Dust to the Side Chick Dream: The Pitfalls of a Princess

“Challenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly.”
― Patricia Hill Collins, On Intellectual Activism

PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW: YouTube Star or Prop?

The ultimate dreams of success are not to be CEOs or Bawse moms with their own paper. For little girls the current pop culture mindset is to be a star without any recognition, without any of the politically relevant skills and thought processes that transfer into real economic and social power.  Wishing to be a princess or a star is what capitalism sells kids before they can walk any other lifestyle or mindset. If you grow up with an ambitious financial mindset— what I call “ecological fitness” for girls–when you’re young, black, and female, the stereotype and stigmas of black-femaleness often erase you from view. It’s easier to see the gold-digga, hoodrat, and ratchet baby mama as if being a black girl growing up in America ain’t hard enough.

When I was a girl, I dreamed like everyone around me of being the Beyoncé of my time. Then it was Diana Ross. She left her girl group to go on to become the biggest women in the music business. We girls embodied her lead position in play but never learned what it took politically to get there other than some rumor that women slept their way to the top. And I don’t mean the Disney caricature of a sleeping beauty.

Who Profits?

Next week when it opens, I’m going to go see the film Presenting Princess Shaw. Her real name is  Samantha Montgomery, a 38-year-old single woman originally from Chicago, living in New Orleans. It’s playing at the IFC Center–the art film spot in Greenwich Village NYC. As a social media researcher who specializes in the unintended consequences of YouTube and its social sharing networks for marginalized girls of color, I am interested in examining both the views and reviews this film is getting by the numbers and through the critical lens of repeated cultural appropriation and sexploitation of black female culture in social video, embedded sharing, comments, and its bottomlineswho profits from its popularity and who gets the fame that translates into real capital?

A Guardian article from last September concluded by hinting at the hidden issue of the Montgomery’s clearly not paid-in-full digital labor or exploitation by Israeli documentarian Ido Haar and Israeli producer Kutiman who remixes musical clips from videos uploaded by users in his Thru You series.  This is not to say she wasn’t paid but was she able to transact for the rewards and resources they surely imagined from the start? Probably not.

VidIQ Stats on "For kutiman give it up video" from Princess Shaw's YouTube Channel (3 Oct 2014)
VidIQ Stats on “For kutiman give it up video” from Princess Shaw’s YouTube Channel (3 Oct 2014)

Dust to the Side Chick Dream:
The Pitfalls of a Imagining Yourself a
Princess

In her older than expected “princess” fairy tale I am curious to see if the happy ending is no more than the emotional labor associated with her YouTube videos; none of which on first glance have more than 9,000 views which is huge for an average or ordinary YouTuber but a pittance for anyone claiming to be a YouTube star these days. Viral videos that make it big 9 times out of 10 are professionally produced.

The question I hope seeing the film answers is whether the protagonist  of Presenting Princess Shaw gains more than social capital; can she, is she, or will she have the relevant political skills as a YouTuber to translate her social worth to the film into economic capital in her life of poverty.

Having only seen the Presenting Princess Shaw trailer, it feels like a “fashionable” poverty porn flick at the intersection of post-Katrina NOLA, internet tourism that hunts for black pop culture in the poor’s unpaid digital labor, justified by the acceptance that everyone over shares and ignores the potential profit of their online presence. The marginalize gain views but rarely capital. For black girls and women in an unrelenting search for the resources they need not only to survive but often to support others older and younger,  centuries of structural racism and sexism is merely being replicated by invisible audiences from Inkster to Israel to elsewhere on the planet that mobile phones provide access to what’s great about the web and our lives and what’s not.   [Inkster is another community where black lives are under attack from state violence. I lived near Inkster during grad school at the University of Michigan. Watch this horrific beating and the cost to taxpayers–we are footing the bill for police violence.]

Montgomery’s Cliff?

As I plan to watch the film next week, I have a big question. How will Samantha Montgomery, a 38-year-old single woman struggling in New Orleans magically thrive without the real political tools for change in a market economy that never teaches the poor nor allows the girls and women of color to not only profit but overcome centuries of oppression? The fame thrust upon Montgomery by creatives in Israel may not fill the deep pockets of her unique poverty with the kind of power she needs to move out of a paycheck-to-paycheck existence working in a nursing facility. Being happy seen singing songs on film and being able to take care of your primary conditions of life–health, money, work, home, and family–are never synonymous. I hope she transacted for what she truly needed and that is never fame in and of itself.

On the surface of things–perhaps she has a different story to tell; I have not had the privilege of hearing her tell her side of  the story after the fact– I suspect she is ill equipped to handle (hell, I would be ill-equipped to handle) the kind of analysis or critical thinking needed about the hidden costs of such fame, the licensing agreements, marketing, monetization of my channel and any contract, the implications of viral videos and feature films for my future once the film is no longer relevant, ownership of my image and digital content–for instance, asking yourself if a song yours cuz you sang it on YouTube?–and much, much more. No one ever taught me that and they sure don’t teach that to kids in school–and its’ definitely not taught to the girls who dropped out of math and science classes by high school or college. I’m one of them. I know.

When she finally grows up #staywoke

The Cinderella in stories told by Disney (read the critique by Peggy Orenstein here or the critique on NPR here)  never asked for much. She wanted the patriarchal fantasy — the man savior never making  from life’s racialized and gendered oppression in other ways as Beyoncé Lemonade has done from years of hard labor and rich collaboration. The social and psychological socialization of growing up black, female, and poor in the U.S. tends to limit our imagination to  two options — the path to money through men and the systems of fame they created (see Nicki Minaj or Blac Chyna) or the illusion that someone might save you from the poverty most black women from low-income to middle-class occupy (see Blak Chyna or the distorted view that surely some girl out there has that Michelle Obama is famous because her husband is the president of the free world).  My examples can be debated but I hope my point is not lost.

What futures are we announcing with existing social and viral media — commercial or user-generated– and what futures are actually available to most girls of color if they are not armed with the ethical study and analysis of the oppression, exploitation, and limits of power given to girls and women locally, nationally, and internationally by race, class, and gender?  And let us not misread the “magic” of black girls and women. This is not the magic of a slight of hand or luck. It’s work!  And it’s not the wage labor of the body (or stripper booty aka handle your paper). This is about the work and action of the mind and that is what matters for the Minajs and Knowles and Chynas out there.

This is the legacy of the intersectional work of womanists, feminists, anarchists, progressives, and everyday mothers, sisters, and daughters before the Internet was a thing. My mother has been reminding every time we talk lately about how much of this is lost or not being exercised today.

Someday: No Prince Need Come

Some day, when we free democratic systems–schools, media, family, government–from patriarchy (h/t to Carol Gilligan), girls and women will be free of the fantasy of the glass slipper or the diamond ring to grasp the reality that society can break that damn glass ceiling. That beloved community — what some call the art and discipline of nonviolence — comes from serious study and long-term planning.

We must learn how to teach girls and women that some day planning for wealth and health is far better than the glitter of 15 minutes of social media fame!

And it’s never to late to learn this, said the black woman struggling over 50!

POSTSCRIPT: I posted a similar video in a blog post a while back of this same very young girl–JoJo–who asserts to her daddy in more than one video that “I am is NOT a princess”. In this one she insists,I’m a real person!” It’s precious and it made me think about the oppression socialization around why girls are marketed the princess ideology and why more girls don’t resist it.

We all have dreams and we have the right to imagine ourselves any way we choose. So I am not knocking Montgomery’s right to name herself as she chooses. What I question is the structures of power — particularly those of others– to exploit her circumstances and desires. I hope she understands the control over her representation they may wield and the politics she, or anyone else like her–a marginalized woman of color–needs to turn their 15 minutes of fame into long-term resources.  It’s the bottomlines — the multiple forms of capital  (i.e., social, economic, human, and cultural) involved that concerns me. I also notice a tendency for female singers to be exploited because we tend to not be well-educated in the power and politics of the music business.  I want Montgomery, and others like her, to learn to transact so they can thrive not just survive.

This post was prompted after being contact by a reporter.  In preparation, I started doing some study of her channel and the film.  I’ll see the film within the week. Stay tuned for more.

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JoJo “I’m Not A Princess!”: Audiences Deny Agency; Promote Patriarchy

“Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another–physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.”
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

What would happen to the future of white supremacist patriarchy if [hegemonic] white [fe]males were choosing to form serious relationships with black females?

Clearly, this structure would be under mined.
Bell Hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations

 

So Mashable releases a video (Monday, September 14) of this adorable and sassy little white girl named JoJo. JoJo is having a logic and YouTube-adorable argument with her Dad explaining how she is NOT a princess.

JoJo: “No! Don’t ask me any questions, I just need <indistinguishable>.

Dad: I wanna call you my princess.

JoJo: NO! You cannot call me your princess, o-KAY DAD!?!

So you can see how from the viewers standpoint we must fix JoJo. She cannot be denied her “rightful” place in the habitus — the “trained capacities and structured propensities to think, feel and act in determinant ways, which then guide them’ (Wacquant 2005: 316, cited in Navarro 2006: 16)” — of hegemonic femininity, fantasy and seduction, can we now?!?

Her dad tries to convince her otherwise. She IS a princess, he insists in one way or another. Here, her dad–used by his own habitus of hegemonic daddy-hood and masculinity — denies his daughter her sense of agency, unintentionally–we are all creatures of our habitus of the structures that keep the logic of hegemonic masculinity and femininity in place.

Agency
The capacity of individuals to act independently.
The idea that children can be seen as independent social actors is core to the development of the new paradigm for the study of children and young people that emerged in the social sciences in the 1970s. It underscores children and young people’s capacities to make choices about the things they do and to express their own ideas. Through this, it emphasizes children’s ability not only to have some control over the direction their own lives take but also, importantly, to play some part in the changes that take place in society more widely. As Mayall describes it, a focus on children’s agency enables exploration of the ways in which children’s interaction with others ‘makes a difference — to a relationship or to a decision, to the workings of a set of social assumptions or constraints’ (Mayall, 2002: 21 quoted in Allison James & Adrian James, Key Concepts in Childhood Studies, Sage Key Concepts, 2008: 9).

Then along comes Katy Perry using her millions of followers on Twitter to do the same. In the name of cuteness, Katy will usurp this little girl’s agency to insure she fits the norm and gets the bracelets JoJo argues distinguishes her from a real princess. All little girls should want to be a princess and get the diamond bracelet, right?!?!

Starting a Kickstarter to get this 👑Queen👑 her rightful bracelets! https://t.co/Gp9bo9tyJY

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The last thing girls need are more myths about having someone one else buy the jewels that make you whole or someone else who comes to save you from the fate of second class citizenship. Let’s just deny JoJo’s healthy agency and replace it with money and jewels. Patriarchy wins!

Let a Girl Be a Girl: On Her Own Terms

JoJo: I said don’t ask me anything OR don’t talk. You can talk AFTER.  [long pause as she looks at the TV and gathers her thoughts. Dad interjects]

Dad: OK, it’s my turn to talk. [what lesson is she and the audience of girls watching learning from the subtle cooptation of her request.]

JoJo is on to something! Don’t let them seduce you, oh great one, with jewels. Daddy, pay attention! Let your girl grow up to be her own definition of self. Let her be an assertive, independent, a social actor with her own voice and her own actions with your loving support and protection.

But Katy Perry has to go and start a Kickstarter campaign for her to get the bracelets. PU-LEEEZ!!  IT’S NOT ABOUT THE JEWELS, Katy! Stop messing around with the myths and mental maps of reality that seduce girls into subservience to body and beauty politics.

This girl gets it on some brilliant level as a child. Don’t mess with that!! Both the dad and Katy Perry feed into this enculturational process where girls are taught patriarchal femininity where girls should be selfless in order to have relationship. As Carol Gilligan notes in the video below, without a self you cannot be in relationship.

IT’S BIGGER THAN BRACELETS, KATY!

Having a female celebrity singer, a mega star, use her platform and privilege (and in this case white privilege) to help a girl whose intentions are very clear sends the wrong message in my book. I applaud Perry’s good intentions but the road to hell is already well-paved by such paternalistic moves in the name of male as well as female celebrities. How about helping raise millions for a cause in JoJo’s name that’s bigger than bracelets?? That could make her a princess of a whole different sort.

There are millions of girls right here in the US (let’s not go white savior on Africa or Southeast Asia for just a minute) who she could help; millions of marginalized girls of color and poor white girls would get more bang for those bucks. Let’s start thinking impact not celebrity diamonds for JoJo. Queens and princesses — the real ones — use their power to help the people who need it most.

This moment of lifecasting on YouTube by JoJo’s dad under the username Lomelino Kids could have been (and still may be) a stepping stone to a kind of feminist stance about being beautiful and ordinary in an extraordinary way that is NOT about the body or mere beauty. Carol Gilligan reminds us that feminism actually is a liberation movement to free democracy from patriarchy. Women and men, girls and boys are not free if patriarchy is the structure of our lives, the order and measure for our success.

If we situated the role of a “princess” from the historical GPS that dictionaries entries provide, the oldest definition is first,  we might see how the structure of a princess’s power has devolved over time.

Full Definition of PRINCESS

1  archaic :  a woman having sovereign power
2:  a female member of a royal family; especially :  a daughter or granddaughter of a sovereign
3:  the consort of a prince
4:  one likened to a princess; especially :  a woman of high rank or of high standing in her class or profession <a pop music princess>

Merriam Webster Online also positions first and foremost on its site before this chronological rendering:

a usually attractive girl or woman who is treated with special attention and kindness

JoJo has everything she already needs and learning about other notable princesses or queens other than the fictional Disney versions would be a real asset. Learning about Nefretiti, who was considered one of the most powerful women to ever rule, Marie Antoinette, who rose to the throne at 14, Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii or Queen Noor of Jordan would be more beneficial than bracelets from a Kickstarter campaign. But that is not what JoJo is being enculturated into. YouTube’s media ecology will amplify a totally different intention that JoJo asks — back to the seduction of the jewels.

Dad: I’m a king

JoJo: No, you’re not! You’re a dad

I skimmed the reactions to the video and most have little to do with JoJo’s agency and more to do with reasserting the normative expectations where we romantically seduce little girls into a focus on their bodies and how they adorn them. Read: Isn’t she cute trying to break the chains of patriarchy but it ain’t that serious. She’ll grow outta that with the help of Daddy, Katy, Kickstarter and the crown achievement of some jewels. This makes it all about the jewels and adornment not the substance and character of an independent or interdependent girl or woman.

Screen Shot of YouTube Comments 2015-09-14 at 9.50.06 AM
Screen Shot of YouTube Comments 2015-09-14 at 9.50.06 AM

 

Ok, I should be writing my article on Mirrors, Monsters and Webcams and marginalized girls on YouTube, but this got me. #feelingsnarkytoday #backtowork

Have a look out these two remarkable YouTube videos about feminism. They helped me resituate some of my own thinking.

Dr. Carol Gilligan Defines Feminism and Patriarchy

Black Folk Don’t: Do Feminism

 

 

“Feminism” from women aged 50 down to girls aged 5.

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”
― Rebecca West
“You didn’t see me on television, you didn’t see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders.”
― Ella Baker
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
― Alice Walker

“All men should be feminists. If men care about women’s rights the world will be a better place.” 
― John Legend

And Justice For All: To Protect Children’s Privacy Online

Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”    ― Benjamin Franklin
“But the issue of sexual harassment is not the end of it. There are other issues – political issues, gender issues – that people need to be educated about.”   ―Anita Hill
As a result of new technologies and perceived profitability, we can now watch black-and-white movie classics in color. While the tinted images we are offered may be more palatable to the modern viewer, we are still watching the same old movie that was offered to us before. Movie colorization adds little of substance–its contributions remain cosmetic. … Rather than seeing [girls] of color as fully human individuals, [they] are treated as the additive sum of [their] categories.”  ― Patricia Hill Collins, On Intellectual Activism

 

And Justice for Adolescent Black Girls

When I was in high school back in 1979, I imagined and began to deeply desire becoming a lawyer. I think for my adolescent self it was about a need for control that most children–adolescents and teens–don’t have because of their position in society, because of age. Wanting to be a lawyer also fueled a desire for protection from harm that I saw was missing in the lives of children in their own homes, including my own.

My desire to become a lawyer was threatened off by a major motion picture in 1979. It was my senior year.  The year hip-hop went mainstream with “Rappers’ Delight” and “The Message” both on Sugarhill Records. The feeling I had as I exited the movie theater scared me off completely. Corruption would break me. No justice? No inner peace!

This morning I decided to watch a clip of the final scene from “And Justice for All” starring A list actor Al Pacino (post Serpico fame) and tears welled up in my eyes. The scene dramatically exposed confronting the corruption in a U.S. legal system. I saw that film over 30 years ago and my deep passionate desire for protecting children–especially girls–from harm persists. Now I’m standing for the ethics around studying human subjects in the complicated public spaces of YouTube. And it’s all a remnant of that teenage desire I tried to run from. When I left the theater, I left that dream and my voice behind. A hidden sacrifice I never shared with anyone.

Then, as a singer in my first year of college, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was afraid to express myself publicly. That fear haunted me for 20 years. My diary was violated during my late adolescence and again in grad school. My private thoughts were always intruded upon. Sometimes I think I’m better from blogging and that even the publicly personal style of vlogging brings a kind of safe, constructed intimacy that gives me a sense of control I never had in other situations as an adolescent. Even though I have pronounced all kinds of truths and partial knowledge in front of a classroom before hundreds of strangers who became familiar faces and sometimes friends, something about truth-telling to myself is missing. It has everything to do with being “black” and “female” in the body I was gifted on this ride around the Sun.

Lately, the hegemony of corruption and the lack of concern for the ethical and humane treatment of black people and black girls threatens to rear the head of my silence again. Seeing black people as fully human, as fully enfranchised citizens protesting their unjust treatment, and as expressive beings finding solace in a moment of dance and pleasure like in the twerking videos I code and analyze, seems so foreign to others, to far too many. It frightens me in complicated ways and I am frightened or at least concerned for the girls I wish to impact with my work. Look, I initially didn’t want to study twerking. I had adopted a pornographic lens about it at first that triggered all the usual respectability politics often heard around black girls’ sexuality or actual eroticism in the pleasure of loving to dance. Things have changed.

Yet, that deep-seeded fear still keeps me from stepping out in the limelight with my publishing and my voice. It hides itself from me, it seems, ever elusive when I set out to write an article in which I intend to speak my truth to the power within me and to authorities and listeners out there. Remember, Al Pacino’s character nearly went mad confronting his voice and deep-seeded passion for justice. And I am a sucker for a subjective, romantic narrative that says you can never win. SMH. In the end, as I prefer to tell myself when the fear has me, he ruined his own career because of his truths. I quickly learned back then, or I decided is more accurate, that the moral of the film was that you can never win…and therefore, law was not for me. Wish some guidance counselor at my public high school could have told me there are many types of lawyers. Intellectual property would have been a nice choice for me. lol Hindsight speaks. #20-20

Now I am realizing something invaluable: Madness may not be a choice. You can either go mad hiding or you can use the madness to fight injustice. Either way it seems madness will be close at hand. We humans are always on the verge of it and it’s not because black people are angry thugs or thots (them hoes over there).

Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:
– I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
– I shall fear only God.
– I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
– I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
– I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth,
I shall put up with all suffering.”   ― Mahatma Gandhi

B-more

I had no memory that the film “And Justice for All” was set in Baltimore. I grew up and went to high school in Rockville, Maryland, just outside D.C. and 40 minutes outside of Baltimore. My grandfather loved to get lost on purpose whenever we took a trip Baltimore. It was his way of discovering new neighborhoods or maybe seeing how other blacks were faring in our home state. Haven’t been to Baltimore much since my senior year in 1979.  Perhaps I should watch this film again given all that’s happening today given that Baltimore’s protest has replaced Ferguson’s along with the distortions and censors of today’s short-sighted news reporting cycles. I saw people complaining about man-on-the-street interviews being censored and interrupted mid-stream on CNN.

While watching clips from “And Justice for all” on YouTube I also noticed its all-white cast and seemingly color-blind portrayals of the roles within the criminal court system — defendants, complaintants, witnesses, power hungry prosecutors, defense attorneys, clerks, juries, and crooked judges. It all somehow still spoke to the same issues of blackness, wealth inequality, patriarchy, and sexuality and its accompanying bullying and abuse we see today. The same issues but with people of color filling the screens are all at work in Baltimore today. What I didn’t remember was how Pacino’s character defends a transgender client which I could connect to the fact that the #blacklivesmatter hashtag began as a reaction to the mistreatment and killing of transgender black females. Characters in the film went mad left and right and so are citizens in Baltimore and Ferguson and in transgender black networks. Madness turned within is as destructive as that seen in the rioting.

Society needs protection from such harm and lawyers are a last resort. It begins with planning, organization and even the kind of CSI work I do with my students to figure out what’s actually going on with black girls who twerk on YouTube as far as the digital consequences and meanings of all the players in action there. Think about users, subscribers, viewers, commenters, the people who design the built environment and spaces of YouTube, media players like VEVO who distribute the content black girls who twerk dance to, and more.

Don’t know why these two disparate yet related expressions are coming to mind: “Give me your tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free” and, “Power to People! Power to Black People! Power to All people and to the land!” If I remember it correctly, that’s the chant of the Black Panther Party movement in the stand and message to us all for sovereignty. They were, as too few know, shut down by COINTELPRO. Their history of community progress and development was distorted and misrepresented by the FBI and mass news media.Generations of youth today still fear the black planet the news characterized about them. I had a student tell me he had no idea they were feeding hungry children and providing health care and that the average age of many in the BPP were 14-18, according to Ericka Huggins (listen).

Without doing the critical study for themselves, students today continue to be miseducated. How can you learn anything critical on top of such distortions about our history in the US? But history is not self-perpetuating. And America’s history is messy and complicated like the courtroom scenes and the out of courtroom drama’s in And Justice for All (1979).

Respect, Beneficence, and Justice: Human Subject Research

This blog post came about because I was making a YouTube vlog earlier in the day based on comments from students in my anthro sections on ethics. They all took human subject research training and were certified in basic concepts related to protecting the subjects in our study (black girls ages 13-16 and younger) from harm. I was so moved by the matter-of-fact-ness of their embrace of three principles of The Belmont Report on studying human subjects that this blog is the result. The report insists on three principles that even I didn’t learn in grad school, to be honest. I never had an ethics training during my PhD. Can you believe it? Some of my actions in the past belie this reality.

It’s ironic that the same year I saw Al Pacino’s film, the same year I graduated from high school and the same year rap music went mainstream, The Belmont Report (1979) was released. It is a concise reliable summary and guide for researchers of human subjects which insists on:

RESPECT for persons and their autonomy and the respect of those with limited autonomy (i.e., girls and boys under 13 on YouTube, the homeless, transgender folk, sex workers, etc.)

BENEFICENCE meaning to maximize benefits and minimize risks of harm to subjects (i.e., studying children is a good example of measuring risk of studying their videos in the interest of their future benefit)

JUSTICE or the fair distribution of the benefits and distributions of research; to each person an individual share, to each person according to individual need, to each person according to individual effort, to each person according to societal contribution and to each person according to merit.

The report mentioned the non-consensual treatment or infection of black men with Syphillis. There are a great deal of non-consensual acts happening to girls under 13 on YouTube that I hope to confront with my work. Consent offline matters and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act matters, too!

Voicing Ethics in the Bottomlines Project

After students were certified in these basic tenets of conducting human research, I asked them what they learned and their comments were so insightful.

One student wrote: “It took me 5 hours to complete this training and every step of the way I realized that what i considered public and normal in Youtube can also be harmful and a violation of privacy to the subject.”

Another wrote: “It seems like it would be very easy to violate someone’s privacy if you didn’t know the restrictions and ways to prevent this. Privacy is one of the most sacred things to a person and it would be a shame to violate it on purpose or even by accident.”

Yet another wrote: “When we code YouTube videos of teenage girls twerking, we have to treat them with respect while we do a digital ethnography that includes their videos, whatever their motive for putting the video on the internet was.”

These codes of ethical conduct matter not only in research but in life. The grandfather of Al Pacino’s character (Arthur) played by Lee Strasberg in the film says to his grandson, “If you’re not honest, you’re nothing.” #RESPECT!

I am still learning what is it to be honest to what you spirit calls for you do to and to be true to setting yourself up to win. I didn’t take life’s lessons and I thought it would just all work out. Life doesn’t really work that way. It’s part dream and part work and action. ‪#‎followyourinnervoice and have a plan of execution. Just uploading any old video online can have severe costs later.

You never have a second chance at a first impression!

POSTSCRIPT

While making my vlog of students’ comments, one of my students sent me an email at midnight. This student was struggling to recover from a recent sexual abuse incident with a family member. What a horrible thing to be happening during the last 2 weeks of the semester. This left me with a question:

What kind of spaces are we creating for our children that will continue to impact their adult lives and futures? This is why I do what I do around twerking videos. Not because twerking is wrong. It is not. It’s dance. It’s art. It’s erotic expression. I do it because how others perceive what you do, their first impressions, were set long before more of these black girls were ever born. The persistence of racism and sexism in our mediated communication and interactions on- and off-line

Sexual assault and issues of consent or lack there of can shape you and break you. Yet, each of us harmed by such events must still learn how to find our own voice, become an adult, reclaim old desires left behind from fear, and stand up for our SELF when others whom you expect to don’t.

So much about patriarchy and about rites around girls and women in families are norms gone wrong. They are in need of deep societal, familial and community caring-frontation and change. This student’s email reflected how they blamed themselves for not being able to finish their work under such extreme circumstances. Yeah, it’s always you’re fault. Don’t expect any compassion these days.

They wrote to me: “I know there will be penalties for not turning work in on time…”.

This kind of twisted analysis stems from the personalization of blame that haunts American culture and society. It limits our ability to adapt to our greatness by simply making a request under the circumstances without shame or deep explanation. For instance:

“Dear Professor, I had a serious personal issue happen around the assault I mentioned earlier where I missed class. Can I request an extension on my work?”

If they say no, then there’s work to do. While this student has generally kept up with work and is known from their class participation, they have also hugged the wall just near the door and, in hindsight, avoided conversations that infer sexual exploitation of the girls we are studying on YouTube. We are human and we are affected by what we study in ethnographic inquiry.

In response, I invited the student to realize that there are no “penalties” and that students are not “on trial” in my classroom. Yes, there are costs for not turning in work but they are actually beneficial costs (beneficence) not penalties (losses or risks of harm). Such constraints inspire and agitate us to stay on track in coursework.

Maybe we all need to learn more about ethical standards of human interaction so we don’t get the penalties twisted up with the benefits of boundaries and limitations which most adolescents resist with everything in them.

Without a voice, there is no respect, beneficence and justice and that goes for all those in Baltimore and those in my classroom in NYC. And I must remind me.

OUTRO: I’m Angela Davis, I ain’t shakin my buns

Ima let Rah Digga of Newark take us out on this one rapping on the song “Angela Davis.”

I added these lyrics to Rap Genius cuz 1) not a lot of women contribute to the crowd-sourced lyrics and annotations there it seems and 2) no one had put these great lyrics up before. They needed to be there because Rah Digga is a badass and so was and is Angela Davis still!

We need more black female contributors to the participatory culture of Rap Genius, Wikipedia and YouTube. More girls making their own beats to dance to and more criticism of the music they want to get from artists they love! Girls and women run the fan videomaking culture on YouTube!! But the politics of the market never work for them.

http://genius.com/Rah-digga-angela-davis-single-lyrics

Verse 1:
I’m Angela Davis, I ain’t shaking my buns
I’m yelling power to the people and waving ’em guns
I be pumping dat fist, I ain’t running some shit
It ain’t too many o’ you broads got the stomach for dis!

The Gap: What Media Teaches 7 Year Olds About Being Female

“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: “It’s a girl.”
Shirley Chisholm

http://www.slideshare.net/anastasiyasmotrikova/negative-images-of-women-in-popular-culture-33002780
http://www.slideshare.net/anastasiyasmotrikova/negative-images-of-women-in-popular-culture-33002780

 

My intro anthro courses will be conducting video content analysis on the 1000 videos of black girls (13-17 and younger) twerking in my dataset. We will analyze the intersectionality of race, gender and age on YouTube.

They will work in pairs to analyze 15 videos each based on scholarly research on video coding and content analysis. I am working out the intersectional categories they will focus on together. With many teams we can analyze subcultural features at the same time. Each team will choose a code or two to analyze in their subset of videos. It might be focusing on sexualization of adolescent girls, YouTube personal vlogging, rap music videos and video vixens, or new media ecology, etc. They will find three scholarly articles to help them think like a social scientist about video content analysis and/or YouTube content creation.

Today I got this email from one of my 90 students. She is a non-black, twenty-something year old, undergrad. She wrote:

Hello professor,
I had an interesting experience today that I wanted to tell you about.

Today, I was babysitting a young girl, 7yo, and we were creating things out of clay. We decided to make a couple and she asked me to help her making the girl. She told me that the girl has to be tall and has to have a GAP BETWEEN HER TIGHTS! I asked her why and she said that that is how pretty and skinny girls look like. I told her that I don’t have gap between my tights and asked her if she things I am fat or ugly (believe me we have very honest and good relationship-we tell each other things). And she just froze and said no. And I could see how honestly she meant that and how she started thinking how come I am not ugly or fat when I don’t have gap between my tights. ( I messed up her mental map [of reality–a concept from our anthro textbook] I guess- can that be the case?)

And that make me think about twerking. If we communicate to a girl at tender age of seven this twisted image of how beautiful girl/woman looks like, couldn’t one of the reasons for black girls to twerk [sic] be that this is what cool/desirable/…. girls(women) do?

I am not sure if that has any value for our research, but I wanted to share my thoughts with you.”

I wrote her back with glee “YES!!!” This is one of those turning points in the learning process. It makes teaching and learning around vulnerable topics all the more worthwhile.

Our textbook introduced the concept of “zeros”

Zeros

Elements of a story or a picture that are not told or seen and yet offer key insights into issues that might be too sensitive to discuss or display publicly.

Most students would not think like me that mentioning a “thigh gap” likely tells me that the little girl is not black. Perhaps it’s biology–I rarely see black women with thigh gaps. Perhaps it’s because we tend to be thick versus thin in our hips. Surely there are black girls with and who desire a thigh gap. I did when Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince aired on commercial TV from 1975 to 1979. That was a year before Roots aired on ABC.

I was a true adolescent when I was watching actress Linda Carter twirl into her supernatural power. She was sexy and it was all about her body. Her thigh gap was real but I knew her powers were not. This was TV! After watching, I looked at my body in the mirror and thought…and this sounds crazy in hindsight only…but I thought “I don’t have a gap so how will I be able to have sex? There’s no room down there.” In other words, who will find me attractive? I didn’t see it in myself.  All I noticed was that I was missing that gap and from my adolescent point of view it signified what it meant to be a wonder, to be alluring, to be a woman.  That way of seeing still has me decades later.

That thought plagued my adolescent brain as my looking-glass self kept reminding me how I needed/wanted to be viewed by others. To be liked. I wanted to conform or contort my body to fit some hegemonic view imposed from merely watching television. No one told me you need a gap. My mother had no thigh gap. No boy said “Oh, I wish you had a gap!” I recall talking with other girls about it once. But none of my friends had thigh gaps. Well, Bernadette did! She was a neighborhood girl who tortured me later in high school. She was light-skinned-ed, skinny and tall compared to the rest of the girls in 8th grade. I was a loner. And I didn’t share my thoughts with other girls. I rarely do now. This is why voice is so important to the work I am doing. Finding your voice is key to empowering girls in my view to combat how prevalent the body is around the socialization of the female body in social and televised media.

Vids of Very Young Girls

My students, 90 in all in Spring 2015 semester, are just starting to learn how to conduct fieldwork and ethnography from Chapter 3 in the textbook titled Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age by my department colleague Ken Guest.

Since this is a new textbook I am using this term, I took a suggestion from a senior sociology colleague and friend at the CUNY Grad Center. He suggested I have my students participate in a research project around my data instead of having them write papers as I ordinarily do.

So far, I have only introduced my students this term to one twerking video. Two week ago I blogged about it.I recently changed the title to: “Privacy? (No!) Adversity? (You Bet!): Black Girls’ Bedroom Twerking”. It features an 8 year old twerking on YouTube. I’ve flagged this video on March 6th for child abuse because the girl is below the YouTube age minimum and the comments are “grooming” her to make another video in her “panties”.  In the past, flagging videos has not worked but it’s something I am hoping to publicize to protect very young girls from such harm.

The Vulnerable Classroom

Teaching around this ethnographic fieldwork is really, really complicated as danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated points to. It involves virtual impressions and moving images that are misread, misinterpreted and often stigmatized. It features underage girls whom far too many of us do not assign agency. We perceive their lack of agency as being complicit in some symbolic action of soliciting sexual attention and they they are giving consent to male viewers to slut-shame them.

It involves dance moves that are racialized and sexualized by generalized others. These moves in visual motion can awaken sensual reactions that are usually reserved for private encounters and are perceived and sensed differently by women and men, girls and boys, in ways that are blurred by the broadcast nature of the medium.  And watching twerking videos mirrors a reality, no more accurately, it mirrors a mental map of reality that for many role-takers (parents, teachers, older folk, strangers, moral high grounders, etc.) in public are highly agitated by. It’s particularly agitating when it comes to any association with stigmas about black girls or  sexual adolescent girls. Another thing, it’s all about the female realm in a domestic sphere — bedroom culture — which given the emphasis on race and gender, on black femaleness, it’s complicated by issues of culture, power, hegemony, and stratification. Topics most undergrads are not facile with understanding yet. Oh!! And if that isn’t complicated enough,  my students and I occasionally watch these videos in a disembodied academic setting, a college classroom at a public university known for its wide range of ethnicity diversity as well as religions. THIS. IS. COMPLICATED ETHNOGRAPHIC WORK AND PEDAGOGY.

This is vulnerable ethnography as well as vulnerable and critical teaching and learning in mixed company. I have to help these diverse emerging adults accept that there are risks affecting the youngest, darkest, and socially most vulnerable YouTube participants and convince them that this is academic work. I have to help them not get lost in the fascination with what’s viral–YouTube viral videos–and learn to critically analyze a rich and extremely educative site of study–digital media and new media ecologies. I, too, am constantly challenging my own mental maps of reality as a result.

More soon.

♥ Watch Your Back! Stop Messing Around with Your Assets, Love!

 ♡ ♥ A Valentine Weekend Post ♥ ♡

Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval….[It is] a bid for the attention of strangers — … hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see. — Jon Ronson, NYT, Feb 12, 2015

If we’re going to be watched, judged and constantly commented on? We’ll choose just what that is, thanks very much. – Daisy Buchanan, “Anti-Selfie Day,” The Telegraph, Feb 14, 2015

Feminism is worthless without intersectionality and inclusion

One tweet. Just one off-handed tweet that was read at the intersection of whiteness, AIDS and colliding contexts of meaning (i.e., context collapse) cost a young PR director her job. It happened while Justine Sacco was “flying while white” from the United States to South Africa–the land where she was actually born. It took one tweet to have career to fall from sky of privilege. The NYT article about it is a must read for anyone interested in learning from social media blunders including literally-read tweets and the role of public shaming at the hands of your own self-generated digital content today.

My interest in the piece concerns digital self-presentation and the costs of such content. It speaks to two concerns that I’ll sum up in 140 characters (or less).

Number 1:  to the consequences of social media costs more than money and can last a lifetime. Wake up! Stop giving away your assets.

I witness indifference among black girls who broadcast while they twerk. What I notice is their indifference to their own digital ‘net worth — their social capital or assets. Not only what they could make from their content but the consequences of what others see or think about their content that may not matter now but may cost them later. What concerns me is their ecological fitness in a patriarchal, white supremacist, and capitalist world that was not and is not designed for their gain or growth and development. The impact that twerking videos may have on their future net worth — their monetary assets after debts owed — also concerns me. Both your digital and future net worth involve your online reputation now.

The music media of television and radio got us first. We’ve been hoodwinked into believing the struggle is and has been over being consumers of media.  Joshua Meyrowitz corrects this thinking in his book No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior (1985). We were not consuming TV, we were being consumed by it (to paraphrase a powerful expression from a young black woman at a conference I attended on gender, sexuality and hip-hop). We actually were and still are the products of media. Social media platforms sell us to advertisers. That is how the business model of media has always worked. So, even as black girls create their own content, they are being sold to media companies by the eyefull including rap artists like Wacka Flocka Flame, Juicy J and K-Stylis who create twerk songs by the dozen to advertise their “art”. We are all being bought and sold on Facebook and on YouTube to the highest advertising bidders which is … Facebook and YouTube along with VEVO and Amazon and many others.  This is the media ecology of online living. So the issue of your reputation comes second to what advertisers are selling on the back of your videos, tweets, likes and updates. If you lose your job, they still make it rain no matter what.

This is why the study of black girls twerking on YouTube can be insightful and go well beyond being about us vs. them. If a young white woman heading up PR at a firm can lose her job and threaten her future reputation from one off-handed and indiscriminate tweet, what do you think is the cost for you? Studying twerking YouTube videos, videos that will persist for years and years to come for black girls and others of any class or background has a lot to offer in thinking about digital reputations online and off.

Number 2: On social media, your assets can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Protect your future ‘net worth now! Beware 

The misogynoir — the anti-black sexism (as well as the anti-female racism) faced by black women in social media reflect forms of structural inequalities that young girls of color, esp. black girls, on YouTube may learn way too late not unlike Justine Sacco. Dare I say that “the stakes are highest for those who are darkest” in any visual social media on the Internet. They are highest for those who use their bodies to tell stories that strangers (even if black and female) may not be able to decode from your point of view.

Strangers — both people you’ve never met and those you call friends that you only know online–simply cannot decipher others’ behaviors, esp. adolescent play or the messing around that black girls who make twerking videos are doing just like other kids playing around with video production and content creation on YouTube. Black girls generally shoot and upload their twerking videos so their motives — their cultural as well as their technical intentions in making videos — are not apparent. If they were using filters and screen caps or adding verbal commentary to accompany their twerking, the context might be more apparent and more significant to strangers. Friends they know in real life tend to get it. But the issue of what advertisers and media figures get is a whole ‘nother conversation.

Kstylis_Twerk_Music-back-large

Most of us cannot read between the lines of twerking videos, or between the “bottomlines.” This is even more complicated when watching a black teen twerk or bounce her ass to songs like “Trampoline Booty” or “Kangaroo Booty” or even “Booty Hopscotch“–all popular songs by Memphis artist Kstylis.  His songs dominate the dataset of 1000 videos I have collected.

On Cognitive Assets: “The Booty Don’t Lie” (So Saith Monae)

Last summer while conducting this research, I suggested to a white male student that he allow himself to see these young girls are merely having fun online, messing around. He quipped, “I don’t see emotion in an ass!”

This student, in my view, was not trying to be funny or glib. This was not his modus operandi. In class he always demonstrated a slightly older, more mature mindset. He was open but he was also stuck.He couldn’t, at first glance, see past what he imagined was nothing more than sexual, nothing more than (and this is my take not his) “asking for it”; enticing the wrong kind of male attention; all he could see is the notion of soliciting sex with that ass, to be blunt. (Again, this is my take on his reaction, not his).

This is why I have been exploring what I call the “cognitive justice” aspects of digital media studies and media ecology. The part of the brain that is threatened by seeing things different than what we already know–the amygdala that does no critical thinking but does pull patterns from your past for usefulness in what it perceives is happening now —  is alive and well when we confront implicit biases of race and sex. That part of our brain keeps us thinking we are safe–safe knowing that “those” people are get short-shrifted because they are deserve it. Our mind is being confronted with a truth that is difficult to set free. That day that student was cognitively stuck by my suggestion that black girls were just playing. Yet, that moment of cognitive distortion eventually did set him free.  He became one of the best interpreters of the video micro-culture of adolescent black girls twerking in the entire class last summer.  He also did some of the best ethnographic vlogging, too.

We must teach ourselves and teach girls that their cognitive assets come first! That don’t mean you can’t make twerking videos anymore. But it we could see more geeking out in those videos, learning techniques that give you social and cultural capital as a content creator, the conversations which switch from your ass to your real assets.

Just Messing Around on YouTube

Sharing images of oneself is lingua franca for online adolescent and teen girls. It is shaped by hegemonic masculinity and femininity. When we consider issues at the intersection of race, gender and age, we who are older KNOW that some will pay a higher cost for the digital presence and views of their body than others. Reputation politics are not equal. AND the long-term consequences of one’s digital reputation and how others perceive you can lead to future shaming. Your digital footprint (the images you leave on line) as well as your digital shadows (the traces that others leave behind associated with you or your imags) can give new meaning to the expression “Your first impression may be your last” or “First impressions are the most lasting.”  These footprints and shadows can lay dormant for years and then surface during your adulthood when you least expect it 3, 15, or 30 years from now.

Why make life any harder for yourself in the future? Managing one’s future reputation is a hard lesson to learn at a young age. It is  perhaps even more difficult to teach adolescents and teens (without the experience of a significant failure or loss. The adolescent brain and its cognitive resources are operating on impulse and emotion as it begins to prune what it really needs to survive in life and online. Adolescents use social media they way I used to use a mirror. The difference is that black girls as well as their male and female counterparts on YouTube are trying to find themselves through social media, through a networked public of people they do not know in real life, they only know online, and alongside a tiny micro-public of people they actually know both off- and online.  The former trump the latter in the long run.

Watch Your Back: What Happens on YouTube, Stays …

Twerking to Nice and Slow UsherThose of us who are older face the same trouble. We are all must learn that online spaces are not our friends. We all must learn what it means to create a single identity that occupies space online and off, across time and space, between jobs and on-the-job, and find ways to create safe play spaces that do not diminish the marketplace reputation we must begin to build at a much younger age and one that last throughout our lifetime.

Let me tell you. I, of all people, have had my share of public humiliation via social media. I know first-hand regret from my own radical transparency. It matters now that I am noticing just how naive and arrogant I was during my work-life until about 3 years ago. I am still learning.  Your digital reputation requires a new kind of digital literacy for black girls and women that is about much more than what platform you are on and know how to use. We have not begun to fully take into account what our digital ‘net worth means in a racialized, sexualized patriarchal world. It’s about more than shaming we often discuss around respectability politics. It’s bigger than #BlackTwitter!

Do Feminists Have to Be Beautiful, Youthful or Famous to Matter?

“It irks me that we more easily embrace feminism and feminist messages when delivered in the right package – one that generally includes youth, a particular kind of beauty, fame and/or self-deprecating humour.

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 11.48.37 AM

…It frustrates me that the very idea of women enjoying the same inalienable rights as men is so unappealing that we require – even demand – that the person asking for these rights must embody the standards we’re supposedly trying to challenge.”

– – Roxane Gay

Read more on “Fame-inists” in The Guardian, Oct 10, 2014