GONE? Handclapping Games, Suggestive Lyrics, and Social Innovation

When we think of African American popular music, our first thought is probably not of double-dutch: girls bouncing between two twirling ropes, keeping time to the tick-tat under their toes. But this book argues that the games black girls play –handclapping songs, cheers, and double-dutch jump rope–both reflect and inspire the principles of black popular musicmaking. – Kyra D. Gaunt, Ph.D.

Depardon, Harlem 1981


I was searching through my YouTube messages and subscribers today. Never even looked at who’s subscribed to my YouTube account before. Still learning the ropes of the YouTube community. I lucked upon the channel of EbonyJanice Peace who subscribes to my channel. I subscribed to hers and checked out her videos. Lo and behold, she is talking my talk–handclapping game-songs and the underlying meaning of the lyrics we chanted day in and day out.

Joan Morgan’s seminal text When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost inspired EbonyJanice to vlog about several handclapping game chants unpacking the suggestive meanings in all.

She says:

         I thought it was incredible that
0:15 black girls in Chicago, black girls in Virginia, and black girls in Ohio and
0:21 black girls in California
0:23 all had learned these sing-song handgame rhymes
0:26 how did that happen who was transporting these
0:30 messages from Virginia to California
0:33 Miss Mary Mack, for example , who taught black girls in Virginia
0:36 little black girls in Idaho, Miss Mary Mack?


She asks the question that guided my work for my book The Games Black Girls Play. She asked

it made me think about the conversations
that are… are just in our DNA or something(?). How do we just know these things?
Check out my book for my answers. (see below for links to reviews). Suffice it to say, it’s not DNA (exactly). It’s learned.
The Games Black Girls Play illustrates how black musical styles are incorporated into the earliest games African American girls learn–how, in effect, these games contain the DNA of black music. Drawing on interviews, recordings of handclapping games and cheers, and her own observation and memories of gameplaying, Kyra D. Gaunt argues that black girls’ games are connected to long traditions of African and African American musicmaking, and that they teach vital musical and social lessons that are carried into adulthood. In this celebration of playground poetry and childhood choreography, she uncovers the surprisingly rich contributions of girls’ play to black popular culture.



One is that the grapevine of Twitter is not the first time we were so hyperconnected. Patterns of segregation and the impact of patterns of desegregation have led many black families to remain connected in their private and public lives because they were and are still not fully accepted in the public sphere of accomondations. Plus all our folk back in the 1970s were still back in the South or in segregated communities and still are. But the games are not as significant. YouTube videos and online videos on Instagram and VINE have become the 21st century games.
EbonyJanice goes on to say handgames live on and they will be here forever. Well? I haven’t been convinced over the last five years or so. I would suggest that girls handgames ARE declining in significance. They are being replaced by handheld mobile devices and a much more sedentary lifestyle which is not necessarily good for any of us much less black girls.
Black girlhood is changing and my theory about it from studying black girls who twerk from their bedrooms on YouTube is that we are no different that the rest of the wider (whiter) population. Our patterns of participation are online. We moved from the read-only culture of previous music media (BET, Soul Train, radio and TV shows) to read-write culture but black girls tend to not create, invent, or riff as much with their online video production. They don’t even talk as much it seems.


(Think #BlackTwitter)

What complicates things further is that within this category “black girls” are women of various ages who endearingly call themselves “girls” or “gurl” and the demographic categories of adolescents and teens are being drowned out by us.
The games represented, for me, the kind of social innovation that marks the revolution of networked individualism, hyperconnectivity and social media like Black Twitter.
I was an early adopter of the #BlackTwitter hashtag and moniker. I blogged about it first in 2011 with about 12,000 reads on the TED Fellows blog to speak out against the prosecution of Kelley Bolar-Williams, a single mom who was sent to jail after my post, for sending her kids to a white school district and being found guilty.



There is so much work to be done about the loss of culture due to changes in social media. While we are highly active on social media, on mobile media–I just read a report that said black teens interact with celebrities on the Twitter and other social media accounts much more than whites, I think I am as good as an example as most black female teens in that making/creating media vs. consuming media is not our first action.
I am thinking about all the time I spent reading about #Ferguson and black men or women killed by the police the last 7 days. And how much I’ve written or published online myself other than short media. It’s time to reinveest in the creative culture we already have. To convert it into new media. To create more voice, original content, remix, and other from black girls–and I mean black teens and adolescents as well as black women, particularly online video.
More to come as this fall I teach my Anthropological Analysis course and resume by Black Girls Twerking on YouTube project.


Book Reviews: The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop.

  1. Review-a-Day: bitch, Sunday, August 20th, 2006
  2. Review by Matthew Somoroff from Mark Anthony Neal’s MAN-in-Exile Blog.
  3. AllHipHop.com Review by Nadiyah R. Bradshaw

And consider purchasing the book at The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop

2007 Alan Merriam Prize presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology
2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Book Award Finalist

Immersion & the Great Escape: Is Queen Bey a Surrogate Reality?

74% of young girls say they are under pressure to please someone.
― Eve Ensler, I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls, 2010

Loneliness, Cacioppo points out, has nothing to do with how many people are physically around us, but has everything to do with our failure to get what we need from our relationships.”
David DiSalvo, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite

Cherish your solitude. … Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. … Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here.”
Eve Ensler

Screenshot 2014-08-07 11.35.56

I’ve been thankin’

This past weekend I attended an amazing training during which I discovered that I tend to misinterpret my assessments as results or reality. It’s not something I’ve ever noticed or understood about myself before. As a professor, this can be harmful to myself and to the people I train to think for themselves. It’s also costly in doing research on YouTube. I also learned that how I best learn is from thinking and reflecting. So what I have started to do as a habit is whenever I get upset, I go to reading something outside myself or getting out of my head (trapped in my ego) to learn something about what I am struggling with — alone.

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
— Isaac Newton

Yesterday, after being in a tailspin about a decision I made, I went to my Kindle Reader and opened Chapter 5 of What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by science writer David DiSalvo. The chapter is titled “Immersion and the Great Escape“.

DiSalvo discusses how our brains have the capacity to split and collapse two “existences” — or role-playing in immersive e-media like Twitter and Facebook  and our face-to-face interactions. Pre-digital era days we played with multiple existences such as in playing Dungeons and Dragons or for girls playing with dolls or putting ourselves in Diana Ross’s place while practicing the choreography of The Supremes with your female playmates. I remember playing with my two female cousins and one of their best friends. We played with heternormative roles. Who was married to which Jackson Five.  The most ambitious girl to yell first got Michael. Sometimes it was the oldest girl. Sometimes it was the girl who say “let’s play” whatever game that was invented from our imagination.

Does Musical Immersion = Identity in 21st Century?

DiSalvo suggests that this two existences we now contend with–online role-playing in immersive e-media like the interactions around the recent audio remix released by Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj and face-to-face connections off-line.

DiSalvo provides  scientific data from pscyhology and neuroscience that suggests loneliness (feeling lonely vs. being alone) is correlates to a strong desire to create social conflict. We then adapt to a need for this kind of engagement as dopamine is released in our brains. Then those of us who are lonely using online immersive media as a surrogate for real connections will often seek more of that kind of engagement. Engagement or social conflicts that are not good for us.

Online we seek the rewards of likes, our brain gets lit up when we check FB or other social media like our YouTube videos to see how many views we have. We get more value in such a context from our human-digital interface. Your favorite mobile device carried 24-7–always one is your BFF mediating conversations about stars like Beyoncé that seem really relevant to our reality.

What’s Real vs. Relevant?

In this context, our  brain suffers a kind of reward-distinction blindness–for our online connections that is increasingly indistinguishable to our brain from F2F contact and this is a problem. It can lead to compulsive/addictive behavior. Many of our brains may be seeking the wrong kinds of rewards (socializing online more and more and diminishing our F2F connections daily). This is happening with YouTube videos on FB and on YouTube itself as well as other networks where online video takes our focus and attention more than other kinds of interactions. Hypernetworked sharing is seduction because of its immersiveness in our daily lives today. Our brains are seeking the surrogate relationships online and preferring them over face-to-face according to a number of studies DiSalvo references. This got me thankin’.

What if you and I began to unhook from social media? Would you be willing to test out possibility of confronting this kind of compulsive blindness to digital interactions? How often are you immersing yourself, isolating yourself primarily to online surrogate relations an hour? There are only 24 hours in a day. That’s 1440 minutes. Most of us should be spending 7-8 of those hours (420 – 480 minutes) sleeping and about 3-5 hours (180 – 300 mins) preparing to eat and eating. That leaves about 600 minutes. If you work  8 hours a day + travel if you don’t work at home, that’s 600 minute more leaving only 60 minutes remaining IF you are doing one thing and one thing only at a time. I probably spend the rest and some checking Facebook and email daily.

Are Black Girls Online Actually Lonely?

I read in a study that I don’t have handy that black youth spend more time alone than any other demographic. Strange, isn’t it? And don’t forget that being online is still being alone. Could we be masking our feelings of being alone with our surrogacy of social media? I been thankin’. Can’t speak for you but i know this is something to think about and strategically change as a habit.

What would you be willing to do to insure face-to-face interactions have more time, are more compelling, in your life each day?

I remember in my childhood my mother and the black women in her network would meet at my aunt’s house on a Saturday night to play pokeno. Check out this video of an elder black women teaching a group od sistas how to play.

I think I need more face-to-face play like this. More house parties. More dinner invitations for others to come chat with me. But I’m gonna start slow. I’m trying one social gathering a month and one meetup with another person or two a month. I think I’ll also vlog about the experience too.

“We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
Terence McKenna (this is from the YouTube video below. WATCH IT!!)


What are you creating? Content is becoming your identity? Your bottomline. Don’t trip!  Create & Share! and Un-hook once a day!

Borrowing Black Girls Snaps & “Yo Mama Jokes” to Sell Kmart’s Layaway

… the appropriation of black culture by white suburban youth as being not only racist, but sexist….the phenomenon is definitely racist and simultaneously sexist. It creates a need for competition between the two races to maintain a hypermasculinity that is damaging not only to males, but females as well, on the basis of degradation of women by men that is further promoted in a manner in which females become willing participants in their own objectification and denigration.

A metamorphosis is then created whereby white supremacist assumptions about black culture are perpetuated and masculinity, as a performance, further marginalizes women and creates a movement of regression in response to advancements achieved by feminism. (Lemley, 2007)

Using our Bodies to Sell Us Out: Borrowing the Vernacular & Black Female Atttitude

My Mama utilized KMart’s layaway plan when I was in 7th grade. I remember she let me put a pair of brown cordoroy bell bottoms on lawaway — my first. A Senegalese man I dated said they also wore them in the 70s. The Francophone African culture called them “pattes d’éléphant” or “pattes d’eph”  (meaning elephant feet or bell bottoms). Back in 1976, I was heading to a new school district entering junior high school. I’d moved to different schools since 4th grade so having the right clothes to fit in really mattered. It seemed like I was one of the last kids to catch on to the bell bottom fashion trend. Waiting for them was torture. My frugal single mom was working two jobs–one at Geico and the other at a liquor store in suburban Maryland–to pay off the balance. By the first week of classes, she made it happen. I had what I “needed” or wanted to fit in and thus began the adolescent socialization process of establishing friends (or not) and having the clothes that marked you in the right clique. I wanted to be part of the black girl clique from my neighborhood where lunchtime was card playing time. Spades every day! I still remember the underclass shaming among black kids that came with having to use layaway.  My mother like most of our moms used layaway plans because they were being smart shoppers using the mechanisms available to them to access school clothes they could never buy outright. Other budgetary priorities were in demand. And my mother met all her bills on time.


The youth culture at school–on the playground and in the hallways–on the other hand was about who got them first which was a sign of how facile your family was economically. Like it meant something to kids who earned NO MONEY to play the game of how much–pardon the pun–“booty” your family had. Did you have to wait to get your clothes or did you have the latest fashion sold? So it troubles me to see this new KMart advert where 2 urban-dressed black girls and 4 boys (South Asian, Latino and white) diss one another in black English vernacular “Yo Mamma” jokes revamped to laud the frugality that most kids have been socialized BY THE MEDIA to not even participate in. They are all about WHAT’S NEXT? What’s the latest fashion generally. And the pull of that consumerism is hard for most kids to resist in social settings like on the playground. I post it here inside of watching Black Girls on YouTube and inside of thinking about the work of Douglas Rushkoff. I was reading his 2000 London Times article “A Brand by Any Other Name: How Marketers Outsmart our Media-Savvy Children” published on PBS’s website.

The liberation children experience when they discover the Internet is quickly counteracted by the lure of e-commerce web sites, which are customized to each individual user’s psychological profile in order to maximize their effectiveness. [Read more here.]


Is this type of advertising annoying or empowering?

Will Black Girls Make it Rain, too? #ContentCreation #YouTube

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


Join me as I launch my first missive to YouTube from my Black Girls Twerking Summer project with 19 students at Baruch.

Your thoughts and reactions are welcome! Your sharing with your network of teens of both sexes, parents, teachers and folks in black studies, girlhood studies, black feminist studies, anthropology, ethnomusicology and media studies is respectfully requested.


Always…Like A Girl #likeagirl #bottomlines #twerkit

The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: It’s a girl.
— Shirley Chisholm

“The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
― Steve Biko

Always.com (ads for maxi pads) are selling a message that follows yesterday’s post on period parties.  This is the kind of work we need and I hope to do about twerking on YouTube. Revealing the ways we see and talk. Uncovering our internalized biases begins with a kind of inner warrior work we are not teaching ourselves or young people today. What Audre Lorde called the radical political work of “self care.” Glad some commercials are trying lead us to think and do this kind of work. #werkit

Last year in March, I saw a music video featuring Nicky Minaj soar to 1 million views overnight primarily because the song had a familiar Jamaican riddim (“Murder She Wrote”) and her breasts were fully exposed on YouTube. I refuse to repost it as I don’t want to add to its traffic.  It’s nice to see a video that is not about the sexualization of girls and things girls consume on YouTube (explicit raps by male pop idols) have better currency and reach on YouTube in just a few days.

This video was released on June 26, 2014, three days ago, and has over 6 million views. Goodness can pay off!

Perhaps we should recreate commercials like these in our home communities as a viral video meme?


Kyraocity Asks:

  1. Do you like that products advertise values you can get behind? If yes, why? If not, why not?

#BlackGirlsMatter: Consuming Black Thots on YouTube

Showing women as consumable [as discussed in Think Progress in 2012] tells us things about how we perceive them and what we want from them, not about who they actually are.


TALKIN OUT OF SCHOOL: Coding YouTube Videos of Black Girls Who Twerk with my Anthro Students

Go to 0:53

My summer session students and I are coding 200 videos of young black girls who twerk on YouTube and man–, is it both interesting and complicated as a site of cultural analysis and ethnography.

I don’t have much time to chat.  Revising and resubmitting an article calls. So I am procrastinating right now. Yesterday, in class I discovered some new local knowledge about youth culture online in the form of new discourse — words used to exchange ideas. The discourse included

  1. dub” meaning grinding your ass on someone in a video or in person. I suspect it’s a diminuative version of “rub-a-dub” from early local Jamaican dancehall and street culture
  2. hmu KIK me” which means hit me up and contact me on the app KIK me which a biracial black man student in my class was for picking up girls.
  3. She’s a thot” which is an acronym for “those hoes over there”. The same male student above used it to suggest that he considered a young dark skinned hispanic girl in another video we were watching in class a ho or whore based on her carefree (or careless) public and highly erotic display of ass-shaking.
  4. soffe shorts” for girls worn as pajama shorts. A popular brand of shorts for cheerleading and dancing that reminds me of skimmies worn under your cheerleading outfit or tennis gear when I was a teen. Girls often twerk in them.
  5. faded” which means drunk. The twerking video above features a song by Tyga called “Faded”.

What I left our lively and engaging conversations about young black girls twerking with was a new insight I had NOT ever thought about before.

It’s Code

Took my name, my site, my song
Been trying to find myself all day long…

Oh baby, it’s code
I want you to hold me, and love me until I want no more

We are coding data into a Google Docs spreadsheet I got from digital ethnographer and master professor of digital media in anthropology Michael Wesch. We are coding titles, subscribers, upload dates, during, style, demographics of age, race, and class, each subscriber’s views and channel views and other behavior including ranking their dancing. We are also analyzing the sexually objectifying comments below each video.

The OMG moment came when I noticed lots of “KIK me” comments and phone numbers by males with and without profile pics. My brain would have never imagined that this was a sign of hookup culture that begins to explain a conundrum I was having: Why wouldn’t these girls disable all the sexually objectifying language in the comments? The male student who defined the discourse of KIK me led me to conclude that this is a serious form of black girls’ hookup culture.

Had an idea to call those numbers in the comments and record them and remix them with the videos. This is really complex, curious, disconcerting and an awesome research project. I am glad I fought my disdain at first to pursue all this.

Today’s kyraocity: Piggybacking on “thot”:

A though on thot: them hoes over there. Have you ever considered the amount of money rap artists are making piggybacking off videos by young girls like this in a digital media ecology that is always perceived as a site of empowering ordinary users to make money?

The first video I posted above has over 28,000 hits but it also has an immersive ad for selling Tyga’s rap single. The record company and the artist gain identity. The two girls lose marketplace identity not only in the exchange on YouTube but also IRL.


MUSIC BREAK: Grown Black Girls Rock the Mic

Janelle Monae speaking to sway on women, sexuality and sounding and acting grown. Cuz she is!

Forbes Reports YouTube’s Blocking Content of Indie Artists like Adele

Screenshot 2014-06-23 00.15.12


At the end of the summer, according to Forbes.com,. YouTube is supposedly launching a new music streaming service called “YouTube Music Pass“.

With it is likely to come the blocking of live concert appearances any day now that have been freely available on the distribution platform. Artists like Adele and Radiohead were mentioned as possible targets of blocking. Also, indie artists have not negotiated licensing agreements for their content like the three major labels – Sony, Warner and Universal. Indie  labels haven’t been offered the same deal. This leaves them vulnerable to being blocked soon, according to the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN).

According to TheSource.com, “the indies are being faced with two options; sign the licensing deals or face being left off the service AND have your content removed from the site.”

The Forbes article also quotes Kristoffer Rom, co-chairman of Danish indepependent label association DUP, who thinks this could kill the independent music industry. YouTube’s power as a platform comes from its music videos and if commercial videos remain there, indie artists will be pushed out like the old days of MTV. All of YouTube’s most-watched video except 3-4 in their top 30, are music videos, and 90% of those are VEVO videos. PSY ranks on top with over 2 billions views for one of his 3 videos topping those charts.

[YouTube] has also in the past made much of its support for independent artists, as [Rom] points out.

“YouTube’s self-proclaimed role as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers large and small’ is little more than hollow branding of a company that in reality is losing touch with the very creators and audience that have bloated the size of the platform into the stratosphere over the years,” he says.

This will surely have some impact on the algorithms or killbots used to detect copyright infringement when it comes to user-generated content that includes commercially-recorded music. I wonder if user-generated videos of black girls twerking to hit rap songs will start to be blocked as YouTube’s begins to redine its brand around music. Only time will tell.


Reported info from:



Black Girls: Who Else “Owns” Your YouTube Video?

Body and soul, Black America reveals the extreme questions of contemporary life, questions of freedom and identity:
How can I be who I am?

– June Jordan

This summer i am using my Black Girls Who Twerk on YouTube research to teach my two intro to cultural anthropology courses. There is one black woman or black “girl” in each section. The rest include a Bangladeshi man, a Pakastani woman, a Russian woman who twerks and has shared that her boyfriend is/was black, men who identify as white–one who is Albanian, a woman who was born in Taiwan but has resided in Singapore and now NYC, a Puerto Rican man who has lived in Singapore who wants to be a professional writer, a recent immigrant for college from France who never knew much about black cultural identity and others. There’s 20 students in all. The two groups are nationally-diverse but their knowledge of black girls’ lives have been more or less limited…until now.

There is so much value from learning with people who have different perspectives of the world we share. We are starting to discover the power of doing ethnography and the unique things we can discuss by looking from different lens at black girls on YouTube. Our clashes of insight and sight reveal so much about how black girls are viewed, represented vs. how they represent themselves in ways. Both are distorted and affected by how others view black girls and women locally, nationally and internationally. Holistic or historical patterns of patriarchy (the views of boys/men), white superiority and beauty ideals, and a history of colorism or skin color politics within and without the black community are all filters for how we see black girls today. It’s hard for others in the public sphere to imagine much less appreciate the ideals and values of moving one’s hips in dance within many contexts of the black or African diaspora in the US and abroad.

Twerking in online video has somehow become the flipped imprimatur of black femaleness, meaning a YouTuber’s acceptance or guarantee that something is not of a good standard these days.


Watching Teen Black Girls Twerk on HisTube

In class this week, both sections got tripped up over the contexts that we take for granted on YouTube. That what we see is always the original online video of a black girl twerking.

A few students struggled over whether a video that we watched “belonged” to the young black girl dancing in the YouTube frame. I insisted it was not once I saw the channel and its owner. One student insisted like “can’t you see that’s really her in the video”. LOL. I helped her discover that there are number of videos most YouTubers may watch of black girls twerking that do not belong to the performer. Online videos are easily downloaded and uploaded as content to male creator’s channels. Most viewers do not check who published the video or who owns the channel. Most viewers mindlessly see just another black girl twerking from her bedroom or kitchen and add that to a list of things they think are deviant about the practice, making it public, not being respecable, or that girls diminish themselves by doing that dance. #respectabilitypolitricks

Many videos featuring a teen black girl dancing from her bedroom is not “owned” or “published” by her. The video below by subscriber dizzybundles806 is a case in point. Sometimes the performance isn’t actually twerking as is the case here despite the title. A title that lets us know what she’s doing is “ratchet” the code word for a lack of respect for oneself these days. But each of the over 9,000 views and 19 comments reflects a way in which a black girl stands in for all black girls in these views that are being generalized and collapsed into the latest stereotype of black femaleness. It is them freely promulgated by YouTubers like this one.



“WHO’S CHILD IS THIS: RATCHET BLACK GIRL TWERKING.” YouTube. dizzybundles806 (4 videos, 56 subscribers), 8 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 June 2014. .

This problem is an example of what Mike Wesch, along with danah boyd, as “context collapse“.  While the young girl dancing above did make an online video, the one that appears on dizzybundles806‘s channel is actually a reproduction, a copy that looks just like the original but surely without her consent. It appears that the channel belongs to a male. Since YouTube, as someone I heard say, is actually like a public utility available to us all, it seems like she cannot lay claim to consent.

Context collapse often leads viewers to overlook that we read things differently because of different contexts. Knowing this as the original selfie with 9,000 views is different than when the online video of the girl is used on another channel to get views, to garner traffic and eyes. I’ll say more about his channel in a sec but this is not uncommon for males to repost videos by black women in some sort of free trade agrement on YouTube. Far too many twerking videos do not “belong” to the channel owner but may be read as if it’s just the girl. What’s one girls loss is another channel owner’s gain in social capital and perhaps even real currency.

Most girls who create these videos may or may not be hip to this. How do we become more media literate about it? How do we educate these lil’ sisters that their  original online video is potentially of more value to others than to herself? If she’s not aware?  In the YouTube media ecology consent shifts to really knowing how to own your own body image in online video.

There is another aspect to the impact of this recirculation. It produces a kind of cultural noise about the social capital among viewers (non-black and black) who find black girls’ revelry before the glass dot discordant with public opinion about everyday black girls. Then real black girls may find themselves challenged and reshaping their sense of self, around expressing their sexuality on and offline, not just with the booty backin that thang up to a YouTube webcam in their bedroom, but also in other public, and less virtual, spaces after boys and men have learned they can handle “them” any way they want on YouTube. The offline reality is this: they may not be safe anywhere.

A study conducted by The Black Women’s Health Imperative seven years ago found the rate of sexual assault was approximately 40%. – Brooke Axetell 2011 in Forbes Magazine.

Black female victims of sexual assault are, on average, eight years old when they experience their first incidence of sexual abuse (Carolyn M. West 2002: 28).

Approximately 40% of Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18.4….Stereotypes regarding African American women’s sexuality, including terms like “Black jezebel,” “promiscuous,” and “exotic,” perpetuate the notion that African American women are willing participants in their own victimization.”  http://womenofcolornetwork.org/docs/factsheets/fs_sexual-violence.pdf

The expression “possession is nine tenths of the law” is apropos here as rates of sexaul assault and rape increase in the lives of black girls today. You get to freely publish or broadcast yourself twerking but at a much higher cost than I assert non-black girls or those who are not twerking in their videos.

Blackness, black femaleness, shows up in certain lights that others don’t, especially in light of persistent racialized and sexualizing stereotypes about black teenage girls.

HisTube not HerTube

Here are thumbnails from the 4 videos on the channel. He earned almost 10,000 views from Miss Thang’s original video. That might have turned into a little bit of money if he had ads associated with his account but that is not guaranteed unless you really go viral.  And then it’s only about $2 per 1000 views (CPMs – cost per thousand impressions). That money, if any was earned, could have gone to the black girl who made the video.

From checking out his range of videos we see the distribution encompasses some fascination with objcctifying black girls’ bodies and one video about a rap battle turning into a gang fight. YouTube is all about this kind of shock value and when it comes to black girls, they are objects of drawing eyes to channels as deviant, out of place and out of bounds, youth or females.

How we assign or attribute ownership in YouTube without checking shapes the plight of our conception of black girls online. Yes, she made the video, but no that is not HER channel. She is not gaining social capital the way he is from reposting it and most young girls do not have the technical know-how to trace where their video images end up. Most people don’t. So that’s what we are up to this week.

After a year of study of YouTube videos featuring black girls who twerk and to a lesser degree black women rappers, I am just starting to understand what is going on in the media ecology of YouTube. More to come from what we discover this summer. I intend to vlog once a week about this from now on. Be on the lookout for my vlogs.

Spreading Ideas by Black Girls

Black girls can colloquially mean a young or older black girl to signify the sisterhood we share and perhaps to signify unconsciously on that time of life when we are least bound by the conventions of respectability, beauty and competition with men and other women.

Each week I want to share a TED Talk by a black girl.  This one speaks how our native orientations to English make a difference and point to differences. I spoke last week about linguistic productivity — the ability to make new meaning with words and ideas in our discourse. I want to start a movement of black girls who take twerking videos and start thinking about producing new ideas with them. Adding their voice and speaking texts or poetry with their own dance. Remixing Beyonce or feminist speeches by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or June Jordan to their own videos. Remixing empowering ideas whether visual, textual or aural with twerking videos to learn to play with new narratives about themselves.

We deserve to make our own meanings! Let’s bring curiosity to our own sites of practice on YouTube.

How To Make Sexual Objectification Palatable: Add Orchestra to “Baby Got Back”

 “…the girl figure continues to be colonised, exploited, abused and commodified have perhaps intensified in an ever increasing global girl market, where ‘girl’ becomes synonymous with ‘sex’” (Renold and Ringrose, 2013).

Revised 6:22pm June9, 2014

How to Make Sexual Objectification Sell

You know how to make anything “black” that is sexually reprehensible to most black women palatable and also make it go viral 20 years after it was nearly banned as a rap song on MTV for its language and objectification of black women’s asses? Set it to classical music or perform it with a reputable classical orchestra?

Today, Gawker featured a YouTube video of Sir Mix-a-lot performing his 1992 megahit “Baby Got Back” with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra for the 3rd season of its critically acclaimed Sonic Evolution project, which creates a bridge between the Symphony and Seattle’s storied reputation as launching pad for some of the most creative musicians on the popular music scene. Obviously, their definition of “creativity” is collapsed quite neatly with “commercial saleability”.

Creativity for Sale

I wouldn’t qualify “Baby Got Back” as one of the most creative songs out of the Seattle hip-hop scene, but (and I do mean butt) it did rank second in sales back in 1992 to Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You“, just for perspective. Whitney’s version, arranged it for an R&B audience with David Foster, is considered one of the greatest songs of all time–both for its creativity and its sales–and the single became Houston’s longest run at number one, smashing her previous record, which was three weeks with 1986’s, “Greatest Love of All.”

I bet if you checked out the numbers of views for all the versions of “Baby Got Back” on YouTube, including “Baby Got Back Sung to the Movies” with over 3 million views, they would all collectively make it the greatest love of all rap songs among online videos. But at what cost?



Sellin’ Steatopygia as Currency

It’s great that Anthony Ray aka Six Mix-a-lot got to share his music with a new audience at the Seattle Symphony, while white women throng from the orchestra seats to be close to big daddy and shake their thang on a night at the symphony. But what impact does this have on black women like me and others who despise the objectification of our body image? It’s like the Hottentot Venus ain’t needed no more but we can still dance to the tune of her subjugation and oppression centuries later. It’s much safer to get all those Beckys from the audience to fill in for us. If black women’s bodies are not hidden in some teddy bear costume while their butts are gettin smacked by white female artists climbed the record charts, then it’s stand ins, wannabes, who absolutely love that song and wanna share it with the world. Meanwhile, black girls twerking in videos are disparaged. In all cases, women ain’t gettin’ paid for their views online or at the orchestra but the quite willing to oblige the audience.

So, your best bet to get views on YouTube would be 1) set it to a live classical orchestra,  2) do a remix or some version of Baby Got Back to remind people how novel that song can be 20 years later, and 3) be sure NOT to include any black women or girls though the whole lyric signifies Sir Mix-a-Lot’s love for the Steatopygia (the high accumulation of fat on and around the buttocks) which had Europeans parade a young African woman named Sara Baartman around in a cage as mass entertainment in the 19th century. Yeah! I know why the caged bird sings!!


A Predictable Canon in D (D is for “Daughters”)

If you wanna be a disc digger about songs that sample classical music, Rap Genius has a collection of YouTube rap videos that sample classical music.  Nas did it. He set the rap “(I Know) I Can” to Beethoven’s bagatelle “Für Elise” to make a hit that featured one of his first attempts to deal with misogyny in rap. Why? Because he had a daughter and finally cared. That’s how it always goes, right? Male rappers who swipe credit cards between black women’s asses to get more video views or pour champagne over black female bodies only respect their mama and their daughter and all the other women be damned.

As I write about how neoliberalism–negative implications of globalization and free trade, I’ve been thinking about how YouTube being free comes at a cost to black girls who twerk. I have lots more to say but for now, I hope you’ll share this post to counter, even on a minimal level, the millions of views that this classicized version of sexual objectification will get. It’s not about my getting more views, but I am trying to change the visual and linguistic discourse of YouTube’s gendered media ecology esp. relating to its most explicit rap videos that still exploit black female body imagery to get it’s economic groove on.

On Patriarchal Discourse

By discourse, for those who think that’s academic talk, it simply means “the learned words and language (verbal and non-verbal, musical and non-musical, on-stage, backstage and off stage) we use to exchange of ideas about male and female behavior in public settings like YouTube and social media. We prefer to leave the context of patriarchy (and white privilege), out of the picture like musical chord changes don’t have a key shaping our expression. We’re much better at the tonality when it comes capitalism in genres, spaces and sounds but not so much with patriarchy or sexuality studies. Without dealing with the key we are in, the tonality, we don’t have to analyze how patriarchy in neoliberal capitalism shapes who gets work, who teaches, and what kind of musical, cultural and linguistic or conversational environment gets economic remuneration and which others get less pay or are completely ignored.

Obviously, Six Mix-a-lot and the orchestral conductor are gettin’ paid. Becky and Shaniqua are not.

Kyraocity’s Ask:

  1. What do you think about the video?
  2. Am I being too sensitive or right on target?


Quote above from:

Emma Renold and Jessica Ringrose. 2013. “Feminisms re-figuring ‘sexualisation’, sexuality and ‘the girl’. Feminist Theory 14(3) 247–254.