Undoing Oppression Socialization in 2016 #BHM #WmnHist

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Following Jimmy Fallon’s sketch on hashtags from 2013, I wanna talk hashtags in this post.

This blog is dedicated to the intersections of hashtag Black History Month in February (#BHM), hashtag International Women’s Day (#IWD) and hashtag Women’s History Month (#WmnHist) both in this month of March. Black women and girls get to celebrate for two months in a row about inequality and accomplishments! Hashtag #BlackGirlMagic! Hashtag #BlackWomenMatter. Hashtag let’s get in #Formation.

I am using hashtags as the focus of my political sociology course. I have 28 students in this upper-level course using Storify to explore the discipline and issues that interest them in the end of the Obama administration and in the midst of a fascist-sounding GOP presidential election campaign. Professor Deva Woodly joined us a few weeks ago to talk about hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

Speaking Truth to Power … for Girls

This is the third time I’ve taught a political sociology class. You might ask: What is an ethnomusicologist by training doing teaching political sociology. I was invited to teach this course by my department and now political sociology is really starting to speak to my own research interests in YouTube, music, and the marginalization of black girls. This is primarily due to a fabulous textbook by Devita Glasberg and Deric Shannon titled Political Sociology: Oppression, Resistance, and the State (2011). Hashtag on point!

Black music has always been political but from teaching political sociology I am learning invaluable discourse–the words and ideas used to express meaning as Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines it–that allows me write about black music in a sophisticated way. I can really grasp and grapple with issues of power and the social structures that lay beyond our personal tastes for one artist or genre versus another. As an ethnomusicologist, my specific training socialized me to think about music as sound and as people, which IS political in and of itself. But because I had focused on the micro-subjective thoughts and feelings of black girls I never fully grasped the macro social structures shaping meaning and power. “Language shapes thought“, as cognitive psychologist Lera Boroditsky demonstrates in her research. “What researchers have been calling “thinking” this whole time actually appears to be a collection of both linguistic and nonlinguistic processes. As a result, there may not be a lot of adult human thinking where language does not play a role” (Boroditsky 2011, 65). It is the language of power that lives in political sociology’s discourse and methodology and the symbolic worlds of trends in social media and online video today are important arenas for the study of people, music, and power.

In this post, I will try to introduce some of the discourse of political sociology into my thinking and research about the unintended consequences of online black girls’ interest-driven participation with twerking music and artists in their self-produced YouTube videos.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

“We can rape, but we can also sing.”
A.R. Braunmuller

If you follow my blog, you know I’ve been toying with titles over the last 6 months. It was “Digital Seduction”. Today, it’s “Girls & Hidden Digital Labor of Video Screens.” I’d love your reactions or suggestions as I search for a title that fits.

Currently, I am writing about the unpaid digital labor of marginalized daughters on YouTube, thanks to Dorothy Howard, a brilliant feminist millennial scholar who helped me learn about the topic from her research and activism on Wikipedia.

Because I write primarily about the marginalization of black girls at the moment, one title I considered was “The Dark Digital Labor of Daughters.” But Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi’s TED Talk on the dangers of a single story popped into my mind. I realized I needed to speculate beyond the stereotypical, one-note racial thinking about black or “dark skin” to avoid perpetuating the usual stigmas. Given the Times Square image of jumbo video screens which I chose from a limited set of WordPress options as the background for my blog’s header, I quickly imagined readers associating the “The Dark Digital Labor of Daughters” with the culture this image replaced before Guilani and others cleaned up the porn shops and Kung Fu movie theaters of Times Square.

Times Square, 1985
Times Square, 1985

 

The “dark” digital labor of social media looks like lots of fun to most users. It’s not a red-light district, hookers, peep shows, and adult or child porn. Social media, like YouTube’s music spaces and YouTube Red, are both free and subscription services accessed anywhere, anytime, built on a complex political economy of state structures and privatized electricity, privatized phone service, and a capitalist system of profit and patriarchy masked by viral videos of kittens, Korean pop stars, and Justin Bieber.

YouTube is a structural online system of power and participatory culture where kids and especially the most vulnerable and marginalized girl childs are seduced into “selling” images of their sexy, dancing bodies for the fun of it to targeted advertisers. Girls will do this free advertising to networked publics for media companies, as bell hooks stated in a public dialogue at the New School in 2014, because more and more adult women won’t do it anymore.

At a conference on Gender, Sexuality and Hip-hop sponsored by Melissa Harris-Perry in December of 2014 at Tulane University, a college-age black women recalled her relationship to hip-hop:

Being very familiar with the “Tip Drill” …um … video and coming into my feminism on the campus of Spelman College, I I grew to not just be a consumer of hip-hop but realize I was being consumed by it. So it was important for me to develop a sense of… a consciousness so that I can navigate that..space.

The space she meant was whole network of spaces where misogynist hip-hop music dominates the public sphere. Now that sphere is not just online, it’s in your hand 24-7. The younger the girl, the more free music videos on YouTube and other platforms are teaching them to “Keep that ass jumpin” for free in a media ecology that is hashtag for-profitby-everyone-but-the-girl.

“Keep that ass jumpin'” is the hook from a popular YouTube music video for the song “Booty Hopscotch by Memphis artist Kstylis (pronounced K-styles). His twerk songs appear more often than any others in my dataset of over 1000 YouTube. This media is part of the “oppression socialization”  defined as “a process whereby individuals develop understandings of power and political structure, particularly as these inform perceptions of identity, power, and opportunity relative to gender, racialized group membership, and sexuality” (Glasberg and Shannon 2011, 47).

“Booty Hopscotch” by Memphis artist KStylis

YouTube has become one of the significant agents of oppression and political socialization as media, as a form of free schooling, and as digital labor or work from one’s bedroom as people attempt to monetize their fun online. YouTube is where politics are increasingly mediated through comedy sketches, music and award shows featuring celebrities, and online real and entertainment news stories.

So how and what it this new media ecology of sharing and trending teaching our daughters? What illusions of power and ownership do they learn and what kinds of hegemonies are being taught that empowers and simultaneously disempowers their voice and image? Hashtag #Babymamas, hashtag #ReaganWelfareQueens, and hashtag #videovixens whose body trumps their voice on screen and perhaps even more so off.

“Prospero, you are the master of illusion.
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(Lied about the world, lied about me)
That you have ended by imposing on me
An image of myself.
Underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That s the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image! What’s more, it’s a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
And I know myself as well.”
Aimé Césaire, A Tempest

I didn’t want to recreate the victim blaming and slut shaming of young and black girls in my blog title. Using seduction or darkness is that same old single story again. And this is the immaterial, affective and emotional labor of digital labor. It serves to symbolically and socially reproduce what political sociologists call a “mobilization of bias” (Schattschneider 1975 quoted in Glasberg and Shannon 2011, 37) that affects decision-making at the state level as we say with welfare queens during the election of President Reagan.

This mobilization of bias is ironically done by our personalized use of mobile devices and personally-accessed video screens. The 4th screen that was the first personalized, mobile, always-on, mass media. It is not a form of mass self- communication in an age where racism and sexism have not ended but perhaps become more pernicious because it lives in our hand-held realities. Discrimination and oppression are no longer visible or legible in the ways they once were–as a function of a state controlled or monitored television or radio or big corporate run companies. They are now hidden in online pleasures and play which we self-produce based on what radio and television already taught us and continue to feed us — now they feed us supposedly ourselves. Hashtag #GiveThePeopleWhatTheyWant. And if you check out what girls are doing, what they want is to keep that ass jumpin, right?

What’s really hidden here is that those same video screens we use to self-produce, focus other people’s attention on some generalized black girl on a video screen rather than on the distributors of social media and online video platforms big and small such whether that’s YouTube or UMG’s VEVO or artists like Kystlis, Juicy J, or Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Hashtag #HegemonicMasculinityandFemininity

“I Do My Thang / On the Video Screen” (from a girls’ game song)

She is a tiny cog in the supply chain of explicit music videos.  And yet, she is seen as driving the attention economy, if you know the numbers for engagement on YouTube by age and sex, behind the culture of what’s popular in music and behind the trends in social media rants. Her behind is butt of the joke, too. Visit YouTube’s Dashboard and Trends map for more details.

This phenomena reminds me of when news outlets focused the nightly news on the criminalization of the small-time dealer found on ghetto street corners rather than on the big time distributor of illegal drugs or narcotics in the supply chain. It also reminds me of how local black folk desperate to be seen would mug for the crime scene camera–hashtag #photobombing before there was a dictionary name for it.

Back when I was a teenager in my black community, there was a vernacular critique of this media trend that coordinated action with Reagan’s conservative “get tough on crime” state policies. I remember my mom asking how drugs got into our communities. Communities that lacked social mobility to bring cocaine of marijuana across national borders and into the hood. “Black people don’t own planes!” I remember someone arguing. Where was the focus on the international cartels and drug enforcement and border patrol officers who had to be looking the other way? It was harder for the state to catch the big guys and must easier to criminalize the little ones with nightly news reports that made black people increasingly look like the real menace to society, the imagined Enemy No. 1. Hashtag #decolonizingthemind

Free your mind, and your ass will follow

What I am trying to show in my research and scholarship is how black girls sells sex for the industry and catch all the hell for it, too.  They are being exploited for their unpaid digital labor on the very video screens we all use as networked individuals to upload and self-produce our interest-driven activities for the fun of it. But this “fun” is a new kind of digital labor that will recreate the very inequalities that the #BlackLivesMatter campaign is successfully bringing to international attention with its online and off-line protests in Ferguson and at the University of Missouri. Just do a Google or Twitter search on hashtag #MikeBrown and Hashtag #Mizzou.

Unpaid digital labor refers to the affective, emotional, and immaterial labor of social media audiences as owners of the distribution platforms of social media profit from this audience labor. The mechanisms used to propagate that profit has changed. The owners look younger but are still primarily white and male. And a primary result, whether intended or not, of this digital immaterial work or labor is that is reproduces the “oppression socialization” of differences ordered around class (the political economy), race (racism), gendered oppression (patriarchal socialization), and gender (or heteronormativity).

Lorde oppression

It makes me think of Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.  In The Social Science Jargon Buster, Zina O’Leary defines the term as:

How the political, economic, cultural and ideological systems of those in power come to be accepted, legitimated and even celebrated by the masses at the expense of alternative ways of thinking and doing (O’Leary 2007).

When it comes to kids, especially minors or children on YouTube, there is no need to have formal systems of discrimination against females.  Individual networked girls will self-brand within the logics of capitalism, patriarchy, and white superiority. Video screens that are unregulated by only other individuals socialize girls; they quickly learn, adapt to, and adopt the paradigms of music videos and YouTube’s attention economy. They structure themselves into it through user-generated content where they try on these identities and markers of self expression. They imitate and embody them and many will simultaneously try to resist them.  Oppression socialization is the digital immaterial werk or labor of twerking songs and twerking self-produced videos, hegemonically speaking. Hashtag #CanIWerkIt

The Blues of “The Changing Same” (hashtag Amiri Baraka)

Change may seem like it’s happening but the shapeshifting of the order of things tends to remain the same more or less or so it seems.  The mainstreams of culture on the web now freely feature and spread the exploitation of girls primarily propagated by self-produced video content broadcast from “privately public” and “publicly private” often domestic spaces or bedrooms (Lange 2007).

Meanwhile, online harassment and sexploitation goes viral across the social web. And it justifies itself (as if there is no perpetrator or distributor) on the backs of girls’ self-produced content. No matter what minor and teen girls produce for fun and/or as a critique of the system, it still can be argued that social media platforms are exploiting minor girls for profit to their greatest gain or capital accumulation while  girls will be blamed for the demise of their own reputation and future net worth. And this too will be privatized — the discrimination that is since all that girls are doing online lives in a networked publics that are searchable, shareable, and persistent. We don’t own the Internet or the web, just as you don’t really own the technology or data produced on your device while you lay claim to ownership of the device. In actuality, you don’t own, you pay for calling it that

All this–the unintended consequences of social media and self-presentation online and the profit from unpaid digital labor–is a particularly insidious and pernicious ethical gap for marginalized groups like young black girls. And that’s this work interests me so much. It lies at the heart of issues of inequality on the web. Hashtag #YesAllWomen, hashtag #Privacymatters and hashtag #SomeofUsareBrave

Hashtag #FLOTUS

So to close my free written thoughts, I offer the First Lady in honor of hashtag Women’s History month and its intersections with race, gender, class, and power. Hashtag #TeamMichelle and hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama.

Happy Black Women’s History Months!!

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

 

 

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.

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

Chescaleigh of YouTube on #BlackOutDay

“Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our own skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness.”

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

 

#BlackOutDay

Wish I participated! Thanks for vlogging about it @chescaleigh!! If you don’t know her, she along with Issa Rae are among the most recognized YouTubers (and notice I didn’t say black YouTubers). Please subscriber to her channel!!

 

PS This was my 150th blog post! Small celebration! Woo-hoo!

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

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

Bailey first used the term [misogynoir] in an essay titled, ‘They Aren’t Talking About Me’ for the Crunk Feminist Collective. She defines it as a “word I made up to describe the particular brand of hatred directed at Black women in American visual and popular culture.” Examples of Misogynoir include the rejection of Black women’s natural hair and ‘twerking’. http://www.thevisibilityproject.com/2014/05/27/on-moya-bailey-misogynoir-and-why-both-are-important/

 

Twerk Reconsider

 

An Ethnography of YouTube Twerking

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

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

Exploring Race, Gender and YouTube in Class

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

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

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

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

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

A Select History of Viral Video Memes

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

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

Hidden in the shadows of these videos black girls were uploading dance videos from their own bedrooms with their desktop webcams and mobile phones as early as 2006 on YouTube if not earlier. 2005 the year YouTube launched was also the year of the costliest natural disaster and one of the 5 most deadliest in the history of the U.S. Hurricane Katrina left its devastation in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast where millions were left homeless and 800,000 New Orleaneans were displaced to all points throughout the nation. http://earlywarn.blogspot.com/2013/01/distribution-of-katrina-refugees.html

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

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

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

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

Flirting vs. Twerking:
Screening Difference Differently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uploading May Criminalize Black Girls and Protesters at #MillionsMarch

[Those who] oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, [George] Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World [Aldous Huxley suggested], they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell (1949) feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley (1931) feared that what we desire will ruin us.
~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985)
Is the preciousness of a diamond a quality of the gem or is it a feeling in our mind? Practically we treat it as both or as either, according to the temporary direction of our thought.
~ William James, “The Play of Affectional Facts in a World of Pure Experience,” from Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912)
Power is the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired fashion.
~ Dhoruba bin Wahad quoting Huey Newton

On the Digital Seduction of Uploading

Following 9-11, nonviolent animal-rights protesters like TED Fellow Will Potter were criminalized as domestic terrorists.

What do you think could happen at the today’s #MillionsMarch?

Will Potter: The shocking move to criminalize nonviolent protest

Filmed March 2014 at TED2014

There is much I haven’t shared from our research on YouTube twerking this semester, but today is about protest. It’s about walking arm-in-arm for justice and for power to the people not big corporations or militarized police forces.

There is a strong correlation to a few things in our findings and what you should pay attention to while out protesting at today’s Millions March – A Day of Anger (December 13, 2014). Don’t be seduced by the increasingly naive notion that there is absolute power in broadcasting your uploaded images and videos … right away!

Remember the English phrase extolling the virtue of patience, “Good things come to those who wait!” Good things like social wisdom, critical decision-making, and freedom from impulsive decisions that may be put your digital reputation at risk. Freedom of choice and expression online (and in person) are not free from negative consequences.

The Consequences and Bottomlines of Broadcasting

Whenever someone new learns that I study twerking, the reaction is always one of being startling or stunned and I am not even dancing in any of these videos.

Two nights ago, I used my research interest in twerking to seduce the attention of those attending YouTube’s Multicultural Holiday Celebration at their new Spaces location in New York City. Most people I meet in any context know little to nothing about the history of twerking’s origin in New Orleans. I was one of them before 20 months ago. It’s like not really studying the history of the post-I-Have-A-Dream, anti-poverty MLK or really learning about the Black Panther Party’s revolutionary efforts to gain sovereignty for black people. #powertoallpeople #powertotheland

Last week when sharing with a business law professor who teaches immediately right after my capstone course, I told him that this semester my undergrads and I had collected a 40-hour workweek of videos featuring adolescent and teen black girls who twerk. Being a white, Jewish male in his early 40s, he remarked with astonishment, “You mean, it didn’t start with Miley Cyrus???!? Wow! I thought it was just from last year!” he added with curiosity and a sense of intrique. That’s what I am after — people seeing the complexities of black girlhood. It is rarely questioned further.

Wow! That’s Really Cool! Get the Camera!!

Seeing girls back that thang up on YouTube is about more than what meets the eye. What interests me is the media studies aspect of how generalized others perceive black girls’ behavior and actions in a digital world of colorblind racism, hypersexualization, trolling, bullying and rape culture.

White girls get the wow factor that  can really “make it rain” in views whenever they appropriate shakin that ass. I have one video of two 13-14 year-old white female teens. They are not that good but the video has 5 million views. There is not one video of black girls among the 700 collected by 18 different people searching and finding 40 videos each that has more than 800,000 views.

The wow factor of racial disparities goes for white mega-starts like Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalia; even Taylor Swift can “check” on it for the Billboard charts.

Nicki Minaj offered the most critical response to this in an interview on The Ellen Degeneres Show back in November of 2013:

When a white girl does something that seems to be like “black,” then black people think Oh!!— She’s embracing our culture! So they kinna ride with-it. Then white people think, Oh! She must be cool. She-doin’-sumpin’ “black”!… But-if-a black person do-a black thang???!? It-ain’t-that-poppin’!

With one punchline, Minaj signifies on the gesture that defines twerking and today’s protest. #BlackLivesMatter

Don’t Shoot!: Learning to Back That Thing Up
(The Critical Rewind of Social Media)

Most of us cannot tell the difference between our own ass and a hole in the ground when it comes to digital media literacy or twerking.

Last year I met an early bounce rapper in New Orleans who told me that in late 1980s twerking was referred to as “p-poppin” short for “pussy poppin.” Its connection to the patriarchal gaze typically associated with strip clubs is obvious. Rap artists traffick in this site of seduction through the sight of black female booty poppin in their videos to tap that ass in determining what songs club-goers find most appealing. What amuses their impulsive appetite and attention for sexual representations? This reflects the political economy of producing rap music in the Dirty South—the production, distribution and consumption of a new kind of tough on black asses circuit. But no protest songs here, just more bounce to the ounce while silencing the political voices of girls and women in hiphop. #justgetonthedancefloor #anddontmakeasound (insert Lil Wayne’s “Love Me”).

Whenever someone asks me “what is twerking?” I often reply, “It’s popping and locking with your ass” to consciously link the dance to hip-hop culture (not simply rap). Why? Because girls in black communities love dancing; we love to werk that body. It’s part of our cultural heritage that begins before adolescence. Hip-hop culture was not the first iteration either.

In chance conversations, there’s rarely time to reveal how the kind of twerking associated with New Orleans has been collapsed with winin‘ from Trinidad and Tobago, mapouka traditionel from Côte d’Ivoire, or “funk” dance from Brazil and a host of other dances where one’s butt is featured via the webcam on YouTube. Suffice it to say, the history of twerking on YouTube is complicated and it’s complicated by some of the same socioeconomic and neoliberal politics that have us going out to march around the world today. Those contexts we cannot see while we our attention is captivated by some screen, namely the transparent forms of power that shape structural inequalities in the lives of brown and black males and females as well as they ways our bodies are continually policed in Ferguson, Brooklyn, and on YouTube with its claim to empowering a true digital democracy.


The Revolution May Be Televised,
But You’re Arrest, and the Truth, Will Not Be Free

The thousand adolescent and teen black girls who uploaded each of the 700 videos in our dataset totaling a 40-hour work week of video impressions were seduced by their ability to broadcast from the “privacy” of their own bedrooms. Everyone was doing it. Today, during the protests, everyone will capture images and videos that will surely be lost in the mute yet noisy traffic of millions of uploads broadcast on hundreds of social networks. But trust me when I say “Big Brother” is watching. And just because your record it, doesn’t mean everyone recorded will be safe.

I was listening to a live-streamed lecture by intersectional queer feminist and social activist Cathy J. Cohen, a fellow graduate of Michigan, last night. She said:

The very images you upload may be used to criminalize the behavior of fellow protesters. Don’t get it twisted. You are the Third Reich citizens turning in their Jewish neighbors in the name of broadcasting yourself.

It might be worth taking 4 minutes to watch TED Fellow Will Potter tell his story of nonviolent protest and how he was criminalized as a domestic terrorist for a fight to gain animal rights (not even human rights).

Bottomline: Protect Yourself Before You Wreck (Broadcast) Yourself

So I close this post with some practical and useful facts for being prepared and being safe in the march happening all around the world today. #MillionsMarchNYC will be my place to practice.

Just consider that the process of criminalizing fellow protesters will start with YOU and your user-generated content exploited by small and large media outlets but more importantly by those surveilling citizens activities to criminalize their actions later. Beware the digital seduction to upload and broadcast everything live. We cannot watch 175 hours of video that will surely be shot in less than 3 hours today.

We must learn to be careful of this seduction. To learn to think of the consequences to our fellow protesters and ourselves later. Remember that Ramsey Orta felt he was indicted for shooting/filming the video of Eric Garner’s death. He was indicted on criminal weapon and firearm possession which Orta claims was falsified.

We all tend to shoot and upload from our mobile devices in the name of capturing “the truth” which is a reality that can be distorted to capture us in its snare, too.

“Is the preciousness of a diamond a quality of the gem or is it a feeling in our mind? … we treat it as both or as either, according to the temporary direction of our thought.”
~ William James

If you’re still heading to the march, here’s the route

And here’s a list of things you need to know to protect yourself in case of any interactions with the police.

Know your rights and practice tactics that de-escalate situation with the police. Just be careful what you do with the media you create and upload onto your social networks whether Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr, to name only a few.

Don’t be seduced! Think before you upload!! 

Here is one of 247 videos we collected that appears to be black girls twerking but the video actually sits on the channel of a male subscriber who profits off the back of their adolescent play broadcast on YouTube.