You aint funny or cutting edge: A letter to Jason Horton

Dear Jason  (@Jason_Horton), AKA “the world’s only white male comedian”; AKA the man who played the slave master rapist in ‘Harriet Tubman Sex Tape.’

How does it feel to be part of one the most vile videos I have seen in a long time.  Spare me your explanations about comedy and satire.  You participation (your role) and the video itself are all about as funny as Paula Deen and Rush Limbaugh.  Your Los Angeles address and hipster jeans don’t mean anything to me.  I cannot see into your heart, but your “work” tells me something. I see a video that perpetuates racism, sexism, and violence.  It traffics in dehumanizing images, finding pleasure in other’s pain. I see you and your partners in moral crime (Simmons and others who made this video deserve plenty of criticism and condemnation – go here and here and take a read and then come back to reflect on your own responsibilities) as merely recycling  ideas that have for centuries justified black suffering, sexual violence directed at black women, and enslavement.

I know the satire argument is coming, but it’s not funny, it’s not satire (what are you satirizing? toward what end?) and if you think that is funny, what does that say.  What does it say that you were willing to be a piece  that feels like a remake of Birth of a Nation.  This slavery porn pathologizes black bodies, renders them as objects of ridicule and violence.

Jason, you once noted “I also grew up in the punk rock/hardcore rebellious culture. I really have a similar mentality when it comes to comedy. I think comedy should be dangerous.” What is dangerous about reinforcing many centuries of white supremacy?  What is dangerous in perpetuating stereotypes about oversexed black women seducing their white masters?  What is dangerous in profiting and relishing off black death?  Stereotypes?

You seem very invested in positioning yourself as cutting edge, as new, and as hip?  Congratulations, you just participated in a video that would make D.W. Griffith proud.  You just acted in video that seems to have taken cues from some of America’s most racist forms of popular culture.  Cutting edge is not 19th century minstrelsy.  Is that what you call hip? Is that what cutting edge looks like to you?  In your eyes, would Thomas Dixon be a cutting edge writer; would bull connor be a cutting edge police man; George Wallace an edgy politician; would Henry Ford be a cutting edge business man?

I imagine you think this video is funny – what is funny about slavery, about rape, about the thousands of black men and women, beaten, brutalized, and enslaved at the hands of people who look you and me.  I predict that you think it’s just a “joke,” but maybe that’s because the “joke” isn’t about you, isn’t about your family and community.

The mere idea that anyone could find humor here is the ultimate expression of privilege – male privilege, white privilege.  Is it easy to reenact rape, to mock black suffering and death, from a distance?  How can you not feel the anguish and pain resulting from your participation and that pain is not just in history but evident today?

Can you name 5 things about Tubman (or even slavery); maybe if you spent less time making infantile YouTube videos and more time reading, you would have known better.  But your lack of knowledge aint my concern. Your participation in this video is reprehensible; your participation is a sign of disrespect and ignorance about Harriet Tubman; you have spit on her life and legacy, her struggle for freedom and justice.

In case you get some time, I encourage you to read about Tubman, about slavery, and about the history of rape and lynchings.  Trying something else cutting edge – intelligence, knowledge.  Try studying and you might learn about the history of black resistance in the face of white supremacy in all its forms. As I am not sure if you will open a book, at least read this brief summary of Tubman’s life from @prisonculture

Araminta Ross (Harriet Tubman) became a “slave for hire” at the age of 5. She did domestic work, field work, cared for children…She once said that one of her mistresses would savagely whip her almost every day, first thing in the AM. When she was teenager, she stood before an overseer who was in pursuit of another slave. He took a lead weight & crashed it on her head. She was deeply wounded. She said that the blow “broke her skull.” She was carried back bleeding. She had no bed. They lay her on the floor. She was sent back to her parents who thought she would die. She survived. She went on to become Harriet Tubman. She freed slaves daringly & without fear. This is the person who @UncleRUSH laughed.

That is the person you mocked; that is the person you disparaged; that is the person whose community you enacted violence on today; that is the person you pretended to rape.  Read it again. Learn about the “Moses of her people”

You have said very little since the release of your historic porn. But I can hear the defense of this video and its participants.

Ignorance is not a defense.  And “I am sorry if I hurt your feelings” is not an apology.   The ability to be ignorant, to be unaware of the history and consequences of racial bigotry, and misogyny, to simply do as one pleases, is a quintessential definition of privilege.  The ability to disparage, to demonize, to ridicule, and to engage in racially hurtful practices from the comfort of one’s YouTube channel, from one’s segregated neighborhood, from one’s hipster enclave reflects both privilege and power. If you refuse to see, think, or feel outside your own experiences you are merely cashing in on those privileges.  At whose expense?

The ability to blame others for being oversensitive, for playing the race card, or for making much ado about nothing are privileges codified structurally and culturally.  Jokes about slavery, about sexual violence, about rape, about a history of white supremacy, about Harriett Tubman, are never a neutral form of entertainment, but loaded sites for the production of damaging stereotypes and violent images.

How about you take some responsibility and condemn yourself for being part of this video; now that would be cutting edge?


Post Script – In addition to the articles above, I encourage any to read Kimberly Foster’s Twitter timeline, this piece by Jamilah King, and this from K Lynn Dreher

Please also read this important contextual piece at Feminist Wire.

Apologies for few typos/errors in original post and getting Mr Horton’s first name wrong.  Should be all corrected now

The Invisible War: A Film on Rape, Women and Combat (A Review)

June 23, 2012


Horrifying . . . devastating . . . infuriating . . . saddening.  These are the emotions I felt as I watched The Invisible War, a new film, written and directed by Kirby Dick, which opened nationally yesterday.  To be sure, The Invisible War isn’t your typical war story.  It’s a gripping docu-film that focuses on the “powerfully emotional stories of rape victims” within the U.S. military, and their “struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice.”  Shining a spotlight on a world largely defined by masculinity, combat, force, sex, and concealment, this film unveils the following:

  • 20% of women are assaulted while in the military
  • Only 8% of the assailants are prosecuted, with only 2% facing conviction
  • 80% of the victims do not report
  • 25% of women do not report rape because the person responsible for receiving the report is oft times also the rapist
  • 1% of men in the military, totaling 20,000, are victims of rape
  • 15% of incoming military recruits acknowledge that they have attempted or committed a rape prior to entering the service
  • 40% of homeless female veterans are victims of rape
  • Of the 3,223 cases that are actually prosecuted, only 175 of the assailants would serve jail time (all numbers are from the film or related press)
  • “The Veterans Administration spends approximately $10,880 on healthcare costs per military sexual assault survivor. Adjusting for inflation, this means that in 2011 alone, the VA spent almost $900 million on sexual assault‐related healthcare expenditures” (press packet).

The Invisible War paints a picture of injustice and sexism, and a culture of sexual violence that has reached epidemic proportions.  However, it does more than offer disheartening and infuriating statistics.  It provides a story, a story about women and men—those who are celebrated as heroes, who receive standing ovations at parades, whose service is lionized and celebrated over and over again—who have been raped while serving in the U.S. military.  Irrespective of yellow ribbons and holidays, it is a story that illuminates rape culture and the ways that victims are multiply victimized within a culture of warfare, camouflage (or cover-up), and sexual violence.

The filmmakers interview roughly 70 survivors of military rape, women and men, who in the face of victimization by their assailants, their military community, and countless others, have decided to fight back.  We learn the stories of women like Kori Cioca who was raped and physically beaten while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.  We hear how her assailant, who was also her commanding officer, didn’t just rape her, but also broke her jaw during the attack.  And, we learn how Cioca was reminded (over and over again) that her punishment for “lying” would be a court-martial, when attempting to report the assault to those in command.

The Invisible War elucidates a culture of rape and victimization as well as the continual cultivation of revictimization, wherein the military instigates an “in-house” society of violence—among comrades.  Some victims were even charged with adultery due to the assailant being married!  Moreover, of the five women from Marine Barracks Washington interviewed in the film, four were investigated and punished after reporting incidences of rape.  They were told to “suck it up,” unfairly disciplined professionally, threatened with prosecution, and demonized publicly.  And perhaps worse of all, they were often forced to face their assailants every step of the way.

From suicide attempts to physical pain, the film documents several consequences of rape, to include but not limited to rising costs, exacerbated by an “in-house” rape culture.  We see this with Cioca.  The physical pain resulting from her assault is endless.  Because of her broken jaw, Cioca continues to live on a liquid diet, she cannot go outside when it is cold because of pain, and probably most dispiriting, Cioca’s assault remains with her both physically and emotionally.  In fact, she often wakes up screaming.  The dual agony of severe discomfort and traumatic recollection are unceasing.  Unfortunately, this reality has been largely ignored by the VA, which refused to cover all of her medical expenses.

The power of The Invisible War rests with the elevation of the voices and experiences of the soldiers themselves and their families.  The consequences of sexual violence can be felt in the physical and emotional anguish expressed throughout the production.  However, though the film gives voice to victims of rape (and their families) within the military, therefore breaking the silence perpetuated by a complicit media, it misses a critical opportunity to expand the discussion to explore the effects and entwinement of militarism, patriarchy and misogyny in our broader socio-political context.  At times, The Invisible War seems to even downplay how patriarchy and American institutions/ideology(ies) actually sanction and give life to rape culture(s).  In short, in trying to spotlight the injustice facing men and women in the military, and the systematic camouflaging (pun intended) at each level in the chain of command, The Invisible War misses the opportunity to make some pretty significant connections.

A more efficient grasping of sexual violence within the military requires looking at its deployment of gendered language as well as the ways in which women are objectified within and without military culture.  It also demands that we look at “base women,” the relationship between U.S. operations overseas and prostitution, as well as the ways that sexism infects U.S. policies.  In addition, a more critical reading of sexual violence pushes us to explore the treatment of women within the U.S. military, particularly those serving in countries currently occupied by the U.S.
Continue reading @ The Invisible War: A Film on Rape, Women and Combat (A Review) | The Feminist Wire.