Uploading May Criminalize Black Girls and Protesters at #MillionsMarch

[Those who] oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, [George] Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World [Aldous Huxley suggested], they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell (1949) feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley (1931) feared that what we desire will ruin us.
~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985)
Is the preciousness of a diamond a quality of the gem or is it a feeling in our mind? Practically we treat it as both or as either, according to the temporary direction of our thought.
~ William James, “The Play of Affectional Facts in a World of Pure Experience,” from Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912)
Power is the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired fashion.
~ Dhoruba bin Wahad quoting Huey Newton

On the Digital Seduction of Uploading

Following 9-11, nonviolent animal-rights protesters like TED Fellow Will Potter were criminalized as domestic terrorists.

What do you think could happen at the today’s #MillionsMarch?

Will Potter: The shocking move to criminalize nonviolent protest

Filmed March 2014 at TED2014

There is much I haven’t shared from our research on YouTube twerking this semester, but today is about protest. It’s about walking arm-in-arm for justice and for power to the people not big corporations or militarized police forces.

There is a strong correlation to a few things in our findings and what you should pay attention to while out protesting at today’s Millions March – A Day of Anger (December 13, 2014). Don’t be seduced by the increasingly naive notion that there is absolute power in broadcasting your uploaded images and videos … right away!

Remember the English phrase extolling the virtue of patience, “Good things come to those who wait!” Good things like social wisdom, critical decision-making, and freedom from impulsive decisions that may be put your digital reputation at risk. Freedom of choice and expression online (and in person) are not free from negative consequences.

The Consequences and Bottomlines of Broadcasting

Whenever someone new learns that I study twerking, the reaction is always one of being startling or stunned and I am not even dancing in any of these videos.

Two nights ago, I used my research interest in twerking to seduce the attention of those attending YouTube’s Multicultural Holiday Celebration at their new Spaces location in New York City. Most people I meet in any context know little to nothing about the history of twerking’s origin in New Orleans. I was one of them before 20 months ago. It’s like not really studying the history of the post-I-Have-A-Dream, anti-poverty MLK or really learning about the Black Panther Party’s revolutionary efforts to gain sovereignty for black people. #powertoallpeople #powertotheland

Last week when sharing with a business law professor who teaches immediately right after my capstone course, I told him that this semester my undergrads and I had collected a 40-hour workweek of videos featuring adolescent and teen black girls who twerk. Being a white, Jewish male in his early 40s, he remarked with astonishment, “You mean, it didn’t start with Miley Cyrus???!? Wow! I thought it was just from last year!” he added with curiosity and a sense of intrique. That’s what I am after — people seeing the complexities of black girlhood. It is rarely questioned further.

Wow! That’s Really Cool! Get the Camera!!

Seeing girls back that thang up on YouTube is about more than what meets the eye. What interests me is the media studies aspect of how generalized others perceive black girls’ behavior and actions in a digital world of colorblind racism, hypersexualization, trolling, bullying and rape culture.

White girls get the wow factor that  can really “make it rain” in views whenever they appropriate shakin that ass. I have one video of two 13-14 year-old white female teens. They are not that good but the video has 5 million views. There is not one video of black girls among the 700 collected by 18 different people searching and finding 40 videos each that has more than 800,000 views.

The wow factor of racial disparities goes for white mega-starts like Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalia; even Taylor Swift can “check” on it for the Billboard charts.

Nicki Minaj offered the most critical response to this in an interview on The Ellen Degeneres Show back in November of 2013:

When a white girl does something that seems to be like “black,” then black people think Oh!!— She’s embracing our culture! So they kinna ride with-it. Then white people think, Oh! She must be cool. She-doin’-sumpin’ “black”!… But-if-a black person do-a black thang???!? It-ain’t-that-poppin’!

With one punchline, Minaj signifies on the gesture that defines twerking and today’s protest. #BlackLivesMatter

Don’t Shoot!: Learning to Back That Thing Up
(The Critical Rewind of Social Media)

Most of us cannot tell the difference between our own ass and a hole in the ground when it comes to digital media literacy or twerking.

Last year I met an early bounce rapper in New Orleans who told me that in late 1980s twerking was referred to as “p-poppin” short for “pussy poppin.” Its connection to the patriarchal gaze typically associated with strip clubs is obvious. Rap artists traffick in this site of seduction through the sight of black female booty poppin in their videos to tap that ass in determining what songs club-goers find most appealing. What amuses their impulsive appetite and attention for sexual representations? This reflects the political economy of producing rap music in the Dirty South—the production, distribution and consumption of a new kind of tough on black asses circuit. But no protest songs here, just more bounce to the ounce while silencing the political voices of girls and women in hiphop. #justgetonthedancefloor #anddontmakeasound (insert Lil Wayne’s “Love Me”).

Whenever someone asks me “what is twerking?” I often reply, “It’s popping and locking with your ass” to consciously link the dance to hip-hop culture (not simply rap). Why? Because girls in black communities love dancing; we love to werk that body. It’s part of our cultural heritage that begins before adolescence. Hip-hop culture was not the first iteration either.

In chance conversations, there’s rarely time to reveal how the kind of twerking associated with New Orleans has been collapsed with winin‘ from Trinidad and Tobago, mapouka traditionel from Côte d’Ivoire, or “funk” dance from Brazil and a host of other dances where one’s butt is featured via the webcam on YouTube. Suffice it to say, the history of twerking on YouTube is complicated and it’s complicated by some of the same socioeconomic and neoliberal politics that have us going out to march around the world today. Those contexts we cannot see while we our attention is captivated by some screen, namely the transparent forms of power that shape structural inequalities in the lives of brown and black males and females as well as they ways our bodies are continually policed in Ferguson, Brooklyn, and on YouTube with its claim to empowering a true digital democracy.


The Revolution May Be Televised,
But You’re Arrest, and the Truth, Will Not Be Free

The thousand adolescent and teen black girls who uploaded each of the 700 videos in our dataset totaling a 40-hour work week of video impressions were seduced by their ability to broadcast from the “privacy” of their own bedrooms. Everyone was doing it. Today, during the protests, everyone will capture images and videos that will surely be lost in the mute yet noisy traffic of millions of uploads broadcast on hundreds of social networks. But trust me when I say “Big Brother” is watching. And just because your record it, doesn’t mean everyone recorded will be safe.

I was listening to a live-streamed lecture by intersectional queer feminist and social activist Cathy J. Cohen, a fellow graduate of Michigan, last night. She said:

The very images you upload may be used to criminalize the behavior of fellow protesters. Don’t get it twisted. You are the Third Reich citizens turning in their Jewish neighbors in the name of broadcasting yourself.

It might be worth taking 4 minutes to watch TED Fellow Will Potter tell his story of nonviolent protest and how he was criminalized as a domestic terrorist for a fight to gain animal rights (not even human rights).

Bottomline: Protect Yourself Before You Wreck (Broadcast) Yourself

So I close this post with some practical and useful facts for being prepared and being safe in the march happening all around the world today. #MillionsMarchNYC will be my place to practice.

Just consider that the process of criminalizing fellow protesters will start with YOU and your user-generated content exploited by small and large media outlets but more importantly by those surveilling citizens activities to criminalize their actions later. Beware the digital seduction to upload and broadcast everything live. We cannot watch 175 hours of video that will surely be shot in less than 3 hours today.

We must learn to be careful of this seduction. To learn to think of the consequences to our fellow protesters and ourselves later. Remember that Ramsey Orta felt he was indicted for shooting/filming the video of Eric Garner’s death. He was indicted on criminal weapon and firearm possession which Orta claims was falsified.

We all tend to shoot and upload from our mobile devices in the name of capturing “the truth” which is a reality that can be distorted to capture us in its snare, too.

“Is the preciousness of a diamond a quality of the gem or is it a feeling in our mind? … we treat it as both or as either, according to the temporary direction of our thought.”
~ William James

If you’re still heading to the march, here’s the route

And here’s a list of things you need to know to protect yourself in case of any interactions with the police.

Know your rights and practice tactics that de-escalate situation with the police. Just be careful what you do with the media you create and upload onto your social networks whether Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr, to name only a few.

Don’t be seduced! Think before you upload!! 

Here is one of 247 videos we collected that appears to be black girls twerking but the video actually sits on the channel of a male subscriber who profits off the back of their adolescent play broadcast on YouTube.

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