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

 

 

In Memory of Julian Bond (1940 – 2015)

A portrait of Julian Bond by Eduardo Montes-Bradley,7 April 2012

A portrait of Julian Bond by Eduardo Montes-Bradley, 7 April 2012

LOOK AT THAT GIRL

Look at that girl shake that thing,
We can’t all be Martin Luther King.
Copyright © Julian Bond, 1960, all rights reserved.

This was written sometime in the very early ’60s — or perhaps even ’58 or ’59, — when I was a Morehouse College student. From time to time, usually through the auspices of some religiously oriented campus group, we’d be invited to meet with our white counterparts at Emory or Agnes Scott. We’d wear our Sunday best and sip tea and eat cookies. Typically a well-meaning white student would say as we were parting — ‘If only they were all like you.’ That prompted the poem.” — JBond.

A memory of dance with Julian Bond

My very first day teaching as a professor at UVA in 1996, Julian Bond sat in on my hiphop class titled Black Popular Music Culture aka Music 208. It was such an honor. 80 of the 90 students who showed up that first day in a choir room in the basement of Old Cabell Hall were black (that happened only one at a predominately white institution (PWI) but it seemed that none of them recognized who he was or knew the legacy he’d built as a civil rights activist.

I started class with a poem about The Lawn and me professin hip-hop “Dat don’t mean I know everything, jus means I got a jawb— to represent!” and taught them how to do “Check One,” a body musicking exercise I invented to teach black musical ideals like individuality within collectivity, call and response, syncopation and the musical break. I remember introducing him and being so honored by his presence in very first class teaching at Thomas Jefferson’s university or Uncle Thom’s plantation as I would satirically call it.

Julian Bond invited me to lunch. We walked to the Corner — the site where Martese Johnson, an honor student was brutally beaten and wrongfully arrested by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control because of the color of his skin in March of 2015.

 

 

Back in 1996 over lunch at The Corner, I asked Julian if he had learned any dances and what he could remember about them. I was exploring how musical blackness was learned and thought this was a great question to ask the Civil Rights Leader who help found SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). He insisted he didn’t know how to dance. He had two left feet. But about 15 minutes into our conversation, he suddenly got up and showed me the only dance he knew. He grabbed the inseam of his pant-leg with his dominant hand, lifting the hem about an inch above his ankle. “This was the dance anyone could do if you didn’t really know how to dance.” He pivoted back and forth on his dominant side while the other leg remained planted to an imagined beat from the days of Segregation. That moment made my day! It was such a pleasure.

Julian was a lecturer then. I think many of us who knew his legacy were shocked that U.Va. had not granted him a professorship. But perhaps being a lecturer was perfect for the ongoing work and activism he continued through his lifetime, ended too soon but surely packed with profound contributions that most of us never witness in far fewer years. To his family and close friends, I send my condolences.

He nor his legacy will not be forgotten. I intend to use the poem above as part of my scholarship and as a dedication in my upcoming lectures in Minneapolis and at U.VA this fall when I talk about twerking and a conscientious connectivity to black girls online. Bond’s poem was and continues to be a testament to the lives of black girls and women as they stomp and roll their blues away in an era of increasing segregation, poverty and the social immobility of black children under 18, as well as the continued wealth gap between whites and blacks that has seen little change in the last 50 years.

The brief but profound poem by Bond reminds me how much orality, poetry and the word matters to black people despite what others say about our speech, the ways we talk and the ways we are literate (or not). #blacklifematters

All we have always wanted is a little respect and the dignity every human being deserves. In honor of Bond’s legacy, a little girl shakin it to respect.

 

#blackgirlsmatter #blackwomenmatter
#blacktransgenderwomenmatter#blacktransgendermenmatter
#blackdisabledpeoplematter
#blackboysmatter #blackmenmatter
#dignitymatters

“Violence is Black children going to school for 12 years and receiving 6 years worth of education.”
Julian Bond

Seinfeld and Rapper Wale: “Chicken and Naked Women”

wale-attention-deficit

“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.

UNKNOWNS: UNCLAIMED PROPERTY

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.

fomo

MISOGYNOIR FOR FUN, AN ONLINE BLAST

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: https://youtu.be/EavcrvnHuR8?t=4m

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: https://bgc-nyallgirlshack2015.eventbrite.com

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 bit.ly/bgc_scholarship_2015 for approval.

Questions? Email us at newyorkchapter@blackgirlscode.org

Celebrity and Shame: Harriet Tubman on a $20 Bill

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” ― Harriet Tubman
“Shame is a soul eating emotion.”
C.G. Jung

Today’s topic is shame. And there is much to talk about whether around twerking videos or the new face of the $20 bill. But first a bit about my new blog theme and title.

Most of your know I was trained as an ethnomusicologist and that I wrote a book about black girlhood from double-dutch to hip-hop. The arch of my 20 year career has been spent on the intersectional study of race, gender and sexuality in embodied musical games by girls and that will continue.

The old title “Broadcasting the Bottomlines” worked but the direction of the work I’ve been doing with my undergrads lately is more like the CSI of online black girls. As we qualitatively code and analyze 800 videos of adolescent black girls twerking on YouTube, we examine how their love of dance and expression is overshadowed by shame about their sexuality, shame that comes from the ways their images are exploited by males, by media companies and by mega artists, as well as how the persistence of race and their uploaded content as young girls may come back to haunt their employability in a nation that has no “right to be forgotten” laws about things you did as an adolescent.

You never get a second chance at a first impression.

This blog allows me to share my thoughts about YouTube and digital privacy, about my love of teaching and my interests in empowering online black girls (esp. those ages 13-16 and younger) with digital media literacies. It also allows me to respond to current affairs in social media that intersect with these interests.

So, today’s blog post topic is about a current topic circulating on the web: Raven-Symone’s response to putting the face of Harriet Tubman on a $20 bill.

Celebrity and Shame

A video featuring soon-to-be-thirty-year-old gazillionaire Raven-Symoné has been circulating on Facebook and trending on Twitter since May14th. You, like me, may know her as the adorable child star from the final seasons of The Bill Cosby ShowThe version of the video I saw on FB timeline had over 1.3 million views. Appearing as a guest on ABC’s The View with Rosie Perez and others, Raven gives us her celebrity opinion encapsulated in a caption below the FB video, which read:

America wants Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill—but Raven-Symoné disagrees: “I don’t like that idea… I think we need to move a little bit more forward.”

20-dollar-bill-transfer-transferframe198

I doubt seriously that all of America wants Tubman on the bill. Confederate flag wavers are probably not in that line. I’d rather discuss the culture of shame that seems to lurk behind her comments that is reminiscent of many comments I hear from black youth, and non-black youth, who’d rather dismiss the “dark” past of slavery especially since  it draws us back to race which is also taboo. This cultural of shame was something I once resisted in my own youth as a black teenager. I want to discuss this without demonizing Raven-Symoné but I will use her comments to make my points.

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson in His Journals

A culture of shame lurks among black people, especially youth or those ignorant of the powerful lives of enslaved persons. Instead the try to brush of the memory that were are descended from “slaves”. We don’t even call them “African” slaves like we are talking about people and not property. I suspect that since Integration in the late 1960s through the 1980s (there was resistance to federal mandates), segregated, under-resourced and undervalued black youth who strive to be upwardly mobile (i.e. gain individual wealth) have rejected the “dark” past of being a former slave like Harriet Tubman. Generations of youth were taught to reject everything African including people and the traces of its culture and biology including our own skin color and hair. It did this as a child and still suffer its psychological wages. When I was a kid it was “You got African hair” said disparagingly to mean that kinky was not desired, was not good like hair that resembled long white blonde tresses. Only straight hair would satisfy that hegemonic norm. We rejected our own natural textures for straightening combs and perms that burn your scalp again and again. We carry shame in our very existence when it’s up against the backdrop of whiteness.

If Media is Entertainment, What is History?

The media taught us these things while our parents were slaving in menial and then lower management jobs to eek out a living in a racist society. The children like me of the lindy hopping teenagers who had access to handheld transistor radios and TV sets were taught to reject the old for the new while also rejecting the darker skinned entertainers for the light. The mediated screen of televisions helped us learn these visual and cognitive lessons. We rejected black and white silver screen movies for the technicolor of television and the soulful sounds of Motown and disc jockeys on the regional radio.

So when Raven says we need to “move a little bit more forward” by choosing Rosa Parks over Tubman, I interpret that to mean we need to get over that slavery thing, those “things” (treating people like objects) of past generations and strive for what inspires today’s youth. The battle in Ferguson rings of this same generational struggle. The past is the past is what Raven is arguing for. Leave that old darker black woman’s past behind for the lighter, more palatable and respectable likes of a Rosa Parks. No disrespect but 14 year old Claudette Colvin and other dark-skinned black girls who took a seat in the white section of the segregated bus were not deemed sufficient role models by the NAACP. So Rosa was not the first. She was the most acceptable. Respectability politics has roots in our struggle.

Claudette ColvinIn my lessons as a student, a teacher and scholar (and I remain a life-long student), I’ve noticed the shame as a mechanism of control around race and slavery. It’s also part of pop entertainment on-stage and off. A Wikipedia entry on the “shame society” reads that shame is

the primary device for gaining control over children and maintaining social order is the inculcation of shame and the complementary threat of ostracism.

Our relationship to history around entertainment as popular culture has been as a vehicle for a lot shame of artists we no longer wish to see or hear anymore.

In my informed analysis as a scholar, I remember how black folk rejected jazz vocalist and actress Ethel Waters who could sing circles around Lena Horne. Horne was favored because she was lighter and “prettier” though Waters was, for a significant moment in the 1930s into the 40s, much more powerful and prestigious in the entertainment world. Waters, who came from abject poverty in Chester, PA, was the first black entertainer with her own show on television (not Nat King Cole). She integrated Broadway and produced her own shows there. She became the wealthiest woman in Hollywood and on Broadway (notice I did not say “black” woman). Maybe Raven-Symoné would prefer Ethel Waters as the new face of the $20 bill but I wonder if she even knows of her legacy. Because Waters played maids at the end of her career in the advent of television, she was remembered by youth like me not as a legend in entertainment but as a stereotypical role. Whites get stereotyped in a profession of acting. Blacks are stereotyped in all of life. Like black girls twerking on YouTube, they are robbed of their full humanity off-screen.

For Symoné, Rosa Parks is probably a more palatable choice than Harriet Tubman, although Raven and her sympathizers might be convinced if they had had Tubman as a Barbie Doll figure during her youth. Imagine a Nickolodean commercial for Black Moses Barbie (“freedom oars” sold separately). Click the previous link for some humor and critique!

Ethel Waters in fur

Power: Wealth Alone Won’t Do

Raven take note: History of the past is not self-perpetuating but the cultural biases of human interactions sure seem to be. The meme of racial and sexual bias continues unabated as does naïveté. Ethel Waters was the wealthiest woman in Hollywood (not unlike Raven herself might be today) but was eventually rejected because of her age, race and sex despite her social prestige and her wealth. Back then Waters was arguably one of the 1%. The shame comes in when you realize that Ethel Waters was rejected from black cultural memory because of the roles she had to play to survive in the industry at the end of her career. This same pattern is why we don’t really know Paul Robeson.

In the 1954 Edward Murrow interview, Waters recites lines from the play Mamba’s Daughters, based on a novel of the same name written by DuBose Heyward (watch the interview here on YouTube). Waters used her economic capital to produce and star in the play on Broadway circa 1939. I can’t think of a dramatic Broadway play produced by a black woman since then. (H/T to Sara Jones who might fit this category but I don’t know that arena well. If you know, do tell!)  Waters recites these lines in the interview and likens their message to her own life as an entertainer:

Listen, Lissa. We black folks have one thing over white folks …  and that is…there ain’t no problem so big we can’t sing ’bout ’em. Best thing for trouble, honey, is singin’ … and werkin’. And when your werk is singin’, then you is holdin’ a charm against trouble.

The cultural shame about which I write here comes from not knowing these rich details of the lives of black people as people not as characters or roles from our past. Harriet Tubman is a stereotypical slave to someone who has not had much education in how the people we call slaves, or actors (pardon the analogy), really are.

The advent of television meant that skin color privilege would be valued and celebrated in celebrities not the community’s cultural narratives of ethnic power and change. I heard Dhoruba bin Wahad of the former Black Panther Party say that Huey Newton said, “Power is the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired fashion.” Of course, in our capitalist economy, money empowers such an ability.

Within black cultural memory over time we have rejected actors for acting, musicians for musicking their inherited traditions and ghettoes (and its people), the products of environmental racism, as personalized problems enacted against us. There will be shame. The young and naïve often collapse the characters celebrities portray on screen with who they might actually be in real life off screen (from buffoons and maids to, for your consideration, Sasha Fierce aka Mrs. Carter). This kind of context collapse disallows the complexities of black lives and their multiple selves.

The Chains of Bondage Remain

Here is a more chilling example.

Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry (May 30, 1902 – November 19, 1985) was a comedian who became the first black actor to become a millionaire of film, but he is stereotypically remembered as a buffoon over early television known by the stage name Stepin Fetchit.

Lincoln Perry

In my youngest years I never learned about Perry’s wealth–a wealth that surely came with no power in the film business of 1940s and 50s, I was simply embarrassed by his portrayals on the television screen. His public identity on screen trumped any knowledge of his humanity as a millionaire or his family life as a father. The logic of shame found in the filters of cognition was borne out to me in a conversation with a colleague at the University of Virginia in my first years of teaching. Prof. Angela Davis, not the black power activist and prison abolitionist we all know, but a former HBCU student who attended college with Perry’s son, told me that Donald Perry made headlines when he killed three people and then committed suicide on the NJ/PA Turnpike. She said he left a note saying he was embarrassed by his father’s image as Stepin Fetchit. We collapse what’s on stage with what’s off and those collisions have repercussions well into the future. That was 1969, decades before his father’s own death.

“Chains and Things” (by BB King, 1970, No. 6 on Billboard R&B)

This week, we lost BB King at the age 89. Shame was registered in a NYTimes article announcing his death. When the blues went out of fashion with young black audiences in the early 1960s, he was booed at the Royal Theater in Baltimore by teenagers who cheered the sweeter sounds of Sam Cooke. As reported in the NYTimes, “They didn’t know about the blues,” he said 40 years after the fact. “They had been taught that the blues was the bottom of the totem pole, done by slaves, and they didn’t want to think along those lines.” (see NYT link above for more).

cartoon3 on abolition and mother

Getting back to Raven and her comments on the $20 Bill and the shame of being descended from the old black Joe news attached to the chains of blackness, what strikes me as an educator is how 29 year-old Symoné (with a cosmopolitan “e” added for stylish flair) uses the characteristic adverbial phrases of twenty-somethings who like to say “super organized” or “super lazy” or when they are not so sure “a little bit more forward.” This kind of discourse among my students tends hide in plain sight their insecurity about their opinion or their desire to find others among them who might back them up–cuz we all know the adolescent or naïve thinker loves to prop up the “underdog” in the fight. This is a common and individualistic approach to personal views in arguments that rarely reflect being informed or demonstrate critical thinking.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking offers a rich definition of critical thinking, which I intend to use more often from now on. It’s super good! Thanks Google! It reads: “Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one’s groups’, vested interest.” It goes on to add: “everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought,” and let me add, celebrities as well as scholars are prone to these episodes.

While I’d bet money on the latter, scholars are rarely invited guests on The View. We are the wrong age demographic in the wrong cultural climate; news as entertainment is not our bag; sound bytes on talk shows, not our fortés. So today, they offer us Raven-Symoné as commentator on the feminist politics of treasury bills, civil rights agendas and slavery.

shame children cognition

The networks that permit such remarks knowing it’s entertainment news for Twitter water-cooler sessions and social media banter.  But what are we learning culturally, asks the anthropologist in me, about thinking and cognition as a result? What lessons are we being taught? Increasingly, it seems as if celebrities have the answers that circulate, but they never have any questions about their own thinking. We all need this modelled more than ever in a noisy social media landscape of mostly entertainment news. And we all need to practice examining our own logic and our own uninformed thinking…from celebrities to scholars but particularly youth in the fast-pace of social media and globalization online.

The kind of “logic” I mean might be called A Private Universe (1987), to borrow the title of a favorite short academic documentary (see clip below). The narrative of the documentary is about science but it’s really about objectivity or informed thinking and the barriers to it in our learning environments, in the very educational institutions that are supposed to help us be more informed citizens and better human beings. The Harvard grads and professors interviewed in the start of the documentary hold onto a fallacy about the earth’s orbit and without a second thought confidently give the wrong answers and justify them by stating the courses they passed as evidence. I got an A, therefore I am know. This is a form of cognitive bias known as the overconfidence effect. Raven’s comments could fit the description of cognitive bias known as “The Semmelweis Reflex” which is summed up as “if the facts don’t fit the theory, throw out the facts.” (Aside: Found a disconcerting yet provocative blog post about the Semmelweis reflex called: “I’m not gay no more!”)

 

The kind of “logic” I mean might be called A Private Universe (1987), to borrow the title of a favorite short academic documentary (see clip below). The narrative of the documentary is about science but it’s really about objectivity or informed thinking and the barriers to it in our learning environments, in the very educational institutions that are supposed to help us be more informed citizens and better human beings. The Harvard grads and professors interviewed in the start of the documentary hold onto a fallacy about the earth’s orbit and without a second thought confidently give the wrong answers and justify them by stating the courses they passed as evidence. I got an A, therefore I am know. This is a form of cognitive bias known as “the overconfidence effect“. Raven’s comments could fit the description of cognitive bias known as “The Semmelweis Reflex” which is summed up as “if the facts don’t fit the theory, throw out the facts.” (Aside: Found a disconcerting yet provocative blog post about the Semmelweis reflex called: “I’m not gay no more!”)

On Cognition and Thinking

I often tell my students there is a difference between thinking and thoughting. The former takes more glucose or energy and tired and lazy intellectual practice resorts to thoughting or opinions, fallacies, faulty logic, and over erroneous common knowledge.

Thinking (vs. thoughting — using knowledge you already knew but not incorporating the new things you are not so skilled at using yet in a course) requires more glucose. Without the real thinking, we often resort to stereotypical, short-hand thoughts. The brain does this to preserve glucose, to save you energy. It’s just biologically efficient and your brain knows this. You don’t! The more arrogant or naïve you are, the more likely you are to not realize this and the bigger tendency for you to speak your private universe of opinions to the world. Those thoughts can be costly to you and to others, esp. when you have a microphone that broadcasts to the world called “celebrity”. And you may never know it. This is bigger than you having your own opinion. Everyone does have that right.

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
Harlan Ellison

I can only imagine why the cosmopolitan and individual Raven-Simoné (and her accent) prefers Rosa Parks and not… Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Anna Julia Cooper or a Mary McLeod Bethune much less someone like Harriet Tubman who is so directly linked to slavery. It also directly links our of black people (not black skin) to the effects of capitalism on our labor and humanity. I think young people feel feel chained to the past and cannot quite understand esp. given all the state violence we have been witnessing in social media (that black folks have known all our lives), videos that remind us of an era of lynchings and centuries of subjugation by overseers in sharecropping, on plantations and on slave ships.

Mary McLeod Bethune with her students at the Dayton School
Mary McLeod Bethune with her students at the Dayton School

Young people in the black community (and any community) have the most limited vision of our culture, history, memory and ontology–the science of knowing. That is no fault of their own or anyone else’s. It;s how youth works. But they also can be some of the most impulsive and self-centered beings without critical thinking as they attempt to assert their self identity in a larger public. Wisdom soon tells us that we must also learn to defer and collaborate so we all thrive intergenerationally. Specialized understandings of this take time.

I grew up like a neglected weed – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.  ― Harriet Tubman
America wants Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill—but Raven-Symoné disagrees: “I don’t like that idea… I think we need to move a little bit more forward.”

Forward past slavery, in my opinion, would mean confronting the biggest wealth inequality gap in the history of our nation that also must be read against the reality of black women’s economic lives today in America.

Small changes like putting the face of Harriet Tubman, a black woman, on a $20 bill is seemingly small but a powerful gesture. The circulation of images in many ways can be a primary tool for instituting ideology and may instigate change over time. Think of all the images that have affected us from billboards to bedroom posters, from TV and  personalized mobile webcams and photography.

Net Worth vs. Negative Worth

Yet, and still, the substantive changes that give rise to access to those very dollars in an age of the most extreme wealth inequalities is a matter not so easily transacted and gained. Women and children, esp. black women and their children, are among the lowest paid, lowest valued and have the lowest examples of net worth — zero net-worth often called “negative net worth” — as demographic groups. From the ages 18 to 64, black women have less than $150 in savings after deducting their debt.
 
Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 12.29.28 PM

It is possible that women and children seeing Tubman’s face on the $20 bill might “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” more, not something I’d bank on as a solution, but the bigger challenge is not individual net-worth. Leverage comes from systemic change — how black girls and women, as well as women in general, are valued in a patriarchal society. That fact will not change by putting a historic black woman’s face on our currency. It’s more like entertainment than news in that light.
Harriet Tubman took slaves by gunpoint at times to force them out of their mental slavery. The UGGR, an acronym used by enslaved and formerly enslaved people like my great, great grandfather in his emancipation letter of 1855, stands for the Underground Railroad. No one else as Bob Marley sang can free you from those chains and from the chains of shame. The same ends as the colonized mind learns the reality of our lives with full humanity. I never learned that slaves actually had the skills to read and write to a larger degree than I could ever imagine. These 19th centuries media literacies surely contributed the end of the institution of chattel slavery.  Perhaps a similar read/write/create revolution is needed in the 21st century such that once emancipated from our lack of access to digital media literacies (read write create curate develop), would make it hard to maintain control over people with agency. Digital tools can help us organize their lives and adapt to our new online and offline environments and identities. In biology, the process of adaptation to an environment is known as “ecological fitness“. This is what I am after for myself and for online black girls and women.
And all this writing from watching a video of Raven-Symoné.  Thanks Raven!!
 
I’m supposed to be at a friend’sbarbeque right now. Please excuse my typos or any jumbled sentences. Drop me a note if something is illegible.  And if you made it this far and like something you read, THANK YOU!! Why not leave a comment??!!PLEASE comment!
Tell me what you’d like me to write about next or what you like about my blog or this post. Suggestions are welcome!

LIMITED OFFER on AMAZON today!! a free book to Protect your Privacy

You never get a second chance at a first impression.

Before online, [it was] private by default, public by effort. After online, public by default, private by effort. ~~ danah boyd

YouTubeSpaceNY Kids

As you all know, I am on a mission to educate girls of color, specifically black girls, and the people who love them to consider protecting your future digital reputation while you grow up online.

Your future depends on what you do today more than ever before.

Your digital reputation is critical to your future net worth in a networked reality. The permanance of what you do on YouTube or other social networks and the searchability of most data is not your friend.

What you say and do online can and surely will ruin your reputation for decades to come and girls of color should be particularly concerned.  Other people’s perceptions of us matter even while we campaign for our own lives mattering to them. #blacklivesmatter #blackgirlsmatter

As a demographic minority, we cannot guarantee the the millions of strangers out there can get us without meeting us in person. In other words, how people tend to perceive black females (cis or transgender) is already stigmatized and latent with stereotypes and symbolic meaning that the youngest black girls online have not yet fully grasped nor learned how to manage. Your reputation is everything! And adolescence is no longer protected given the millions of kids 13 and younger on YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms. How do we get kids and adults, alike, in communities of color to start thinking of that I am a brand not just as an individual. I represent more than my present self. I also represent my future selves in perpetuity.

Here’s a quick remedy. Eric Qualman’s book WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS STAYS ON YOUTUBE: Privacy is Dead (2014). It’s a must read and a quick one, too! Be sure to download it from Amazon while it’s still free!

Not convinced? Don’t forget what happened to our girls. Think of Rachel Jeantel, Quevenzhané Wallis, Malia Obama, whose selfie that leaked before she knew it, or Mo’ne Davis and the negative attention they received that wasn’t even warranted. What happens to girls who twerk? Nothing wrong with twerking. It’s the broadcasting it online before you’ve even finished high school that threatens a young black girls’ public identity and future net worth (online and off). Mo’ne and Quevenzhané have publicists. Every day people do not.

TIP OF THE DAY:

I bet many of you have YouTube channels but do not have your settings for your History or your Searches “private.” Don’t wait! Do it today!!

 


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.