Juicy J’s 50K “Scholarship”: “Class” Is (Not) In Session

Juicy J & WorldStarHipHop.com Presents the Scholarship Contest

Juicy J & WorldStarHipHop.com Presents the Scholarship Contest

“It is impossible to get a man to understand something if his livelihood depends on him not understanding.”
― Upton Sinclair

Gnatola ma no kpon sia, eyenabe adelan to kpo mi sena. (Ewe-mina)
A moins ce que le lion ait son propre narrateur, le chasseur aura toujours la belle part de l’histoire. (French)
Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story. (English)

When I first heard about the Juicy J $50K scholarship back in September 2013, it was a black male student who brought it to my attention as part of the Black Girl YouTube Project. I remember discussing it with him and saying, “What happens when she goes off to college and everybody knows. ‘OH!!! She’s the one! She’s the one who twerked in the $50K video. Oh!!’ So, what happens when the business professor sees the video??” Ryan agreed and said he’d thought about the same thing. Managing one’s future identity is not always something late adolescents can see.  Many do not have the cognitive ability to do so yet.  I added, “And what happens when the football team learns about it?!?” The Steubenville rape case involving two high school boys dragging a girl like a jump rope from party to party raping her without consent was still fresh in my memory from months earlier. Consent has been on my mind a lot lately.

I also thought “there will be no privacy for the girl who wins that scholarship.”  Perplexed, I simply thought that young women entering the contest really just wanna get the money. It was all about “makin’ it rain” as the strip club “proverb” goes. That was my gut reaction and boy I was wrong. I had not way of seeing the issues of class that would come along with a twerking contest for college.

Since late November, I’ve seen many of the submissions by black and non-black college women. Some of the videos are brilliant, one in particular by Miss Kimari who I recently interviewed was made private [but is now again available, click the link] since the results were announced. She is concerned about her future identity and needs to stop, think and plan. She’s been quite cautious with her identity online. Like Miss Kimari’s video, some involved twerking, others didn’t.  One submission by a young, naive black woman from Illinois named Rashyra was extremely vulnerable–sharing her history of trouble with several times in lockup and attributing her problems to an absent dad. I thought that was not only costly relative to putting it out there in a YouTube video to persist on the Internet forever, but also costly relative to the kind of social negotiation that students take for granted when entering college. People are watching and judging you. I didn’t always think this way, but radical openness is a risk not everyone can afford to take.  The winner from Rashyra’s submission, and many others, was actually Juicy J who got a strong shout-out from her to any viewers: please, download his “Scholarship” single. It’s only $1.98 on iTunes. Free promotion on the backs of broke and recovering college girls. Yeah, stay trippy, alright.

The actual winner Juicy J selected, Zaire Holmes, posted a video that I thought was savvy in its execution and self-presentation. She rapped to open the video and rhymed “straight As” with with “I need more than just…financial aid.” It was cute, seemingly innocent and genuine. Zaire edited in appearances by her references including her boss and friends. She talked about being a single mom, and she was by far not the only single mom in the lot.  She made a bold appeal for wanting to become a doctor, citing that it would take her 11 years and she would use the funds to cover her lab fees. YES!  It was a great college interview. Still, I was convinced  Juicy J wouldn’t pick a woman who didn’t twerk. I thought even less about what would happen if he did and what the implications were for so many who occupy the position recognized as the feminization of poverty happening domestically and around the world.  This is a case for how complicated issues of male privilege and gender oppression have gotten in hip-hop despite certain dominant trends:

Sexual and gender relations inside and outside of the African American community are shifting in relation to three important discourses: (1) the mainstreaming of pornography culture, (2) black capitalism and consumption, and (3) post–Civil Rights colorblind racism.

Perhaps you’ve already read the brilliant post by @ProfessorCrunk aka Dr. Brittney Cooper for the Crunk Feminist Collective’s blog critiquing Juicy J’s reversal around the context (“It’s not always about shaking your ass”) as if he didn’t originally intend for girls to “make it rain” by twerking as the credit he’d use to sell his “Scholarship” single and make more profit. Yes, no twerking required…now, he claimed in the winner’s video.

Zaire says at the end of the video, “a lot of people thought you had to twerk but you just had to read the rules.” And Juicy J chimes right in, “See that’s what you get for shaking your ass and thinking you were gone get some money. It’s not always about shaking your ass.” (B. Cooper)

I’d been checking the special HipHopWorldStar website for the last 8-9 weeks waiting anxiously to see who would be the chosen one.  I first thought race was the issue that stood out with the submissions since a majority of the top-rated and most-watched videos found on that site where submitted by white women, mostly blondes with hundreds of thousands of views compared to the black women’s submissions that had less than 2,000. I speculated that this could be evidence of structural inequalities that were once called the digital divide as whites have better access to larger networks simply by privilege of their race and some non-blacks who would see liking the non-black videos as an opportunity to strike blow against at demoralization of American work ethics which most do not see in rap, among working-class blacks whose pants sag or who twerk, and even the products of Affirmative Action on the college level didn’t really earn the access they got. (Ask me about my alma mater University of Michigan and the anti-Affirmative Action cases that have set back admissions for minorities across the nation.)

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The thing that really stood out to me about this contest was the issue of class (SES) relative to the “baby mamas” who were predominately white. There were a number of submissions by white women who are mothers trying to finish college also working 1-2 jobs. In every one of these videos that I saw, the white woman always chose to twerk. Ironically, most of the black and latina women chose not to. Class was playing a bigger role than my racial lens  allowed me to see at first glance. But in any case, what most concerns me right now about twerking are  issues of sexualization. Whether the women in this contest were white or black, what impact is this having on younger and younger girls in the U.S. given that these videos will also be mediated and shared via YouTube.

Earlier today, while researching this subject, I read about the cognitive and emotional consequences of the sexualization of girls in an executive summary of a report by The American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. It read:

“Cognitively, self-objectification has been repeatedly shown to detract from the ability to concentrate and focus one’s attention … While alone in a dressing room, college students were asked to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater. While they waited for 10 minutes wearing the garment, they completed a math test. The results revealed that young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse on the math problems than did those wearing sweaters. No differences were found for young men. In other words, thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity. In the emotional domain, sexualization and objectification undermine confidence in and comfort with one’s own body, leading to a host of negative emotional consequences, such as shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust.”

Obviously, there is more to say but let me return to the contest and a specific video Juicy J released recently.

THE SEMI-FINALS

I wanted to post the “semi-finalists” video (above) released on Jan 8, 2014 to highlight the group of women that were selected to appear in and represent the deliberation of the contest. Juicy J’s objectifying, misogynist and patriarchal commentary is worth noticing.

Among the 10 women semi-finalists featured:

  • 7 were non-black; all of them twerked
  • 1 of the 10 seemed to be a woman of color (not black nor white); she twerked, too
  • and 3 were women of African descent or black women

Clearly,  post-racial “colorblind” politics were at work in both who submitted and who they chose to represent here but I don’t have it all worked out enough to respond about that but I can say that designations of class abounded among the women. They discussed how many jobs they held while going to college, and I would even consider identifying themselves publicly as parents in these videos was a particular salient aspect of class when it comes to college. Pregnant mothers or the appearance of being a single mom is just not talked about where I teach. Far too many colleges today don’t even offer childcare for professors much less students. And yet the women twerked. What’s more interesting is that none of the women included their kids in the video. It’s consistent with male rappers rarely saying anything about their family life in their rapped realities.

[CORRECTION: There are videos of mothers with their children. I had not seen those videos yet. A YouTube search for "Juicy J Scholarship Contest" produces about 66,700 results!!  Really considering doing a study of just these videos and thanks to a blog post by Monique John, another twerk-ologist writing on the same topic, for pointing this out for me. It appeared a few days after my post and featured a video of a mom and her son. Please read this millenial's great post on the ladies of the contest.]

Before I close, let me share that I just can’t get Juicy J’s evaluation among the semi-finalists’ videos out of my head.

One of the semi-finalists, a black woman named LaDawn from the University of Miami shared that she currently had 2 jobs–one part-time, one full-time. Juicy interjected: “Work-work-work- work-work, and now she’s gonna twerk-twerk-twerk-twerk-twerk” and then he judges her twerking for the audience it’s “not that good” and “it’s kinda boring.”

Another black woman, Krysisha from a university in Milwaukee, uses “special efx” that catch Juicy J’s eye. She never mentions anything about twerking or not twerking. “I am really tryin’ to go to graduate school, y’all. I kinna wanna be an A&R, PR, or tour manager, or maybe all three!” she says. Juicy pensively responds: “She wants to be in the music business” and adds with sincerity, “I think that’s really inspirational.” O_o

A white woman named Emily who attends the University of Southern California painted a mural of Juicy J saying “I painted you, ratchet hoes, [and] dollar bills]” He interjects “I need to see more than you painting a picture, [and] smoking weed.” When hear her video continue “I signed my name on a stripper’s ass” pointing to her own work. Talk about intersectional oppression gone wild. #ijustcanttonight

Women from the West, the Midwest, and the Dirty South all vie for one $50K scholarship from one rapper. A rap mogul who has an estimated net worth of 20 million dollars.

WAITING FOR MY INTELLECTUAL BEAT TO DROP

I need some time to really think about this implications of this contest. From one perspective, this contest gave working-class women who twerk a reason to voice concerns that have rarely if ever been a part of hip-hop, not by male rappers or female with the exception of perhaps Lauryn Hill (can’t think of others at the moment). From another perspective, it was promoted by the Miley Cyrus mainstreaming of twerking and Juicy J’s capitalization on the exploitation of girls and young women in college.

The ongoing challenge for feminist researchers and researchers of color is to fully investigate the effects of commercial hip-hop, while avoiding the limiting nature of the “politics of respectability,” the historically black middle-class ideology of “proper” womanhood and “controlled” sexuality (Reid-Brinkley 2008; Rose 2008). The politics of respectability should not prevent black women, as rappers or video dancers, from exploring the full terrain of black women’s sexualities. However, the banner of “sexual freedom” also cannot be used to ignore the uniform and prob- lematic caricaturing of black women and girls’ sexuality (Ransby and Matthews 1993). [Quote from Margaret Hunter, "SHAKE IT, BABY, SHAKE IT: CONSUMPTION AND THE NEW GENDER RELATION IN HIP-HOP," 2011]

CLASS IS (NOT) IN SESSION & THERE WILL BE A TEST

I titled this post “The Class is (not) in Session” because I was really thinking of how relevant issues of class were in the submissions. Issues including respectability politics, socioeconomic class, the feminization of poverty, the lack of available funding and loans for college that wouldn’t leave you in debt for life and much more.  I have to remind myself to not let my feminist investments blind me from the intersectional politics that I am just beginning to see which were not predictable before. They still require study and cannot be pulled up so quickly since the issue of azz everywhere still grabs the focus.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.53.05 PM$50K might go a long way for one woman and her child, but the fact that all these seemingly single woman–none self-identified as married–of all ethnic backgrounds were in some form of despair about their education such that twerking might become a way out of no way for them was telling. I can’t even wrap my head around the issues of gender identity that come up on these videos. I’ll leave that to the capable hands of folks like Bettina Love.

Whenever people look askew after I tell them I am studying twerking, it is moments like this one surrounding the Juicy J contest that remind me that this kind of scholarly and cultural work is worthwhile and truly justified. Black girls on YouTube need critical theory about the larger politics at work when they twerk. Someone who’s danced like them and who’s learning how to twerk but who someone who has some distance from its pleasure politics to explore its costs and pains.

OK. That’s more than enough for tonight. More blogging soon. I am deep in fit of writing finishing an article about the context collapse of self-presentation on YouTube and our collaborative documentary is coming soon, too.

When the Music Stops: The Micro-Wages of Patriarchy (Beyoncé to R Kelly)

NOTE: Since this post was in part inspired by my grad school memory of R Kelly’s 1995 single “You Remind Me of Something” (yes, you women remind me of some THING), I initially though I’d post the music video, but on second thought, I refuse. I refuse to give currency (literally adding views on YouTube) to his digital presence and his commercial work. Instead, please watch and listen to the Jim DeRogatis’s YouTube series The Kelly Conversations with guest Psychology Professor Charmaine Jake-Matthews, a black woman who as a teen attended the academy where R Kelly preyed on underage girls.

Ahead of R. Kelly headlining Pitchfork Music Festival, WBEZ’s Jim DeRogatis conducts a series of conversations with smart, passionate cultural critics.

As a professor of ethnomusicology, or rather the sociology of a gendered musical blackness on and off line, I have become increasingly committed to a womanist/feminist critique of pedagogy, of the digitally divided, and of the lack of an intergenerational and intersectional analysis of the oppression and domination tactics being used against black girls and women.  So it might seem strange that  recent controversies around whatever mega-artists’ latest release whether its Yeezy or Queen Bey, are often not all that interesting to me.

Usually I am not and have never really been interested in being dragged by the current into a maelstrom of opinions and argumentation, of bullying and social agreement. Perhaps it’s being an only child who even as an adult still feels introverted and outside what’s really popular. I’ve always been more interested in how the vernacular and local popular works for black girls and women. The micro-sociologies and the micro-stories of our ethnography–the first-hand, personal study of local settings.

The new popular with its advent of “new media”–the always-on, always available participatory culture and networks from YouTube to Facebook and Twitter–it all seems so irresistible. This immediately compelling “now now” (the term someone told me must be used to transact for an immediate demand of action by request in South African work culture)  distracts and dissuades us from our own need to personalize our habits of work, money and health. It distracts and dissuades us as well as from any radical (the thing we really need–whatever that may be for you and you– given the generalized indifference to black female existence by “IMPERIALIST WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY.” We need a radical collective action one that actually stops, thinks, and plans actions like what’s needed with regards to the most beloved and often the wealthiest, and most symbolically powerful, actors of musical blackness whose linguistic and symbolic imperialism often defy any local concerns for the linguistic and symbolic violence and emotional and cognitive abuse being waged against black girls and women.

The micro-wages and -aggressions of patriarchy whose consequences range from a lack of consent in mundane transactions like calling out gender when it’s irrelevant (The Fem-Cee Jean Grae!!!) to the invasive domination of rape, sexual assault and murder are hidden by the controversies around Yeezy and Bey. Then all these micro-wages and aggressions are expropriated to all communities of girls and women via American pop culture and YouTube in almost invisible ways. Witness over time the increased visibility of formerly denigrated and now objectified ideals of black female bodies where non-black bodies have and manufacture through cosmetics and cosmetic surgeries fuller lips, fuller hips, and tanned skin but not kinky hair, fuller noses and definitely not chocolate-bar to  blue-black skin tones. This goes unseen or unnoticed in the speedy highlights of new media blazing new new stories at the speed of lightness.

This is the outflow from my keyboard this morning after reading a story about R Kelly and accusations of sexual assaults dating back to when I was in graduate school in the early 1990s. And it bleeds into some concern I had that maybe I should take a bigger role in the black feminist blogosphere’s conversations about Beyoncé.

When we critique Beyoncé’s new  (old) work without considering the larger socio-political contexts of what bell hooks calls “IMPERIALIST WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY” as well as the social imagination of a heteronormative, non-consensual, pornificated gender politics that black girls and women are constantly re-subjected to by major black and non-black, major male and non-male superstars dating back decades, we miss what inter-generational critiques have to offer. I’d love to do a Google Chat that has 16 year olds, 30 year olds and 50 year old at the table sharing simply about the micro-wages and -oppressions they have felt from watching Bey’s new work or from moments in time then-then that reminds them this now-now.

I remember back in the early 90s when I was in grad school at Michigan with about 650 currently enrolled grad students of color–one of the most radical moments of my academic experience having formerly only existed in tiny groups of minority students before that–I was disgusted by R Kelly’s song lyric “You remind me of a Jeep. I wanna ride it! You remind me of a credit card. I wanna buy it!” I don’t remember too much public outrage about the sisters I knew then but I did complain about it. There was no new media to circulate our thoughts beyond our immediate sphere. Well there was email which we did use to galvanize a full-page ad in defense of ourselves and Anita Hill in what was it 1991 which came out of womanist actions by Michigan faculty–female and male. But back then I was just beginning to learn that I didn’t have the language to identify its connections to “IMPERIALIST WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY.”

Yesterday’s December 16, 2013 Village Voice article about the stomach-churning stories about R. Kelly and a one-man crusade by one music journalist to investigate and publicize his factual sexual abuse cases brings the facts of “IMPERIALIST WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY”  into view for deeper analysis of Beyoncé and more importantly of ourselves.

These are facts that are plagued by the lack of media literacy among young and old that leads way too  many of us refusing to confront

  • what is being peddled and for whom
  • what is being bought and by whom,
  • what (not who) is being sold to our minds through popular and social media culture then and now
  • and why…to and for what ends are we constantly being distracted by new media?

I am realizing that I must keep blogging here but I ask that today, in this now now, you carve time out to:

Read the “Stomach-Churning” Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full

Here is a telling excerpt:

Jessica Hopper/Village Voice: Some of our young critical peers, they’re 24 and all they know of Kelly’s past is some vague sense of scandal, because they were introduced to him as kids via Space Jam. A lot of your reporting on this is not online, it is not Google-able. Collective memory is that he “just” peed in a girl’s mouth.

Music journalist Jim DeRogatis: To be fair, I teach 20-year-olds at Columbia. Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody knows everything. A lot of art, great art, is made by despicable people. James Brown beat his wife. …

The art very rarely talks about these things. There are not pro-rape Led Zeppelin songs. There are not pro-wife-beating James Brown songs. I think in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, rock music, or pop culture people misbehaving and behaving badly sexually with young women, rare is the amount of evidence compiled against anyone apart from R. Kelly. Dozens of girls — not one, not two, dozens — with harrowing lawsuits. The videotapes — and not just one videotape, numerous videotapes. And not Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson, Kardashian fun video. You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his “gift.” It’s a rape that you’re watching. So we’re not talking about rock star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We’re talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined. Read the lawsuits!” READ MORE.

CLOSE QUOTES:

We have been raised to view any difference other than sex as a reason for destruction, and for Black women and white women to face each other’s anger without denial or immobility or silence or guilt is in itself a heretical and generative idea. It implies peers meeting upon a common basis to examine difference, and to alter those distortions which history has created around our difference. For it is those distortions which separate us. And we must ask ourselves. Who profits from all this?
Audre Lorde. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” Sister Outsider. Crossing Press Berkley. 1984. Originally published as the keynote presentation at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Storrs, Connecticut, June 1981

Soul Train 1978 – Hip Fluidity in Gender and Dance for Black Men

As I prepare to present on black girls and twerking at the Society for Ethnomusicology conference in Indianapolis this weekend, I am thinking about a reference I made to what was considered disco music by people who went to discos. I was too young for that back in Maryland outside DC at about age 13. I knew it as  black music for dancing that I heard on Howard University’s radio station for the most part, WHUR-FM, back in 1978.

I was thinking about the embodied gesture of booty-poppin itself – not related to hip-hop culture but just the socialized movement of the hips in black dance that I’ve known most of my life and I write about in the games black girls play. One called “Hot Dog” where girls learn to rotate and isolate their hips from their torso and I think boys learn it to from watching us and watching Soul Train and house parties and picnic dancing and such. I was an only child so I learned it from my Mama, a single parent, and from shows like Soul Train nationally or the Moonman’s dance show locally broadcast in D.C.

About a week ago. I had recently watched a Soul Train video and passed it around on my FB wall. Instead of trying to find it, I just searched “1978 Soul Train” to find the video above which serendipitously shows evidence of men expressing much more fluidity in the hips — yes booty poppin — and there being much more parity and interdependence in the dancing of the Soul Train line.

Why did I choose 1978? It was the year of the song that came to mind this morning that featured talk about “booty-poppin.” Ashford & Simpson’s “Get Up (and Do Something)”Check the last choruses of the track.

What comes to mind about the men’s dancing first is this: has our dancing changed in response to the myth of the black matriarch and the Monhiyan report from a decade earlier (1965)? 1978 was big Afros and black power, right? Sovereignty was an idea planted by Black Panthers since the 60s.  The dancers here are young people, 20 somethings, late teens. And they seem so on par with one another. There’s no female or male dominance in the display. And no objectification. And there is  sexuality and sensuality but it’s not what’s on display. It’s group and social cohesion.

What I also like about this clip is that they are promoting a common cause which I don’t have time to study today. But the notions of participatory culture are the heart and soul of black culture since Reconstruction led to Jim Crow culture.

We had few resources yes but we made do with all that. Now we have technology out the wazoo (pardon the pun) but most don’t use it to challenge their dominant narratives of sexuality, gender identity expression, masculinity or femininity in imaginative ways. Ok, I am probably exaggerating a bit but at the same time I see much more social innovation happening outside the rank-and-file of our working class and lower middle class communities if YouTube is any sign of things.

There are environmental or ecological issues to talk about but I don’t have time today. Even cognitive fitness issues and willpower to speak of but I gotsa run today. Off to Indianapolis!!

Best, K

Thoughts Beyond the Body, Pt 2 of 2 (VIDEO)

This is Part 2 of 2 Beyond the Body in response to a short video clip from the dialogue between bell hooks and Even Ensler Tue Nov 5th.  Here is the video clip that was the basis of all three posts.

If you haven’t watched the documentaries Misrepresentation or Sut Jhally’s Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video, put it on your list!! It it easy to simply dismiss critiques of capitalism and patriarchy as some feminist rant. Non-dominant identities and the bodies used to represent them, that perform those positions, that are assigned and associated with those positions in various socially-mediated contexts are most at risk, and perhaps the most risky kinds of culture in the immaterial aka symbolic cultural warfare commodified by a supremacist patriarchal system of media even when its YouTube. The lyrics from the auto-tuned song, Bedroom Intruder, makes my point about the hyper-penetration of media that promotes the hyper-sexualization of girls by their own hands and content creation in twerking videos, as just one example:

He’s climbin in your windows
He’s snatchin your people up
Tryna rape em so y’all need to

Hide your kids, Hide your wife
Hide your kids, Hide your wife
Hide your kids, Hide your wife
and hide your husband
Cuz they’re rapin errbody out here

Read more: Antoine Dodson – Bed Intruder Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Both bell hooks and Eve Ensler talked briefly during the dialogue about unplugging, about this other bedroom intruder for girls which bell hooks calls the “imperialistic, white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchy”not, she asserted during the evening, because she likes to say it but because it “connects all the forms of domination enslaving us today.” I heard this as a call for an extreme self-care of protection against and armament from the explicit and hyper-sexualized media which we now share as participatory culture. This is the kind of self-care that Audre Lorde articulated as a political act of warfare.

We must begin to help teen girls or color in particular learn this kind of self-care especially now that the “bedroom intruder” out to rape your mind of its power lives in the mobile devices you carry 24-7. Devices whose media teached us all to be available 24-7, complicit in lyrical blow jobs as part liking and commenting on hip-hop music as videos an lyrics on YouTube, WorldStarHipHop.com, Rap Genius, and  through funny yet uncritical interpretations of patriarchal thinking that are created as provocative shareable looped miro-videos in the form of gifs on Tumblr or videos on Vine.

By unhooking ourselves, girls, women, boys and men, dislodging ourselves not completely but at least reccurently and regularly, we learn to dis-associate ourselves and more imporantly, our minds, from this sexist matrix of video sharing. The imperialistic, white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchy will always be there when you get back. Or you can back that thang up (download it and watch it later). It will still be there, promise. We must begin reclaim not just our bodies, but the real agent of our own change, our language, our embodiment and the center of all of it, our minds which is ultimately beyond the body.  The mind–our sociological imagination–not our physical body, our skin color or our othered shapes and sizes, our social body–it is the mind that is the actual house we human beings live in.

Time to build a new home for our self and what may seem contradictory is that YouTube as participatory culture, as a media with easy to use access, and self-reflection built into the content creative process, can serve the reconstructive role but that kind of self-mediation is least popular among youth of color. They remain consumers of the new culture primarily in a house of consumption not creation.

This is all a new realm of study for me. I was the consumer of such media and an influencer. Now I am learning to think critically and

Beyond the Body? bell hooks + Eve Ensler

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ― Alice Walker

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Tuesday, November 5, 5:00-6:30pm
Beyond the Body? 
A public dialogue between bell hooks + Eve Ensler 
Tishman Auditorium, The New School
66 W 12th St
New York, NY 10011
Free

I’ve not posted much this semester about our project and perhaps that has been good in that chaos lives in the beginning of anything new  and not everything needs to be broadcast I have learned (the hard way). This is particularly a concern I have been pondering relative to black girls on YouTube–girls and women. The limitless audiences who see our thoughts, feelings, actions and beliefs, those audiences are not always aware of any historical context of our lived experiences nor are they willing to do that work in the current pace of entertainment-as-news or the sharing of must-see-TV and tweets that serves as a constant distraction to the extreme self care everyday people need to be attending to. But that is another blog post.

[NOTE: This is the first of three parts about the event. The last will feature the video itself so stay tuned.]

Q&A on hyper-sexualization

This post about a  1-1/2 minute video clip recorded with my iPhone. It was in response to the first question from the audience after an amazing dialogue at the New School between cultural critic bell hooks [who always spells her name in lower case] and V-day founder and Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. I am in the process of editing the video and preparing to share it with my research assistants in my Black Girl You Tube Project course (aka ANT4800 Anthropological Analysis).  The video will definitely be posted on YouTube so you can share. But first I transcribed the clip and wanted to share the text. Why? 1) Because I think that visual media has stolen or at least it’s dominating our critical thinking of late; and 2) Because it might serve as an experiment for you to notice and reclaim how reading is an equally engaging and transformative media of shared culture and visual culture to which I am returning. 

IMG_8449Mine was the first question in the Q&A. Stepping to the microphone I announced myself as Kyra Gaunt, professor at Baruch College-CUNY and  purposefully broadcast to the hundreds attending [see panorama view] that I was doing a project called the Black Girl YouTube project.  Then I succinctly asked bell and Eve, “Could you speak to the hyper-sexualization of teen girls in our media today?” 

The clip captures their amazing response which I have transcribed here:

0:00″  Eve Ensler:  [I've been traveling around the world] in the States and in Paris, and I’ve just been around a lot of teenage girls looking at this kind of insane pressure of over…of [the] incredible sexualization that is happening, that is making them feel as if somehow they are empowered.

:20″ Eve: It’s this weird flip but which is actually…it’s kind of like a… disempowerment within an empowerment…façade.

:30″  Eve: Watching girls who are not actually inhabiting their bodies but inhabiting a performance idea of themselves which has been projected onto them by the media and

:40″ Eve: I look at it with my granddaughter who is 17. I look at it with teenagers all the time and I see this…it’s almost like you have to become this girl in order to be somebody in the world.

:53″ Eve: This very sexual, this very performative, and somebody who is not actually in your body, but announcing your body, or demonstrating your body or…

           1:02″  bell hooks interjects: Or worse yet, Eve, offering your body…

Eve: [reiterates bell] offering your body

hooks [takes the stage and the proverbial mic]: … as a living sacrifice.

Eve [passes the space to bell; they swap positions with little tension]: Yes, that too.

1:06″  bell: I think that we are demanding of girls that they offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. And of course the sacrifice is to the institution of patriarchy. And the message to grown women is that if you won’t offer your body, we will take … the bodies…of daughters…and  [1:28"]  other people  who have the unclaimed bodies. I mean the 27,000 kids. [end of clip]

thx.

Dr. Gaunt aka @kyraocity on Twitter.

“Democracy, Imagination & Peeps of Color”

 

 

After spending all of my adult life on what I will generously call the Left, I have become suspicious and uninterested in any Art tied to an ism. I agree with Adrienne Rich’s call for an art that “goes to the edge of meaning” as well as Art that discovers new resonance in the familiar. But, if ever we need an avant- garde (for lack of a better term), it is now. 

From THINKING OUT LOUDDEMOCRACY, IMAGINATION AND PEEPS OF COLOR

http://www.augustwilsoncenter.org/aacc_pdfs/DiversityRevisited.pDf

This essay/talk was given by poet by Sekou Sundiata. Must read. This doc was discussed and dissected at HarlemStage Friday night. It challenges people of color and “people of whiteness” to rethink not diversity but our democracy and this State. A poet, Sekou speaks also to the power of words, imagination and art to facilitate the 51st state of our union.

My work has always existed at the intersection of art and democracy with girls, learning and ethnography at the center of it. Socialization of self, group and how we represent ourselves in seemingly sovereign ways to others and how we seek to maintain our cultural values and ways in this democracy.

Invite you to read and share.

To Own or Not to Own…My Body

Today’s word to explore through ideas and quotes is “own” — as in “I own my body” which seems fitting since October is not only Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is also Domestic Abuse Awareness Month and October 17th is National Love Your Body Day. I began to examine the definitions of ownership — the act, state or right of possessing something — in this case, over or around one’s body.

If we were talking land ownership, the following quote serves us well given the the free market economy’s encroachment on “third-world” lands.

“Liking is probably the best form of ownership, and ownership the worst form of liking.”
― José SaramagoThe Tale of the Unknown Island

But what of the bodies of the “third-world diva girls”  (cf. bell hooks) who owns and possesses their mediation when it comes to social networks and visual communication?

Owning the Looking Glass 

In this two thousand and thirteenth year of our defining our sovereignty, also the 150th anniversary of the start of the Emancipation thing in the U.S., too many individuals and groups — specifically for my purposes “black” girls/women — are still not free. Perhaps we will never be in the context of ownership when we look more closely.

In this highly public yet privatized age of ownership recognized by online social networks and platforms like FB and YouTube, we are not free despite the claims of the “make your own media,” “broadcast yourself” participatory culture. Too often, we overlook the social politics, authority and privilege at work in the circulation of female body images that in turn mirror who we think we (or who others think we should be). This complex process of mediating of self (the “I”, “me” and “we”) too often owns us in the fast-paced realities of 21st century convergence culture.

In the last two days, two images circulating around the Web hit my Facebook news feed as I have been preparing for meeting my team of undergraduate research assistants on The Black Girl YouTube Project.  It has me rethinking this notion of “ownership” of one’s body as a woman over 40 and for the future women I write about — black girls.

Miss Jackson, If You’re Nasty

I can’t understand human curiosity — controversy
Was it good for you? was I what you wanted me to be? — controversy

- Prince Rogers Nelson

Janet Jackson

The first was an image of megastar Janet Jackson owning her beautiful abs and skin, a pleasant smile, standing shirtless in front of a mirror at 47. Good black don’t crack, as they say.

With her sculpted abs and breasts exposed, the nudity of her nipples is shrouded only by the stripes of her black suspenders. Her left hand grips one side while her right hand is positioned along the “V” of  her parted zipper. It’s a subtle peek-a-boo view helping us imagine what lies below. It’s sensual not erotic (or maybe you can’t tell the difference anymore) but my concern lately is how public these images are as black girls, particularly those ages 8-15, are learning to mirror parts of these suggestive and too often explicit social realities online often as the primary means of learning their sociological imagination. But media still concerns itself way too often with unveiling female bodies.

Body Shaming and the “Face-Work” of Black Women’s Bodies?

The second image is related to my previous post in which I wrote about Erving Goffman’s “face-work” as applied to twerking.

“The image we portray of ourselves (our “face”) is constantly being negotiated, a process Goffman calls “face-work” (p. 12). And although the individual takes an active role in the presenting, preserving, and sometimes adjusting [of] her face [or 'batty-wuk' (body-work) in the case of many black girls], it is not an object of solo authorship….Face-work us a complex collaborative dance in which all participants and their every word, wink, gesture, posture, stance, glance and grunt take part” (Wesch, “YouTube and You,” 2010, p. 22).

body-shamingHere’s the image taken from PLUS Model Magazine’s October 2012 issue titled “Love My Body.” It mirrors my reality and yet perhaps I am conditioned, from the life-long body dysmorphic schisms of my own eye, not to dwell in liking this image too much. #icanownthat #icanownthatnow

The image started re-circulating via an October 1 post on the blog Simply Theresa. It’s a very empowering post that counters the body- or fat-shaming that is so easy to do in the “deep and loose” connections we call community engagement on Facebook or even YouTube (see the Wesch article above for more on this concept). Er’ybody knows how comments can send you into fight mode.

A Facebook friend I actually know who dates a good friend of mine IRL liked the blog post and image posted on Facebook, as did I. No fight here. She actually quoted from Simply Theresa’s post in her comment:

“Let’s be very clear my friends, I own my life, including my body.” Love it. Thanks.

I responded later:

While I love that quote and the idea, given the context of late capitalism’s patriarchal control over and in the bodies of girls and women from the media to governmental intrusion, structural inequities affecting our biology, it’s reception and uses even by our selves, (i.e. well being, cognitive development, gender identity expression, beauty, hair and nails, weight, dance, mobility, sex, sensuality and sexuality not to me too race, class and other intersectionalities concerning embodiment have never been an object or an act of solo authorship.

Yesterday, it was Janet Jackson “owning” her body in social media’s most public public of all times. While I do think this is beautiful and artistic, I also know the symbolic domination of media [surrounding] girls concerns me today. Black girls who suffer some of the highest rates of various forms if abuse and obesity. As I do [conduct] my Black Girl YouTube Project it’s been in my mind a lot.

 

Beyond Solo Authorship and IRL Issues

Many black and non-black women like Madonna performing into of a camera(or cameras with the invasion of mobile-casting at public events), behind a microphone, in a recording studio or on a major stage as well as those perceiving and receiving such communication, lay claim to be owning their own bodies in our highly public, ultra socially-mediate technoscape and economy. Perhaps the use of that word is not the best to convey controlling one’s image more or less to varying degrees given specific times and places.

Can we and should we– esp. women in post industrial societies — relate to the female body as something we own like an object or something that can be owned by image making machinery? Let me provide a real-world example. This is the kind of languaging one can find in online dating interactions today in, for instance, an exchange for sex from a hetero- man to a woman:

About sex. Yes I expect it. I want you to have a mildly submissive role in that I do not want you to make me earn it. I want clarity in that your pussy belongs to me.

The meaning of the text may change if the person voicing their needs is white and wealthy or black and lower-middle class, let’s say. The metaphors we transact in around our body, sex and the issues of power it raises make matters even more complicated for black girls coming of age with popular hip-hop videos and social media.

All this got me thinking about other linguistic uses of own and owning.

 

Language Shapes Thought

As a descendant of a slave “owning” empire and economy, and as a ethnographic scholar of immaterial and embodied culture and sociologies, I realize more and more that sole authorship over the self is an illusion of our ego. Paradoxically it’s the primary “thing,” the immediate means we have and use to do the biological, cognitive, intellectual, linguistic, and social transactions of being alive and living. It’s the tool we use to make our way, to organize our lives, being male and female, straight or transgendered, in being empowered and resisting not being that.

So, yes, we do possess the benefits of that work and action–the mental and physical labor, but we are not sole owners of that labor/process or nor even the sole author of the product. The best we can do these days is lay claim to the distribution these days. Or so it seems.

We simply refuse to consider that we–let me speak for myself–that I belong to no one and everyone. I think the same is true for you.  The paradox I am entertaining in this post (I am a lover of paradox), is that we own nothing about our “self” wholly and yet we must own everything as well as the voice that calls from within our body and learn to be true to that in an indifferent ecology not for us and not for any of us, per se.

 

THE CURIOUS QUESTION TO OWN:

To what do we owe the pleasure and/or the suffering of all this is the question today, and what responsibility or at least accountability do we owe young girls and their future in this socially-mediated world?

I’m just getting started in this inquiry but would love to hear your thoughts and counter-thoughts! If you like, please follow us.  I’ll be updating next week with our vlog introducing the team for the Black Girl YouTube Project.

Stay tuned!

 

“Ownership breeds slavery: with every single thing that you acquire, comes a new worry of not losing that thing.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

The Black Girl YouTube Project Begins

I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” … at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” 
― Audre Lorde

This fall I am teaching an Anthropological Analysis course for the first time in the department of Sociology and Anthropology at Baruch College-CUNY. I decided to use this process as a working group focusing on my latest research — black girls, explicit hip-hop videos and YouTube. I recently completed a chapter for the book Remixing Change: Hip-Hop and Obama titled “YouTube, Bad Bitches and a M.I.C. (mom-in-chief): Hip-Hop’s Seduction of Girls and the Distortion of Participatory Culture” edited by my great colleagues and friends Travis Lars Goma and Erik Nielson for a forthcoming publication by Oxford University Press. 

I did so much research and data collection that I realized I had the makings of a book. So ANT4800 Anthropological Analysis seemed a perfect realm to continue my research and empower and educate undergraduate students taking a capstone course how to conduct and apply anthropology’s distinctive research strategy — ethnography — to the intersectionalities of real-world politics including domestic race and gender issues to social media publicness and privacy to the globalization of mediated identities and culture. 

 

In our 5th week of collaborative study, we begin creating our own YouTube videos as participant-observation and collecting user-generated content for what I am calling simply the Black Girl YouTube Project. With 18 female and male students from various ethnic and national backgrounds from Bangladesh to Barbados in the course, we will collect data on YouTube videos via a Google Docs form that generates a spreadsheet of our data (which we will soon share). We will also be collecting data from the relatively new YouTube Trends Map and Dashboard

We will use the collected data to analyze the field of our study and ultimately create our own ethnography or anthropological introduction to black girls on YouTube before the semester ends. Hope you’ll follow our discoveries.


SPECIFICS OUR OUR YOUTUBE STUDY

Simply put, we are exploring digital ethnography, social media, and the identity construction and socialization of adoloscent black girls ages 13-17. The participatory culture or user-generated context of YouTube is our field of study. We will examine black girls’ user-generated content (twerking videos, blogs, memes, gifs, and more) and other re-presentations and/or mediations of or about black female embodied identity including representations inferred by VEVO’s always-on explicit hip-hop videos that include immersive advertising for liquor and other products including the strip club scenes.

This collaborative study involving myself and 18 undergraduate research assistants is unique at a college like Baruch better known for collaborative work in the Zicklin School of Business within our institution. Our model of ethnographic social science comes from the previous digital ethnography of YouTube by former U.S. Professor of the Year and KSU distinguished prof Michael Wesch known for his Anthropological Introduction to YouTube uploaded July 26, 2008 that has over 1.9 million views to date. His incredible research still resonates as does similar research by social network expert Professor danah boyd whose work on teens touches significantly on matters of gender and race but still too little research exists in this realm. Just search work in sociology, anthropology and ethnomusicology and see what you find on black girls in this digitally mediated age. It’s revealing but there’s little ethnographic research relative to social media and social networks yet.

I just found a great article by Dionne Stephens and Layli Phillips titled “Freaks, Gold Diggers, Divas, and Dykes” in Sexuality and Culture 7/1 on adolescent African American women’s sexual scripts that will be very useful to educating students in the group. This is not a light subject to take on in a classroom setting. It’s complicated. 

 

NEW BODY OF RESEARCH

This is a new line of research following my previous scholarship and award-winning book on the popular offline social play of girls called The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double Dutch to Hip-Hop.  Handclapping games, cheers and double-dutch jump rope and the rhymed chants and embodied percussive play are in decay and the rise of social media online and mobile devices contributed to its decay as  African Americans are the fast-growing mobile devices users in the U.S. and yet black girls represent the demographic with the highest rates of obesity which I discovered from examining the fight to end childhood obesity around FLOTUS Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. Studying black girls online is a natural extension of my social media participation and presence since 2007.

In 2011, I was one of six finalists for Nokia’s Special Connecting People Shorty Award along with Amanda Palmer (of “The Art of Asking” TED Talk fame). We both lost to a school librarian in Iowa which speaks to the real power of participatory social media today.  But teen black girls on YouTube are “winning” on YouTube for all the wrong reasons if you asked me some days. 

BATTY-WUK AS FACE-WORK

The team of our Black Girls YouTube Project will be specifically studying twerking through first-hand personal study on YouTube rather than simply the firestorm of recent events sparked by Miley Cyrus in the blogosphere. We will track and analyze user-generated content including vlogs by or about black girls reflecting on the meanings of their symbolic, embodied behavior. Said another way, how do we understand their body work as “face-work” (following the sociologist Erving Goffman’s 1967 study). As social beings, we all do “face-work” — performing social calculations that involve evaluating situations and the context(s) of our audience(s) while also evaluating our own selves and how that self fits into a situation(s). “The image we portray of ourselves (our “face”) is constantly being negotiated, a process Goffman calls “face-work” (p. 12). And although the individual takes an active role in the presenting, preserving, and sometimes adjusting [of] her face [or 'batty-wuk' (body-work) in the case of many black girls], it is not an object of solo authorship….Face-work us a complex collaborative dance in which all participants and their every word, wink, gesture, posture, stance, glance and grunt take part” (Michael Wesch, “YouTube and You,” 2010, p. 22).

So how do we provide a richer ethnographic context to the stereotypical views of black girls in a social media vlogosphere that tends to play on 1) racial and gender stereotypes of low-class, loud and angry black females, 2) negative perceptions of social media as well as debased popular “views” or view counts that do not always reflect their perceived reality, and the influence of commercially mediated images of black female-ness by the lyrical blow jobs of VEVO music videos featuring popular rap artists from Lil Wayne to Nicki Minaj?

 

A CURIOUS CONNECTION FOR THE CURIOUS WHO QUESTION

Ultimately, we will ask:

How do we and how can we learn to understand the complex sociological dance and the “face-work” of a black girls’ life-world on YouTube and in the context-collapse of today’s socially-mediated public culture?