The devoted father felt compelled after his teenager's video went viral.
It was heartbreaking to watch 16-year-old Aoki Lee Simmons describe the racist interactions she's experiencing at school. High school is difficult for any teenager, but Russell Simmons and Kimora Lee Simmons' youngest child recently cried while on Instagram live as she described a boy in her class who called her the n-word. Having famous wealthy, multiracial parents doesn't excuse anyone from enduring racism; if anything, it can introduce new difficulties.
"I’m so over people at my school being racist and no one doing anything about it," Aoki lamented. "Like, I go to school to work. I don’t even talk to these people because I’m busy. I’m trying to go to Yale, I’m trying to go to Harvard, I don’t have time for you. And this particular kid, I swear all day long — he’s white and he cannot stop saying the n-word," she continued. "It’s like his favorite thing to say. I don’t even use it like that, but he just loves to use it. And see how far he can push it and see how many people he can offend and all of his friends don’t care. They all think they’re nice, woke, good people but they don’t stop him.”
Russell Simmons is a caring, devoted father to both of his daughters, as well as an activist who has spoken openly about issues plaguing both hip hop, black culture, and marginalized communities for decades. Simmons, along with the rest of the internet world, watched as his daughter's tearful video circulated online and took it as an opportunity to publicly reach out to Aoki's classmates by penning a lengthy open letter.
“After seeing my daughter Aoki Lee’s experience with a fellow student go viral online, I felt compelled to write this open letter to the students at her unnamed school. For those that missed the live video that went viral, the long story short is a white student addressed her using the ‘N-word.’ It was, as she understood it, normalized behavior for him and no doubt for some others.
Here is what he and other students must realize, the dehumanizing of people of color around the world has gone on for many centuries and for our entire existence in America. Beginning with the Transatlantic slave trade, which is documented (but not taught well by Western Civilization or even in our schools), the suffering of African-Americans is a part of human history that is one of — if not the worst — examples of mankind’s unconscious behavior.
This part of history is likely a more brutal period than most people can even imagine. It lasted 430 plus years. The unofficial slavery of Jim Crow where blacks were forced to work on land owned by whites became an ongoing phenomenon that lasted another 75 years. The fact is, this dehumanizing process has lasted throughout African-American’s entire history in America. You could say that the forced segregation and hateful legal practices inflicted upon African-Americans never officially ended, you may know that blacks couldn’t even vote in many places until 1965 and racism is alive and well and rising in many aspects of our lives today.
It’s safe to say that as long as black people have lived in this country we have, as a collective, never been made to feel equal and we continue to feel the burden of the disease called ‘white supremacy.’ My daughter is, in many ways, fortunate to live in a bubble where, until this incident, I assumed most of her friends in Beverly Hills were kind of shielded and, in some ways, ignorant and therefore believed and acted as if that suffering was somehow limited or gone entirely.
I encourage them to look deeper where in the ‘real world’ they can still see clearly the effects of the dehumanizing of people of color all over the world. A great number of people of color still suffer from discrimination and feelings of inferiority. It is worth mentioning the number one way of keeping a slave has always been to promote their skin color as proof that he or she was somehow less than his or her slave master or colonizer. Make no mistake, the sickness of white supremacy is alive and well all over the world as illustrated in the actual practices of whites —either intentionally or unintentionally — we are seeing this all over the media. We are witnessing the rising tide of polarization and hate in America.
I would like to believe this rapper made a horrible choice — a misstep — and for that, he needs to be educated, not made into a villain. The language he used is unacceptable, of course, but what I prefer to believe, in this case (and many others like it) is that it is mostly just thoughtless behavior that needs to be corrected. In fact, I believe that the young man is better than his words and these action and actions of his ancestors.
Yes, I helped introduced the mainstream to rap, but I also promoted the first white rap band [Beastie Boys] and none of them ever used that language. They respected the culture and their black colleagues. I choose to believe this young man in question is already a better human being because of this experience. I will ask the students and faculty of Aoki’s unnamed school to sensitize themselves and to use this experience as a teachable moment.
Together as a group of forward thinking teachers and young leaders, they can go forward ever mindful of their words and reject thoughtless choices that cause pain to each other. Students, you are part of a new generation that wants to give the same level of freedom and happiness to all people that you would like to claim for yourselves. Let’s — as a team — break the archaic practice of using words that cut and instead, be a light and living, breathing examples of doing better.
You are the generation or already the individuals poised to break the chain of negativity. Together through this kind of open and honest dialogue, I believe we can be the change the world needs. Blessings to all the students all over the world who hold the future in your hands. Be gentle with it and each other.”