Out of Place: Whether in Segregation or Integration

“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Flickr: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Flickr: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Education, Liberation – I LOVE YOU!

Just got off the phone with my mom. She and I graduated–spent our last years of adolescent black girlhoodat the same predominately white public school, Richard Montgomery High. It’s located in Rockville, Maryland just outside the beltway in Washington, D.C. Mama was in the 2nd class after Segregation ended (pun not intended, but … take it as it comes). I believe she attended 1958 – 1961. I attended 20 years later from 1977-79. I graduated at the age of 16. With my birthday in September this sounds amazing but it was not. That’s an altogether different story for another time. It sure looked good in the eyes of others to graduate at 16 but the real circumstances were not cute. I might write about it in another postif folks are interested.

It’s early Saturday morning and I’m sharing about my upcoming TEDx talk I’m givingMarch 20th at my alma mater, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The talk will be about race, value and black girls’ self-worth so I can really talk about racialization, sexualization and structural racism on YouTube. I am planning on starting my talk with a story about stage fright at my first audition at UofM.

Somehow we got to talking about our different experiences with Integration across our life courses. I was recording it in case I said something good for my talk. I transcribed the exchange because it rich with meaning and relevance esp. as I finish up an article highlighting the re-segregation of black girls on YouTube. Wanted to find a way to talk about segregated spaces on and off line, the blurring of public/privacy, the meaning of publicity in what are essentially segregated bedrooms broadcast online, and the inherent racialization of adolescent black female body and image while valorizing their white female counterparts. Even though big butts are valued they are stigmatized on black bodies.  Kim Khardasian can “Break the Internet” but when black girls try in twerking videos…as Nicki Minaj put it when talking about black girls doing a black thing, “it ain’t that poppin’!”

My new friend and one of the newest TED Fellows (Rock the TED Stage girl!!), choreographer Camille A. Brown articulated the dilemma we black girls face today, young and old,

Your body has value, but not on you!

Un-gawa, Black Powa

My conversation with my Mama is always like a roller-coaster. We cover lots of emotional terrain — sometimes it’s not easy but this was one of the more precious moments I want to remember forever.

She mentions the store Zaire’s which was a local department store in Wheaton, MD that my mom went to most of my childhood. She paid for new school clothes put on law-a-way often working 2 jobs a day. I got my first brown cordoroy bell-bottoms at Zaire’s when they were the “in” thing. Wish I had a copy of my 7th grade picture sportin those pants as the cheerleading squad assistant. Ungawa, Black Power was one of the cheers we black girls brought to the white junior high squad.



Me: Ye-ah!
I was an integration baby. So you were supposed to fit in. I was always– the only black student in classical music until I got to Michigan. [That’s a little exaggerated. Tony Scales and his friend Virgil were in the music department with me to Montgomery College but no one else for 10 years of my classical training from 1979 until Michigan in 1988].

What made Michigan great for me was that there were THIRTY OTHER BLACK STUDENTS there. It was AWESOME! But…we didn’t see each other, ya know.  Even when I was [back] at Julius West [Junior High I thought] all of the black students, I thought we were in different classes, because I never saw them at school [in the spaces of learning, in the classroom; I saw them everyday at lunch. We played Spades on the regular]. [I later learned]  They were [all] in another class [tracking them vocational ed and not college prep].

Mama:  The bad part of that was, in order for you to get a half-way decent chance to go to higher learning [college], I had to be on [them]… making sure you were in the right courses. Because there was some courses where the kids just played in the class all day [ME: a function of curriculum design not student laziness]. And that mighta been fun but in the long run. I mean…

24:59″  I never thought that Integration was the best thing.
I wanted to have the experience of being… [of] graduating from Carver High School. George Washington Carver high school!!   I wanted to graduate from there!!

25:09″  But..but  they– said–[parents and school authorities brokering the transtion], I was a student that who would be successful in going to the white schools.
I didn’t like it!!
And when I started to have problems with the teachers, my father said “you oughta be glad you’re going to school with whites.” That’s what he said.

Me: Ye-ah! Our…our experiences are like mirrors ..

Mama:  We all had things we had to go through, ya know?  and I had a few teachers at Richard Montgomery — my U.S. history teacher — probably if it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t had — her and maybe Mr. Preston — I would have had just a TERRIBLE time at Rich’rd Montgomery all together. I mean 9…well…I had…well, less than 50% good experience there most of my time there, and I was just glad to get outta there! (she laughs at the irony)

26: 19″  And I had to work at Zaire’s behind the food counter! [It was] my first job after I got outta high school.

Me: Wow, I didn’t know that. [She’d never told me this before. And we continued shopping there for years.]

Mama: YE-AH!!! So what was the… ya know..
                                                               Me: ..the benefit…
Mama: Ye-ah!

Me: You got to go to a white school with white people but you didn’t get any better of a job.                                                                                                              Mama: Right!!!


Me: WOW!!!!!! <pause>  Really??!?

Mama: YE-AH!!


The Flawed System of Race

Notice how even as black woman’s own daughter, I respond in disbelief at racism. That my moms went to a predominately white school–we have arrived–to still deal with segregation in the rest of society, in her first workplace, after getting her degree.  This ish is a trip! And this trip around the sun for black folks has come with way too much ish.  Situations matter. There is not global solution to the racial ideology that still fools far too many of us into thinking what we do online or off is ok if I own my own body. No man, woman and child is an island.

We are all accomplices, co-creators — past and present — the shaping black girls’ social identity and their self-worth.  That’s it for now. But our conversation reminded me of a poem set to music in an African American art song by David Nathaniel Baker.  Thought the poem was by Langston Hughes. Delighted to learn and remember it was written by Mari Evans, whom I spoke to when writing my first book. She wrote a fabulous poem about black women and the poem “status symbol” [note the lower case spelling] is from her book I am a Black Woman (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1970).


status symbol

By Mari Evans


Have Arrived


am the

New Negro


      am the result of

           President Lincoln

  World War I

and Paris


          Red Ball Express

                   white drinking fountains

    sitdowns and


       Federal Troops

                     Marches on Washington


       prayer meetings


   They hired me


is a status

job . . .


      with my papers


    gave me my

       Status Symbol



to the

                 White . . . Locked . . .


Publicity Means No More Locked Doors, Right?.

#DayOfTheGirl 2014

October 11, 2014

All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.
Malala Yousafzai

How rare is it for twerking to be discussed…or actually anything involving what Black [girls] do, think, say, write, create, believe or are…without bigotry, and sloppy, one-dimensional bigoted ideas as the basis of the discussion or the “critique?”  Gradient Lair


In English and Portuguese. For Español, click here.

For the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala. Congratulations!!

For black girls/women who twerk and those who don’t! Back that thing up but make sure you own your content fully! #MissKimari, #GetItIndy, and all the nameless teen and adolescent girls who don’t get a fair shake for their exploration of their self-identity on YouTube.

For breaking the silence of girls of color in NYC today!! Join us for the Town Hall at Columbia sponsored by Girls for Gender Equity, Inc. The event will be moderated by Columbia Law School Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw will be moderating the event.

She defined “intersectionality” for us:

The need to split one’s political energies between two sometimes opposing groups is a dimension of intersectional disempowerment that men of color and white women seldom confront. Indeed, their specific raced and gendered experiences, although intersectional, often define as well as confine the interests of the entire group. For example, racism as experienced by people of color who are of a particular gender – male – tends to determine the parameters of antiracist strategies, just as sexism as experienced by women who are of a particular race – white – tends to ground the women’s movements.

The problem is not simply that both discourses fail women [and girls] of color by not acknowledging the “additional” issue of race of patriarchy but, rather, that the discourses are often inadequate even to the discrete tasks of articulating the full dimensions of racism and sexism.

Because women of color experience racism in ways not always the same as those experienced by men of color and sexism in ways not always parallel to experiences of white women, antiracism and feminism are limited, even on their own terms.  ~ Kimberlé Crenshaw [quoted from the brilliant blog Gradient Lair. Please subscribe to Gradient Lair!!]


“Half the story has never been told.”
To Toni Blackman and her #rhymelikeagirl mission!!

RIP #LeftEye

#Freedom the rap version

“Bottoms Up” (film)? Thumbs Down!–Entertainment Info Is Not News

Sara Baartman was a celebrity. Carried on a chair, she went to meet a duke. (73) Elites from out of town came to visit her. On Duke Street, two African children [freak show organizer Alexander] Dunlop had brought from Cape Town, probably in conditions of slavery, served her and the men. On Sundays, she went for rides in a carriage— much more like a woman of the elite than of the working class. Cartoonists represented her, songs were written, and poems were composed.(74)

Baartman was a celebrity who had to endure people poking her bottom and commenting on her figure. Her experience fit that of many performers of freak shows at the time, when freak meant wondrous or strange as much as it did awful and inferior.(75)           — Scully and Crais (2008, 316-317) on the “Venus Hottentot”

Unable to attribute authorship of this image. Any info is welcome.


Connection. Real connection. Everyone of us knows that social media is not giving us the biological connection we truly need to be authentically social. But we keep buying in. LIKING it all. Like. Like. Like. And more Like buttons. And top it off with a Share. What are we sharing for? This week I decided to stop using the LIKE button on Facebook in lieu of actually leaving comments if I liked something a friend or stranger posted on the walls of our daily exchange.

And what a week it’s been of entertainment info while #Ferguson freedom summer has been happening. Nicky Minaj released her Anaconda twerk-fest video and Taylor Swift has been criticized for what doesn’t even come close to twerking in my mind though she has one black woman doin the do. So much hate when what artists do is play with dominant scripts in our consciousness from the words of Kanye to the meme of twerking.

Presently, I’m writing a new article about “ways of seeing” the black bottom though the inherited media of popular music. While searching the web, I learned of a new documentary available that was featured by Madame Noire (August 6) in a CBS entertainment-information piece about butt augmentation. The film Bottoms Up was advertised there.

On the surface, “Bottoms Up” is a documentary film that examines the newest booming trend in aesthetic surgery – big butts. Placed under a microscope, the film explores the media’s impact and other societal pressures that have propelled big butts from a cult fetish to a mainstream phenomenon.

From Sir Mix-a-Lot, whose 1992 hit “Baby Got Back,” sensationalized round posteriors  – I like big butts and I cannot lie – to new artists like 2Chainz – She got a big booty so I call her big booty, it is men who actively pursue women with this new fetishized feature. So who is to blame – the media? Men? Women? – See more.

Baby Got Back is still gettin views, entertainment info traffic, distributing its messages to toddlers and adolescents across all nations who have little contact with black girls or women or recognize the objectification of their bodies they are being taught. A recent video of Sir Mix-A-Lot with the Seattle Symphony features a spectacle of mostly white woman shaking their asses like they just don’t care.  Where is the counter cultural critique of this by white women? By conductors at symphonies or the black members? OH! They only have one black musician in the orchestra. That’s another conversation close to my heart as a classically-trained musician. But off-topic here. Twerking — Stay focused, Kyra!




When I began exploring my interest in a practice on YouTube by black girls that most people I meet find repellent …if they even know what twerking is, I never imagined the richness of this study. I have begun to understand the pleasure and escape found in black girls’ who broadcast while they twerk. I still am learning how to represent it ethnographically in a way that honors the exploration of adolescence, the play and sensuality of black dance and sociality, and the complexity of twerking in online video. YouTube seems so liberatory and at the same time its a place of neoliberal exploitation of youth and their expressive cultural traditions and practices.

It’s been complicated by my own parallels as a black woman and formerly black girl adolescent struggling to discover my place in a world that denigrates blackness. Whether it was being called “pretty for a black girl” or being teased by white boys for what was then a small butt by comparison to the one I have grown into now.  This is about me and not about me or my history at all. But what constantly comes up is the emotional injustice and subjective manipulation, dare I say the microaggressive assaults upon the ways others see my body and thereby how I perceive who I may be for others in the world. It dominates who I want to be at times. Worry for what others see and think and how I must overcome that to be free–and the struggle continues. But it’s personal that it’s not at all about me. It’s the sociology of being black and female if you have (or perhaps don’t have) the right big butt.

I often wonder what it would be like to be 13 today with Beyonce singing about surfboards and Kardashians implanting their bodies with what never shined on us.

So when I just discovered this new documentary Bottoms Up available on Google Play, iTunes and Amazon, I find myself trapped in a sort of damned if I do, damned if I don’t mentality. Buy it and contribute to the madness of our objectification in popular music media esp. online participatory video. Ignore it and shirk my objective research agenda. Contradictory #bottomlines if there ever was one.


This form of consumption is entangled with constantly sensing that the body you happen to possess is the object of derision and lascivious attention often masking any real attention to who I really am, the me within this body. And it’s entangled in that everybody is making a profit off it as long as they are not too dark or too black, too sexy or too cultural. Our bodies in some crazy neoliberal reality (not fantasy) is expropriated, extracted, take all the colonializing language of exploitation and globalization and it becomes a metaphor for the mountaintop (or bottom) removal of black women and girls from what’s profitable. We, it seems, are only viable as spectators of the sport or entertainment-info that uses our body for profit whether social or economic capital.

I find this work tiring. Hard. Difficult to parse out. I have to bite my tongue, the very last thing needed for a writer or scholar or for a black girl or woman. Shutting down breeds the bitterness. Better to take the bitter pill and dive in, I keep reminding myself time and time again.

I began to think of this work as being more about cognitive justice as well as emotional, ecological and sociobiological inquiry into violence vs. fitness for black girls (and women). Really for myself, too. This is inner warrior work and staying strong when the entertainment info machine and attention economy uses what houses your live and used to be part of your dance not the focus, takes deep and rigorous courage.

So with that, here is the trailer for the documentary Bottoms Up. If anyone has a way around buying this, I would definitely avoid doing so.

Juicy J’s 50K “Scholarship”: “Class” Is (Not) In Session

Juicy J & WorldStarHipHop.com Presents the Scholarship Contest

Juicy J & WorldStarHipHop.com Presents the Scholarship Contest

“It is impossible to get a man to understand something if his livelihood depends on him not understanding.”
― Upton Sinclair

Gnatola ma no kpon sia, eyenabe adelan to kpo mi sena. (Ewe-mina)
A moins ce que le lion ait son propre narrateur, le chasseur aura toujours la belle part de l’histoire. (French)
Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story. (English)

When I first heard about the Juicy J $50K scholarship back in September 2013, it was a black male student who brought it to my attention as part of the Black Girl YouTube Project. I remember discussing it with him and saying, “What happens when she goes off to college and everybody knows. ‘OH!!! She’s the one! She’s the one who twerked in the $50K video. Oh!!’ So, what happens when the business professor sees the video??” Ryan agreed and said he’d thought about the same thing. Managing one’s future identity is not always something late adolescents can see.  Many do not have the cognitive ability to do so yet.  I added, “And what happens when the football team learns about it?!?” The Steubenville rape case involving two high school boys dragging a girl like a jump rope from party to party raping her without consent was still fresh in my memory from months earlier. Consent has been on my mind a lot lately.

I also thought “there will be no privacy for the girl who wins that scholarship.”  Perplexed, I simply thought that young women entering the contest really just wanna get the money. It was all about “makin’ it rain” as the strip club “proverb” goes. That was my gut reaction and boy I was wrong. I had not way of seeing the issues of class that would come along with a twerking contest for college.

Since late November, I’ve seen many of the submissions by black and non-black college women. Some of the videos are brilliant, one in particular by Miss Kimari who I recently interviewed was made private [but is now again available, click the link] since the results were announced. She is concerned about her future identity and needs to stop, think and plan. She’s been quite cautious with her identity online. Like Miss Kimari’s video, some involved twerking, others didn’t.  One submission by a young, naive black woman from Illinois named Rashyra was extremely vulnerable–sharing her history of trouble with several times in lockup and attributing her problems to an absent dad. I thought that was not only costly relative to putting it out there in a YouTube video to persist on the Internet forever, but also costly relative to the kind of social negotiation that students take for granted when entering college. People are watching and judging you. I didn’t always think this way, but radical openness is a risk not everyone can afford to take.  The winner from Rashyra’s submission, and many others, was actually Juicy J who got a strong shout-out from her to any viewers: please, download his “Scholarship” single. It’s only $1.98 on iTunes. Free promotion on the backs of broke and recovering college girls. Yeah, stay trippy, alright.

The actual winner Juicy J selected, Zaire Holmes, posted a video that I thought was savvy in its execution and self-presentation. She rapped to open the video and rhymed “straight As” with with “I need more than just…financial aid.” It was cute, seemingly innocent and genuine. Zaire edited in appearances by her references including her boss and friends. She talked about being a single mom, and she was by far not the only single mom in the lot.  She made a bold appeal for wanting to become a doctor, citing that it would take her 11 years and she would use the funds to cover her lab fees. YES!  It was a great college interview. Still, I was convinced  Juicy J wouldn’t pick a woman who didn’t twerk. I thought even less about what would happen if he did and what the implications were for so many who occupy the position recognized as the feminization of poverty happening domestically and around the world.  This is a case for how complicated issues of male privilege and gender oppression have gotten in hip-hop despite certain dominant trends:

Sexual and gender relations inside and outside of the African American community are shifting in relation to three important discourses: (1) the mainstreaming of pornography culture, (2) black capitalism and consumption, and (3) post–Civil Rights colorblind racism.

Perhaps you’ve already read the brilliant post by @ProfessorCrunk aka Dr. Brittney Cooper for the Crunk Feminist Collective’s blog critiquing Juicy J’s reversal around the context (“It’s not always about shaking your ass”) as if he didn’t originally intend for girls to “make it rain” by twerking as the credit he’d use to sell his “Scholarship” single and make more profit. Yes, no twerking required…now, he claimed in the winner’s video.

Zaire says at the end of the video, “a lot of people thought you had to twerk but you just had to read the rules.” And Juicy J chimes right in, “See that’s what you get for shaking your ass and thinking you were gone get some money. It’s not always about shaking your ass.” (B. Cooper)

I’d been checking the special HipHopWorldStar website for the last 8-9 weeks waiting anxiously to see who would be the chosen one.  I first thought race was the issue that stood out with the submissions since a majority of the top-rated and most-watched videos found on that site where submitted by white women, mostly blondes with hundreds of thousands of views compared to the black women’s submissions that had less than 2,000. I speculated that this could be evidence of structural inequalities that were once called the digital divide as whites have better access to larger networks simply by privilege of their race and some non-blacks who would see liking the non-black videos as an opportunity to strike blow against at demoralization of American work ethics which most do not see in rap, among working-class blacks whose pants sag or who twerk, and even the products of Affirmative Action on the college level didn’t really earn the access they got. (Ask me about my alma mater University of Michigan and the anti-Affirmative Action cases that have set back admissions for minorities across the nation.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 10.37.52 AM

The thing that really stood out to me about this contest was the issue of class (SES) relative to the “baby mamas” who were predominately white. There were a number of submissions by white women who are mothers trying to finish college also working 1-2 jobs. In every one of these videos that I saw, the white woman always chose to twerk. Ironically, most of the black and latina women chose not to. Class was playing a bigger role than my racial lens  allowed me to see at first glance. But in any case, what most concerns me right now about twerking are  issues of sexualization. Whether the women in this contest were white or black, what impact is this having on younger and younger girls in the U.S. given that these videos will also be mediated and shared via YouTube.

Earlier today, while researching this subject, I read about the cognitive and emotional consequences of the sexualization of girls in an executive summary of a report by The American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. It read:

“Cognitively, self-objectification has been repeatedly shown to detract from the ability to concentrate and focus one’s attention … While alone in a dressing room, college students were asked to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater. While they waited for 10 minutes wearing the garment, they completed a math test. The results revealed that young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse on the math problems than did those wearing sweaters. No differences were found for young men. In other words, thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity. In the emotional domain, sexualization and objectification undermine confidence in and comfort with one’s own body, leading to a host of negative emotional consequences, such as shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust.”

Obviously, there is more to say but let me return to the contest and a specific video Juicy J released recently.


I wanted to post the “semi-finalists” video (above) released on Jan 8, 2014 to highlight the group of women that were selected to appear in and represent the deliberation of the contest. Juicy J’s objectifying, misogynist and patriarchal commentary is worth noticing.

Among the 10 women semi-finalists featured:

  • 7 were non-black; all of them twerked
  • 1 of the 10 seemed to be a woman of color (not black nor white); she twerked, too
  • and 3 were women of African descent or black women

Clearly,  post-racial “colorblind” politics were at work in both who submitted and who they chose to represent here but I don’t have it all worked out enough to respond about that but I can say that designations of class abounded among the women. They discussed how many jobs they held while going to college, and I would even consider identifying themselves publicly as parents in these videos was a particular salient aspect of class when it comes to college. Pregnant mothers or the appearance of being a single mom is just not talked about where I teach. Far too many colleges today don’t even offer childcare for professors much less students. And yet the women twerked. What’s more interesting is that none of the women included their kids in the video. It’s consistent with male rappers rarely saying anything about their family life in their rapped realities.

[CORRECTION: There are videos of mothers with their children. I had not seen those videos yet. A YouTube search for “Juicy J Scholarship Contest” produces about 66,700 results!!  Really considering doing a study of just these videos and thanks to a blog post by Monique John, another twerk-ologist writing on the same topic, for pointing this out for me. It appeared a few days after my post and featured a video of a mom and her son. Please read this millenial’s great post on the ladies of the contest.]

Before I close, let me share that I just can’t get Juicy J’s evaluation among the semi-finalists’ videos out of my head.

One of the semi-finalists, a black woman named LaDawn from the University of Miami shared that she currently had 2 jobs–one part-time, one full-time. Juicy interjected: “Work-work-work- work-work, and now she’s gonna twerk-twerk-twerk-twerk-twerk” and then he judges her twerking for the audience it’s “not that good” and “it’s kinda boring.”

Another black woman, Krysisha from a university in Milwaukee, uses “special efx” that catch Juicy J’s eye. She never mentions anything about twerking or not twerking. “I am really tryin’ to go to graduate school, y’all. I kinna wanna be an A&R, PR, or tour manager, or maybe all three!” she says. Juicy pensively responds: “She wants to be in the music business” and adds with sincerity, “I think that’s really inspirational.” O_o

A white woman named Emily who attends the University of Southern California painted a mural of Juicy J saying “I painted you, ratchet hoes, [and] dollar bills]” He interjects “I need to see more than you painting a picture, [and] smoking weed.” When hear her video continue “I signed my name on a stripper’s ass” pointing to her own work. Talk about intersectional oppression gone wild. #ijustcanttonight

Women from the West, the Midwest, and the Dirty South all vie for one $50K scholarship from one rapper. A rap mogul who has an estimated net worth of 20 million dollars.


I need some time to really think about this implications of this contest. From one perspective, this contest gave working-class women who twerk a reason to voice concerns that have rarely if ever been a part of hip-hop, not by male rappers or female with the exception of perhaps Lauryn Hill (can’t think of others at the moment). From another perspective, it was promoted by the Miley Cyrus mainstreaming of twerking and Juicy J’s capitalization on the exploitation of girls and young women in college.

The ongoing challenge for feminist researchers and researchers of color is to fully investigate the effects of commercial hip-hop, while avoiding the limiting nature of the “politics of respectability,” the historically black middle-class ideology of “proper” womanhood and “controlled” sexuality (Reid-Brinkley 2008; Rose 2008). The politics of respectability should not prevent black women, as rappers or video dancers, from exploring the full terrain of black women’s sexualities. However, the banner of “sexual freedom” also cannot be used to ignore the uniform and prob- lematic caricaturing of black women and girls’ sexuality (Ransby and Matthews 1993). [Quote from Margaret Hunter, “SHAKE IT, BABY, SHAKE IT: CONSUMPTION AND THE NEW GENDER RELATION IN HIP-HOP,” 2011]


I titled this post “The Class is (not) in Session” because I was really thinking of how relevant issues of class were in the submissions. Issues including respectability politics, socioeconomic class, the feminization of poverty, the lack of available funding and loans for college that wouldn’t leave you in debt for life and much more.  I have to remind myself to not let my feminist investments blind me from the intersectional politics that I am just beginning to see which were not predictable before. They still require study and cannot be pulled up so quickly since the issue of azz everywhere still grabs the focus.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.53.05 PM$50K might go a long way for one woman and her child, but the fact that all these seemingly single woman–none self-identified as married–of all ethnic backgrounds were in some form of despair about their education such that twerking might become a way out of no way for them was telling. I can’t even wrap my head around the issues of gender identity that come up on these videos. I’ll leave that to the capable hands of folks like Bettina Love.

Whenever people look askew after I tell them I am studying twerking, it is moments like this one surrounding the Juicy J contest that remind me that this kind of scholarly and cultural work is worthwhile and truly justified. Black girls on YouTube need critical theory about the larger politics at work when they twerk. Someone who’s danced like them and who’s learning how to twerk but who someone who has some distance from its pleasure politics to explore its costs and pains.

OK. That’s more than enough for tonight. More blogging soon. I am deep in fit of writing finishing an article about the context collapse of self-presentation on YouTube and our collaborative documentary is coming soon, too.

What If Higher Learning Was All About Remix? (On Foucault)

“People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”
Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason

For about 4 years now, I’ve been experimenting with an assignment of remix in writing and other practices in my classroom where students emulate and replicate being consumers of their own productivity inside a given text or framework. I was in a course exploring how one can be empowered by ANY communication, verbal or non-verbal. It was not an academic training, thankfully, but it was a 10 month course with a weekend long training in Los Angeles once every two months and meetups with local participants here in NYC every week for, yes, 10 months. The meetups were practice sessions for completing homework between the five weekends. The course was called Partnership Explorations.

If anyone knows me personally, they know that for years I’ve said that academia beat my love of reading out of me. Perhaps it started earlier when being book smart and “talking like white people” made me assign a separation from my people to reading. I loved Shakespeare as a teen and wanted to read Freud by my mother thought it was taboo for some reason she never really explained back when I was 14.

By the time I reached the Partnership Explorations course in 2004, I was eight (8) years into being a tenure-track professor. I taught at NYU then and I hated reading books and never read anything outside of work needs. I loved the Internet and probably read as much online as some do from hardback novels. But I resisted reading. Always fell asleep. LOL. I read from cover to cover one book in maybe 10 years, a confession no self-respecting professor should probably make, but it’s true. [The book was The Funeral Planner by Lynn Isenberg, a womanist entreprenurial comedy based around my alma mater, University of Michigan. It was mature, sophisticated Chic Lit.]

So when the course instructor of Partnership Explorations said there were 5 recommended books I confronted my bias. I loved the course but reading books… Each of the weekends involved sharing individually to a group of 300 participants about what you were learning about yourself and your conversations with 20 people we were expected to track in our lives.

I read one book completely. Dire Mastery: Discipleship from Freud to Lacan and I read the first 50 pages of The Order of Things: The Archeology of the Human Sciences by Michel Foucault. Not unlike in the halls of academia, everyone in the course found the book confounding and many hated it. Though I had exposure to Foucault’s work on sexuality and liked it in grad school, this was different. I LOVED it. But still didn’t finish it. My habits were then not servicing any interest in reading more. But the preface of that book wOw-ed me.

Thus began an experiment with slow learning for me. Teaching students to replicate the preface of the book (found here: The Order of Things, 1970) in my African American music courses, my jazz course and my hip-hop courses. I have them do it early, the first weeks of class, to throw them into the world of their own thinking and sorting – reordering the mental maps of the subject they are about to encounter newly and in new ways hopefully.

In all the years since 2005 when I began assigning it, I have never written my own version but I have meticulously edited over 200 versions, I’d say. Often rewriting it for them to see other ways of thought,  to instigate and agitate their thinking (vs. thoughting). Yesterday I wrote my first draft. Today my second.

From my non-academic training,  I often challenge myself to do the work that I assign in my classes. It should be a requirement, I have learned from this practice.  It was my students’ experimenting this winter intercession that inspired me to share my own version. I’ve learned so much from my students in this and other assignments about the “sociology” of people’s experiences with black women in hip-hop. It’s like taking a sociological sampling of culture.  I wrote them earlier today: “It’s your mind each of your need to consider learning more about and intervening in the social constructs you simply inherited that were begun by people long dead and gone but that we transmit and carry on unthinkingly about race, gender and music-making. This is your opportunity to shine! Here is mine…”

Prof. G’s Foucault Remix (2nd draft):

This began as a riff off a intellectual rhymebook not well known, nor understood, inside the ivory towers of its social commons where even PhD students front in abstractions, wastin their breathe on what they “took away” from some book as if they were jookin on a basketball court (not!). It began out of a non-academic course I took on discourses and the partnership of language to uncover what’s unsaid and unknown. It arose out of the pain that shattered, as I read my participation in academia, all the familiar landmarks of my former thought — black and female thought, the thought that brands the video vixen of our hip-hop age and our corporate geography — breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which I as a black woman, a performer, and a scholar had become accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing racist and sexist things students carried with them, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse their age-old distinction between desire and ambition.

This riff quotes a ‘certain true mathematics encyclopedia’ contributed to by the fellowship of Bernice Johnson Reagon (If You Don’t Go, Don’t Hinder Me), Audre Lorde (The Uses of the Erotic read here in her own words), Tricia Rose (Black Noise and Hip-Hop Wars), Jeff Chang (Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of a Hiphop Generation), Joe Schloss (Making Beats and Foundation), and many other oracle mathemeticians, an encyclopedia in which it is written that ‘humanity in hip-hop is divided into: (a) true to Rha Goddess not Gangsta, (b) masculine masoleum, (c) domesticated pornography sold to the white masses selling black behinds, (d) Sucka MCs, (e) a Blige(d) or Beyonce(d) , (f) Fiiiiiine!! (with an extreme nasal sound to intensify meaning and syncopation), (g) rhyme retreatists, (h) not included in the present classification = invisibilified, (i) dope fiends diggin in the crates, (j) bounce, bass, snap, house, (k) Is that your real hair cuz I can’t get a comb through it?, (l) whatevah, (m) just breaks on the Billboard charts that won’t last long if they hear its a female, (n) that from a long way off look like I got fries to go with dat shake and imma reach out and take that junk in the trunk public violence.

In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing black women, women and girls everywhere as well as conscious fathers, apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of a rhyme and a video screen, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of patriciarchal and post-colonial system of hegemonic thought, is the limitation of our my own thinking, the stark impossibility of ever being without that.

The source of my remix/sample is the “Preface” from Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things (1970).

“Knowledge is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting.”
― Michel Foucault, The Foucault Reader

The Best Match for a Burning Question

I am a fan of fire starter, passion expert Danielle LaPorte.  The former name of Danielle’s blog WHITE HOT TRUTH caught my attention back in April 2010 after our lives got connected as contributors to an ebook honoring International Women’s Day titled What’s Dying to Be Born. Editor Lianne Raymond wanted to curate a womanist version of Seth Godin’s What Matters Now for the new decade.

Last week, she released her latest book of sermons on word, life, love, cash, desire, time and soul. The Fire Starter Sessions is next on my list to buy…once I get the cash.

This morning I got my latest email from Danielle with one ask this morning:

ANSWER THE BURNING QUESTION: What money resentments do you have…that you could let go of?

How fitting!


The last three months I have been enduring a divorce and my biggest complaint since I left: my marriage sucked the life out of my cash flow. Following Brene Brown’s lead in her 2012 TED Talk I am letting my vulnerability shine through storytelling. I found the love of my life. Married him. Discovered we were not compatible after all. And am divorcing him.

Believe it or not, that is a vulnerable story for me. Why? It didn’t involve any drama. And there’s been a lot of drama. Being straight and accepting the simplest truth is real vulnerability right now.


Danielle insisted in her blog post this morning to listen to my inner voice of autonomy when she wrote:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves, heard on high.

Whatever money thorn you might have in your side could be affecting your entire money flow. Locate it.

I’ve been blaming myself for failing at marriage. My ego at work. But that work can’t change my cash flow. Never has and never will.

Resentment ruled 3 months of my life suffering from thoughts of failure and the perceived loss of love after a VERY public romance that started on Facebook. Time to let go.


That thorn made me a victim in a really bad nightmare. And you know what? I am starting to realize the blessing it has been for me to start my life again. I am on a journey, a true discovery, unleashing my skills, my capacities and the best of what I bring to the party. My ego was suffering (so what!). I am a damn great teacher (ask my students) and that’s what’s so, baby!

My coach just impressed upon how humans’ biology can shift:

“Language is physics. Say it and move in that direction. Freedom is there.”

So today I declare in action my morality in motion. Moving past suffering to shift my own gears. I made a mistake. That’s it. And what I do from here defines the morality of my existence. The past is … just the past. I can bring no change to that. I can bring it to the future.

So what’s next, you might ask? I’m not saying. Shut up and publish. Shut up and produce. That’s my motto.

I am an amazing speaker (gave a successful talk for SAP Marketing event in March). I am an award-winning writer and a singer-songwriter. I got a P-H-and-D in hip-hop and anthropology. Oh, yeah, and I am a TEDFellow. And none of those accomplishments and the skills that led to them were ever sucked out of me by marriage or anything else. That was all simply action or no action, not a failure.

I am the best match for setting my world on fire.


So what’s your answer to Danielle’s burning question of the day: What money resentments do you have…that you could let go of?

What could you share right now that you could let go of today?

Kyra D. Gaunt, Ph.D. | KyraocityWorks
2009 TED Fellow, Author, Coach, Singer-Songwriter aka Professor G
Voicing “the unspoken” through song, scholarship & social media

Tweet Me!   Friend Me!  Become a Blog Fan!   Email me!  http://kyraocityworks.com

Create your own nation, Design your own owner’s manual

I sent a thank you to all the new members on our Success with the Opposite Sex meetup.com group and posted the following message to them. It’s perfect for our blog too and posted below. Before that, I want to share some thoughts from a newcomer who attended last month’s event.

I wanted to tell you how moved, touched and changed I felt after the last gathering. As I shared with everyone that night; for the last four years I have only held real deep communication with the men in my family, colleagues at work and my therapist–and not to minimize him, but also my gay best friend. Wow, man have I been missing out–what a great non threatening way to get back into practice without any pressure.
Thank you for creating such a simple, profound way for men and women to connect beyond the superficial. See you on the 2nd.

Our next event is on November 2nd
You’ll need a notebook or bring your own journal/diary
You may also want to bring your favorite pen or writing utensil


For those who don’t know I am a professor of music and anthropology. Today I taught about political systems in my cultural anthro intro. I am having my students play a game called CREATE YOUR OWN NATION based on a website I found. An author found a creative way to advertise her political novel that is being marketed by a simluation game called NATION STATES.
NationStates is a free nation simulation game. Build a nation and run it according to your own warped political ideals. Create a Utopian paradise for society’s less fortunate or a totalitarian corporate police state. Care for your people or deliberately oppress them. Join the United Nations or remain a rogue state. It’s really up to you.

This got me thinking. If you could create a NEW owner’s manual for yourself, like create it from scratch, how would your life run? How would your relationships operate? What would you be creating in your relationships?

In the nationstates simulation game (which is free if you’re interested), you create your own nation, your nation’s motto, flag, style of government, etc. We might do some collaging of the motto and flag, or said from an entrepreneurial perspective, we might collage your brand name and logo, to get started on your owner’s manual at November’s event.

Your owner’s manual in this day an age might be a podcast, a video, or a visual display. Doesn’t have to be literate communication, you know.

Something to think about and entice you to come on Nov 2 ladies and gentlemen!
Come out and stake your flag for the world to see what impossible dreams you are out to fulfill in relationship!

Best, Kyra