“Flawless” Afros: Black Girls Fitness & Feminism From Beyoncé to Angela

A_Davis02Screenshot 2014-05-10 14.15.29


When one of my Facebook friends posted this yesterday suggesting that a classroom conversation about feminism and Beyoncé was akin to the third rail in a subway rail system — deadly or maybe costly as far as time and attention; a kind of  entrenched argument where no new ground is gained–I thought at least popular music has the power to make people talk about feminism from the street corner to the classroom. We academics don’t usually have that kind of viral penetration.

For that I thank her and Chimanda Ngozi Adichie for her TEDxEuston talk that inspired the sample in Bey’s Flawless video. Too often we take advantage of the role popular culture can play in starting conversations (or occasionally stalling them too). But I really believe that those of us who take time to dig deeply into issues that cannot be raised in a 3 minute format recording or music video, have something to offer that is critical in the 21st century among youth and everyone else. SLOW (long-now) thinking and SLOW learning that allows a more holistic view of the past, present and future. It’s particularly the future that concerns me about black girls who twerk. When George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelics sang “free your mind and your ass will follow” his music and the contexts of his music were meant to signify on both the dance floor and black people’s position in American political society.

Anything that helps us confront the roots of our oppression in systems of gender, race, age, and other classes of identity and power are critical in a hyper-connected age of mobile distractions. I spent the last two weeks of my political sociology course attempting to gain the cooperation of 25 students to create a space for advancing their identity in society as well as their grades and it was a tough sell. Perhaps I should have played more music videos of Beyoncé or twerking to grab their attention.


My latest research on black girls on YouTube, particularly black girls who twerk, is about paying attention to the costs to their future identity — their work, their career, their money and their health as sexual, physically fit and emotionally and cognitively fit and thriving women. As Sherry Turkle has talked about in her TED Talk on her book Alone Together:

[People in the hyperconnected world of the 21st century] deny each other their full attention. … we even text at funerals. … We remove ourselves from our grief or from our revery and we go into our phones. Why does this matter? It matters … because I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble — trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection. We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together.

In the narrowing participation gap of online participatory media cultures, where communities that once relied on broadband connections at school or the office now carry mobile devices with access to the Internet 24-7, black girls perhaps more than any other demographic group cannot afford to be anymore alone–separated or singled out of the social structures of the American economy or popular culture. This is increasingly important as the labor of the body becomes less valued in the marketplace of  ideas, copyright and intellectual property.

I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble — trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection. We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together.  — Sherry Turkle, author of  Alone Together



In the realm of twerking videos,  black girls are “getting off” doing the damn-thing for themselves, owning their own bodies and sexualities, to the tune of multi-million dollar revenue accruing videos and recordings 99% of the time made by and for men who profit from them as a business, as their business enterprise. It’s all for show for girls. It’s making the bottom line bigger for men. And for boys its gaining identity in patriarchal power.  Girls may be “getting off” for themselves in the most highly public media you can find in the world –YouTube– but in turn they won’t be able to, they cannot get that twerking video, get it off the Internet. We have to begin to interrupt how these male artists (and in some cases female) are riding piggyback on the seduction of black female consumers as well as non-black females, particularly on YouTube.

So these are some of the things I am working on and writing about. I am using my summer class to finish the digital video ethnography started by my ANT4800 course in the fall 2013. We will collect data on videos and study social indicators of black girls and women too, all in the name of the radical feminist work I want to do — to shift the playing field for black girls; to liberate their minds and our society of the oppression of race and gender and much more.


This week UCLA distinguished lecturer Angela Y. Davis was featured in the L.A. Times talking about radical politics in the 21st century. Most people don’t understand what “radical” as a position means and that it has many uses and applications. But Wikipedia’s definition is useful here for anyone who doesn’t have a distinct definition that is not simple rebellion. “Radicalism” in political science:

denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways.

If anyone has spent a lifetime actively pursuing changing society at its roots–which is a radical approach when most folks are always after surface or cosmetic fixes rather than long-term solutions well planned, it is Angela Davis. She is still fighting the good fight. In the interview by L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison, Davis responds to a question about feminism today.

When you consider feminism today, do you think women have retreated, except maybe when it comes to boardroom feminism?

One can talk about multiple feminisms; it is not a unitary phenomenon. There are those who assume feminism is about moving up the hierarchy into positions of power, and that’s OK, but that’s not what feminism does best. If the women at the bottom move up, the whole structure moves up.

The kind of feminism I identify with is a method for research but also for activism.

I loved reading this. It so affirms what I want my research on digital media and black girls on YouTube to do. I want to get past my personal reasoning (which is strong) about what black girls twerking online means not just to them but in the digital media ecology of the 21st century where their images may do more harm to them globally than good to them locally.

So these are just my thoughts for the day.

THE ASKKyraocity of the Day

  1. What’s your “flawless afro” story? In other words, the paradoxes of being feminist and being a girl.  
  2. What songs and videos in popular culture helped you find your feminism or female voice that were not considered feminist at all?
  3. Please share any blogs or writers I should link and follow as I build my platform here. Thanks!





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s