Thoughts on The Shmoney Dance: For a HuffPo Google Chat

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
James Baldwin

“Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance.”  – Ezra Pound


I was asked to be on HuffPost Live tomorrow but I had to decline. H/T to Dr. Marc Lamont Hill who hosts the show and it celebrating 2 years on the set!! Happy Anniversary and congrats on the Morehouse gig!!

The topic is a summer dance craze and viral YouTube video by Bobby Shmurda from East Flatbush.

Given my work on embodied musical blackness from double-dutch to hip-hop and the digital ethnography of twerking, the Shmoney video and the memes associated with it on YouTube and other platforms speaks to the different ways dance and the social body works since advent of participatory media. Everyone wants to be part of a globalizing trend–the summer dance craze or the latest viral thing you can broadcast being a part of from your hood and/or your bedroom.

The Shmoney dance is more or less a novelty dance that will garner 7 million impressions worth of CPMs and digital currency on YouTube/Billboard tracking for Bobby Shmurda. These days this is the only kind of work that seems to pay with such high rates of unemployment in East Flatbush for black boys and men.

The dance reminds me of the novelty of Digital Underground’s Humpty Dance or the Ed Lover Dance from back in the 90s. It’s simple but marked by an irreverent style of self-presentation as part of a larger social phenomenon or meme online. It ain’t that complicated so it allows for a kind of all-together-now moment in online video. That’s the power of participatory media like YouTube.

Black Dance in a Hypernetworked Age of YouTube

But I would ask folk to consider this: When black dances from places like East Flatbush are shared freely with non-black audiences in our hypermediated age, young people of African descent can revel in the fact that their uptown or block party moves are shaking the dance floors of the nation (and perhaps beyond). But most black youth are still dying in the hood literally and figuratively.

Meanwhile non-black people who join in vicariously can remain safe; far from the realities of what goes on before and long after the song ends. Black men like Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin are losing their lives as are black women like Renisha McBride and others who are getting punched in the face by the cops or gunned down in the name of Stand your Ground even when these citizens throw their the hands in the air waving surrender in the sights of a rifle’s crosshairs. I wish I could be there to hear what this young man is trying to say with his music.

What I also find fascinating about the dance is what one could say about it as a symbolic representation of the social body in America–the black body. The dance requires little mobility in an age where blacks have the least social mobility and suffer from the highest rates of income inequality. The dance shows a kind of bravado in the face of the real life tragedies happening every day in East Flatbush and Ferguson defying the dancehall lyric “nobody move nobody get hurt.” These meme dances are popular because they are so simple to stylize (doesn’t require very sophisticated techniques of the body). They are a kind of open cipher for anyone to join in. And you don’t have to move your feet much; just shuffle from side to side. Anyone could probably get a pass–including your grandmother or father–since the steps are generally open such that even athletes and people with two left feet can join in and not get sharply criticized. Something in us needs this synchrony and some part of it seems so insidious given the legacy of black dance and the kinds of sophistication we have produced dating back to partner dances like the Lindy, through street double-dutch and hip-hop up to the real Harlem Shake. It’s complicated and it ain’t. Wish I could be there.

WATCH the segment here.

Have a great HuffPo conversation!

PS Had to go back to my old school with the kind of tracks that I used to do my irreverant dance to. Bahamadia. True black girl who rocks YouTube.
Dr. Gaunt

Feeling Insecure? Learn To Love Your Body and Your Soul!

 “And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea:

we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
June Jordan

Screenshot 2014-08-09 20.06.42


Meet Miyya (pronounced like Maya). I watched this amazingly courageous black girl on Facebook today.I’m supposed to be on my way to the Bronx for an annual jam session and BBQ at my friend Benny’s place. But this video lingered on in my mind. This video is not yet available on YouTube. It surely will be soon.My friend (in real life and online) Bill Lamond wrote this about Miyya after I posted her video on my wall.
I transfixed by this…better than any movie I could have gone to see. More riveting. More alive. More gripping. More entertaining. More. Just more. This is a being who has mastered Divine Compassion with a Mother who knew that the only way through was to get over herself and get beautiful. I found the simple message, “I lived” an opener to my heart.  In a world of whining and complaining and Whyme’ing, I found this intoxicating. Thank you.
16 hrs · Like 5
YouTube is a distribution platform for many other platforms. But this video from FB is so—- courageous and an inspiring example of the power of online video for black girls out there who would otherwise never have such a public audience before digital media changed everything for youth of color.

It’s amazing when you can introduce people to the audacity of humanity via socially-networked media. Before I share it with you one word about owning your body online.


Earlier today, I was writing about black girls who twerk after what was projected as the end of the Digital Divide. I was preparing another manuscript to be submitted for a peer-reviewed journal review. This one is about the so-called freedom of YouTube and its digital seduction 50 years after the sit-ins and freedom rides that marked the protest by youth for Civil Rights.

Back then a black body was “owned” in the worst kinds of ways in public. Sitting at a lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960 to gain access to public accommodations was a radical public act. The Freedom Summer of 1964 became a deadly act for those whose bodies and person were identified as black and female or male between 13 and 24.

On YouTube today and other online video platforms, showing your adolescent or teen female body is not always privileged when it comes to twerking especially compared to non-black bodies. In other ways, black bodies rule, they are privileged, but more often than not it is negative or dysfunktional, as my friend Robin Kelley called it. Now, they call it ratchet.

BEARING WITNESS: One’s Body as a Testimony

Miyya (pronounced Maya) gives a whole different interpretation to using the body in her online video. She’s facing the camera as opposed to backin that thang up.  Let me stop you in caseyou worry, I am not interested in diminishing the social value and play of twerking. If I were a teen, I’d been doing it today. My scholarly interest is in helping young girls and women understand the implications of broadcasting yourself while claiming to “own their own body” in ways that are not so free.

Miyya flips any script about the lack of agency among black girls owning their body, broadcasting from a recording webcam.
I couldn’t download this video. Haven’t figured that out yet on Facebook but if you click POST below you can watch it. You will feel blessed to have clicked it. Don’t wait! No need to imitate this one. It’s rare!! It’s absolutely incredible to behold and to learn what courage looks like.
 Screenshot 2014-08-09 20.08.11

CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO> Post by Miyya Ulove.


U.G.L.Y. – U Gotta Luv Yourself

This video and photo project  by a friend Lacey C. Clark with Sisters’ Sanctuary in Philly is an empowerment project for black girls. The artist she uses as a soundtrack is captivating. The singer @Anhayla reminds us in the song U.G.L.Y. that You Gotta Love Yourself!! So I added her YouTube video below that because it speaks directly to those who feel insecure.

I did once. Sometimes still do. Anhayla paints a big picture to help young and old understand–it ain’t personal! It’s human.

Phenomenally U Photo Phestival


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.


YouTube Nation on #LikeaGirl & SmoothieFreak on Nicky Minaj Cups

In the last thirty years … there has been a remarkable change in the image and roles of children. Childhood as a protected and sheltered period of life has all but disappeared. Children today seems less “childlike.” Children speak more like adults, dress more like adults, and behave more like adults than they used to. In fact, the reverse is also true.

There are indications that many adults who have come of age within the last twenty years continue to speak, dress, and act much like overgrown children. Certainly, all children and adults do not and cannot behave exactly alike, but there are many more similarities in behavior than in the past. The traditional dividing lines are gone.

Joshua Meyrowitz (Author of No Sense of Place)   childhood | adulthood/adult development

YouTube Nation host Jacob Soboroff is a TEDster (TEDActive) and I’m proud to say he’s a former student of mine from NYU who took a jazz course with me that he told me changed his point of view about life.

Jacob is political and an improvisor in life. He and I reconnected about 18 months ago while he was running HuffPost Live. Now he’s featured as a host for YouTubeNation and I’ll be posting those videos here because it connects with my research on black girls who twerk on YouTube. Studying the YouTube community is essential to my work.

In the video above he talks about the viral phenomenon of my previous post about the Always #LikeaGirl Campaign by documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield that asked different demographic groups of girls and a few guys of varying ages to “run like a girl” and the cognitive bias of gender emerged very powerfully among them all.

Doin Nicky Minaj to the game-song Cups

The YouTube Nation review video also features black girl (ok woman) blogger Akilah Hughes better known as smoothiefreak on YouTube. Check out her video playing the cups game to the original twerk queen of pop rap Nicky Minaj’s lyricsBlack girls got game, baby! Also check out her YouTube channel and subscribe!


Learn how to make your own gifs on Jacob’s site this week.  Jacob also appears on TakePartLive and yesterday they had a great convo asking if America is becoming more racist than ever following a vote on Capital Hill regarding the Civil Rights Voting Act. The research I am studying with my summer anthro students suggest the answer is insidiously yes. More on that soon!



Girls at Play: Do We See Black Childhood Clearly?

 “Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.”
― Dr. Seuss

Where Have All the Children Gone?

As I watch YouTube videos of black girls who twerk, as I invite and request my students to study their performance as both play and to examine how others’ views of black girls’ childhood are distorted and distorting how those girls see themselves, I have been remembering my earlier work on black girls’ games. I don’t want to lose that black girls are children at play while also critiquing what it means to play with self (sexual)-objectification. This video doesn’t have that objectification piece in it from the girl or the boys. Check it out. Perhaps introducing this music and dance to adolescents would be interesting. Having them analyze its difference from US twerking in videos.

PS What I love about this video also is that they are playing freely in the mud after a rain in their yard.


 “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
― C.S. Lewis

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.”
~ Fred Rogers (from the PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)

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 (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?

Throw Your Daughter a Period Party. #period #bottomlines

“If you are free, you are not predictable and you are not controllable.”  #thebloodandtheblessing ― June Jordan