Introducing #TwerkTech2

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For about two years or more I’ve been toying with teens and technology and the implications and unintended consequences particularly for black girls or under-resourced girls from marginalized communities.  These communities are rarely represented in videos circulating around the web about social media and screen time.

Girls’ online interest-driven activities–those stepping stones to self-actualization and adulthood–are often stigmatized and stereotyped in networked spaces like YouTube or Facebook. It leads marginalized kids to seek out platforms like Snapchat thinking they are protected when their snaps actually were not deleted or disappearing. It also leads many black girls to seek Tumblr because there is not textual engagement with any uploaded content. Other users leave notes rather than comments providing an affirming space to self-present online.

The technology concerns I am interested in are more about humanizing a group of people who are socially alienated by networked publics. Black girls’s online content tends to be disliked in Generation Like more than their non-black and non-female counterparts.

Studying the misogyny and the sexploitation surrounding young girls’ twerking videos on YouTube has helped me think about the breakdown that can result from others’ judgments of their content and how that then affects their ecological fitness. I wrote about this is the chapter “YouTube, Bad Bitches, and a M.I.C.” in the Hip-hop and Obama Reader edited by Travis Gosa and Erik Nielsen:

Most girls, even the “smart” girls, simply do not yet have the biologically developed cognition needed to process and counter this commercial onslaught of distorted teenage relationships: their frontal lobes will not fully develop until after ages 20–23. Nor do most adolescents and teens have ample“fitness” to do so—defined here as an organism’s capacity to transmit, reproduce, and create a surplus of those things material and immaterial, biological, linguistic, and transactional (the exchange of goods, services, and funds) that it needs to thrive in a particular environment. This includes emotional, mental, and conversational fitness in what are political exchanges for sex, love—and, yes, money—in local and global economies.
Many teens (and adults, for that matter) have not learned to resist the socio-biological pull of their libidos and hormones, which are too frequently directed by the flow of corporate-market music with its twisted myths of romantic seduction. (Gaunt 2015, 221)

 

My aim is to empower those black, brown and/or poor girls who are unlikely to learn to code or elect to study a STEM or STEAM in school or college. Their digital media literacy is perhaps even more important this the lesser number who will go into tech careers. They will be moms, sisters, caretakers, community leaders, health advocates, fitness seekers, and they need to learn how powerful the mobile apps they already have can be in empowering just about any aspect of their adulthood and ambition in their personal, professional,  and physical wellness.


[Ecological fitness is] defined here as an organism’s [or a girl’s] capacity to transmit, reproduce, and create a surplus of those things material and immaterial, biological, linguistic, and transactional (the exchange of goods, services, and funds) that it needs to thrive in a particular environment.


So I came up with an idea from studying thousands of twerking videos featuring tween and teen black girls’ bedroom culture. My mission is to get black, brown and poor girls who use YouTube and other SNSs in musical interactions that often involve their body or dance to extend their online interest-driven activities into tech applications and mobility, too. Thus, the idea of #TwerkTech2.

Join me this weekend at the Rutgers Digital Blackness conference on April 23 at 3:30pm as I present my latest ideas and thoughts about a project I dreamed of almost 4 years ago. Then I called it “Cookies in the Hood”. The reference here is about computer cookies and adulthood (as well as neighborhood, childhood, labiahood or sexuality and intimacy training, and more).

Fitness takes time and planning; seduction is easy and quick. Fitness takes healthy eating, movement, and education; seduction is cheap and fast. Seduction requires nothing of you to participate. In fact, it trades on a naïve notion that your future is far away and that what happens now will not matter later. Why can’t girls as content
creators shift that seduction? It seems so accessible with YouTube—why isn’t it happening? (Gaunt 2015, 221).

Cookies are small files stored on a user’s computer. “They are designed to hold a modest amount of data specific to a particular client and website, and can be accessed either by the web server or the client computer.” What if we took this same concept and restored it to thinking about sovereignty of mind and body as well as the autonomy or learning to DIWO (do it with others) without threats or obligations to others? That’s another way of saying autonomy = wealth. A wealth of skills, capital, and human and non-human resources that all you to “do as you see fit.”

So, that’s what I am up to these days. That’s what I’m going to present about at the Rutgerts University DIgital Blackness Conference this weekend.

Here’s a couple of videos — one for parents and teachers and one for kids and teens — from a great organization Common Sense Media. There mission is to “improves the lives of kids and families by providing independent reviews, age ratings, & other information about all types of media.”  These videos give us insights into the need for new digital media literacies and conversations about the unintended consequences so girls can grow up online free from harm AND free to express themselves and explore technical ways to twerk their user-generated content on any platform.

 

 

Bibliography:

Gaunt, Kyra D.YouTube, Bad Bitches, and an M.I.C. (Mom-in-Chief) ): On the Digital Seduction of Black Girls in Participatory Hip-Hop Spaces. The Hip Hop & Obama Reader, 2015a, 207-26. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199341801.003.0012.

My Vocal Memoir: Oratory on Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday Photo Credit: Gus Bennett, Jr. h/t Dr. Yaba Blay #PrettyPeriod365
Easter Sunday
Photo Credit: Gus Bennett, Jr. h/t Dr. Yaba Blay #PrettyPeriod365

Fitting in

A black Catholic girl’s poetry from an Easter Sunday memory

white stockings never covered my ashy legs.
I wore frilly white ankle socks
buckled into black patent leather shoes.
I tried to dye the ash, like colored eggs, in Vaseline intensive care lotion
kept close at hand for the long drive on Easter Sunday.

granddaddy drove the family to downtown Northeast
with granny in the front seat
mama, aunt bernetta, and me in the back.

We were picture perfect in bonnets and a Fedora
as we crossed the MD/DC border with our contraband;
straight-from-the-oven
sweet potatoes in Karo syrup,
homemade buns hidden on laps
and a pot of greens safely tucked in the trunk.

The previous Easter, my great Uncle Don
bought a deed embedded on my tongue.
Oratory was mandatory back then
and in 1970 a dollar bill was the ultimate reward.
There will be candy!

Handing me a laminated wallet-sized card
of a poem by Saint Francis of Assissi
and a copy of Lincoln’s Gettyburg address,
Uncle Don bent down to my level and
staring right into my eyes he gently said:
“Memorize it!”

The deed of recitation evoked the intangible promise of Emancipation,
resurrecting an origin myth to be consumed and repeated from memory.

In the backseat, in muted fright
and last-minute trepidation,
I madly memorized the verses as we arrived.

Standing in the living room with everyone watching
I read aloud: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”
And then attempted Lincoln’s longer address “…that this nation
shall have a new birth of freedom.”

We girls and women have been fighting for
any benefits from such bargains ever since.

With the piece-work memory of a grown woman,
I can still stitch together a couple of those lines:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Doubt … faith.
Darkness … light.

Just before Cathechism, a process of confirming one’s faith through recitation,
my mother pulled me from the Catholic Church
that had forbade her attendance since my birth.
Forgiveness was never granted
for her unmarried sin.

Let this ode be my prayer, my Gettysburg address,
conjured to remedy the injury and harm visited upon
the souls of child-bearing girls and women.

I conjure Uncle Don’s command to memorize it
to embrace a sometimes intangible promise,
with no need to seek consolation.
Let our good and best works voice our presence.

Resurrect love for yourself and others as best you can.
Be still and know we are more than mere girls or women.
We are a light in the darkness
We bring hope and life despite a world of despair
We occupy a space of divine love
waiting to be resurrected in ourselves
right
now.

Written by Kyra Gaunt ©2016

Undoing Oppression Socialization in 2016 #BHM #WmnHist

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Following Jimmy Fallon’s sketch on hashtags from 2013, I wanna talk hashtags in this post.

This blog is dedicated to the intersections of hashtag Black History Month in February (#BHM), hashtag International Women’s Day (#IWD) and hashtag Women’s History Month (#WmnHist) both in this month of March. Black women and girls get to celebrate for two months in a row about inequality and accomplishments! Hashtag #BlackGirlMagic! Hashtag #BlackWomenMatter. Hashtag let’s get in #Formation.

I am using hashtags as the focus of my political sociology course. I have 28 students in this upper-level course using Storify to explore the discipline and issues that interest them in the end of the Obama administration and in the midst of a fascist-sounding GOP presidential election campaign. Professor Deva Woodly joined us a few weeks ago to talk about hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

Speaking Truth to Power … for Girls

This is the third time I’ve taught a political sociology class. You might ask: What is an ethnomusicologist by training doing teaching political sociology. I was invited to teach this course by my department and now political sociology is really starting to speak to my own research interests in YouTube, music, and the marginalization of black girls. This is primarily due to a fabulous textbook by Devita Glasberg and Deric Shannon titled Political Sociology: Oppression, Resistance, and the State (2011). Hashtag on point!

Black music has always been political but from teaching political sociology I am learning invaluable discourse–the words and ideas used to express meaning as Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines it–that allows me write about black music in a sophisticated way. I can really grasp and grapple with issues of power and the social structures that lay beyond our personal tastes for one artist or genre versus another. As an ethnomusicologist, my specific training socialized me to think about music as sound and as people, which IS political in and of itself. But because I had focused on the micro-subjective thoughts and feelings of black girls I never fully grasped the macro social structures shaping meaning and power. “Language shapes thought“, as cognitive psychologist Lera Boroditsky demonstrates in her research. “What researchers have been calling “thinking” this whole time actually appears to be a collection of both linguistic and nonlinguistic processes. As a result, there may not be a lot of adult human thinking where language does not play a role” (Boroditsky 2011, 65). It is the language of power that lives in political sociology’s discourse and methodology and the symbolic worlds of trends in social media and online video today are important arenas for the study of people, music, and power.

In this post, I will try to introduce some of the discourse of political sociology into my thinking and research about the unintended consequences of online black girls’ interest-driven participation with twerking music and artists in their self-produced YouTube videos.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

“We can rape, but we can also sing.”
A.R. Braunmuller

If you follow my blog, you know I’ve been toying with titles over the last 6 months. It was “Digital Seduction”. Today, it’s “Girls & Hidden Digital Labor of Video Screens.” I’d love your reactions or suggestions as I search for a title that fits.

Currently, I am writing about the unpaid digital labor of marginalized daughters on YouTube, thanks to Dorothy Howard, a brilliant feminist millennial scholar who helped me learn about the topic from her research and activism on Wikipedia.

Because I write primarily about the marginalization of black girls at the moment, one title I considered was “The Dark Digital Labor of Daughters.” But Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi’s TED Talk on the dangers of a single story popped into my mind. I realized I needed to speculate beyond the stereotypical, one-note racial thinking about black or “dark skin” to avoid perpetuating the usual stigmas. Given the Times Square image of jumbo video screens which I chose from a limited set of WordPress options as the background for my blog’s header, I quickly imagined readers associating the “The Dark Digital Labor of Daughters” with the culture this image replaced before Guilani and others cleaned up the porn shops and Kung Fu movie theaters of Times Square.

Times Square, 1985
Times Square, 1985

 

The “dark” digital labor of social media looks like lots of fun to most users. It’s not a red-light district, hookers, peep shows, and adult or child porn. Social media, like YouTube’s music spaces and YouTube Red, are both free and subscription services accessed anywhere, anytime, built on a complex political economy of state structures and privatized electricity, privatized phone service, and a capitalist system of profit and patriarchy masked by viral videos of kittens, Korean pop stars, and Justin Bieber.

YouTube is a structural online system of power and participatory culture where kids and especially the most vulnerable and marginalized girl childs are seduced into “selling” images of their sexy, dancing bodies for the fun of it to targeted advertisers. Girls will do this free advertising to networked publics for media companies, as bell hooks stated in a public dialogue at the New School in 2014, because more and more adult women won’t do it anymore.

At a conference on Gender, Sexuality and Hip-hop sponsored by Melissa Harris-Perry in December of 2014 at Tulane University, a college-age black women recalled her relationship to hip-hop:

Being very familiar with the “Tip Drill” …um … video and coming into my feminism on the campus of Spelman College, I I grew to not just be a consumer of hip-hop but realize I was being consumed by it. So it was important for me to develop a sense of… a consciousness so that I can navigate that..space.

The space she meant was whole network of spaces where misogynist hip-hop music dominates the public sphere. Now that sphere is not just online, it’s in your hand 24-7. The younger the girl, the more free music videos on YouTube and other platforms are teaching them to “Keep that ass jumpin” for free in a media ecology that is hashtag for-profitby-everyone-but-the-girl.

“Keep that ass jumpin'” is the hook from a popular YouTube music video for the song “Booty Hopscotch by Memphis artist Kstylis (pronounced K-styles). His twerk songs appear more often than any others in my dataset of over 1000 YouTube. This media is part of the “oppression socialization”  defined as “a process whereby individuals develop understandings of power and political structure, particularly as these inform perceptions of identity, power, and opportunity relative to gender, racialized group membership, and sexuality” (Glasberg and Shannon 2011, 47).

“Booty Hopscotch” by Memphis artist KStylis

YouTube has become one of the significant agents of oppression and political socialization as media, as a form of free schooling, and as digital labor or work from one’s bedroom as people attempt to monetize their fun online. YouTube is where politics are increasingly mediated through comedy sketches, music and award shows featuring celebrities, and online real and entertainment news stories.

So how and what it this new media ecology of sharing and trending teaching our daughters? What illusions of power and ownership do they learn and what kinds of hegemonies are being taught that empowers and simultaneously disempowers their voice and image? Hashtag #Babymamas, hashtag #ReaganWelfareQueens, and hashtag #videovixens whose body trumps their voice on screen and perhaps even more so off.

“Prospero, you are the master of illusion.
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(Lied about the world, lied about me)
That you have ended by imposing on me
An image of myself.
Underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That s the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image! What’s more, it’s a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
And I know myself as well.”
Aimé Césaire, A Tempest

I didn’t want to recreate the victim blaming and slut shaming of young and black girls in my blog title. Using seduction or darkness is that same old single story again. And this is the immaterial, affective and emotional labor of digital labor. It serves to symbolically and socially reproduce what political sociologists call a “mobilization of bias” (Schattschneider 1975 quoted in Glasberg and Shannon 2011, 37) that affects decision-making at the state level as we say with welfare queens during the election of President Reagan.

This mobilization of bias is ironically done by our personalized use of mobile devices and personally-accessed video screens. The 4th screen that was the first personalized, mobile, always-on, mass media. It is not a form of mass self- communication in an age where racism and sexism have not ended but perhaps become more pernicious because it lives in our hand-held realities. Discrimination and oppression are no longer visible or legible in the ways they once were–as a function of a state controlled or monitored television or radio or big corporate run companies. They are now hidden in online pleasures and play which we self-produce based on what radio and television already taught us and continue to feed us — now they feed us supposedly ourselves. Hashtag #GiveThePeopleWhatTheyWant. And if you check out what girls are doing, what they want is to keep that ass jumpin, right?

What’s really hidden here is that those same video screens we use to self-produce, focus other people’s attention on some generalized black girl on a video screen rather than on the distributors of social media and online video platforms big and small such whether that’s YouTube or UMG’s VEVO or artists like Kystlis, Juicy J, or Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Hashtag #HegemonicMasculinityandFemininity

“I Do My Thang / On the Video Screen” (from a girls’ game song)

She is a tiny cog in the supply chain of explicit music videos.  And yet, she is seen as driving the attention economy, if you know the numbers for engagement on YouTube by age and sex, behind the culture of what’s popular in music and behind the trends in social media rants. Her behind is butt of the joke, too. Visit YouTube’s Dashboard and Trends map for more details.

This phenomena reminds me of when news outlets focused the nightly news on the criminalization of the small-time dealer found on ghetto street corners rather than on the big time distributor of illegal drugs or narcotics in the supply chain. It also reminds me of how local black folk desperate to be seen would mug for the crime scene camera–hashtag #photobombing before there was a dictionary name for it.

Back when I was a teenager in my black community, there was a vernacular critique of this media trend that coordinated action with Reagan’s conservative “get tough on crime” state policies. I remember my mom asking how drugs got into our communities. Communities that lacked social mobility to bring cocaine of marijuana across national borders and into the hood. “Black people don’t own planes!” I remember someone arguing. Where was the focus on the international cartels and drug enforcement and border patrol officers who had to be looking the other way? It was harder for the state to catch the big guys and must easier to criminalize the little ones with nightly news reports that made black people increasingly look like the real menace to society, the imagined Enemy No. 1. Hashtag #decolonizingthemind

Free your mind, and your ass will follow

What I am trying to show in my research and scholarship is how black girls sells sex for the industry and catch all the hell for it, too.  They are being exploited for their unpaid digital labor on the very video screens we all use as networked individuals to upload and self-produce our interest-driven activities for the fun of it. But this “fun” is a new kind of digital labor that will recreate the very inequalities that the #BlackLivesMatter campaign is successfully bringing to international attention with its online and off-line protests in Ferguson and at the University of Missouri. Just do a Google or Twitter search on hashtag #MikeBrown and Hashtag #Mizzou.

Unpaid digital labor refers to the affective, emotional, and immaterial labor of social media audiences as owners of the distribution platforms of social media profit from this audience labor. The mechanisms used to propagate that profit has changed. The owners look younger but are still primarily white and male. And a primary result, whether intended or not, of this digital immaterial work or labor is that is reproduces the “oppression socialization” of differences ordered around class (the political economy), race (racism), gendered oppression (patriarchal socialization), and gender (or heteronormativity).

Lorde oppression

It makes me think of Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.  In The Social Science Jargon Buster, Zina O’Leary defines the term as:

How the political, economic, cultural and ideological systems of those in power come to be accepted, legitimated and even celebrated by the masses at the expense of alternative ways of thinking and doing (O’Leary 2007).

When it comes to kids, especially minors or children on YouTube, there is no need to have formal systems of discrimination against females.  Individual networked girls will self-brand within the logics of capitalism, patriarchy, and white superiority. Video screens that are unregulated by only other individuals socialize girls; they quickly learn, adapt to, and adopt the paradigms of music videos and YouTube’s attention economy. They structure themselves into it through user-generated content where they try on these identities and markers of self expression. They imitate and embody them and many will simultaneously try to resist them.  Oppression socialization is the digital immaterial werk or labor of twerking songs and twerking self-produced videos, hegemonically speaking. Hashtag #CanIWerkIt

The Blues of “The Changing Same” (hashtag Amiri Baraka)

Change may seem like it’s happening but the shapeshifting of the order of things tends to remain the same more or less or so it seems.  The mainstreams of culture on the web now freely feature and spread the exploitation of girls primarily propagated by self-produced video content broadcast from “privately public” and “publicly private” often domestic spaces or bedrooms (Lange 2007).

Meanwhile, online harassment and sexploitation goes viral across the social web. And it justifies itself (as if there is no perpetrator or distributor) on the backs of girls’ self-produced content. No matter what minor and teen girls produce for fun and/or as a critique of the system, it still can be argued that social media platforms are exploiting minor girls for profit to their greatest gain or capital accumulation while  girls will be blamed for the demise of their own reputation and future net worth. And this too will be privatized — the discrimination that is since all that girls are doing online lives in a networked publics that are searchable, shareable, and persistent. We don’t own the Internet or the web, just as you don’t really own the technology or data produced on your device while you lay claim to ownership of the device. In actuality, you don’t own, you pay for calling it that

All this–the unintended consequences of social media and self-presentation online and the profit from unpaid digital labor–is a particularly insidious and pernicious ethical gap for marginalized groups like young black girls. And that’s this work interests me so much. It lies at the heart of issues of inequality on the web. Hashtag #YesAllWomen, hashtag #Privacymatters and hashtag #SomeofUsareBrave

Hashtag #FLOTUS

So to close my free written thoughts, I offer the First Lady in honor of hashtag Women’s History month and its intersections with race, gender, class, and power. Hashtag #TeamMichelle and hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama.

Happy Black Women’s History Months!!

Felicia, 1964 — Black and Female in Watts

“Usually, when people talk about the “strength” of black women . . . . they ignore the reality that to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, that endurance is not to be confused with transformation.”
bell hooks

From the mouth and mind, from the views and shoes, of a black girl living in Watts in 1964, we hear a social analysis of black and female life for her, her family, her mother, and her community. Who back then allowed Felicia to tell her own story and what kinds of stories can you find in user-generated content like these?

If you know any user-generated content that does, share them below. I want to help combat the digital seduction of girls’ online reputation with their own media.

Social media platforms and their advertisers exploit black girls’ (and womens’) spending power, often coopt agency and voice, and will damage their future net worth, which is quickly wrapped around one’s digital reputation–how others’ view you and comment on your presence vs. what you think of yourself.

 

Social media advertisers, like the advertisers and media companies before them, sell us disparity in complicated and nuanced ways. I am working on unpacking how that works.

Marginalized girls and women must begin to build their mental capacity or willpower to counter this symbolic warfare and gendered violence on female bodies and minds of our online daughters. This includes digital literacy but also nourishment and exercise.

Despite the apparent freedoms social media appears to offer youth when they get to self-produce their own images,  advertisers are hot on your trail and free ain’t freedom online. It comes with long-term consequences and requires long-term thinking before you post.

Even issues of surveillance that piggy-back on girls’ online interest-driven activities is still largely ignored or not fully grasped. If it is, we are lured by the pleasures of being “connected” while we risk damaging our identity at the same time. Parents of kids under 13 need to have more talks about protecting children’s privacy online. More to come.

Kyraocity asks:

How have our talked to your daughter about protecting her data and online persona? Do you let your girls access social media? How do you limit their access, if at all. Do you know that nearly 60% of kids in Australia admit hiding the crimes committed against them online? What are the odds things are better in Aemrica?

More than 40% of children are victims of cyber crime and nearly 60% admit to hiding what they did from adults * Source: NetSafe

 

WHAT I’M WATCHING ON YOUTUBE:

The Digital Divide meets the Gender Divide

changing_digital_divide

In all my classes, the men separate themselves from the women by their willingness to mess around with editing and filters and the “real” technology and tinkering that defines Web 2.0. This is true of my data on black girls twerking videos. They shoot-and-upload generally without considering they could write their own lyrics, music, edit out their flaws, if they were so inclined, add or enhance their images and their representations. Without this type of messing around, girls and esp. marginalized girls are left behind, shaking their tail feathers to the beats and rhymes that drive capital online and in the boardrooms.

Check out Pew Internet principal researcher Lee Rainee explaining 5 types of non-use in the mobile age that leads to our current divides of knowledge and use. Click the link below if it doesn’t populate into a video.

//www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/172a067c-4698-11e3-bf0c-cebf37c6f484

My (Apparently) Obligatory Response to ‘Formation’: In List Form

I co-sign this message. It’s a brilliant, provocative thinking (not thought) piece that we all should step back and slay our own biases about what black power looks like and is. Thank you, rad fag!

Radical Faggot

Celebrity-Reactions-Beyonce-Formation-Music-Video Our obsession with Black celebrity–and our need to defend it–is undermining our movement.

1. I have actively avoided saying anything about Beyoncé’s new song and video. I don’t think they are interesting, important or deserving of my commentary. That as a Black, queer person I have, in the last week, been expected—and, at moments, obligated—to respond to them is insulting and infuriating.

2. Big Freedia is a force. She was used in this project, barely cited and never seen. Black, trans women have given more to popular culture than almost anyone realizes, while they continue to endure inconceivable violence in obscurity. Sampling their style for aesthetic purposes without attaching their faces is not revolutionary. It isn’t even original.

3. As other queer, southern forces have pointed out this week, Hurricane Katrina is not a sexy backdrop. It was a moment in which this country watched a city of poor Black…

View original post 969 more words

A Deep South Despair: Black and Female? Watch Ya Back!

 

Quotation-Bell-Hooks-culture-media-Meetville-Quotes-1377

FUSION ARTICLE RELEASED!!!

First before I dive in, Kashmir Hill, a great investigative writer on social media and privacy released an article on Fusion’s YoungTube blog based on my twerking research data yesterday. It’s titled: “A 9-year-old’s twerking video had 70,000 views and she couldn’t get it taken down.”  Can you please not only read the piece, but like, share, and comment so this issue gets more eyes and attention. Thanks for doing that!!

Now to the topic of the moment: black woman and discrimination. #formation

Pretty for a Dark Girl!

In the deep south of North America is where folks tend to think race and racism live. But racism, the flawed system of classification, is a symbolic and highly social structure. The systematic practice as we recognize it today that has sojourned from the earliest formations of our nations. It along with patriarchy has defined the processes of globalization about norms and values associated with skin color privilege and white supremacy that led to both the institution of slavery and that of Jim Crow in the deep south.

In the deeper south of South America, in Brazil, racism was supposedly abandoned with the end of slavery. But here in this short film by the Guardian–I deeply appreciate their commitment to critical engagements of intersectionality and social politics–they lighten the path to seeing just how viciously symbolic race and racism is and the impact it continues to have on the historically marginalized black woman. This media is both witness to the marginalization and offers a chance at intervening in the sickness of our own cognitive biases.

As David DiSalvo writes in What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite (2011):

“DiSalvo explains that the greatest desires of our brains are stability, certainty, and consistency. Humans are prediction and pattern detection machines: we process information in order to determine what’s coming next. We can’t help doing it, and it allows us to order our lives and feel in control. But to predict accurately, we need to be certain of what we know now. Hence, we are certainty addicts. We not only crave being right, but we convince ourselves that whatever information we have at hand is the right information.”

You’ll recall I wrote a post about how so many women on Twitter and FB are often engaged in the rhetoric of seducing emotions among one another to relieve a lot of psychic, mental and emotional pain. Pain that girls are learning or being socialized into at younger and younger ages with the aid of social media content and its virulent circulation on their mobile devices. It’s personalized but it ain’t at all personal. It’s structural and we must begin to intervene. It’s costing us our long-term capabilities, our cognitive juice, our willpower.

DiSalvo suggests 50 remedies in his book. Here’s one: we must be aware of the impact pre-existing beliefs is having our current thinking. No one’s thinking is free of pre-existing beliefs. We are never blank slates. Said another way, whiteness is not merely a symbol standing for something to black people only that would be wiped out if we’d just stop with the fear of being black in the eyes of others. Just stop #BLM-ing.  But this system lives and is being perpetuated unknowingly within our individual and social biology not just in the tangible or visible traits and phenotypes that link us to our ancestral connections–which connects ALL humanity not just blacks, whites, or Asians. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s leading experts on developmental trauma, explains that the body keeps score of trauma. Tis is where you have to begin to learn about your brain, about epigenetics, and about how language lives and shapes our cognition of the past, present and future.

DiSalvo warns that challenging in-grained thinking is not an over night thing. It’s not A-HA! I see! I’m racist!! We’ve all been racist!! NO! It must be incremental. The transformation stems from a deliberate reflective practice. We don’t need change. We need more comassion and empathy in incremental ways.

DiSalvo suggests we must become savvy about framing–the ingesting of labels that frame your perception of the people, places, things and even our beliefs. But here’s the trouble with that: Thinking outside that box agitates your biology–it brings up anxiety and/or upset. Sometimes you’ll even have to fight off excitement or passion (even in arguments about Beyoncé’s #Formation) to slay your frames and certainty biases.

Learning to deconstruct your frames is actually harder than the quick fix of slaying. It requires inquiry and stepping back and solitude. Slowing down to speed up incrementally! Reminds me of my adage: Agree to be offended…and learn to let things just be before you go slaying all up in your emotions.

I posted the Guardian video about the Samba queen being dethroned because she was black today, just after returning from a really important and engaging visit to the University of Albany (thanks to Bob Gluck and Oscar Williams on the faculty there). 

During two talks I believe I made an effective and impassioned case with my research on marginalized black girls in twerking videos on YouTube for the stepping back to develop a set of internalized ethics and empathy in watching black girls play online. It is our gaze that must be altered not their play. It is our allowing social media companies to exploit their digital play that needs our formation.

Without the  awareness and understanding of HOW social media is entrapping the most vulnerable girls in our society and in online networks we easily overlook how they are being seduced into selling their future net worth to indifferent globally networked publics and individuals. Digital media literacy skills and knowledge is one thing. Creating engaging content to get people to even listen is where I am at.

There is no ecological fitness for historically marginalized groups like black girls and black women if their experimentation not to mention freedom of expression and freedom to express their fears in creative and urgent ways (ah-hem #DefendBlackWomenUALbany) is ripped away. The crosshairs of sexism and racism rips meritocracy, as in the video, simply because of the sin others associate with their skin but not their living conditions they are in. Social media can rip future employability away and it can rip dignity away. Meanwhile, everybody but the girl makes a profit off their backs on social media.

When will they be paid for work they’ve done or the emotional debt they’ve paid?!?  

Inventing Solutions

I am diligently working on a solution and am looking for people to be on a team to deliver said solutions through the very medium I study — digital and social media. A critical voice in an animated context that is fun yet informative. That breeds curiosity not shame. That inspires and delivers solutions and doesn’t get stopped by the latest entertainment news.

If you’re interested, I am looking for people interested in making videos and other short media content to empower, make girls and women aware, of the digital seduction of our environmental fitness. Hit me up if you’re interested. The videos would target young girls, teens, young adults, and elders. It might also target the invisible audiences in creative ways. Come jump in the ropes with me!