Can you step outside your shell…and still be you?

Screenshot 2014-05-11 10.57.24

Some shy people try to reach out and try and nothing seems to come back. And then there’s just a point where they stop trying. – Ze Frank

I was talking to someone recently about seeing outside your shell. About the process of leaving your blackness behind. Or in my case letting go of always seeing myself as black and/or female or an angry black woman to others. There was a time and still is for that matter when being human, depressed, shy, powerful beyond measure, or even ugly (to other people) seem to not even be options or useful in the right context. The same might go for some of us about being a certain color, size, or religion while for other it’s being from the ‘hood, from that family, or even being an academic. Oh GOD!! No not that!!


Actually, I’ve often talk about this notion of getting out of your shell to many people in my life including my students. I’ve said to students: “Can I teach a course on black girlhood and can you see yourself as a black girl for 15 weeks even if you aren’t one?” Would it go a long way to be able to get out of your shell, walk a mile in another person’s shoes as part of an ethnographic experiment in studying digital ethnography on YouTube?

That was my pitch at the beginning of my anthropological analysis course last fall. “I want you to become black girls with me and bring a black girl consciousness to your real background.” I invited the conservative Jewish guy and the Bangladeshi Muslim guy to adopt themselves as if a black girl into their home culture. I invited the South Asian feminist from a former class in political sociology and the white girl who already identified with twerking to go black girl for the semester. I gave them little direction on how to get out of their own shell but imagined they’d simply play along and our observations of ourselves would be part of our text, part of our ethnographic study. “What if your family adopted you or someone married into the family and had a biracial child who was considered a black girl and you had to deal with watching black girls twerk on YouTube as one of us” was how the conversation sort of went.

I asked them all, including the 3-4 black and bi-racial girls reppin the Caribbean, Brazil, Brooklyn and the Bronx in the class, to study alongside me to discover who black girls twerking on YouTube might be from a socially constructed point of view. I thought the mistakes would be just as valuable as any checks in the column of getting reality right. To use our sociological imaginations to get out of our given shells and into another reality was the experiment. I think it went well.


The experiment was about speculating about black femaleness. It wasn’t about accuracy but about imagination, trust, and play. Since all our identities are partial truths of imagination, race, gender and other, why not? There’s more to say about that, but back to seeing yourself outside your shell, whatever that may be.


I found this fabulous video by poet Ze Frank with choreographer Frank Shum’s work that speaks to the notion of being out of your shell. It involves paint, dance, poetry and transformation. Check it out!!

Wish I could embed it but my YouTube account has not been allowing me for two days. Gotta get out of that shell, too.



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