Getting Past the Binaries: The Genderbread Person 1.0 – 3.3

The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.― Audre Lorde

“The best way to avoid being confused about [Caitlin] Jenner is get your head out of [her] bedroom and closet, and then think about all of the things you’ve been hiding and been miserable about. … Just focus on the feeling of finally disclosing something that enables you to be free and to live as authentically as possible. …[then] you will no longer be confused.”  ― Robin Caldwell


To study marginalized girls and digital seduction online means I also have to constantly revisit and stay current with ways people are thinking and moving from what they think they know about gender (vs. sex), gender roles, gender stratification or the unequal distribution of multiple forms of capital on YouTube. I do this so I can try to accurately interpret how gender performance is at work within the digital ecologies and spaces of YouTube and not just in rap music videos. I need to understand how vloggers/creators as well as viewers and invisible audiences are grappling with those ideas.

This week as we study the socio-cultural construction of gender in my intro to anthro courses, an ambitious and curious student reminded me of the Genderbread Person.  The designer of this brilliant graphic and meme is Sam Killermann (ya can’t make these names up). He writes: “Gender is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but don’t. This tasty little guide is meant to be an appetizer for understanding. It’s okay if you’re hungry for more.” – See more at:

He has three versions in the evolution of the Genderbread Person by Sam Killermann. One of my favorite pages on his website is Breaking Through the Binary. Check out the evolution of his ideas:

Genderbread Person 1.0 by Sam Killermann

Genderbread Person 1.0 by Sam Killermann


Genderbread Graphic and Continuum conceived by Sam Killermann

Genderbread Graphic and Continuum conceived by Sam Killermann


Genderbread-Person-3.3 by Sam Killermann

Genderbread-Person-3.3 by Sam Killermann

Teaching students to revise their ideas is what shows up when I see these three versions. Crafting a practice of revision of thought is so essential as new media seduces us to click-whirr and simply save cognitive energy by merely reading and accepting what comes across our feed. There’s little time to revise and reflect or as Audre Lorde suggests in the quote above to redefine and re-empower the process of thinking not thoughting. That’s it for now!

Happy queering your thinking not your thought, people!!


TrickrTreat: Miley, My Little Pony, or Thug Notes?

“The next time you try to seduce anyone, don’t do it with talk, with words. Women know more about words than men ever will. And they know how little they can ever possibly mean.”
― William Faulkner

“That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”
― Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

So I have been busy writing articles about digital seduction versus blogging or vlogging of late. I’m hard at work trying to get my social capital in academia on.

Seduction, blurred privacy, and unpaid labor in networked publics have become new themes in my research on the convergence of marginalized black girls and YouTube’s music media economy. It’s odd how curiously similar this work is to my previous research on black girls’ game-songs and popular songs by male artists over a 50-year period (Gaunt 2006, Gaunt 2011). I’m gonna try to treat you and trick you with this post since it’s October 31st and I’ve been feeling quite “witchy” all week (apologies to my students).

So, why not mess around and blog for Halloween this year; seduce my readers/audience with my own little trick or treat post. 


Vanilla or Chocolate, Choose!!

Which of these three things arouses your curiosity the most. I have a YouTube discussion related to each: (1) Miley Cyrus and twerking?; (2) Unpacking My Little Pony Toys?; or (3) Wisecrack’s Thug Notes on Thriller?  You got 10 seconds before the beat drops . . .


DJ: Hold. Up. 
Crowd hollers: WAIT-AH-MIN-IT!!!!


TREAT: The trick would be Miley, but this is actually about me writing on the love and theft of twerking!! The symbolic “beat drop” for any researcher is when you spin a publication in a refereed journal. BAM!!! My article on YouTube was published in September 2015 just after my birthday!! {{{doin’ that happy dance}}}. #getitgirl

MaryJ gif

YouTube, Twerking & You: Context Collapse and the Handheld Co-Presence of Black Girls and Miley Cyrus

Journal of Popular Music Studies

Journal of Popular Music Studies
Volume 27, Issue 3, pages 244–273, September 2


Hope you can enjoy this first treat with me. There’s not a lot of articles about marginalized youth and convergence with legacy media in digital media studies; let this make your reading list before everybody else sees it. You can download the article and if you care to share it with colleagues or any grad/undergrad students studying sociology, anthropology, ethnomusicology, intersectionality, and media studies, please do!  Hey, and if you use the piece in your class (1) let me know here, and (2) share about it on Twitter, Facebook or other social media #blackgirlsmobility. Let me know if you love it, hate it or wanna drop it like a Little Pony unboxing video.

TRICK? or TREAT?: Hands Tied!! #theunboxingvideoonrace

THIS ONE’S A TRICK: My students started vlogging two weeks ago, which is what I am becoming known for  as a teacher and researcher. Their little haters are driving up their anxiety because of the awkwardness of digital self-presentation; watching yourself on the screen of your webcam and YouTube causes stage fright in your own bedroom or house. It doesn’t help that I’d never offered a course with personal vlogging during a fall semester before; freshmen and women are deep in that awkward stage of their first semester in college right about now with midterms. I didn’t see that coming. #notetoself. I need to pay attention to that in the future. It’s only the 2nd full semester I’ve experimented with student vlogging during my intro course. The summer classes of 15-16 students in 6 weeks had few distractions. This was like an off-line example of colliding contexts or “context collapse“.

Ideas for this post emerged last night while creating a playlist for my intro students on how to vlog like a pro. In my search, I discovered a video from earlier this year titled the 10 Richest YouTubers uploaded to the channel (Feb 15, 2015).  So go figure…All the richest YouTube vloggers appear to be white males except for one. The #1 channel that profits from YouTube monetization features a female voice and white female hands unboxing Disney Collector toys. I swear!! I need to stop teaching and start unboxing toys but being black I’d probaby need to wear white gloves in my videos. Watch Lisa Nakamura’s TEDx talk on five types of online racism including the “plain old racism” from a Stanford study of products sold on Craigslist by white or non-white hands).  Hmm. Is that why MJ wore white gloves and socks? #blackhandsdontsell

Because I am doing research (and not because of FOMO), I watched FunToyzCollector (fka DC Toy Collector) unbox MLP Rainbow Dash Hair Case Radz My Little Pony Kinder Surprise. Her voice is…yeah, it’s obnoxious. It’s like listening to a white suburban adult (with no kids) do that baby-talk thing to a toddler; it’s steeped in a creepy, saccharine-sweet quaalude of consumption. #gagging

While the personal identity of the creator remains anonymous, the channel branding is clearly on fleek as a YouTube space. I bet the top the YouTube Kids spaces. Think of the parents and kids who “ooh” and “ahh” adding toys to their birthday and holiday gift shopping lists. I should see how’s commenting on these videos and check out the thumbnails for the users to see how diverse it is.

Uploaded just a week ago on October 20th, the Rainbow Dash Hair Case unboxing video already has over 300,000 views. Maybe this segment of the blog should really marked as a treat rather than a trick. Why? The seductive ecosystem of user-generated content and its convergence with consumerism is pernicious…but it’s free. There’s a saying in the tech world: “If it’s free, you’re the product.” {{teeth glint DING!}} As Joshua Meyrowitz wrote back in 1985:

The products are the viewers who are sold to advertisers. The more viewers a program [and now a YouTube channel] draws, the more money advertisers are willing to pay to have their message aired. Because of this system, network broadcasters have little interest in designing programs that meet the specialized needs of small segments of the audience. (Meyrowitz 1985, 73; under “The Merging of Public Spheres.”).

When TV was owned and run by people “masquerading” (given the Halloween theme) or performing in their roles as major corporate media execs, it was difficult to challenge. It’s even more pernicious when ordinary people masked by branded channels sell toys to your kids in an age where entitlement meets the arousal of your personalized mobile experience in an attention economy.


LAST TREAT!!: After searching for videos and stumbling upon unboxing videos for My Little Pony, this is the treat I seduced you to wait for if you read my Halloween musings thus far. I found a YouTube video that both pleases and toys with the seduction of our attention creatively. This one leads you through a sort of intellectual fun house to places you’d never expect but delights anyone like me interested in black music and the archeology of sound and history. It the Wisecrack channel’s release of the

Halloween Special – The Genius of Michael Jackson’s Thriller

It was released only two days ago so it’s fresh content. Michael Jackson was my Beyoncé in my first year of college. Thriller was the ultimate music video seduction back in my young adulthood. Well I was only 16 in my first year of college. That was like yesterday cuz you know good black don’t crack. #timespacecompression. OK, ghouls and boils, that’s enough. This vlog is long enough. So let me leave you to your Halloween candy and this videos from Thug Notes. It’s classic literature cliff notes read by an “original gangster”. Some consider it among the best educational spaces on YouTube.

Bye for now!!

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.

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!


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.


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



Seinfeld and Rapper Wale: “Chicken and Naked Women”


“The pornographers did a kind of stealth attack on our culture, hijacking our sexuality and then selling it back to us, often in forms that look very little like sex but a lot like cruelty.” Gail Dines, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality

“People are famous without having any talent” – Wale in Jerry Seinfeld and Wale Discuss Strip Clubs for Complex (video below, Nov 17, 2014).

Linguistic violence as the “best” jokes

While watching YouTube videos, a sketch of Seinfeld sitting in a NY cafe with well known young rapper named Wale was suggested and started to autoplay. I met Wale before he made it, years ago at the Blue Note. In fact, he gave me his number and it’s still in my phone. I never called. Being a bit older, I had no idea what we’d talk about. But back to this sketch…

Seinfeld is sitting with Wale — the most unlikely pair I could imagine and wonder what the marketing tie is. One of the lines from Seinfeld is “I understand Chicken and Naked Women” when talking about strip clubs. Wale talks about hanging out at Magic City, the strip club in ATL. He says he goes there with his friends. He’s done interviews there, painting it like a social club for men. Wale ends the segment talking about how people are famous without having any talent. Hmm? Being in the entertainment business ain’t about talent. If it was, some of the best artists I know in NYC would be sitting with Seinfeld including myself. Yeah, we all got talent. But business these days is about something else in social media.

You know what I wish? I really wish the talent Wale speaks of in hip-hop or comedy came with gender ethics about misogyny and misogynoir. Ethics about the subordination of girls and women by men who claim to have power. I recently started reading Disconnected by Carrie James, a digital media ethnographer from Harvard. She distinguishes between morals — you’re sense of good and bad — and ethics — your care and attention to/for unknown individuals, for instance, on the web. Girls so could use some ethics in their online lives!

There are few ethics in entertainment hip-hop about girls esp when strip clubs are in the picture. Instead they silence girls (and women’s) voice. The gender lifestyle portrayed in “funny” media — in satire and in spoofs on YouTube — are shaping audience’s perceptions of what is tolerable and thus acceptable to think AND DO to women and girls who are simply unknowns to you–bitches, hos.


Women are the property that makes a joke funny and not only men. It is the stuff of ideology and manufactured consent. Women are bitches and hos. Their bodies make it rain to sell rappers’ content up the male chain supply and demand. Women are property in this discourse of laughs and lyrical labor as well as the prime discourse of the rap music industry. If you like in any residentially-segregated neighborhood it’s present in the everyday discourse you hear on the streets from little boys. It is often cruelty towards girls and women in loud aggressive grand-standing in the name of “being a man.” Even from the  mouths of babes — 8- 12 year old black boys — this is ordinary in the hood.

I know there are probably non-black boys doing the same,  emulating their part of hip-hop in a southern style or drawl or in some ghetto heaven to the east or in midwest.  Still I’ve never seen it. It’s always black boys and men. That reminds me. I need to read about Black Twitter often dominated by women vs. Hotep Twitter. Hotep Twitter is about social justice for black men, but not so much for black women or black LGBT folk.

Let’s go to the videotape and check out Seinfeld giving this linguistic violence with Wale a bigger platform instead of operating ethically in this Complex sketch that seems real as rain. And I don’t mean the rain as in the strip club, although it has over 244,000 views to date.


NO BLACK FRIENDS IN NYC? #blackfriendsmatter

I’m in the midst of finishing a script for a major talk about twerking, its interesting historical intersection with YouTube and Katrina, both celebrating 10 years in 2015, and the resegregation of our racial and sexual mentalities by funny or playful social media. It’s about the role this kind of video content plays in reinscribing stereotypes. While the digital mobility of black youth leads all others groups including adults, 63% of black kids under 18 reside in low-income households (i.e., making ends meet without any savings aka wealth). See more about mobile teens in this Pew Internet study.

Based on my analysis of over 615 videos of black girls twerking, not in strip clubs but in the “privacy” of their bedrooms which are likely in residentially-segregated neighborhoods, I am starting to link the isolation of blacks which has returned to levels not seen since 1968 to ways the invisible audiences, like the 28 million views associated with my data, are probably contributing to the problem that is at the heart of #blacklivesmatters. These invisible audiences are not too dissimilar to many of the undergrads I teach who live in NYC. Most don’t have any black friends. They cannot tell the difference between an 13 year old black girl, a stripper, and a woman. And they are so conditioned to not talk about skin color privileges and race that they cannot tell the difference between dark or light skin, black and most Latinas, and they began and some continued to be afraid to even ask so our data could be accurate. As accurate as anyone else guessing on YouTube.

Reminds me of a favorite quote by Alice Walker:

“People do not wish to appear foolish; to avoid the appearance of foolishness, they are willing to remain actually fools.”

I have a lot to write about here but I am just hinting at all I am learning. Still, this study may not be taken seriously because of its content’s association with strip clubs vs realizing it’s little girls under 13 who are not being protected by YouTube, VEVO, mega artists or COPPA act that says kids under 13 should be protected from advertisers online and must have the consent of their parents. Meanwhile, we all agree to the terms and conditions of apps and websites.

FOMO is real but it’s also an illusion. Seductive and irresistible.



So what do we do about these misogynoir linguistic environments — hating on black girls and women — that are not private and networked to publics on your handheld always on devices? They are linguistically violent against women everywhere! “I tried to call the cops / That type of thief they can’t arrest” sang Lauryn decades ago about manifesting a women’s ownership over her body and her ability to resist the seduction of her power in the music biz and the world. Misogyny by satire. Misogyny by strip club. Misogyny. When will we restore the feminine and the erotic to empower women and girls? When!?

The only way we do is through dance it seems. Dance is the way out by going in. A way to love yourself and still be here in the patriarchal den of thieves.

I was reading a GQ article “Make it Reign: How an Atlanta Strip Club Runs the Music Industry” by Devin Friedman with photos by Lauren Greenfield (bet there aren’t many black writers and photographers at GQ — #justsayin).

A stripper at Magic City talked about the old days during the BMF (Black Mafia Family) when women who stripped there made $20K vs $5K a night now. (I purposefully am not calling them strippers just as I no longer use “slaves” for African enslaved people. Dehumanization in language is a stealth and insidious teacher. Transforms thinking in a second so you don’t value the people who have had to make choices to combat the lack of opportunity or the feminization of poverty in this nation, esp. among black and brown women.) Ok. I read this quote in the article that stunned me but at the same time I could see how women have come to accept it as normal. C.R.E.A.M. (cash rules everything around me) except “females” are always property, not getting currency. Still enslaved by gender hegemony and misogyny in highly capitalistic ways.

“They was a little brutal back in the BMF,” the dancer Aimee told me. “They would have joy slapping the girls in the face with the money. You get sucker punched in the face with a thousand dollars, but you laugh it off because it’s so much money.”

riri gifIf trauma is something you learn to tolerate, than thinking your in the spotlight when you are the trick to get other’s paid is easy. No amount of money will heal the wounds that come from that misuse of your soul. You cannot kill it and wait for the bonus at the end. You won’t have any soul let to spend it on.

I seriously wonder who social media is making us become as women and as men. Anything for a laugh. Anything for a buck. Anything for internet fame or view or two. Never measuring up.

Dance, baby, dance! to Stupid Hoe

What are we cognitively doing to kids when 8 year olds are twerking to songs like Stupid Hoe even by a female artist like Nicki Minaj. Things are gettin way to hectic! We will not see the impact of this right away but I suspect it’s way too seductive to stop and notice for most of us.  This is just a pondering blog post. I’m pondering how to tackle this as a scholar and as a woman who’s been through her share of trauma digested in the name of romance or sex or marriage. Misogyny is real!

Ordinarily I anonymize info but this content is publicly available. I go back and forth because this young girl is way too young to consent to what happens to her content but clearly freely participating and seduced to do so since an adult provided the mobile device she used to record it, YouTube doesn’t utilize it’s infinite digital power to keep kids under 13 off their site, YouTube, Nicki Minaj, the artist of the song the girl plays, and VEVO all profit off the backs of girls like this. She gets internet fame with over 86,000 views from her first upload posted in 2012 but everyone else is earning a living from the collective messing around on YouTube by hundreds of thousands of girls who are marginalized as well as young white girls, too.

This has been incredibly challenging ethnography and I have so much to say. I wonder if connecting the linguistic violence to the high rates of intimate partner violence that black girls suffer might be a good thing to begin to examine.

Would love your thoughts?

Kyraocity didn’t kill the kat!! Curiosity I hope keep you coming back to my blog.


Black Girls CODE: Social Justice Hackathon!

“The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.” ― Marcus Garvey

“There must exist a paradigm, a practical model for social change that includes an understanding of ways to transform consciousness that are linked to efforts to transform structures.”  ― Bell Hooks, killing rage: Ending Racism

Black Girls CODE

Black Girls CODE are launching their second #hackathon series in 2015 which is to be called “Project Humanity

As I explore the unintended consequences of social media, things I am learning to understand are helping me testify in federal cases about misunderstandings around social media. If more people, if more girls, knew how to write code for digital media and apps, our literacy around protecting our digital self-worth would alter radically. So if you have a daughter, consider taking her to this:

The latest hackathon theme of Black Girls CODE is Project Humanity. It will emphasize how girls can create positive change in our world focusing on ecosystem, the earth, and social justice themes. Teams will build apps and solutions that solve problems in this space. “Project Humanity” is about creating a good and safe environment for both humans and the earth. Our theme broadens the definition of environment to not just include the earth (water, plants, animals, etc.), but also the environments that we (humans) live in.

To here what you can learn and here actual girls talk, watch the video above:

This hackathon is open to girls of all experience levels.

Previous computer camp and STEM exposure is great but if you’re new to #coding and building apps, you’re welcome to attend as well!

  • Girls of all experience levels are welcome
  • Girls entering 6th through 12th grade next year
  • Girls who are interested in computer science, STEM, mobile and gaming

For further event details and to register a girl, please visit:

Each student ticket will be $35 (all inclusive for 2.5 days) and include snacks, meals, t-shirt, and all other hackathon activities.

Limited scholarships are available by submitting your request via for approval.

Questions? Email us at

Does My Sassiness Upset You?: Ethics? Meet Pride in Twerking!

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.12.53 AM

“If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed”  ― Paulo Freire
“No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption (Freire, 1970, p. 54).”
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Werkin‘ the Mind and the Body

My anthro vlogging undergraduates done done it again! We approach twerking with new eyes!  All three sections of my Intro to Cultural Anthropology courses, each with about 25 students, did a final project analyzing black girls’ twerking videos that was worth 50% of their grade the last 4 weeks of our semester.

We should treat human behavior as symbolic action; action, which, like phonation in speech, pigment in painting, line in writing, or sonance in music, signifies; the question as to whether culture is patterned conduct or a frame of mind, or even the two somehow mixed together, loses sense. The thing to ask is what their import is (Geertz 1973, 9-10). …

Culture is public because meaning is, and systems of meanings are what produce culture, they are the collective property of a particular people. When we, either as researchers or simply as human beings, do not understand the beliefs or actions of persons from a foreign culture, we are acknowledging our lack of familiarity with the imaginative universe within which their acts are signs (Geertz 1973, 12-13) We cannot discover the culture’s import or understand its systems of meaning when, as Wittgenstein noted, “We cannot find our feet with them.”

The main outcome of studying twerking videos in an intro course was to learn how to do qualitative data analysis along with participant-observation of YouTube vlogging, both of which are key methods used to conduct ethnography in digital/visual anthropology.

As you may recall from my TEDxUofM talk “Broadcasting Black Girls’ Net Worth”, I had a dataset of over 800 videos collected with former undergrad classes. About 80% of these videos feature adolescent girls 16 and younger. Several feature children aged 8 to 12.

The project included:

  1. Basic certification in the ethics of respect, beneficence, and justice in human subject research.
  2. Using college library journal databases to search and find a good scholarly article that exemplified or explained how to do qualitative coding of videos.
  3. Doing a review of two more scholarly articles;  one article had to be about black girls and the other article could focus on one of the following intersecting domains of our study: YouTube, bedroom culture or twerking/black dance.
    1. At least one of the article had to be written by a black female author.
    2. Articles included work by Treva Lindsey, danah boyd, Alice Marwick, and Rana Emerson as well as my own writing about twerking.
  4. Next, students applied open coding or other methods of analysis they discovered to a batch of 12-16 videos. Each small group was assigned a batch from a larger set of 800 videos. They were required to use an interpretive method of ethnographic analysis known asthick description(c.f., Clifford Geertz)

An insight that one student voiced after completing his ethics certification was that we must remember to include the girls in the audience when reporting our findings. As a result, I came up with an idea. I asked each student to make a final vlog and directly address the girls they study in a kind of “Dear Black Girls” structure or something similar. The video embedded above was one that almost made me cry.

On Ethics: Student’s Reflections

If you teach anthro or sociology or to let my students’ words teach and guide your students in ethnical research, take a look at the following video. Here’s a basic overview of students’ insights from learning how to conduct ethical human subject research and reading about the history of exploitation as a result of scrupulous ethics.

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


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!


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.

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


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”


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.

Misoynoir: Flirting with the Webcam From the Bedroom and the Backdoor

“If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” – Junot Diaz

Bailey first used the term [misogynoir] in an essay titled, ‘They Aren’t Talking About Me’ for the Crunk Feminist Collective. She defines it as a “word I made up to describe the particular brand of hatred directed at Black women in American visual and popular culture.” Examples of Misogynoir include the rejection of Black women’s natural hair and ‘twerking’.


Twerk Reconsider


An Ethnography of YouTube Twerking

More and more I’m realizing what’s emphasized in this week’s chapter in my new intro to cultural anthro textbook by Ken Guest (which is the bomb!!!). Chapter 3 is on fieldwork and ethnography. Guest frames ethnography as both a social scientific method of study and an art because of the use of fiction strategies to tell stories about people and structures of power.

Doing ethnography is such a fit for me as an artist and a thinker. I’m increasingly aware of how precious it is that I ended up teaching anthro and not just ethnomusicology to music majors who tend to spend all their time in notes and aesthetics and not enough time in the world of power and inequality. Think of the remarkable Bobby McFerrin and his apolitical stance. Ain’t knockin it but it’s only one way to be a musician in the world.  He’s not the Michael Jordan of music — his politics to eradicate differences show up in his art, but the talk of the full dimensions of say race, class, and gender are not prominent in either’s public discourse. I am sure privately it’s another matter.

Exploring Race, Gender and YouTube in Class

This semester I have merged my ethnography of YouTube and twerking with my intro course. We are recoding the 1000 videos collected in past classes. They will split into pairs, get 15 videos, find 3 scholarly articles that suggests how they can code for race, gender and or digital video/YouTube and then we will present all we learned. From the hive mind we will come up with 10 codes to then re-code all the videos with the same variables. Each of my 3 sections will have a different set of 10. It’s going to be amazing.

Yesterday I made a connection between the first viral video Numa Numa by Gary Broulsma in Jersey in Dec 2004 dancing in his bedroom to the Numa Numa song (aka Dragostea din tei by Ozone) which appeared on a website called Until 2012 with PSY’s Gangnam Style is was the 2nd most watched viral video of all time with over 7 million views. Since then it sits behind Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus (2013) and just ahead of Thrift Shop by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (2012). (Visit the most-watched YouTube videos list updated regularly on Wikipedia You can look at past changes as a subscriber there, too).

YouTube the domain was registered Feb 14th, 2005— 10 years ago — and it’s first video launched April 23, 2005. In only 10 years it’s become the 2nd most popular search engine on the Internet, the most public archive of user-generated and professional videos, and the source of revenue for both old legacy video and hundreds of everyday people who earn six figures from making videos online.

“YouTube fizzled in an early version, [Jawed] Karim [one of three founders] says: A dating site called Tune In Hook Up drew little interest. The founders later developed the current site, now broadcasting 100 million short videos daily on myriad subjects.” (Hopkins, USA Today, 11 Oct 2006).

The dating site initially offered $100 through Craigslist to attractive girls who posted ten or more videos but the ad ploy failed. Reportedly they didn’t get a single reply (Gannes 2006 in Burgess and Green 2009, 2).

A Select History of Viral Video Memes

Yesterday in class I mentioned that it’s not that easy to make a viral video on YouTube anymore. I added that the concept of viral videos–which students seemed to be unable to name in the academic ecology of the classroom; I’d asked them what they call a video that lots of people follow–came from the notion of memes by Richard Dawkins and that some argue that memes mirror the behavior of viruses and/or genes. To borrow from Yiddish, there is always a lot of michigas or craziness around the discourse of genes, women and black people in the US and the West. So you can imagine what happens to black girls historically and stereotypically. More about that another time.

The first viral video on YouTube uploaded on August 24, 2005 was the “Hey Clip” by Tasha and Dishka aka Lital Mizel and Adi Fremerman of Ramlee or “Ramla, city in Israel, on the coastal plain southeast of Tel Aviv-Yafo. Ramla is the only city founded by the Arabs in Palestine.” (Encyclopedia Brittanica). By 2006 it had 13 million views. Both Gary Broulsma and Tasha and Dishka recorded themselves with a webcam from their bedrooms and lip synched on camera, Gary used a shoot and upload approach flirting with the camera dancing in his bedroom desk chair while the Ramlee women, both 22 y/o, used significant video editing to stage their own music video for a boyfriend of one of the girls. THe former was set to the Numa Numa song which is from Moldova. The Hey Clip was danced to “Hey” by the Boston rock band The Pixies which inspired the alt rock boom of the 1990s according to Wikipedia (got research to do here but its a start).

Hidden in the shadows of these videos black girls were uploading dance videos from their own bedrooms with their desktop webcams and mobile phones as early as 2006 on YouTube if not earlier. 2005 the year YouTube launched was also the year of the costliest natural disaster and one of the 5 most deadliest in the history of the U.S. Hurricane Katrina left its devastation in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast where millions were left homeless and 800,000 New Orleaneans were displaced to all points throughout the nation.

map shows the dispersion of the 800,000 refugees from Louisiana that fled as a result of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster measured by FEMA

map shows the dispersion of the 800,000 refugees from Louisiana that fled as a result of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster measured by FEMA

The youth of the Dirty South rap scene known as Bounce in NOLA lost everything –shelter and the sonic force of their records, DJs and sound systems but not the soul of their dance and rap. YouTube’s availability helped them connect while apart.

So when black girls started uploading videos a two way transference of culture began with digital video that was not possible to the degree it became with the very features that made YouTube a huge innovation in social media. It’s ability to allow ordinary users not only to broadcast themselves but to easily share and comment on each others’ audio-visual content.

Just as the intersections of race and gender affect access jobs and wealth and who gets on commercial TV and radio–traditional old media–these aspects of identity and power also live in the YouTube community but we have not learned to distinguish as easily or critically as we have been educated to do with the old mass media because of the asynchronous nature of new media — available anywhere, anytime by over a billion unique visitors a month. The sheer volume is hard to grasp and analyze ordinarily.

Flirting vs. Twerking:
Screening Difference Differently

People read Gary Broulsma and the Hey Clip in hindsight as cute and playful while videos of black girls twerking then and now are viewed very differently even among middle class blacks. A student sent me the meme at the top of this blog post last week. I’d seen before. Found it about a year ago in my research. She uploaded this version to her Instagram timeline. It reads “HOW TO TWERK” and after a line break below it reads “STEP 1: Reconsider.”

Why aren’t adolescent/teen black girls viewed as playfully flirting when broadcasting with the webcam? Some answers to this seem obvious. The culture of personal vlogging on YouTube usually involves face-to-face work, the deep and loose ambient intimacy of talking to strangers about the most personal things in one’s private life from the bedroom. Black girls are butt to face and their voices are lost in the translation of their expressive culture to audiences of people who do not know from where or from whom twerking emanated and how in the ambient ecosystem of YouTube.

You cannot see their intentions nor the pathway from them to Miley Cyrus’s Facebook upload in February of 2013 that led her to be considered for person of the year. YOU–Yes, You was Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2005 with the launch of various social networking sites that allowed you, the user, to shift from audience to broadcasting yourself, uploading and sharing content you produced for the world without any mediation…or so it seemed. You could freely traffic in getting views. The cultural institution of YouTube, YouTube itself and entities like VEVO, are not distributing this content for free even if adolescent youth and other produsers think so. They sell us produsers to advertisers. The ads are not the products–as Joshua Meyrowitz writes in his book No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior (1985)–we are the products. YouTube sells not only our eyes to advertisers but we advertise the products for both YouTube and its advertisers and distributors like VEVO.

9 out 10 viral videos are made today according to WSJ by professional content creators rather than users like Gary Broulsma or Lital and Adi in the mid 2000s. And the most watched videos on YouTube are music videos. 9 out of 10 are VEVO videos. The exceptions are the novelty hits of the original CBMF (Charlie Bit My Finger) video and the Gummy Bear Song and  PSY’s Gangnam Style (which left Justin Bieber’s “Baby” in the dust, produced for a professional Korean recording artist), all of which are not distributed by VEVO.

These are my questions to my students today as we explore the full scope of human diversity by studying both people on YouTube and structures of power within the YouTube community and ecology.

  • How do black girls fit into the full scope of human diversity on YouTube?
  • How does the intersection of race and gender affect our perceptions of Gary, Lital and Adi, and the nameless but seemingly known black girls who twerk on YouTube and other digital video sharing sites?
  • How do we learn to apply the knowledge you are newly acquiring about fieldwork and ethnography to learning how people learn to see race and gender on YouTube and how they see twerking and/or black girls who broadcast while they twerk?
  • Are there differences when Miley Cyrus or Iggy Azalea twerks versus Nicky Minaj, Beyoncé or Rihanna? What factors could we code to map differences even if you think they might not be there? How to we objectively check without qualitative content analysis and scholarly research about race, gender and YouTube not to mention adolescent and teen black girls?
  • How do we learn to understand twerking and YouTube from a global scope, starting with the people and communities on YouTube (and beyond), and how do we study both the people and the structures of power within YouTube to better understand how all humans are interconnected?

That’s our semester’s mission. See my previous post on privacy for a discussion of the 8 yr old video I found late last week that I introduced in class this week. You need to 13 and up to officially register as a subscriber on YouTube. One black male student in my 2nd class urged us to consider that the title of that video suggests that it is not Wame’s video at all. Perhaps another example of the digital sex-trafficking of minor black girls on YouTube.

Issues about segregation keep surfacing in my mind which is why the “back door” is used in the title. Whites only entrances and segregation of public accommodations seems so far away from user-generated spaces and free participatory media publics. But YouTube is not as different from offline space as we think when it comes to race, gender and power differences.