The Black Girl Project’s Sisterhood Summit 2014: This Weekend

“You must learn her.

You must know the reason why she is silent. You must trace her weakest spots. You must write to her. You must remind her that you are there. You must know how long it takes for her to give up. You must be there to hold her when she is about to.

You must love her because many have tried and failed. And she wants to know that she is worthy to be loved, that she is worthy to be kept.

And, this is how you keep her.”  ― Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her

Sisterhood Summit Image

 

BEEN A MINUTE…

October has been an incredibly fulfilling and intense month so far. Aside from writing and teaching, I’ve been updating my blog here with a new header that speaks to my work on YouTube.  I’m on the job market seeking a full-time position in digital media studies, ethnomusicology and/or African American/women’s studies.  I attended the critical and intense Town Hall for Girls of Color hosted by Girls for Gender Equity and Kimberle Crenshaw’s African American Policy Forum at Columbia Law School two weekends ago in honor of The International Day of the Girl. And there’s a lot of new things happening with my collaborative ethnography team of undergrads. We start collecting new data on adolescent and teen blacks girls who broadcast while they twerk for my research and their Anthropological Analysis course and training.

All that said, this post is about another project that has inspired my work.  This weekend, Saturday October 25th, 2014, Founder and Executive Director Aiesha Turman and the advisory board of The Black Girl Project hosts the 4th annual Sisterhood Summit at Empire State College from 10am – 6pm.  I would love it if  shared this post on your Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram or your Twitter!!

THE BLACK GIRL PROJECT: SISTERHOOD SUMMIT #BGPSS14 

View the day’s program here.  The theme is “Treat Yo’Self: Healthy, Whole and Free Black Girls.”  Come volunteer for the morning (10-2) or afternoon (2-6pm) sessions! The girls and women attending need your support!! If interested, DM me at kyraocity at gmail.

Love, peace and hairgrease! All the ladies say “He–alth!”

 

Our Indifference to the Private Parts of Girls’ Twerking

“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”

Rosa Luxemburg

The Right to Protect Your Embodied Self-Expression

This talk on privacy from TEDGlobal in Rio last week is one of the first talks made public. As I shared about the Watching Black Girls Twerk on YouTube data about the ways girls images are essentially being “trafficked” by 44% of the 168 videos we collected, a woman said she wasn’t on social media but then added she made her first selfie the other day. If you carry a mobile phone, you are being surveilled with your phone itself, your calls, your photos and your microphone in ways you surely are just indifferent to.

As women and people of color, the lack of privacy could and probably will be much more harmful and detrimental to us when others perceive our actions of “bad” — whether that’s the state or fellow citizens who ability to flag or dislike your uploaded content, tweets and updates can perhaps lead you to lose your job these days. Factor in the discriminatory biases of race, gender and age, and you might see why I am studying the videos of black girls who twerk on YouTube. I am trying to understand the media ecology of surveillance by other consumers and by corporations like YouTube and VEVO and the possible implications all this has on black music culture, girls’ musical behavior and the social construction of our digital self-presentation. This work is bigger than black girls. It applies to us all.

Glenn Greenwald was one of the first reporters to write about the Edward Snowden files and the US governments surveillance of its citizens. His TED talk begins by talking about what I am most passionate about these days–digital self-presentation–and the indifference teens and adolescents (much less the rest of us) have when uploading images of ourselves made in private settings in front of a webcam. The moment initially leads to sense of “context collapse” or a sense that you don’t know who you really talking to out there in Internet land–you lose control of your image the moment you upload it. Greenwald begins:

0:00   There is an entire genre of YouTube videos devoted to an experience which I am certain that everyone in this room has had. It entails an individual who, thinking they’re alone, engages in some expressive behavior wild singing, gyrating dancing, some mild sexual activity — only to discover that, in fact, they are not alone, that there is a person watching and lurking, the discovery of which causes them to immediately cease what they were doing in horror. The sense of shame and humiliation in their face is palpable. It’s the sense of, “This is something I’m willing to do only if no one else is watching.”

0:53  This is the crux of the work on which I have been singularly focused for the last 16 months, the question of why privacy matters

Educating Black Girls: Their Privacy Matters

I posted this comment after the video:

As a digital ethnographer studying how black girls’ images are being “trafficked” more or less to feed their adolescent desires to fit in through social media/online video or to feed the markets of objectifying female body parts, this talk speaks directly to an issue that I find most African American adults–parents, teachers and elders of any age–tend to be indifferent to. Our privacy…We give it away with YouTube in the name of some fake democracy or self-expression that will later be used as data to limit access to education, to jobs and more.

Thank you Glenn Greenwald for your passion, commitment and integrity to journalism’s core values in any society. Your work as a journalist reveals what is often hidden from us by others and by our own words that defy our lived realities. This is why my intention now is to help black girls learn what their elders are not equipped to teach yet.

 

Do Feminists Have to Be Beautiful, Youthful or Famous to Matter?

“It irks me that we more easily embrace feminism and feminist messages when delivered in the right package – one that generally includes youth, a particular kind of beauty, fame and/or self-deprecating humour.

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…It frustrates me that the very idea of women enjoying the same inalienable rights as men is so unappealing that we require – even demand – that the person asking for these rights must embody the standards we’re supposedly trying to challenge.”

- – Roxane Gay

Read more on “Fame-inists” in The Guardian, Oct 10, 2014

#DayOfTheGirl 2014

#dayofthegirl
October 11, 2014

All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.
Malala Yousafzai

How rare is it for twerking to be discussed…or actually anything involving what Black [girls] do, think, say, write, create, believe or are…without bigotry, and sloppy, one-dimensional bigoted ideas as the basis of the discussion or the “critique?”  Gradient Lair

quvenzhané-wallis-at-event-of-tarâmul-visurilor-(2012)

In English and Portuguese. For Español, click here.


For the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala. Congratulations!!

For black girls/women who twerk and those who don’t! Back that thing up but make sure you own your content fully! #MissKimari, #GetItIndy, and all the nameless teen and adolescent girls who don’t get a fair shake for their exploration of their self-identity on YouTube.

For breaking the silence of girls of color in NYC today!! Join us for the Town Hall at Columbia sponsored by Girls for Gender Equity, Inc. The event will be moderated by Columbia Law School Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw will be moderating the event.

She defined “intersectionality” for us:

The need to split one’s political energies between two sometimes opposing groups is a dimension of intersectional disempowerment that men of color and white women seldom confront. Indeed, their specific raced and gendered experiences, although intersectional, often define as well as confine the interests of the entire group. For example, racism as experienced by people of color who are of a particular gender – male – tends to determine the parameters of antiracist strategies, just as sexism as experienced by women who are of a particular race – white – tends to ground the women’s movements.

The problem is not simply that both discourses fail women [and girls] of color by not acknowledging the “additional” issue of race of patriarchy but, rather, that the discourses are often inadequate even to the discrete tasks of articulating the full dimensions of racism and sexism.

Because women of color experience racism in ways not always the same as those experienced by men of color and sexism in ways not always parallel to experiences of white women, antiracism and feminism are limited, even on their own terms.  ~ Kimberlé Crenshaw [quoted from the brilliant blog Gradient Lair. Please subscribe to Gradient Lair!!]

 

“Half the story has never been told.”
To Toni Blackman and her #rhymelikeagirl mission!!

RIP #LeftEye

#Freedom the rap version

“How Can I Have 1.9 Million Followers and Feel…This Alone?”

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it. – Upton Sinclair

The intrinsic troublesome and uncertain quality of situations lies in the fact that they hold outcomes in suspense; they move to evil or to good fortune. The natural tendency of man is to do something at once ; there is impatience with suspense, and lust for immediate action.      – John Dewey,  “The Quest for Uncertainty” (1929)

Assata Shakur

The Lust and The Salary It May Depend On

A fellow black feminist scholar pointed this video of by a so-called professional twerker who appears to be “white,” and claims to the the “most famous booty shaker.” Why? Because she earns 6-figures making videos on Vine. When non-black women make this symbolic move and earn capital, I wonder if they ever consider that there are ethics involved in how their moves will impact those who came before them. It’s never necessary if those who came before are black and female.

While I am expanding my research to include videos by non-black teens and adolescents, I’ve chosen to limit my study to YouTube though I’d surely would have as much to figure out and analyze if I expanded the data set to video from WorldStarHipHop, Instagram and Vine. I want to thanksto Qiana Curtis for bringing this video/short film on the professional twerker to my attention on FB.

The line that strikes me most in the 4-minute short film I used as the title of the post. Does one have to make 6-figures to learn that money can’t buy you love or eliminate the animosities of race? Jessica says as her voice starts to crack as if performing on cue for the camera, “How can I have 1 point …. nine million followers and feel…this alone?” Generation Like meets the chicken that always comes home to roost in the old and new attention economy of the entertainment business.  (Check out the PBS documentary of the same name if you haven’t already. What are Teens Doing Online?).

 

This copy about the short film appeared below the original FB post:

Twerking 9-5: ‘Vine’s Most Famous Booty Shaker’ earns 6 figures

Jessica Vanessa is a professional twerker, who’s making big bucks by shaking her booty…in fact, she makes a 6-figure sum by shimmying her bum!

22-year-old social media superstar Jessica captivates audiences from around the world with her hypnotic assets. The former teaching assistant is now paid by companies to mention their products to her 2m online followers, who tune in to watch her twerk, jerk and crack jokes in comedy short videos on Vine.

Jessica now makes more money from a six-second Vine vid than she did working for four months at the nursery. It seems her bottom is taking her to the top!

Barcroft TV bring you a new short film every weekday – from the fascinating to the funny – plus two amazing full-length television shows every week.

#Twerking #Twerk #JessicaVanessa #JessiVanessa #Booty #Bum #Squats #Fitness #Dancing #Buns #VOTD #Video

Can Twerking Be Your Profession?

I don’t study adult twerkers and while Jessica Vanessa calls herself a “professional twerker” some critics/haters might consider the moniker an oxymoron. There are those who will liken it to “sex work” though there is no sexual touch or intercourse involved. The visual economy of twerking flips is like a free “peep show” that lures advertisers to solicit Vanessa’s “assets” to sell products.

In American culture and society associating earning money with having a profession is a common practice. If I earned a living off of making music, I too would call myself a professional. Google defines the term as:

pro·fes·sion
prəˈfeSHən/
noun
  1. a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.
    “his chosen profession of teaching”
    synonyms: career, occupation, calling, vocation, métier, line (of work), walk of life,job, business, trade, craft;

    informalracket
    “his chosen profession of teaching”
  2. an open but often false declaration or claim.
    “a profession of allegiance”
    synonyms: declaration, affirmation, statement, announcement, proclamation,assertion, avowal, vow, claim, protestation;

    formalaverment
    “a profession of allegiance”

 

The Oxford English Dictionary, a definitive and professional arbiter of definitions in the English language, defines “profession” as:

A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification:
his chosen profession of teachinga lawyer by profession

This definition gets complicated when it comes to mixing work with anything sexual…outside of hollywood or any industrialized complex of music, TV or film. Then your profession is questioned….rappers, DJs and dancers esp. from hip-hop included.

For me, the question keeps coming back to who profits from the social or economic capital of the cultural performance known as twerking? A cultural practice that began with black dance behaviors outside the marketplace dating back to New Orleans in the late 1980s and linked culturally throughout the African and Afro-Latin and Caribbean diasporas for decades if not a century.

The fact that race is never mentioned in the short film seems curious to me. The following viral meme from 2012 suggests that race was attributed to the before Miley Cyrus took it to the top of Google searches. But such practices in dance and music have always been extracted from the rich bottom of black creativity in our culture for centuries. Erasing the contestation is troublesome but such practices go beyond the hood.

Meme - So this is what Negro Girls Do

Questioning Who Profits

I was chatting with Hannah Giorgis after inviting her to speak to my students yesterday and we both dwell in and pondered a few related questions. Most of the ideas of these questions I attribute to Hannah. I embellished on them. She’d probably say my previous blog post on who profits from the counterfeit culture of stereotypes about black girls inspired some of these ideas:

  1. How are people who do not identify, who are not socialized or perceived to be, black girls affected by black girlhood? Do other girls or transgender folk get to explore sexuality through its prism or as a way into and out of popular adolescent/ youth culture?
  2. What does it mean to put symbolic elements of black girlhood upon yourself (without the symbolic codes of skin color and its incumbent stigmatization)?
  3. What does it mean to adopt (as well as adapt to) “black femaleness” and at any moment back away from it, return it, shed it when no longer value-able?
  4. What does it mean to have black girlhood imposed upon you because you look the part because of skin color even though you didn’t necessarily sign up for the part (Cue music: “Mama’s always on stage“)?
  5. Can these tensions be in conversation with one another in our contemporary discourse or debates or must we always take sides (black or white, booty or not)? (Cue music: Which side are you on? #michaelbrown #ferguson)
  6. Ultimately, who is profiting from black girls twerking on YouTube (way back in its beginnings in 2006) as a performance?A performance that can “make it rain” in 6 figures for some and not others (particularly not adolescent/teen black girls themselves)?

The questions need to be lived with before we simply jump off on some conclusion or result. There’s research and study to do first. I’ll leave readers with this. Some  commentary about a bell hooks talk at the New School earlier this week. In a piece called “bell hooks Was Bored by ‘Anaconda'” featured in The Cut, writer Kat Steoffel wrote:

According to hooks, reducing female sexuality to “the pussy” raised questions about “who possesses and who has rights in the female body.”

the booty is a more visible, PG-13 stand-in for female sexuality, easier to represent (and sell) in pop culture, but freighted with more racial connotations.  A booty-centric vision of female sexuality, hooks explained, asks, “who has access to the female body?”

Broadcasting while your twerk has consequences and differential consequences for non-blacks than for black girls themselves. There’s a lot to unravel before or while shaking your butt in the webcam.

My First Vlog: Upping My Content #bottomlines

The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us…After years of much struggle and little recognition, many older women feel burned out; after years of taking its light for granted [feminist progress], many younger women show little interest in touching new fire to the torch.                           – Naomi Wolf, US writer, The Beauty Myth (1991).

Quotes: On Media’s Junk-in-the-Trunk

The cheapest way to manufacture audience is through a high sex, high violence, high conflict content. It doesn’t take talent or research or investigative journalism. Yet it stimulates the appetites, much the same way that a high salt, high sugar, and high fat junk food diet does.”

Dr. Michael Karlberg, Western Washington University
see “Portrayal or Betrayal? How the media depicts women and girls”

 

“Girls are not passive recipients of these cultural messages. Girls are active agents. We know from developmental cognitive psychology that young boys and girls, once they know what their gender is, are very motivated to be the best example of their gender. And if the examples of femininity around you are a sort of tarted up, pornographied sexuality, then that’s what you’re psyched to be.”

Tomi-Ann Roberts, On the Sexualization of Girls

YouTube & the Counterfeit Currency of $tereotypes about Black Girls

“Le racisme est la dévalorisation profitable d’une différence” ou, plus techniquement, “le racisme est la valorisation, généralisée et définitive, de différences réelles ou imaginaires, au profit de l’accusateur et au détriment de sa victime, afin de légitimer une agression.”

“Racism is profitable devaluation of a difference ” or , more technically, ” Racism is the development , widespread and ultimately, real or imagined differences in favor of the accuser and to the detriment of the victim, in order to legitimize aggression.” (Google translation).

- Albert Memmi, Racism

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Value in Making Fun of Black Girls’ Identity on YouTube

In the last few years, I’ve taken to avoiding use the conjunction “but”. It has nothing to do with my research on twerking or feeling I could if it was even possible inspire all the other people who use the term to stop doing it by erasing the term, like naïve notions of erasing race by not talking about it. The intangible meanings of race, blackness or jokes about black butts do not disappear from individual behaviors in a world of 7.1 billion people or even more than 3 million Americans. When studying black girls on YouTube I’ve realized that I must confront the fact that we live in a world defined by bottomlines, by numbers. We are still a minority group. Our music still generates a great deal of revenue for companies not run by women or black folks.

The bottomlines or numbers game is both good news and bad news depending on how your frame it. The objective data I am gathering is demonstrating a perspective that cannot be seen by casual viewing of YouTube videos or ogling that a view went viral.  Yet, we are being seduced by such views.  The seduction of not only our attention but our cultural views are at stake. The “context is decisive.” as the saying goes, in any situation when dealing with bottomlines. So, let’s explore the “value” of representations of black girls on YouTube for a minute or two.

How are teenagers’ views of themselves affected by others in the disembodied online environment? Do teenagers take the attitudes of the anonymous others seriously in online interaction, or do they merely regard them as part of an entertaining and inconsequential role-playing game? (S. Zhao 2005, 389). Link to article.

I have a bold claim here. The value of being a black girl in the YouTube community of vloggers is not afforded to black girls themselves. It seems that others gain currency, get lots of views and traffic, when we girls/women who are deemed “African-American,” “ghetto,” “ratchet” or some other stigmatized identification, are the butt of a vlogger’s joke in YouTube videos. This one is about naming practices among black girls and it has accrued over 30 MILLION views!! 

During a great conversation with sociologist Margaret Hunter the other day, I articulated a trend from our Watching Black Girls Who Twerk on YouTube dataset. The trend is that others are gaining the most value (economic and social currency) from making fun of black girls and women.  The trend is profoundly encapsulated by Nicki Minaj in an on-screen interview from The Ellen Degeneres Show (Nov 2013) just after MileyGate:

“If a black person do a black thang?!? It ain’t dat poppin!” – Minaj

Her use of the colloquial term “poppin‘” in all its multiple meanings boils to one–a common hip-hop lyrical and music video trope: popping a women’s booty to make it rain. It also refers to seducing viewer’s attention which is critical in popular music media culture as well as to cause a stir or create drama such that people are talking about you (think Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” or Minaj’s “Anaconda” video). It’s all about the Benjamins, right? Dollar, dollar bills, y’all!

I don’t have much time to say much more but I wanted to open a conversation with my students and with the wordpress community and my followers. (Aside: I am thinking of moving this blog over to Tumblr because there are more black girls there online than here. Would you all be ok with that?).

The Counterfeit Culture of Black Girling Video View$

I’ll close with two quotes from two disparate but tangentially related camps. One is the Race Traitor community that has mounted a new abolition movement to end white superiority in our cultures.

Race Traitor: “We do not hate you or anyone else for the color of her skin. What we hate is a system that confers privileges (and burdens) on people because of their color. It is not fair skin that makes people white; it is fair skin in a certain kind of society, one that attaches social importance to skin color. When we say we want to abolish the white race, we do not mean we want to exterminate people with fair skin. We mean that we want to do away with the social meaning of skin color, thereby abolishing the white race as a social category. Consider this parallel: To be against royalty does not mean wanting to kill the king. It means wanting to do away with crowns, thrones, titles, and the privileges attached to them. In our view, whiteness has a lot in common with royalty: they are both social formations that carry unearned advantages.” – Noel Ignatiev [8]

I first heard about them 8-9 years ago when the use how counterfeit money or currency works in the U.S. as a metaphor for disrupting the system of white privilege. The US government must vigilantly fight against counterfeit dollars because 10% of more would corrupt our currency. The whole system would crumble — partly because, in my thinking, that if 10% of the population couldn’t tell the difference between the real and fake money, and that 10% told 20 people, the exponential impact would be seen within weeks. So you must guard against tainting the supply.

How to Detect Counterfeit Money (U.S. Secret Service): “The public has a role in maintaining the integrity of U.S. currency [could you swap "whiteness" and "patriarchy" here]. You can help guard against the threat from counterfeiters by becoming more familiar with United States currency [or the social system of white privilege or patriarchy]. Look at the money [value] you receive. Compare a suspect note [non-white/female] with a genuine note of the same denomination and series, paying attention to the quality of printing and paper characteristics [think YouTube views as currency]. Look for differences, not similarities.”

All this has me speculating. Do videos like the one above devalue what it means to be a black girl on YouTube? Is there is any value left on YouTube when you can generate traffic exponentially by “black girling” your content? But when it comes to the real thing, “it ain’t dat poppin'”!

I am using “value” here in the sense of monetizing your content as well as  gaining social currency as a viral video. Does the video above taint the integrity of what it really means to be a black girl. How will viewers get the difference since the authentic version is rarely given attention.

What kinds of video do girls need to make to be more than a $tereotype that generates traffic by always being the butt of jokes including the drama that surfaces in discourse around black girls’ booty-shaking. Even there I have evidence that white girls get much more attention and views for doing what black girls do. Even Miley Cyrus can trump Minaj, Rihanna or Beyoncé on YouTube. Not combined by Iggy and Cyrus can step in and step out. Do the counterfeit moment and jump back into whiteness for profit.

What is the true value of broadcasting black girlhood?

How do we see or better yet, trust, the true value of being a black girl with these counterfeits of currency circulating on YouTube — the most public, public on the planet as Mike Wesch articulated in his YouTube ethnography.

We had the amazing blogger interested in digital black girls Hannah Giorgis visit our ANT4800 class this week. I audio recorded her visit. I may upload it if she gives us permission. She opened up a dialogue with a provocative quote from Junot Diaz, whose work I have yet to discover but if this is any indication, I am way behind the curve and will be catching up. And from this quote I got deeply connected to that my Black Girls YouTube project on twerking is very much about making some new mirrors for girls and for us women, too.

“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

Junot Díaz

MORE TO COME:

Stay tuned for a new vlog of mine on twerking and a video from my distinguished lecture at Rollins College last week.

Paulo_Freire

YouTube Creator Blog Recommends — Investing in Creativity

Curate to Connect: Rubel pointed out an unprecedented opportunity for companies and individuals to gain authority and become thought leaders by being the ones who “separate art from junk for people to understand it.” Curation is just as important as creation.          via Mashable

 

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Connecting People to YouTube Content

This past week I’ve taken to wearing my 2011 Shorty Awards lapel pin. Been reminiscing about the times I was highly active on Twitter. Years back, I was one of six nominees for the 2011 Nokia “Connecting People” Award along with Amanda Palmer. We both lost to Shannon Miller, a school librarian from Iowa who had over 20,000 followers among schoolkids and perhaps parents. I’ve written elsewhere about how that was a sign of the power of social media to beat out the usual algorithms of popular broadcast media. Amanda was the star then. I was already a TED Fellow. And the schoolteacher won. It was a loss I immediately embraced.

I’ve always been interested in curation in my social media interactions. Now that I am working primarily on YouTube and not Twitter like I was back in 2011, I’ve been sharing a view great videos that I think people should learn about and this one come from the weekly YouTube Creator Blog. At the end of each blog post the writer shares a favorite video they recently watched. Today it was:

Alex Carloss, Head of YouTube Originals, recently watched, “Kutiman – Thru You Too – GIVE IT UP.”

This YouTube video gives life. It’s truly original content and it’s curation at the same time. This is heaven, a true musical delight for musicians, DJs, video remix artists, and singers. It features a mashup of videos from other YouTube creators including the voice of a young black woman in the most compelling and creative way.

Check it out and consider becoming an original content creator on YouTube. I am!

 

Kyracatures: My iPhonography

Since 2011, I’ve taken extreme closeup shots with my iphone of nature and urban graffiti from the Williamsburg Pedestrain Bridge. The are intimate visions of life far below my usual reality so I call them Kyracatures. I’ve posted them on Twitter and Facebook but rarely here. So I am starting a ritual of bookending my posts. The open with 1-2 quotes and close with Kyracatures and perhaps some of my poetry.

I told the sacred women’s circle, “I miss my own voice.”
My words tried to hide the loss.
Today, I embrace the power of my inner feelings
and stand in the carefree expression of my divine.
Pleasure is mine.

I took the picture below right after a Black Girl Project Board meeting in late August. The flower was all of 3-4 inches in width. By the way, consider attending and registering for our annual Sisterhood Summit October 25th. Click here for more info.

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