5 Digital Lessons, pt. 3: Practicing Non-Violence (the real way)

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”
― Kahlil GibranThe Prophet

I love how my work sits in the between spaces of girls’ musical expression in games and twerking and male expressions in commercial/mainstream hip-hop music. Doing this new work on twerking seems so relevant to my earlier research the deeper I get into it. I love to write about music between the sexes in ways that allows race, gender and generation to come across in my interests to show the socialization processes at work as an ethnomusicologist.

So here’s one final lesson, though it’s really an afterthought while writing the previous two posts (see 5 Digital Lessons part.1 and part. 2 for the larger discussion but here are the 4 previous lessons I outlined:

Lesson #1 Websites containing YouTube videos can disappear.

Lesson #2: Capture everything that is meaningful while you work with online media.

Lesson #3: Stop and Think! Find Other Solutions When Data Goes Missing

Lesson #4: Stay Calm and Keep Love Alive

And now #5 reserved for throwback Thursday. After hearing John Lewis speak on MLK day for the second time, the latter via a podcast, it’s led me to think about the ways non-violence, the actual study of what it was back in SNCC activist Ella Baker’s and Dr. King’s time, what it might mean for a scholar like me today doing work on gender and sexuality within black cultural studies. We black feminists studying hip-hop do this out of love. Love of community. Love of music. Love of blackness as a cultural signifier of our time and place in the world. But I never really got present to the root of nonviolence being love until John Lewis talked about it that way.

It helped that Sunday night I witnessed love as music by Toshi Reagon and a host of African American singers I love and adore as musicians and people at the Public Theater of Joe’s Pub. So the notion of what love means as active participation in struggles have been very real for me relative to music this week.

Lesson #5: Practicing (and Studying) Non-Violence Can’t Hurt

I heard John Lewis speaking yesterday in an On Being podcast from Krista Tippett that I regularly follow. He talked about what “Love” meant practicing non-violence in the face of viscious attacks by whites who claimed then to hate black folks. In an aside, he said the Dr. King used to jokingly tell them “Oh, just love the hell out of ’em anyway!”

Lewis talked about the discipline, practice and study required to learn to be “non-violent.” It wasn’t some romantic idea as some young generations seemed to believe. Doing this kind of work on twerking, black girlhood and hip-hop has required a similar same kind of love–discipline, study and practice–in the face of hearing popular male voices now broadcast 24-7, anywhere, anytime, and being able to access explicit video content the same way. It takes something to learn how to protect minors from the possible cognitive and emotional harm that is no longer protected by the FCC with these privatized platforms that seem to be free-sharing sites. Sites that now promote a different kind of “hyper-masculinity” via new media, in quantity not necessarily quality; where we are bombarded by visual and aural images naming “females” bitches 24-7 as well as emasculated men (if you need reminded watch Slaughterhouse defend such positions back in 2012).

Mainstream hip-hop’s gendered discourse seems designed to seduce girls and grown women into patriarchal bargains where our affection for their music content as fans may be making even emerging feminists complicit in a queer form of economic oppression that also has emotional and social consequences in gender relations, both romantic and non-romantic in nature. Gender is not simply a conversation about sexuality in hip-hop. It serves any number of unrelated ends aside from sexuality as Lewis Hyde once defined (1983).

5 Digital Lessons Learned the Hard Way: On WSHH & YouTube, pt. 1

Quote 1: “My dad always said this to me. A hard head makes a soft ass, meaning being stubborn and not listening makes life harder for you than it has to be. At the fine age of 41, I’m learning to not make the same mistakes over and over.” –  A blogspot post from a black man

Quote 2:A hard head make a soft ass, but a hard dick make the sex last..” –  Ludacris on Missy Elliot’s “One Minute Man”quoted from RapGenius.com.

RapGenius.com, owned by three non-black men, is a site where members annotate rap lyrics in a vernacular way. It’s sort of rap lyrics “Wikipedia,” but unlike the crowd-sourced encyclopedia there isn’t a taskforce of volunteers  distinguishing what information is merely entertainment information vs. meaningful fact. Despite my point, I do like the annotation for the familiar black vernacular expression from my own childhood. Ludacris flips the former meaning to go where all things in patriarchal hip-hop goes these days…to sex but the user’s annotation explains the former meaning well:

“A hard head make a soft ass” is a phrase familiar to the Southern part of the U.S. It means that hard-headed children (children who don’t listen to authority) have a tender behind, in that, whippings will hurt more because they will get more of them.

Those corporal lessons makes may or may not lead to change. Negative reinforcement can kill the spirit of learning. Fear was planted in my psyche with only a few ass-whoopins or beatings which we never violent but adjusted to the circumstance accordingly – fear of getting avoiding getting caught was lesson number one. I didn’t learn to unravel what I had actually done wrong and prevent that.

The lessons I am learning online doing digital ethnmusicology are learned the hard way–from trial and error or loss of access whenever things are taken off a site or some info is no longer accessible.

Conducting ethnographic research on black girls on YouTube comes with pitfalls: the data you study that contains girls twerking, talking and creating content, can be deleted, removed or simply lost to if someone didn’t pay for their annual domain fees.


Today I went to WSHH site that featured the Juicy J contest videos to continue previous study and analysis of  the top-rated and most popular videos ranked there. I posted an image of the site in a previous post after the winner of the $50K, Zaire Holmes, was announced. Her 15 minutes of fame has been reduced to the fact that she did not twerk by Juicy J himself rather than the fact that she as a single mom going to college wants to become a doctor. These are examples of the #patriarchalbargains we make according to Gloria Steinem who arguably justified Miley Cyrus’s twerking.

WorldStarHipHop Juicy J site for the contest (Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 12.08.06 PM)
WorldStarHipHop Juicy J site for the contest (Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 12.08.06 PM)

I’m writing this post instead of attending the annual celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday in Brooklyn, (and yes I heard the about an image of King being featured in a twerking event advert but that is a case of entertainment info vs meaningful fact to the work I am doing at the moment. #focus). I got sidetracked, stopped in my tracks, when I went to the WSHH site for the contest and found this:

Screenshot 2014-01-20 09.05.50
Screenshot 2014-01-20 09.05.50

I didn’t go to Brooklyn because of the possible implications of this for my online research.

It seems that WSHH took down the site (if I returns let me know) that had that brilliant “Juicy J is not grading your work” line.  And set of ranked videos I was planning of studying. It was a convenient way to create a sample of the videos online. (Bet WSHH won’t take down Sharkisha but that’s another story for another conversation.)

This lack of access is potentially meaningful though I can’t say how yet and it may turn out to be nothing more than entertaining news. But what if the NOT FOUND page suggests that Juicy J’s gettin’ “protection” from incrimination around the controversy?  So it was written. Now it is gone! I may never verify such a suspicion. 

But this thing has taught me a few lessons. Lessons I’m learning  from my participant-observation and ethnographic study of YouTube. I’d like to share these lessons with any other twerkologists or YouTube ethnographers, too. So here we go.

Screenshot 2014-01-20 11.43.27
Screenshot 2014-01-20 11.43.27

Lesson #1 Websites containing YouTube videos can disappear.

Videos can be made private or removed from YouTube  preventing further viewing. And if a distributor like WSHH or the media handlers behind rap mogul Juicy J with a net worth of $20 milliion thinks it best to “scrub” or remove a site despite their stand for a kind of radical openness they can and will.

Shock sites like WSHH may be concerned that about the backlash from black women especially after the Crunk Feminist Collective post by Dr. Brittney Cooper and after the more recent corrosive public debate between Dr. Cooper (a black feminist historian and media studies scholar)  and a Dr. Shayne Lee (a black male who is a sociologist, a bible scholar, and  head of his department at Tulane University). It was during a segment on HuffPost Live panel via a Google Plus Chat on the topic “Do ‘Hood Sites’ Normalize Black Stereotypes?“.

Since we still live in a democracy, limiting as it may seem, where Black women are increasingly wielding  considerable online power through social media to tackle images believed to do damage to their social group identity in the public sphere, WSHH’s concern would be valid. But once again, I may never verify such a suspicion.

Lesson #2: Capture everything that is meaningful while you work with online media.

Here’s some tech info that will be useful for anyone studying YouTube videos.

From now on I will capture screen shots of images and auto-add them to a DropBox folder. I will also download the videos and catalogue any as I watch from now on. I use WonderShareAllMyYouTube for that. I find it’s better than the Torrent Torch browser I also downloaded for that purpose. The Torch browser is not always effective in downloading videos.

I don’t know why the Juicy J Scholarship site is down, but studying those submissions that were voted on by the masses as the most popular and the most top-rated are now out of reach. Wondering how I might still access them? Anyone with any ideas please inbox me.

Would WSHH be loath to honor a request from a black feminist scholar or a digital ethnographer studying black girls and their online games? I wish I could learn the backstory. Not enough contacts in this world yet. I wish I had had the forethought to back that thang up (pun intended); to recover the valuable and meaningful data that I witnessed these last two months.

Later this week, I’ll share the other 3 lessons.

The other 3 of the 5 digital lessons spill over into the pedagogy (or androgagy for adults) I am designing for my political sociology course this Spring. If you recall, last Spring I focused on “political speech acts” in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Twerking will become a central piece in the new semester’s design.


Suicide Rate among Black Males (15-24) Doubled Since 1980 While Global Suicide Rate Exceeds War and Murder

The suicide rate among young Black men has doubled since 1980, making it the third leading cause of death among Black males ages 15 to 24 according to Joseph Williams at Essence.com. And the problem afflicts both youth at-risk youth and men from affluent, intact families. Check out his article on the suicide watch for black males.

The suicides of James Dungy, 18, son of NFL coach Tony Dungy, in 2005, and Randy Parker, 23, stepson of legendary rapper KRS-One, last July, have sounded an alarm, says Dr. Annelle B. Primm of the American Psychiatric Association. “Young Black men are looked upon in a negative way that corrodes their self-esteem and self-value,” she says. “That translates into a sense of hopelessness.”

This trend, the increasing rate of suicide among men is a global trend not exclusive to the black US community. The global suicide rate for men has been alarming since 1950 according to the World Health Organization – WHO (See WHO chart “Evolution 1950-2000 of global suicide rates per 100,000”).

Something about gender is off, is not working, around the world but we all gotta start where we are to make a difference. I live and am part of the black community. What I am not being responsible for is that those saggin’ pants I am complaining about… they are the likely victims of violence at their own hands or others. Who am I in the matter? Who are you?

THIS WEEK: I am focusing on how gender issues are impacting public health concerns and well-being.

What’s the worst in all this? According to a 2004 report by the World Health Organization

Suicide kills more people each year than road traffic accidents in most European countries….And globally, suicide takes more lives than murder and war put together, says the agency in a call for action.

Why do we love stereotypes? So we can settle on them being the truth (easy answers for relationships)?

ORIGINALLY POSTED 11/13/07 at 10:22am.

Over-inflated by Jessica Hagy

I was teaching my anthropology students about gender and one of the groups in the class came up with this YouTube video in Italian & English about stereotypes. I showed it to two sections of my course and in both cases I was amazed at how often students said “It’s true!” Like seeing a video of stereotypes sets life aright. AHHH. There! It’s gonna be alright.

But what of the exceptions among the 6.7 billion men and women on the planet? What of tomboys and men who love fashion (gay or straight)? Are they doomed to be wrong because they are not true to ‘form’ in the land of stereotyping? So much of what we relate to in relationships is based on stereotypical expectations about the opposite sex.

For clarity’s sake, let me say that though I am a heterosexual, my interests in the opposite sex are bigger than romance and sex. Men and women have to deal with a world of interactions that come up when dealing with the opposite sex no matter what your sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, hetero, bi- or trans-) or gender identity expression (i.e., drag queens and pants-wearin’ female bosses).

What would life be like if we really gave up our notions of, of better yet, we gave up why and how we use stereotypes? We use them for agreement about what we think about our self image relative to others. We use them to not rock the boat, to conform to social norms. How else?

Is there ever a time when stereotyping works? Or is good? Can it be beneficial?? Don’t let you knee jerk first reaction get you. I am asking you to really consider these questions newly. Like never before from a beginner’s mindset.

Here’s some data also to get the ball rolling:

Stats from The World Bank Group’s Gender Stats (2004):
– The U.S. population is 293.7 million; 50.8% are female
– Male life expectancy at birth is 75; Female life expectancy at birth is 80
– Total in U.S. Labor Force: 154 million; 46% are female

PLAY: LOSING THE LIGHT (An American Male Perspective)

My dear friend and neighbor in Crown Heights Brooklyn invites folks to check out the play LOSING THE LIGHT (An American Male Perspective) playing at the Billie Holiday Theater on Fulton. He’s made $8 tickets available for his guests at the door this Thu Mar 20th at 8pm. Tell them you are with the “Richard Barclift Theater Group” at the door. Otherwise you can buy tickets at http://www.zerve.com/BHolidayInc/TheLight

LOSING THE LIGHT is insightful, funny, and provocative, and is perfect for audiences of teenagers and up. Watch as heartbreak brings four friends together in an isolated cabin where they all learn the value of the truth as their emotions run rampant and they open up to each other in ways they never have before. Will the truth threaten their friendships or will it help them to emerge as stronger black men?

This compelling comedy/drama will take place in the elegant 200-seat Billie Holiday Theatre, named after the legendary singer Billie Holiday, which has served as the training ground for notable aspiring theater professionals.

Described as a theatre with a “soul and a mission,” this intimate performance space has produced special programs that address social issues of concern and interest to the African-American and Caribbean-American communities.

Super Tuesday with Obama and the NY Giants

It’s Super Tuesday here in NYC. And we are still high off the Giants Superbowl win!

I got up extra early to go to my Brooklyn polling place before heading to my 9:05am class in Manhattan. There was a tall medium build brother who reminded me of Common standing outside the school with Obama material taped to his shirt, front and back. Before I left home I got the new video with Will.I.am and John Legend as well as a host of celebrities from acting to song.

When I was entering the subway at the Utica stop, an older brother was handing out little pamplets on Obama titled ANSWERING THE CALL: CALLED TO CHRIST, COMMITTED CHRISTIAN.

‘If you’re organizing churches,’ they said, ‘it might be helpful if you went to church once in a while.” And I thought, “Well, I guess that makes sense….So one day I put on one of the few clean jackets I had and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend JEremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called ‘The Audacity of Hope.’ CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN.

I made up my mind to vote for Obama about 10 days ago. It was before the South Carolina primary. Before that I wasn’t sure. Clinton or Obama?? Then I realized I have waited most of my adult life to support a candidate I truly believe in and a candidate that defies all the limitations I’ve grown up with about holding the highest office in this land. All the other black candidates paved the way for both Hilary and Barack to be viable candidates in the same race. I do remember Shirley Chisholm’s bid in 1972. I was 10 years old. She paved the way for Jesse Jackson and others and yes Hilary Clinton, too.

Something is happening. There’s a change of a different sort in the air. I heard Republicans from Jersey claim there were staunch partisans but if McCain won (another said if Romney won), he’d vote for Obama. I am excited about the possibility the real possibility of Dr. King’s Dream becoming a reality in the office of the President of this country. Amazing!!

A black man and his wife are inspiring people from all walks to vote today. Whomever you vote for, VOTE! Exercise your national right and duty. Trust your heart and your conscience. To thine own SELF be true!

Go Giants! Go Obama!!

Some men think nothing of making a living pimping women as bling


Last November NBC Nightly News did a series called African American Women: Where They Stand. It included the video linked above. In it, Irv Gotti, a hip-hop producer/director argues that some women just can’t help themselves on the video set and claims no responsibility in the matter. The head of The Inc (Formerly Murder Inc.) record label, Gotti says it’s hard to market female emcees because they have to be good to look at, too, and he says he asks his 15 year old daughter to confirm if the women in his “scantily-clad videos” look hot. He uses her as a litmus test!! Train ’em young in the art of misogyny and women will keep the practice going — that’s hegemony at its best. Why they don’t call me on these shows as an expert?!??!! I could say I don’t know, but I am starting to realize it’s because they don’t know I am here. Press releases, baby! I haven’t gotten my own word out in that realm. That’s what 2008 is about – getting on the top of the roladex.

This past week, I finished a essay about misogyny relative to the music and videos of Nas for a book to be published in 2008 by Michael Eric Dyson. This essay might be my PR in this larger conversation about hip-hop, gender stratification, and power. Wanted to share some “axioms” I came up with the generate thinking outside the box. They are ratehr obvious but they are not generalizations in the manner we mostly here about misogyny.

Here’s a sample:

Years ago, I read a chapter by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, a queer studies scholar, that had me question the limits of my available thinking about sexuality despite my expertise in the study of gender and the body. As a professor of hip-hop music, her writing left me with a provocative thought: What would help students interested in hip-hop question the limits of their own thinking about misogyny and its impact on women and men? Hip-hop discourse rarely steps away from cliché conversations about misogyny, so I created a list of axioms following Sedgwick’s lead concerning Nas and masculinity in hip-hop. The list includes ideas most know but don’t seem to consider in their analysis of hip-hop (cf. Sedgwick 1993):

  • Sometimes Nas [and other male artists] spends a lot of time rapping about manhood and masculinity, other times not.
  • Some male and female hip-hop heads, of all races and all classes, experience Nas’s portrayal of masculinity as deeply embedded in a matrix of gender meanings and differences. Others do not.
  • Many male and female heads have their richest mental/emotional/kinetic involvement when Nas rhymes about acts they don’t do, or even don’t want to do (“Understandable smooth shit that murderers move with” – “The Thief’s Theme” from Street’s Disciple).
  • Sometimes Nas’s performances are embedded in gendered contexts resonant with meaning, narrative, and connectedness to actual relationships in his life (e.g., brothers in hip-hop, his father, his wife, his daughter, to children); sometimes it is important that they not be (murderers, Mafia bosses); at other times, it may not occur to Nas, his audience, or his critics that they might be.

I want to get people to think about, consider, that there is little willingness in hip-hop to go to the edge of what’s familiar and look beyond simply labeling songs and videos as misogynist to discover what drives not only individual misogyny, but the institutional subordination of girls and women relative to wealth (economic power), power (political power) and prestige (social status) (cf. Weber 1968).

Instead we often settle for what is widely accepted as true. Keepin’ it real, which has fast become cliché in and of itself, is no longer expanding knowledge. It is limiting it. (Do no reprint without permission of the author, Kyra Gaunt © 2008).

Irv Gotti’s logic escapes me but I’ve heard it before. Doesn’t even matter what he said. What I am left with is how often men are asked questions about the misogyny in hip-hop and their answers tend to be cliché, accomodating, justified, and a rationalization at best. They have no compassion or sensitivity to the real lives affected by the subordination of women in rap videos.

“If is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” – Upton Sinclair

This quote appeared in Al Gore’s film AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and it’s so fitting relative to what this male directors are up to and up against.

Irv Gotti: “People with real jobs and real lives …just want to be entertained!” You could say the same thing about when whites loved to gather around and watch black men (and in some cases women) being hanged. It was a social event and the murderous activity was also an incovenient truth back when. This is one of the things that is at the heart of the lack of intimacy, trust and generosity among the black youth and in our communities.