The Digital Divide meets the Gender Divide

changing_digital_divide

In all my classes, the men separate themselves from the women by their willingness to mess around with editing and filters and the “real” technology and tinkering that defines Web 2.0. This is true of my data on black girls twerking videos. They shoot-and-upload generally without considering they could write their own lyrics, music, edit out their flaws, if they were so inclined, add or enhance their images and their representations. Without this type of messing around, girls and esp. marginalized girls are left behind, shaking their tail feathers to the beats and rhymes that drive capital online and in the boardrooms.

Check out Pew Internet principal researcher Lee Rainee explaining 5 types of non-use in the mobile age that leads to our current divides of knowledge and use. Click the link below if it doesn’t populate into a video.

//www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/172a067c-4698-11e3-bf0c-cebf37c6f484

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A Deep South Despair: Black and Female? Watch Ya Back!

 

Quotation-Bell-Hooks-culture-media-Meetville-Quotes-1377

FUSION ARTICLE RELEASED!!!

First before I dive in, Kashmir Hill, a great investigative writer on social media and privacy released an article on Fusion’s YoungTube blog based on my twerking research data yesterday. It’s titled: “A 9-year-old’s twerking video had 70,000 views and she couldn’t get it taken down.”  Can you please not only read the piece, but like, share, and comment so this issue gets more eyes and attention. Thanks for doing that!!

Now to the topic of the moment: black woman and discrimination. #formation

Pretty for a Dark Girl!

In the deep south of North America is where folks tend to think race and racism live. But racism, the flawed system of classification, is a symbolic and highly social structure. The systematic practice as we recognize it today that has sojourned from the earliest formations of our nations. It along with patriarchy has defined the processes of globalization about norms and values associated with skin color privilege and white supremacy that led to both the institution of slavery and that of Jim Crow in the deep south.

In the deeper south of South America, in Brazil, racism was supposedly abandoned with the end of slavery. But here in this short film by the Guardian–I deeply appreciate their commitment to critical engagements of intersectionality and social politics–they lighten the path to seeing just how viciously symbolic race and racism is and the impact it continues to have on the historically marginalized black woman. This media is both witness to the marginalization and offers a chance at intervening in the sickness of our own cognitive biases.

As David DiSalvo writes in What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite (2011):

“DiSalvo explains that the greatest desires of our brains are stability, certainty, and consistency. Humans are prediction and pattern detection machines: we process information in order to determine what’s coming next. We can’t help doing it, and it allows us to order our lives and feel in control. But to predict accurately, we need to be certain of what we know now. Hence, we are certainty addicts. We not only crave being right, but we convince ourselves that whatever information we have at hand is the right information.”

You’ll recall I wrote a post about how so many women on Twitter and FB are often engaged in the rhetoric of seducing emotions among one another to relieve a lot of psychic, mental and emotional pain. Pain that girls are learning or being socialized into at younger and younger ages with the aid of social media content and its virulent circulation on their mobile devices. It’s personalized but it ain’t at all personal. It’s structural and we must begin to intervene. It’s costing us our long-term capabilities, our cognitive juice, our willpower.

DiSalvo suggests 50 remedies in his book. Here’s one: we must be aware of the impact pre-existing beliefs is having our current thinking. No one’s thinking is free of pre-existing beliefs. We are never blank slates. Said another way, whiteness is not merely a symbol standing for something to black people only that would be wiped out if we’d just stop with the fear of being black in the eyes of others. Just stop #BLM-ing.  But this system lives and is being perpetuated unknowingly within our individual and social biology not just in the tangible or visible traits and phenotypes that link us to our ancestral connections–which connects ALL humanity not just blacks, whites, or Asians. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s leading experts on developmental trauma, explains that the body keeps score of trauma. Tis is where you have to begin to learn about your brain, about epigenetics, and about how language lives and shapes our cognition of the past, present and future.

DiSalvo warns that challenging in-grained thinking is not an over night thing. It’s not A-HA! I see! I’m racist!! We’ve all been racist!! NO! It must be incremental. The transformation stems from a deliberate reflective practice. We don’t need change. We need more comassion and empathy in incremental ways.

DiSalvo suggests we must become savvy about framing–the ingesting of labels that frame your perception of the people, places, things and even our beliefs. But here’s the trouble with that: Thinking outside that box agitates your biology–it brings up anxiety and/or upset. Sometimes you’ll even have to fight off excitement or passion (even in arguments about Beyoncé’s #Formation) to slay your frames and certainty biases.

Learning to deconstruct your frames is actually harder than the quick fix of slaying. It requires inquiry and stepping back and solitude. Slowing down to speed up incrementally! Reminds me of my adage: Agree to be offended…and learn to let things just be before you go slaying all up in your emotions.

I posted the Guardian video about the Samba queen being dethroned because she was black today, just after returning from a really important and engaging visit to the University of Albany (thanks to Bob Gluck and Oscar Williams on the faculty there). 

During two talks I believe I made an effective and impassioned case with my research on marginalized black girls in twerking videos on YouTube for the stepping back to develop a set of internalized ethics and empathy in watching black girls play online. It is our gaze that must be altered not their play. It is our allowing social media companies to exploit their digital play that needs our formation.

Without the  awareness and understanding of HOW social media is entrapping the most vulnerable girls in our society and in online networks we easily overlook how they are being seduced into selling their future net worth to indifferent globally networked publics and individuals. Digital media literacy skills and knowledge is one thing. Creating engaging content to get people to even listen is where I am at.

There is no ecological fitness for historically marginalized groups like black girls and black women if their experimentation not to mention freedom of expression and freedom to express their fears in creative and urgent ways (ah-hem #DefendBlackWomenUALbany) is ripped away. The crosshairs of sexism and racism rips meritocracy, as in the video, simply because of the sin others associate with their skin but not their living conditions they are in. Social media can rip future employability away and it can rip dignity away. Meanwhile, everybody but the girl makes a profit off their backs on social media.

When will they be paid for work they’ve done or the emotional debt they’ve paid?!?  

Inventing Solutions

I am diligently working on a solution and am looking for people to be on a team to deliver said solutions through the very medium I study — digital and social media. A critical voice in an animated context that is fun yet informative. That breeds curiosity not shame. That inspires and delivers solutions and doesn’t get stopped by the latest entertainment news.

If you’re interested, I am looking for people interested in making videos and other short media content to empower, make girls and women aware, of the digital seduction of our environmental fitness. Hit me up if you’re interested. The videos would target young girls, teens, young adults, and elders. It might also target the invisible audiences in creative ways. Come jump in the ropes with me!

 

Protecting Mobile Kids from Digital Seduction

Electronic images and sounds, however, thrust themselves into people’s environments, and the messages are received with little effort. In a sense, people must go after print messages, but electronic messages reach out and touch people. People will expose themselves to information in electronic media that they would never bother to read about in a book.

–– Joshua Meyrowitz, media scholar

 

My awareness of the work I discovered from coding 1000 videos of lil’ black girls twerking on YouTube has completely shifted into studying the digital seduction of child abuse images. Many of the videos in my dataset of girls under 13 surely qualify as “child abuse images” or “sex abuse images” where girls self-produce the content being trafficked by 2nd and 3rd parties that include invisible audiences of everyday users of YouTube to arguably the companies that distribute the media on platforms and the social media platforms themselves.

These two videos might help parents, esp, parents of marginalized youth, to start to wake up to the serious issues of security and protection for your children online.

 

Dr. Sharon Cooper Shares Insights
on Child Development

In this era of change we don’t understand everything that happens developmentally to a child with the introduction of each new technology. But Sharon Cooper will say this with certainty: never give your child a new technology, and then walk away.

 

Into the Woods:
Protecting Our Youth from the Wolves of Cyberspace

Today’s headlines are crowded with stories of kids who fall victim to cybercrimes, including online bullying and predatory behavior. We can’t supervise every dark corner of the Internet, so what is the answer? Stricter laws? Aggressive pursuit of offenders? Education of our kids? This keynote panel will discuss challenges and offer solutions designed to ensure the safety of our children.

30 Pages Deep: The End of YouTube’s Archive

“In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.” ―J. Paul Getty

Screen Shot captured 2015-09-09 at 10.22.34 AM
Screen Shot captured 2015-09-09 at 10.22.34 AM

 

YouTube search algorithm results use to be deeper

In the summer of 2014,  in the course that collected the first dataset of over 100 twerking videos, one of my most ambitious students did a deep archival search to find the earliest twerking videos in YouTube. We were able to find videos as far back as 7 or 8 years earlier, all the way back to the first full year of YouTube in 2005-2006. Those videos featured only tween black girls dancing in their bedrooms to regional styles of bounce music. How did I know?

Since doing this research I’ve had to use my ethnomusicological skills to learn about the music of New Orleans dirty south rap scene. New Orleans’ bounce is marked by the presence of a “Triggaman” beat and other “brown beats” in its music production, considered the “backbone of all New Orleans bounce music”.

This morning, I went to search for a few videos to download as evidence of local black girls’ presence twerking on YouTube immediately after Hurricane Katrina–YouTube’s launch and Hurricane Katrina both happened in 2005. What I found startled me a bit.

I found that it was impossible to replicate the search we did in June of 2014. Today YouTube has over 300 hours of video uploaded a minute. Over a year ago it was exponentially far less. The limits of the archive is perhaps merely a function of the limits of the code written to handle the massive scale of YouTube. Since most people aren’t researchers like me, and because most people live in the present moments of social media, perhaps discovering what happened on YouTube via search over 2 years ago is becoming today’s prehistoric memory.

If you cannot easily document the lineage of a meme via search, how will this change what youth know as the past? How will we document that Miley Cyrus didn’t invent twerking and that even YouTube has evidence deep within its archive that black girls were vlogging their twerking practice from their privately-public bedrooms back in 2006?

Today, you have to get 30 pages deep, the limit based on two separate searches today, to get to 1 – 2 years ago in the YouTube archive searching by type (video), duration (<4 minutes), and sorting by upload date (see pic at the top of the post).  To get back to 7 or 8 years earlier in June of 2014, it was over 70 or 80 pages deep into the YouTube archive.

As I skimmed through the 30 pages today, very few images of black girls appeared. These traces tell a story and who gets left out matters. #blackgirlsmatter

In this age of rapid and exponential change, my own experience of YouTube is constantly changing over night. Most people don’t even notice things I see. It’s just a blur. What does this mean for our conception of our online Selves and our various socially negotiated selves offline given that YouTube is all about broadcasting yourself?

I just wanted to mark this shift as I noticed before running off to class. More later.

Pit Bulls, Bitches or Rudolph: Is the “Dog” Wagging Her Tail? #twerktweens

I am realizing how all the research I’ve been focused on for the last 2 years is about one big idea: the unintended consequences of the “new digital divide” for marginalized groups across new media ecologies. With the ubiquity of the mobile web among African American tweens, unequal literacies about the persistence and searchability of girls’ music-related content on the Internet has become a “new digital divide.”  The consequences or #bottomlines I explore are the participation gaps and critical literacies found beyond mere access.

NOTE:  I’m still playing around with the title of my blog. The aim of my new title is to emphasize my role as an ethnomusicologist as well as the work I do as a social science researcher and digital media ethnographer. Thus: #Bottomlines in the New Digital Divide. The new subtitle plays with the notion of the digital seduction of music and media among marginalized groups in new media ecologies. I am toying with typography in the word “education.” The way it’s stylized–by inserting the “$” sign — signifying economic capital–before the word and inserting the “@” sign in the middle to replace the usual “a” in education–the word can be slyly read as both “seduction” and “education” in the context of “Music & the Media $Educ@tion of Marginalized Groups.”

Why “seduction”? Because seduction remains the dominant possibility without better digital media literacy or education. Participation gaps in editing and in privacy ethics are costing black girls the very power and agency that marginalized groups try to establish with their use of social media. Fan video-making related to rap and R&B videos on YouTube and other platforms helps them develop cultural and social capital within their own communities but it’s their social mobility to other networks that really matters in the long run.

What do you think about my wordplay? Let me know in the comments!! My blog format or structure will continue as usual: I start with quotes, then images and an intro, more or less while highlighting key terms, concepts or links in pink to signify the intersectionality of my interventions.  Let’s get to the point of this post, tween twerking videos and the question What ‘dog‘ is wagging these girls’ tail in kids dance videos of Red Nose? The breed known as a “red nose pit bull”? Hip-hop’s casual but persistent attribution of the word “bitch” to girls and women who are routinely referred to as “females”? Or do the kids here “Rudolph the red nose reindeer” even though it ain’t even Christmas time.

Red nose hook & Rudolph GIF
A GIF meme using an image of Rudolph with the popular hook from Sage the Gemini’s “Red Nose” rap song. Gemini’s video premiered on his SageTheGeminiVEVO YouTube channel on June 10, 2013, a week before “We Can’t Stop” on the MileyCyrusVEVO Channel

Italian scientists found that pups wag their tails to the right when they see something positive, and more toward the left when they see something negative. In their latest study, researchers found that other dogs also pick up on that difference, and their hearts beat faster when they see a pooch wagging its tail to the left. Associated Press, 2013

[The] asymmetry in sexual education maintains men’s power in the myth: They look at women’s bodies, evaluate, move on; their own bodies are not looked at, evaluated, and taken or passed over. But there is no “rock called gender” responsible for that; it can change so that real mutuality–an equal gaze, equal vulnerability, equal desire–brings heterosexual men and women together.”
Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

Tweenage Twerking to Red Nose 

The group I presently study — online tweenage Black girls — is marginalized by age, race, and gender. In this blog post, I examine a YouTube video of tweenage girls who are making a “yiking” video for the 2nd time. The first one was removed. I’ll write an upcoming post on the violation of Community Guidelines on YouTube and the unintended consequences of that for marginalized youth.

I found this video while searching for twerking videos on YouTube. Anything with a black girl or woman shaking her hips to music is often titled or tagged “twerking” although this video is actually a style known as “yiking” in the Bay area. The Red Nose dance has become a viral meme on YouTube and this particular video is a testament of its spreadability. The girls in the video talk to the camera with what seems to be a Bajan creole accent. So, I can reasonably argue they are not from the Bay area of Cali. Readers from Barbados or folk from the Bay, correct me if I’m wrong!

TITLE: Red nose children version(CLEAN)
URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cfzs_9k5cE
13,090 views, 116 Likes, 14 Dislikes (as of Sat 23 May 2015 8:12pm)
Published on Jul 8, 2013
User Description: All about fun DO NOT PUT ON FACEBOOK
Music “Red Nose” by Sage The Gemini (Google Play • iTunes • AmazonMP3)
Artist Sage the Gemini
Category: Entertainment
ALL COMMENTS (20)

The other day, I went searching for tweens dancing to “Red Nose” by Sage the Gemini because there are only 200 songs in my dataset of 800 videos. Red Nose appears multiple times. This summer, I intend to explore these copyrighted songs, the artists and their accompanying videos to get a sense of the relationships between them and the tweens’ dancing in user-generated videos.

The “Red nose” dance [Cue the video above at 1:29″] features an isolated, snake-like gesture of the female torso executed when the fluid motion of her knees from left to right and back again punctuated by syncing up a “tick tock” booty popping motion over 3-4 beats to the lyrics “like-like-like-like a red nose” which is the hook of Gemini’s song.

In the Bay area, where it’s known as “yiking“, the dance generally occurs between a female and male partner with most of the action and attention on the former’s booty moves. There are tons of exceptions In tweenage and teen videos on YouTube where is all girls. But you never see two guys doing the red nose dance together.

Four girls doing the red nose in a school bathroom.
Four tween girls doing the red nose in a school bathroom.

In the dance, generally a tween girl bends over at the hips and usually a guy, sometimes older but more often than not a younger brother stands with his hips right behind her squatting position from behind. The partner behind grabs the girl’s waist or shoulders and rides her moves, so to speak, as she were one of those coin-operated pony rides they used to have outside the supermarket.

The partner’s gaze is on the girls’ hip gestures or booty. From a viewer’s gaze, given the physical proximity of the partners–a boys’ private parts are up against a girls’ behind–it is difficult for the mind to avoid the suggestive “doggy style” sex position. When the mediated gender performance between the sexes is observed among children and tweens (ages 8-13) on YouTube, no doubt many viewers are left with a great deal of uneasiness. And, as one of my students suggested, this unease is often projected onto the imagined social identity of black girls–one of the unintended consequences of their online play.

Search Results

When typing a search of “Red nose” on my computer, the first autocorrect choice is “red nose kids dance.” It yields over 97,000 results one day and 100,000 the next (May 24 and 25, 2015). When I filter for 4 min or less videos only, the results increase to over 100,000. The YouTube search algorithm can be a mystery.

Tween YouTubers who upload these videos surely realize that “twerking” is a better tag for YouTube’s search algorithm to find. The factors shaping the algorithmic results include the video title, keywords in the description during the upload, view count and comments, and the trust and authority of the channel owner. The keyword “twerking” is certainly going to pull more results and have more relevance for a broader set of viewers than “yiking”. The cultural capital of getting views or gaming the system is known by even the youngest YouTubers–how can I get people to watch my videos and follow my channel?

The Art? of Rap

“The art of rap is deceptive. It seems so straightforward and personal and real that people read it completely literally, as raw testimony or autobiography. And sometimes the words we use, nigga, bitch, motherfucker, and the violence of the images overwhelms some listeners. It’s all white noise to them till they hear a bitch or a nigga and then they run off yelling “See!” and feel vindicated in their narrow conception of what the music is about.”   Jay-Z, Decoded

LYRICS TO RED NOSE

CHORUS:
(Holy shit)
All this money on me
Come and take it from a G
All she tryna do is get naked (Naked)

Hook: And she gon’ shake it, like a red nose
Li-li-li-li-like a red nose
And she gon’ shake it, like a red nose
Like a, like a, like a red nose
And she gon’ shake it, like a red nose
Li-li-li-li-like a red nose
And she gon’ shake it, like a red nose
Like a, like a, like a red nose

VERSE 1:

That booty talkin’ to me, what that shit say?
Shake it for the dojo I’m the sensei
Once you wobble on my song, on replay
Almost got ‘er at house, up off Kingsway
I told her shake it like a red nose Pitbull
And I’mma keep throwin’ money ’til your bank full
Cake-cake-cake-cake birthday suit
Damn in a little I’mma forget your age soon
Whoa, OK, now let’s do it my way
If she don’t go crazy then she walkin’ on the highway
And if she don’t believe me tell that bitch just try me
Bet you she be shakin‘ from the club back to my place whoa

Read more: Sage The Gemini – Red Nose Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The hook of the song is about shaking it like a red nose and like a stripper. Word play is clear here when you read the rest of the lyrics. But a red nose pit bull appears in the VEVO video along with micro-celebrity India Haynes know as #GetItIndy or FunnSizeIndy for her yiking on YouTube.

Unintended Consequences

The question here: What are the unintended consequences of tween girls dancing to these lyrics whether they think they are about pitt bulls, bitches or Rudolph? Each symbolic meaning is there for the taking when sit down and think about the meaning of the lyrics. This cognitive shift from listening to dancing seems to be dichotomous but later it will come back home to roost as a form of misogyny for most older girls and women.

For ages, the passive stance that I like the beats and I don’t listen to the lyrics puts women in an even more passive stance about their involvement in hip-hop listening culture where males pay attention to the patriarchal lyrics and its narratives of black masculinity. There is a “dog” wagging the tail of online adolescent black girls’s dance in YouTube videos and it’s not man’s best friend or a woman or a girl’s. But the dancing is seductive! What has girls so mute in the face of such objectivity?

This video of the two Bajan tweens doing a 2nd video of Red Nose is linked in my mind to two of my students’ analysis in our research project this term. C. and J. coded instructional lyrics in 15 twerking videos of tween and teen girls. The applied the hashtag #poplockanddropit to their project. Watch their final vlog and analysis here: https://youtu.be/t3fVaTJD7vY.

C. and J’s presentation got me thinking about the affinity for pitbulls but not females among black males in urban settings. So I searched Google for something about why black men like pit bulls and found a 2008 law blog post about the racialization of pitbulls. It was tagged under “constitutional law”:

…the rhetoric that surrounds the proponents of Breed Specific Legislation sounds remarkably racial.  Consider the following common statements.  Biology and breed unwaveringly determine behavioral characteristics.  Reduced amounts of the aggressive ancestry decreases the chances for recidivism.  Pitbulls have large mouths and funny looking lips.  It is wise to cross the street when approached by a pitbull.   Pitbulls are lazy until you try to take something away from them.  Mixed breed pitbulls are more intelligent, kind, and gentle than full-breeds.  All pitbulls are from the ghetto.  You can take the dog out of the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of the dog.

These statements could be equally applied to most any racially marginalized group, but most specifically, it invokes racially charged images of African Americans and Native Americans. The determination of who legally belongs in a racial group has long been the study of my own scholarly work, as well as that of Rose Villazor (SMU), Carla Pratt (Penn State), and Adrienne Davis (WashU).  But could similar theories be extended to that of the animal kingdom? http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2008/02/are-pitbulls-th.html

I had mentioned to my students that in my experience in Brooklyn, it seems that black men often have pitbulls. I don’t dare call them pets. They’re more like guard dogs, an extension of their bravado in most cases.  I added that I’ve never seen a young black man or boy refer to their dogs as a “bitch” in public though the term is technically referring to a female dog, as most people know. In street talk and rap discourse, the term “bitch” is exclusively reserved referring to girls/women or as a way of stigmatizing frienemies and enemies to call into question their masculinity or hardness like some kind of imagined group test. Real men stick together!

I just want to point out to two cues in the Red Nose kids dance video above that I coded. In the video, there is a taller girl in blue jean shorts (about 10) and a shorter girl in fuscia shorts with white trim.

0:43 Girl in fuscia shorts: “Our first one…they deleted only cuz we’re doing it [the red nose dance]” She is interacting with the audience about “YouTube” taking down their first video “Red Nose.” They make a case even at their young age that their video was no more a violation of community guidelines than dozens of other videos by kids dancing to Red Nose. Then she makes an appeal. Shifting from actor to content creator in her speaking she asks the audience to essentially help them get cultural capital or “views” on YouTube, adding

0:59 Girl in fuscia shorts: “Anyways we’re going to do another one, so please do not delete it. Cuz the last one, the first one, it was 248 viewers and 27 subscribers. WE NEVER GET THAT BEFORE! It was our first time, so PLEASE!.” Girl in jean shorts adds “It’s for the children!”

These girls are being strategic in their appeal despite the fact that in over 800 videos I’ve collected with students only 5% feature girls talking to the camera. This isn’t all that strange since they are essentially dance videos. Nobody talks on the dance floor. But they are also vlogs. Vlogs are an opportunity to not only present your body to the YouTube public but also your voice.

The jean shorted girl is trying to appeal to a sympathy for kids from the people out in the audience with power (adults at YouTube or maybe viewers who might show support in their comments). It’s as if she is saying “let us have our cake and eat it, too!” or “let us play online like everybody else who’s doing the Red Nose!” Meanwhile, Sage the Gemini’s music not only gets advertised under their video and the views they accrue count towards his Billboard ranking, and the girls get nothing but a sense of attention and that they might have been on to something on YouTube–real social capital. But that is not possible without monetizing your channel and really preparing. Nine out of ten of the most viral videos on YouTube according to the Wall Street Journal are professionally made and 9 out of 10 of the most popular videos on YouTube are music videos. Girls today have the same impression I did as a teen or tween. One day I’ll be famous like Diana Ross! Today it’s internet famous like Beyoncé, Rihanna or Nicki MInaj!

Get It Indy: Extreme Twerking by India Haynes

I refuse to embed the original Sage the Gemini video here — I will not add to his coffers — but here’s the link if you’re curious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I-YY5p0uq8.

For me, it’s India Haynes’ appearance in Gemini’s video that interests me. I first learned about yiking from India Haynes aka Get It Indy #getitindy on YouTube around the time she turned 18 according to her channel. Her 2013 video is a guide for understanding twerking vs. yiking vs. bounce. Check out these cues:

Yiking at 10:00″-12:05″
Then she talks about bounce at 12:05″-13:22″
Then the “Tick Tock” at 13:22″ – 14:09″

 

That’s it for now! Leave your comments!

YOUTUBE TIP OF THE WEEK:

Tell your tweens that back that thang up when twerking on YouTube should be about privacy not publicity!  Help them change their privacy settings on YouTube to UNLISTED!!  Unlisted allows them to share with their friends but it won’t be available in the YouTube search results.

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.

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.
 
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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!
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