Privacy? (No!) Adversity? (You Bet!): Black Girls’ Bedroom Twerking

 “All have their worth and each contributes to the worth of the others.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

“Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our own skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness.”
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Adverse Childhood Experience: Black Girls and YouTube

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris in pediatric care is one of my sheroes, esp. for children in communities of color who suffer high levels of childhood trauma including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; parental mental illness, substance dependence, incarceration; parental separation or divorce; or domestic violence. 

Below I share her persuasive and passionate TED Talk that introduces viewers to the The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

As I wrote up a new abstract today about the re-segregation of black girls’ musical identities in the blurred public of YouTube, I am increasingly present to the emotional and cognitive impact of new media and digital video on the socialization of black girls’ adolescent brains and their views of how they see themselves differently than others. We must bring more of a sociological lens to our ethnographic and ethnomusicological study to help us all understand the social forces that do not empower online black girls’ value in their own eyes and perhaps more importantly in others. Their ecological fitness is at stake.

Seeing ourselves through Technology:
What Do Black Girls See?

I am writing an article titled Mirrors, Monsters and Webcams about the ways in which girls learn to see/hear themselves through technology from the 1970s to now. I was thinking about how the policy of Desegregation affected me and my view of my self identity when I was an adolescent learning to fit my body into the latest dance in the mirror just outside my bedroom. A white woman about my age with whom I was sharing about this article reminded me how we 2nd generation television teen girls would dance with the TV screen, too.  I am making an argument for public/private and public/domestic spaces that hinges on an understanding of Segregation policies and early social media practices of radio and television in the 1970s.

The twerking videos I study of black girls who broadcast from the “privacy” of their bedrooms always make me think about how segregated that space–the bedroom–was and still remains for black girls’ dancing. In public settings there is more exposure to harm and the bedroom was a barrier to public groping but also an easy target for domestic abuse. Your closed door symbolized safety, temporary as it might have been. Having privacy was a key to adolescence. The webcam has changed how privacy works for everyone. But that change didn’t begin with Web 2.0.

The differences then and now are both complicated. It wasn’t simple when American Bandstand was broadcast into your family’s living room or bedroom (we had a TV in my mom’s master bedroom, too). It was uncomplicated when Soul Train blew its horn into the soundscapes of domestic life. Even my local show The New Dance Show with its host the Moonman in DC shaped how I wanted to perform my Self when I finally entered the public sphere. The private space of home back then also became a place for advertising the consumption of musical media to teens through radio and television. Parents began to lose more and more control before kids ever left their front doors. Today on YouTube it’s much more complicated with forms of segregation in mixed engagement that is both alarming and invisible to far too many. That’s what I am working out teasing out in my latest article.

You Betta Be In Before Dark!:
What is Public Safety on YouTube?

Adolescent play with strangers was rare when I was a kid. And parents tried to protect you by insisting you stay within shouting distance. The boundary was always marked by the onset of twilight. You better be home before it’s dark. Parents born before Desegregation in the South where I grew up knew or remembered that the general public was never save for dark-skinned folk. Daytime was dangerous, too. What was really a concern was the possibility of not being under a caring watchful eye when visibility decreased. What happens when being visible to strangers you meet online becomes the norm for adolescent girls of any color, but particularly for black girls?
Two days ago, I found a twerking video uploaded that same day by an 8 year old black (seemingly Afro-Brit) girl. YouTube’s age minimum is 13.  Her brother, who is recording the video and seemed a bit younger than her based on the sound of his voice and what frames he was capturing with a mobile webcam–he seemed fascinated with the technological capacities of the camera; with what it can do.
This adolescent 8 year old in contrast to her brother was all into the technology of her body–which is an important aspect of socialization for black girls historically and for young American girls in general. She was so into managing and performing the technology of twerking, of self-presenting herself like what she perhaps had seen before, that she seemed almost unaware of the implications of the camera. She was clear she would be made visible from its upload, I am sure. The video appears to be her channel with her actual name, which is mentioned in the performance by her brother. Her channel only has 2 videos. This video received over 600 views in less than one day. What’s more disturbing is the engagement below it. 3 comments, all by males, designed for “grooming” — like pimps and predators groom girls or boys for sexual abus — inviting her to expose or unclothe more of body. No comments per se about her dance.

I am sure you will find this as disturbing as I have.  I could say much more about this video and how YouTube is not monitoring it’s content for harm to minors. I could also talk about the appetite that the porn industry produces that leads young men and strangers to solicit hooking up with this girl.
Screen Shot from YouTube 2015-02-21 at 2.34.53 PM
Screen Shot from YouTube 2015-02-21 at 2.34.53 PM

Who Poisoned the Well in the First Place?:
YouTube’s Ecology meets Systemic Bias

Dr. Burke Harris’s talk speaks to learning how much adversity can harm children’s cognitive growth and emotional well-being not to mention their life chances and health well into their adulthood.  This is why my research matters so much.  I am trying to link the pleasure of messing around online for girls to the need for better digital media literacy and attention to not simply their social agency but their cognitive fitness in the most crucial years of their brain development. YouTube is not always the best environment for girls’ public health.
Dr. Burke-Harris states in her TED Talk, which I watched live last year:

I did a master’s degree in public health, and one of the things that they teach you in public health school is that if you’re a doctor and you see 100 kids that all drink from the same well, and 98 of them develop diarrhea, you can go ahead and write that prescription for dose after dose after dose of antibiotics, or you can walk over and say, “What the hell is in this well?” So I began reading everything that I could get my hands on about how exposure to adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children.

http://go.ted.com/X5Y

 

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