Felicia, 1964 — Black and Female in Watts

“Usually, when people talk about the “strength” of black women . . . . they ignore the reality that to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, that endurance is not to be confused with transformation.”
bell hooks

From the mouth and mind, from the views and shoes, of a black girl living in Watts in 1964, we hear a social analysis of black and female life for her, her family, her mother, and her community. Who back then allowed Felicia to tell her own story and what kinds of stories can you find in user-generated content like these?

If you know any user-generated content that does, share them below. I want to help combat the digital seduction of girls’ online reputation with their own media.

Social media platforms and their advertisers exploit black girls’ (and womens’) spending power, often coopt agency and voice, and will damage their future net worth, which is quickly wrapped around one’s digital reputation–how others’ view you and comment on your presence vs. what you think of yourself.


Social media advertisers, like the advertisers and media companies before them, sell us disparity in complicated and nuanced ways. I am working on unpacking how that works.

Marginalized girls and women must begin to build their mental capacity or willpower to counter this symbolic warfare and gendered violence on female bodies and minds of our online daughters. This includes digital literacy but also nourishment and exercise.

Despite the apparent freedoms social media appears to offer youth when they get to self-produce their own images,  advertisers are hot on your trail and free ain’t freedom online. It comes with long-term consequences and requires long-term thinking before you post.

Even issues of surveillance that piggy-back on girls’ online interest-driven activities is still largely ignored or not fully grasped. If it is, we are lured by the pleasures of being “connected” while we risk damaging our identity at the same time. Parents of kids under 13 need to have more talks about protecting children’s privacy online. More to come.

Kyraocity asks:

How have our talked to your daughter about protecting her data and online persona? Do you let your girls access social media? How do you limit their access, if at all. Do you know that nearly 60% of kids in Australia admit hiding the crimes committed against them online? What are the odds things are better in Aemrica?

More than 40% of children are victims of cyber crime and nearly 60% admit to hiding what they did from adults * Source: NetSafe



The Digital Divide meets the Gender Divide


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

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


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




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

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

Pretty for a Dark Girl!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inventing Solutions

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

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


Non-Consensual Sharing of Sexual Media

Seriously, what the fuck is “non-consensual sex?” There is no such thing. Sex is something that happens when the parties involved are all consenting. Rape isn’t sex, it’s an act of violence, and if there’s no consent it’s rape.
— Jos Truitt, Feministing

Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition; for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the Internet/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain. In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. — National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Should We Blame Girls Under 13 for Self-Produce Twerking Videos?

This is the question I have been trying to answer and explore after collecting hundreds of videos of young black girls twerking. Non-consensual sharing of content does not necessarily apply…if the content was self-produced, right? But what about if it’s produced by a child?

The definition of Child Sex Exploitation (CSE) includes: “When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded, or forced, to:

  • send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
  • have sexual conversations by text or online.”

The third bullet generally applies to what happens below YouTube videos of black girls under 13 who twerk, but the abusers are members of an invisible audience. They often and easily hide their true identities and the practice of exploiting minors goes without much interruption. If these girls were adults, they’d be blamed for posting images of themselves, but can we accuse children the same way?

This video is about revenge porn. It was uploaded to YouTube by Broadly. Broadly is VICE’s new women’s interest channel, with a focus on original reporting and documentary video. Hmm. I wonder if they can help me get my findings out to the world.

I am exploring the arenas of online sexual exploitation of adults and children to see how I can position the work I am doing as non-consensual for children and sex exploitation (i.e., a digital seduction of minors) even if they self-produce the content. It is particularly the sexual conversations that happen below twerking videos by black children, or black girls, that seems like it should qualify as sexual exploitation. Men and boys in invisible audiences sexually groom girls to take off more clothes, leave their phone numbers for girls to call, and talk about girls in these videos as if they are sex toys/objects for their online sexual pleasure and shaming amusement, no matter how young. This is process is much more apparent below the videos of marginalized girls of color. The stigmas and stereotypes the general public accepts about, for instance, black girls is being reproduced without interruption to YouTube audiences in an unfettered fashion while everyone but the girl profits.

Most viewers feel justified in further marginalizing and stigmatizing even an 8-year old. The invisibility of their audience members’ identity seems to allow them to do the opposite of what they’d hopefully avoid if it were face-to-face and kids’ guardians were present. Gives a whole different take on The Invisible Man for black girls who are exploited by networked individuals in networked publics.

How do we protect marginalized girls from digital seduction?

And what are the implications for marginalized youth whose online content (images and videos), whether deemed sexual-exploited images or self-objectifying content,  will continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse of invisible audiences has stopped but remains as digital shadows along with the portable and persistence of their self-produced content. Will employers distinguish so easily between effects of the persistent and portable media vs. the unintended consequences of lil’ black girls’ online behaviors?

Watching this content to study and research harm to minors and children is no walk in the park either. I am starting to read the work of Judith Reisman in the article “Picture Poison: Viewing Pornography for a Living Can Be Deadly” (Salvo Magazine, Autumn 2009). Last year, my colleague Aimee Meredith Cox, whose book Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship (which you should run out and buy) asked me how I am dealing with the emotional impact of studying the sexually exploited aspects of this content. I’d never really asked myself that question before. It’s like living with PTSD being a black woman in America. You live with abuses like it’s a norm for most people. And it is for many black women. So it hit home when it really started to realize that I might be dealing with child pornographic images in this research.

Why continue doing this?

I am pursuing this work because many people on the front lines of the #BlackLivesMatter or the #BlackGirlsMatter movements are not always dealing with online abuse, especially of girls. Conversely, we also need the #BlackGirlMagic hashtag movement to counter the perpetual negativity of fighting for freedom from gross forms of discrimination, incarceration, and out and out crimes against black people that no one is considered at fault or any injuries are rarely repaired. Think #Flint.

10 Years Ago Today HBTY!!: YouTube Rewind 2015

“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and comercials.”
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

TO WATCH REWIND 2015! #smh

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the official launch of YouTube in December 2005 here is the annual REWIND video. Johanna made it into the Rewind video with over 20 million views dancing the lead in a tap dance routine to Aretha Franklin’s Respect !! #cheah

Rewind 2


MaryJ gif

Watch YouTube Rewind 2015. Celebrating the videos, people, music and moves that made 2015. #YouTubeRewind


Rewind 1

It’s a Crime: “Latanya” and “Shamika” & the Negative Worth from Online Racism

“In a world where few would deny the existence of racism but even fewer would ever admit to propagating it, there will always be the problem of agency. We have racism but no racists – a noun without a subject, a consequence that nobody caused, a system that nobody operates creating victims without perpetrators. ”

“Who thinks about the consequences of online racism?” by 

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 11.21.07 AM

Can Your Computer’s Search Algorithm Be Racist?

The Ford Foundation has focused its mission on eradicating and education in various fields on inequality. This January I will teach my first course on social inequality during the Winter Intercession. This is exciting and challenging; to find a way to link my current research interests in the unintended consequences of the “new digital divide” in social networking sites and on the web relative to marginalized youth, particularly in my study of black girls’ expressive culture on YouTube.

One of the earliest questions I had was how twerking videos might affect the social capital and digital net worth of the reputations of black girls into their adulthood. My research collecting data from YouTube videos reveals many unintended consequences and some are set in motion by the very act of a YouTube search and its complex and personalized algorithms. Search “girls” vs. “black girls” or “girl’s hair” vs. “black girl’s hair” or “twerking” vs. “black girls twerking” or “ratchet girls twerking” and the results reveal a great deal of bias–intersectional biases of race, class, sex, gender, sexuality and age.

Here in this short video by Professor Latanya Sweeney, head of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard, shares how she began to study the cyber racism of technology and its unintended consequences even for a Harvard professor. More research and critical digital media literacy education is needed in this domain for marginalized people and groups. Trying to figure out what my work might provide here. I believe music consumption and participatory culture on YouTube by marginalized girls, especially online black girls, may have affordances for legacy media and YouTube but costs girls their future adulthood not unlike the example of what happened to Sweeney when  she discovered a problem with her given name “Latanya.”

“If an employer searched the name of a prospective hire, only to be confronted with ads suggesting that the person had a prior arrest, you can imagine how that could affect the applicant’s career prospects.”

Read more about this on the Ford Foundation website from the Equals Change blog. The post was written by Technology Program Officer for Internet Freedom (15 Nov 2015).

Can computers be racist?
Big data, inequality, and discrimination

Can computers be racist? from Ford Foundation on Vimeo.