenzhane Wallis, seemed to conveniently take a social media break during the height of the storm — Black women will not bow out gracefully. We will not be silenced. We will not be told to place Russell Simmon’s reputation above the sacrifices of Harriet Tubman. We will not be told that art is subjective and there is no policing comedy.

Black women are no longer going to be told to tread cautiously as to not jeopardize the standing of Black men in power who don’t give a damn, and wouldn’t give it to us even if they did. We deserve respect because we are Black. We deserve respect because we are women. We deserve respect because we are human — and we will continue to demand it.

Harriet Tubman taught us that.

So, we’re waiting, Mr. Simmons. The next move is yours.

Follow Kirsten West Savali on Twitter at @KWestSavali.


  • Knotty Natural

    Here’s to hoping black women show their disappointment in Uncle Russ by refraining from supporting his ventures.

  • jamesfrmphilly


  • Anthony

    I have nothing to add really because the author said it all. It is clear that Simmons like to attack, but he doesn’t want his faults pointed out to him.

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    Girl you betta preach!

    El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) words ring truer today from all his speeches, quotes etc than they did when he was alive. God rest his soul and have mercy on all those that are so lost among us.

  • Somosuno

    Sigh…we wonder why the present bi-racial generation barely knows a thimble’s worth of the spilled blood, sweat and tears of their victorious African-American ancestors’ despite the tribulations?

    OPEN COMMENT TO RUSSELL (and any other self-hating African-American male whose lowly opinion of making it on her back is a successful woman.):

    Ms. Tubman puts you to shame. She embodied leadership, courage through fear, carried a firearm whether soldiering on or at rest; and, told her story walking through the fires of Hell (slavery) without a brother telling her how, when, and what to do.

    Health Care/Warrior Goddess/Patriot:
    “When the American Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy.

    Leadership/Warrior Goddess/Freedom Fighter:
    The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.

    Old school family responsibility:
    After the war, she retired to the family home in Auburn, New York, where she cared for her aging parents.

    Women’s Right to Vote:
    She became active in the women’s suffrage movement in New York until illness overtook her.

    Not quite Social Security Benefits, but:
    Near the end of her life, she lived in a home for elderly African Americans that she had helped found years earlier.” (Wikipedia, you dupe…)

    BTW, what have you done compared to the Heroic woman you mock? Where is your demonstration of courage through tribulation? I apologize. You did introduce that pre-paid Rush card with THREE DIFFERENT FEE PLANS so poor folks could have access to the American Dream by using their own paychecks, didn’t you?

    Shame on you Russell. It seems your liberalism is code for new black conservatism. Say heeeeyyy! to Thomas for us little (d)emo-crats, would ya, would ya, huh?

  • angel

    I have lost all respect for this jerk. Damn his pioneering vision in birthing defjam. He does not give a damn about black women. He is ignorant and unfortunately has far reaching influence.

  • Dalili

    Bravo and thank you Kirsten for beautifully summing up a majority’s sentiments.

  • Nice

    There are ways to really put the heat on him. Organization and researching his business ties. Remember what Ultraviolet did to Rick Ross, all they care about is $

  • jah

    “RAS”peck Empress for the article it was well-written and emphasized not merely “his sense of entitlement” but it spoke to the unending discoloration of “Our-story” in lieu of “his-tory.” It saddens I-Man to see those who have so much resources at their disposal that should be utilized in the Struggle, resort to this blatant misuse of that capital. His actions unconsciously brought to bear (on his part), the ignorance, abject disrespect for the images, appalling conditions Our Divine Ancestors experience, committed by people with no sense of people-hood, to say the least. His disregard for the Divine Ancestors and “Their/Our-story” was so misguided that he chose to develop a concept disrespecting one of the most-celebrated, BRAVE and Warrior Lioness in the RESISTANCE against Chattel Slavery, Our Queen-Mother Divine Ancestor Harriett Tubman. By skewing, for selfish gains, one of tactics utilized in the RESISTANCE, that is, Our Enslaved Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmothers use of their bodies to save their families, their children from being sold to their MEN from being whipped or killed. That form of RESISTANCE is NEVER to cast in a humorous light because some were MURDERED during some of those episodes. We, as a People should examine Our-story with a level of Consciousness that will provide Us with all the radars that will inform us that when it comes to slavery, The Divine Ancestors, especially Our Women, almost everything is SACRED and OFF-LIMITS for aggrandizement and jokes. Despite the anger I hold for Russell Simmons at this moment, I will say, unequivocally, that I am willing to forgive if he makes a sincere apology that outlines the reasons for apologizing, and not some water-down, egotistic BULL-SH*T we received thus far. And as the Sistah/ author outlined, he should make amends by becoming involved with a Black Woman’s Group who works in gender-based violence and become acquainted with “Our-story” regarding Enslaved African Women in the Diaspora and their methods of RESISTANCE!!!!! BlackLuv Without Apology.

  • angel

    That was so amazing to read and so well put. Yes!!

  • Deal-n-Truth

    Nothing that this poverty pimp does is a shock to me and he needs to be ‘put on blast’ for his denigration of Harriet Tubman. He should not and does not deserve a pass because he is a black man, which is one of the main things wrong with the black community today: they keep making excuses for the failings and shortcomings of black men. He doesn’t need to be coddled and he should be called out by all men, especially black men.

    Now I see who has the courage to be leaders and it’s black women and black women are unified and highly organized, while black men are not and shows big time!

  • vintage3000

    Thank you for your powerful comments. Especially the part about Harriet Tubman saving the lives of terrified men; and this individual who was born with a penis (I can’t call him a man) thinks it’s ok to spit on her legacy like this. And his arrogant faux apology, the silence from –he made the mistake of thinking no one would check him.

  • Sandy

    what annoys me most is that he chose to represent harriet tubman as a mammy in order to mock her. harriet wasnt a fat woman (check the pictures of her) but he chose to represent her with an overweight woman in order to play to the stereotype. how could he do that to a woman who went through so much suffering, risked so much so that slaves could escape & so that russell simmons could even be here today to make such silly videos? i wish more people keep protesting this cos his faux apology doesnt cut it & it’s stuff like what he posted that tells society that black women aren’t s**t. I’m very angry

  • Tony

    He never would have made or endorsed a video with a Holocaust Jewish Woman getting raped by a Nazi. Was my only thought…..

    He knows who butters his bread, who has a history of holding grudges and who can and can’t destroy him. You all will, at some point, get over this and you can’t destroy him because at the end of the day the Jews have his back. They have the money and power to demand respect and they would never have let this ish go.

    We speak loud and march… they make moves and get even behind closed doors.

  • Sheena

    That’s what gets me, his arrogance. He thought this was a joke that everyone would “get” and think was funny because HE thought it was funny. Anyone else who complains is just a pain in the ass to him and his “apology” is just a pacifier. True a**hole. Nothing is sacred to people like him.

  • Tony

    Funny thing is; He’ll get through this because of his extreme liberal views. Even though he’s never IMO had much interest nor respect for building a strong black community. His only interest has been about getting rich (not a problem) by helping the Jews get richer prostituting black culture to the masses (a problem).

    A black conservative making this video who was outspoken on the importance of traditional nuclear family, black abortion, the black gay lifestyle and HIV, illegal immigration taking black jobs, black crime ect…, IMO would have been demonized for life.

  • Patricia

    Russell Simmons actual thinking: Dag, NAACP called and I really didn’t want to take it down. I thought it was super freaking awsome video. The actors did such a great job. , I will do it a s a favor to them by taking it down, LOL, it is still out there on the internet and people can still get a copy of it. My, bad black women, I didn’t mean to do that. It was a “mistake” and I was not thinking before I press the send button.

  • blindie

    I don’t know if Russell thinks that appearing ignorant keeps him hip, liberal, or youthful or if he is sincerely lost. Russell is a prime example that everyone does not acquire wisdom with age. Thank you, agree with all of your sentiments.

  • Anon

    Hahaha! Anyone thinking Simmons had any common sense or decency wasn’t alive in the 1980′s. Dude was bank-rolled by a Jewish dude in a dorm to demoralize the black community in what, 1983? Been paid ever since. He’s old enough to be someone’s grandfather and still spouting nonsense. ERASE these knee-grows from national conversation!

  • Cocochanel31


  • Cocochanel31

    Wow so enlightening! Made me go research Ms. Tubman..kudos for posting this!

  • Anon

    Who the heck was ever claiming him as “family” is what I want to know.

    If you ain’t at the reunion, I don’t know your A**

  • jamesfrmphilly

    this is not really about simmons. WE made this person rich. WE support him.
    WE pay him. this is on US.

  • naan

    all of the Black men in the media who talk about “racism” are really letting out their frustrations over being side eyed when they get with white women. And I mean being side eyed by white men. This is what they are fighting for— their right to marry to white women or any woman who aint Black. They publicly insult Black women and don’t think twice about it, but ohh nooo when it comes to a Black men they feel some type of way.

  • Kayer713

    I agree! I’ve been saying this for years now.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    no body wants a white woman.

  • Wanda

    Isn’t this man in his 60s? Why does he insist on dressing like an eight year-old?

  • Tony

    …end of the day the Jews and GAYS have his back.

  • stef

    boycott is a great idea but what services or products does Rush even have anymore. I mean he is longer part of def jam and no one buys phat farm. All he has is global grind and rush card.

    Being black balled is also a course of action we should take

  • Anonin

    Every time some idiot rapper or whoever does something dumb you say we support him.

    No WE don’t. Idk about the rest of clutch but I don’t go out my way to buy a rapper and ‘entrepreneurs’ junk so preach that at world star hip hop or something.

  • Annoyed

    Anti-semitic much? Put the blame where it belongs, which is on this pathetic, self-hating, gutter snipe named Russell Simmons. No Jew made him a sellout Uncle Tom. He chose to do that all by himself.

  • Tony

    White people made him rich prostituting black culture

  • Gisele

    you hurt poor wussell’s feewings

  • jamesfrmphilly

    white people are the ones who buy hip hop? who knew?

  • Anonin

    Yes James White people buy hip hop if you don’t know that then you’re very out of touch with times they’ve been buying it even during the 90s.

  • GlowBelle

    “Black women are no longer going to be told to tread cautiously as to not jeopardize the standing of Black men in power who don’t give a damn, and wouldn’t give it to us even if they did. We deserve respect because we are Black. We deserve respect because we are women. We deserve respect because we are human — and we will continue to demand it. Harriet Tubman taught us that.”

    I LOVE this part. So brilliant. I feel all pumped and empowered!

    Bravo Kristen for a spot-on piece. What sickens me the most is that in his mind (and the mind of the people involved in it) he thought what he did initially was okay, that it was funny, and ‘right’. The gross arrogance. I’ve stopped paying attention to jerks like this, giving energy to people who don’t have my best interest, so even though everything you said is correct and powerful, and that he should have done this and that, known this and that, but the bottom line is that he was never there to begin with, he never cared from the jump because it wasn’t happening to him or to his own, and because he has a serious issue with Black women that nobody can fix. That is something that a powerful article like this, or even us calling him out on Twitter to provoke a lame apology can’t cease. Just don’t support Simmons, just ignore him, don’t buy what he is selling, because all he wants is our attention and money, and we don’t need to prolong this issue into what is now the third day in order to give it to him.

  • Nikki

    That’s why you’re one of my favourite writers Kirsten!

  • Kay

    Great to know that Russell Simmons thinks that rape and sexism aren’t that important. Makes me feel all fuzzy inside to know that my safety as a human being isn’t that high on his scale. Thanks Russ. Really. By pushing your high interest card and cheaply made clothing while nullifying the importance of my issues, you make me feel like you care. *rolls eyes*

  • jamesfrmphilly

    time to step up and take responsibility. WE bought hip hop and made it what it is. WE control this. WE can stop it.

  • Anonin

    A little too idealistic for my taste but okay then…..

  • Naan

    Don’t get me wrong. It is fine if a Black man gets with a non-Black woman. But don’t go dragging Black women in the mud.

    And again, these Black celebrity men are making it increasingly obvious that their definition of success is getting with a white woman.

    And when their whole crew is white or non-Black they become even more upset and start toting that “racism” horn even louder. Yea, maybe they do experience racism… But maybe they are insecure over the fact that they will NEVER be white which makes them bitter. Don’t be mad because you are the “token” black guy, admit it– you LIKE being the “token”.

  • JM

    The release of that video was a PR stunt for his new media venture. Attacking black women in the media is an easy way to get free publicity. He’s not the first black male celebrity to do it. Also, Russell Simmons is a Goodwill Ambassador who is one the advisory board for the United Nations Slavery Memorial. He knows better. I really hope more people will financially boycott him and his kind.

  • TajMarie

    Educate others as to alternatives to his Rush Card. However, blackballing will probably be more effective. He comes off as an attention seeker and people with his ego care more about their legacy after their bank accounts before anything else.

  • Learna Ramsey

    In my opinion, Simmons’ Youtube channel should be de-activated. I do not trust his judgment for future videos, especially ones he has planned.

  • TajMarie

    I just did a brief online search. It looked like Russell Simmons partnered with Brian Robbins of AwesomenessTV in order to launch All Def Digital. I couldn’t find any contact information for AwesomenessTV. However, AwesomenessTV was purchased by DreamWorks earlier this year. Also, All Def Digital was supposed to be partnering with Universal Music Group to launch All Def Music, a multi-channel network focused on as-yet undiscovered YouTube talent. Therefore, if there is any serious interest in boycotting Russell Simmons, Dreamworks and Universal Music Group looks like the two entities that people should addressed.

    If anyone has ideas of how to pull this off, I am all ears. The only thing that I can think of is going through facebook, twitter (twitter bomb), and actual letters to their corporate address.I guess this would have to go viral first before getting any real results. . . maybe a petition for Dreamworks and Universal Music Group to remove all ties to Russ.

  • TajMarie

    In regards to the UN Slavery Memorial, he’s been inactive.

  • Sunny

    I was disturbed by the video. But I was even more disturbed by the “fans” on Simmons’ twitter account sending endless worship his way – especially the black women. So sad.

  • chinaza

    Paula Deen was publicly stripped to the bone for derogatory remarks about black people. I’m waiting for the double standard now that a black man has dehumanized and degraded a black woman and the race and gender she represented.
    Life in 100% real terms!

  • ruggie

    I’d feel lost if I hadn’t grown up in an era of hip hop where self-respect was important. Since this video broke, I just had to keep reminding myself of Arrested Development’s “Everyday People” and “Tennessee” that showed the highest regard for our ancestors. I truly feel sorry for the current generation coming up in this depraved era.

  • The Other Jess

    She was “publicly stripped to the bone” because offended people demanded it. We have to do the same in Russel Simmons case.

    “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.”
    –Frederick Douglass

  • Annoyed

    Not a fair comparison. The Food Network, WalMart and others understood their market and made a business decision to dump Deen. Who is Simmons’ market? People who believe he can do no wrong and have little sense of history or self respect. The bottom line is that there is no business reason to drop him from anything.

  • noirluv45

    Sunny, I wonder if those supposed “supporters” are nothing but shills to make everyone believe people support that foolishness. However, maybe not. I guess I shouldn’t be silly enough to think that there wouldn’t be some Black women singing his praises. Many have done the same for Lil Wayne and the rest of these clowns.

    It’s really pathetic to say the least.

  • noirluv45

    Right on!!!!

  • noirluv45

    I, personally, didn’t read anything anti-Semitic about Tony’s comment. He’s right. The Jews are the puppeteers because they hold the strings. The own everything.

    Even though I agree with Tony’s comment, I will also agree that Russell did this on his own. He’s always been an ignorant, sell-out Tom so he falls right in line with massah’s agenda.

  • Beverly Slapin

    Tony, I don’t know what your anti-Jewish, anti-gay and anti-immigrant trip is, but it’s way out of place in this dialogue–or in any other. Hate is hate is hate, and this conversation is about hatred, not about dumping your stuff onto “others.”

  • Beverly Slapin

    Anon, your anti-Jewish comment has no place in this dialogue–or in any other. Please stop. Thank you.

  • Melissa

    Why did you have to include the bi racial part? The rest you posted was well said.

  • Melissa

    What is “Black culture”? Define it. There are billions of blacks on this planet. Please don’t speak on behalf of all. .

  • Meme

    Who honestly takes Russell Simmons seriously? I would be offended if it were someone who mattered-but Ol Russy (whom the perversion rumors have long circulated about) that’s par for the course for him.

  • Sarah

    I appreciate such a well-written and in depth article. As I do not have a twitter, I had no idea this Russell-madness was out and about. He should be ashamed, but apparently having loads of money counteract that emotion.

  • NikkiB

    I think the only time that Russell considers himself black is when there is money envolved. He’s a sellout, his actions never surprise me. And for his poor daughter, he has no respect for them because he has no respect for their mother. Like so many other business men, he’s in love the money and nothing else matters.

  • Tonya

    I never liked russell simmons personally. He is a ego maniac whom always disrespects women of any color, the fact that he doesn’t mess with blk women is a plus. Hell, he cant even see his daughters unsupervised, and that’s court ordered. FUkk him, and his fake a$$ persona.

  • Jewel

    The comment is praising Jewish people who stick together and collectively kick anyone’s butt who disrespects Jewish culture. These are all reasons to admire Jewish people who protect their culture and also reach out in respect to others.

    Tony’s first comment seems to shine on this, but his 2nd comment, may wrongly imply that some other than Russell is to blame for Russell’s misjudgment. I think we can all agree that even Simmon’s himself sees that’s all on him to deal with. No one else.

  • sassychloe

    Court ordered supervision? Wow…didn’t know that.

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