“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
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 
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.”
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.