April 7-9, 2016: The Black Girl Movement

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.
― Zora Neale Hurston    Read more: http://www.forharriet.com/2012/03/85-quotes-from-black-women-to-inspire.html#ixzz3rkm8gaYL

Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.
― Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

The Little Girl Dancing on the News Is the Only Thing Keeping Me Alive/Gawker
The Little Girl Dancing on the News Is the Only Thing Keeping Me Alive/Gawker

 

JOIN THE BLACK GIRL GENIUS + JOY, APRIL 7-9, 2016!!

This is the brainchild of many, many fierce academics, artists, and activists, and organizations: Aimee Meredith Cox (Fordham U), choreographer Camille A. Brown (CABD’s Black Girl: Linguistic Play), Carla Shedd (Columbia U), Cidra Maria (Brother Sister Sol), Farah Jasmine Griffin (Columbia U), Kyra Gaunt (that’s me at Baruch College-CUNY), Joanne N. Smith (Girls for Gender Equity), Scheherazade Tillet (Long Walk Home, Chicago), and her sister Salamishah Tillet (Long Walk Home, Chicago + Penn). Come join us next April and watch our girls change the world.

Mark your calendars now!! #SheWillBe
Mark your calendars now!! #SheWillBe
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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.

Trending on YouTube: For Black Girls

I started writing because there’s an absence of things I was familiar with or that I dreamed about. One of my senses of anger is related to this…  — Ntozake Shange

Button Poetry:
Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad – “To Be Black and Woman and Alive”

And Justice For All: To Protect Children’s Privacy Online

Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”    ― Benjamin Franklin
“But the issue of sexual harassment is not the end of it. There are other issues – political issues, gender issues – that people need to be educated about.”   ―Anita Hill
As a result of new technologies and perceived profitability, we can now watch black-and-white movie classics in color. While the tinted images we are offered may be more palatable to the modern viewer, we are still watching the same old movie that was offered to us before. Movie colorization adds little of substance–its contributions remain cosmetic. … Rather than seeing [girls] of color as fully human individuals, [they] are treated as the additive sum of [their] categories.”  ― Patricia Hill Collins, On Intellectual Activism

 

And Justice for Adolescent Black Girls

When I was in high school back in 1979, I imagined and began to deeply desire becoming a lawyer. I think for my adolescent self it was about a need for control that most children–adolescents and teens–don’t have because of their position in society, because of age. Wanting to be a lawyer also fueled a desire for protection from harm that I saw was missing in the lives of children in their own homes, including my own.

My desire to become a lawyer was threatened off by a major motion picture in 1979. It was my senior year.  The year hip-hop went mainstream with “Rappers’ Delight” and “The Message” both on Sugarhill Records. The feeling I had as I exited the movie theater scared me off completely. Corruption would break me. No justice? No inner peace!

This morning I decided to watch a clip of the final scene from “And Justice for All” starring A list actor Al Pacino (post Serpico fame) and tears welled up in my eyes. The scene dramatically exposed confronting the corruption in a U.S. legal system. I saw that film over 30 years ago and my deep passionate desire for protecting children–especially girls–from harm persists. Now I’m standing for the ethics around studying human subjects in the complicated public spaces of YouTube. And it’s all a remnant of that teenage desire I tried to run from. When I left the theater, I left that dream and my voice behind. A hidden sacrifice I never shared with anyone.

Then, as a singer in my first year of college, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was afraid to express myself publicly. That fear haunted me for 20 years. My diary was violated during my late adolescence and again in grad school. My private thoughts were always intruded upon. Sometimes I think I’m better from blogging and that even the publicly personal style of vlogging brings a kind of safe, constructed intimacy that gives me a sense of control I never had in other situations as an adolescent. Even though I have pronounced all kinds of truths and partial knowledge in front of a classroom before hundreds of strangers who became familiar faces and sometimes friends, something about truth-telling to myself is missing. It has everything to do with being “black” and “female” in the body I was gifted on this ride around the Sun.

Lately, the hegemony of corruption and the lack of concern for the ethical and humane treatment of black people and black girls threatens to rear the head of my silence again. Seeing black people as fully human, as fully enfranchised citizens protesting their unjust treatment, and as expressive beings finding solace in a moment of dance and pleasure like in the twerking videos I code and analyze, seems so foreign to others, to far too many. It frightens me in complicated ways and I am frightened or at least concerned for the girls I wish to impact with my work. Look, I initially didn’t want to study twerking. I had adopted a pornographic lens about it at first that triggered all the usual respectability politics often heard around black girls’ sexuality or actual eroticism in the pleasure of loving to dance. Things have changed.

Yet, that deep-seeded fear still keeps me from stepping out in the limelight with my publishing and my voice. It hides itself from me, it seems, ever elusive when I set out to write an article in which I intend to speak my truth to the power within me and to authorities and listeners out there. Remember, Al Pacino’s character nearly went mad confronting his voice and deep-seeded passion for justice. And I am a sucker for a subjective, romantic narrative that says you can never win. SMH. In the end, as I prefer to tell myself when the fear has me, he ruined his own career because of his truths. I quickly learned back then, or I decided is more accurate, that the moral of the film was that you can never win…and therefore, law was not for me. Wish some guidance counselor at my public high school could have told me there are many types of lawyers. Intellectual property would have been a nice choice for me. lol Hindsight speaks. #20-20

Now I am realizing something invaluable: Madness may not be a choice. You can either go mad hiding or you can use the madness to fight injustice. Either way it seems madness will be close at hand. We humans are always on the verge of it and it’s not because black people are angry thugs or thots (them hoes over there).

Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:
– I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
– I shall fear only God.
– I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
– I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
– I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth,
I shall put up with all suffering.”   ― Mahatma Gandhi

B-more

I had no memory that the film “And Justice for All” was set in Baltimore. I grew up and went to high school in Rockville, Maryland, just outside D.C. and 40 minutes outside of Baltimore. My grandfather loved to get lost on purpose whenever we took a trip Baltimore. It was his way of discovering new neighborhoods or maybe seeing how other blacks were faring in our home state. Haven’t been to Baltimore much since my senior year in 1979.  Perhaps I should watch this film again given all that’s happening today given that Baltimore’s protest has replaced Ferguson’s along with the distortions and censors of today’s short-sighted news reporting cycles. I saw people complaining about man-on-the-street interviews being censored and interrupted mid-stream on CNN.

While watching clips from “And Justice for all” on YouTube I also noticed its all-white cast and seemingly color-blind portrayals of the roles within the criminal court system — defendants, complaintants, witnesses, power hungry prosecutors, defense attorneys, clerks, juries, and crooked judges. It all somehow still spoke to the same issues of blackness, wealth inequality, patriarchy, and sexuality and its accompanying bullying and abuse we see today. The same issues but with people of color filling the screens are all at work in Baltimore today. What I didn’t remember was how Pacino’s character defends a transgender client which I could connect to the fact that the #blacklivesmatter hashtag began as a reaction to the mistreatment and killing of transgender black females. Characters in the film went mad left and right and so are citizens in Baltimore and Ferguson and in transgender black networks. Madness turned within is as destructive as that seen in the rioting.

Society needs protection from such harm and lawyers are a last resort. It begins with planning, organization and even the kind of CSI work I do with my students to figure out what’s actually going on with black girls who twerk on YouTube as far as the digital consequences and meanings of all the players in action there. Think about users, subscribers, viewers, commenters, the people who design the built environment and spaces of YouTube, media players like VEVO who distribute the content black girls who twerk dance to, and more.

Don’t know why these two disparate yet related expressions are coming to mind: “Give me your tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free” and, “Power to People! Power to Black People! Power to All people and to the land!” If I remember it correctly, that’s the chant of the Black Panther Party movement in the stand and message to us all for sovereignty. They were, as too few know, shut down by COINTELPRO. Their history of community progress and development was distorted and misrepresented by the FBI and mass news media.Generations of youth today still fear the black planet the news characterized about them. I had a student tell me he had no idea they were feeding hungry children and providing health care and that the average age of many in the BPP were 14-18, according to Ericka Huggins (listen).

Without doing the critical study for themselves, students today continue to be miseducated. How can you learn anything critical on top of such distortions about our history in the US? But history is not self-perpetuating. And America’s history is messy and complicated like the courtroom scenes and the out of courtroom drama’s in And Justice for All (1979).

Respect, Beneficence, and Justice: Human Subject Research

This blog post came about because I was making a YouTube vlog earlier in the day based on comments from students in my anthro sections on ethics. They all took human subject research training and were certified in basic concepts related to protecting the subjects in our study (black girls ages 13-16 and younger) from harm. I was so moved by the matter-of-fact-ness of their embrace of three principles of The Belmont Report on studying human subjects that this blog is the result. The report insists on three principles that even I didn’t learn in grad school, to be honest. I never had an ethics training during my PhD. Can you believe it? Some of my actions in the past belie this reality.

It’s ironic that the same year I saw Al Pacino’s film, the same year I graduated from high school and the same year rap music went mainstream, The Belmont Report (1979) was released. It is a concise reliable summary and guide for researchers of human subjects which insists on:

RESPECT for persons and their autonomy and the respect of those with limited autonomy (i.e., girls and boys under 13 on YouTube, the homeless, transgender folk, sex workers, etc.)

BENEFICENCE meaning to maximize benefits and minimize risks of harm to subjects (i.e., studying children is a good example of measuring risk of studying their videos in the interest of their future benefit)

JUSTICE or the fair distribution of the benefits and distributions of research; to each person an individual share, to each person according to individual need, to each person according to individual effort, to each person according to societal contribution and to each person according to merit.

The report mentioned the non-consensual treatment or infection of black men with Syphillis. There are a great deal of non-consensual acts happening to girls under 13 on YouTube that I hope to confront with my work. Consent offline matters and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act matters, too!

Voicing Ethics in the Bottomlines Project

After students were certified in these basic tenets of conducting human research, I asked them what they learned and their comments were so insightful.

One student wrote: “It took me 5 hours to complete this training and every step of the way I realized that what i considered public and normal in Youtube can also be harmful and a violation of privacy to the subject.”

Another wrote: “It seems like it would be very easy to violate someone’s privacy if you didn’t know the restrictions and ways to prevent this. Privacy is one of the most sacred things to a person and it would be a shame to violate it on purpose or even by accident.”

Yet another wrote: “When we code YouTube videos of teenage girls twerking, we have to treat them with respect while we do a digital ethnography that includes their videos, whatever their motive for putting the video on the internet was.”

These codes of ethical conduct matter not only in research but in life. The grandfather of Al Pacino’s character (Arthur) played by Lee Strasberg in the film says to his grandson, “If you’re not honest, you’re nothing.” #RESPECT!

I am still learning what is it to be honest to what you spirit calls for you do to and to be true to setting yourself up to win. I didn’t take life’s lessons and I thought it would just all work out. Life doesn’t really work that way. It’s part dream and part work and action. ‪#‎followyourinnervoice and have a plan of execution. Just uploading any old video online can have severe costs later.

You never have a second chance at a first impression!

POSTSCRIPT

While making my vlog of students’ comments, one of my students sent me an email at midnight. This student was struggling to recover from a recent sexual abuse incident with a family member. What a horrible thing to be happening during the last 2 weeks of the semester. This left me with a question:

What kind of spaces are we creating for our children that will continue to impact their adult lives and futures? This is why I do what I do around twerking videos. Not because twerking is wrong. It is not. It’s dance. It’s art. It’s erotic expression. I do it because how others perceive what you do, their first impressions, were set long before more of these black girls were ever born. The persistence of racism and sexism in our mediated communication and interactions on- and off-line

Sexual assault and issues of consent or lack there of can shape you and break you. Yet, each of us harmed by such events must still learn how to find our own voice, become an adult, reclaim old desires left behind from fear, and stand up for our SELF when others whom you expect to don’t.

So much about patriarchy and about rites around girls and women in families are norms gone wrong. They are in need of deep societal, familial and community caring-frontation and change. This student’s email reflected how they blamed themselves for not being able to finish their work under such extreme circumstances. Yeah, it’s always you’re fault. Don’t expect any compassion these days.

They wrote to me: “I know there will be penalties for not turning work in on time…”.

This kind of twisted analysis stems from the personalization of blame that haunts American culture and society. It limits our ability to adapt to our greatness by simply making a request under the circumstances without shame or deep explanation. For instance:

“Dear Professor, I had a serious personal issue happen around the assault I mentioned earlier where I missed class. Can I request an extension on my work?”

If they say no, then there’s work to do. While this student has generally kept up with work and is known from their class participation, they have also hugged the wall just near the door and, in hindsight, avoided conversations that infer sexual exploitation of the girls we are studying on YouTube. We are human and we are affected by what we study in ethnographic inquiry.

In response, I invited the student to realize that there are no “penalties” and that students are not “on trial” in my classroom. Yes, there are costs for not turning in work but they are actually beneficial costs (beneficence) not penalties (losses or risks of harm). Such constraints inspire and agitate us to stay on track in coursework.

Maybe we all need to learn more about ethical standards of human interaction so we don’t get the penalties twisted up with the benefits of boundaries and limitations which most adolescents resist with everything in them.

Without a voice, there is no respect, beneficence and justice and that goes for all those in Baltimore and those in my classroom in NYC. And I must remind me.

OUTRO: I’m Angela Davis, I ain’t shakin my buns

Ima let Rah Digga of Newark take us out on this one rapping on the song “Angela Davis.”

I added these lyrics to Rap Genius cuz 1) not a lot of women contribute to the crowd-sourced lyrics and annotations there it seems and 2) no one had put these great lyrics up before. They needed to be there because Rah Digga is a badass and so was and is Angela Davis still!

We need more black female contributors to the participatory culture of Rap Genius, Wikipedia and YouTube. More girls making their own beats to dance to and more criticism of the music they want to get from artists they love! Girls and women run the fan videomaking culture on YouTube!! But the politics of the market never work for them.

http://genius.com/Rah-digga-angela-davis-single-lyrics

Verse 1:
I’m Angela Davis, I ain’t shaking my buns
I’m yelling power to the people and waving ’em guns
I be pumping dat fist, I ain’t running some shit
It ain’t too many o’ you broads got the stomach for dis!

We Die Black not Human: Screening ‪Social Death #blackgirlsmatter

Social death [from Wikipedia] is the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society. Used by sociologists like Zygmunt Bauman and historians of slavery and the holocaust to describe the part played by governmental and social segregation in that process.[1][2] Examples of social death are:

“If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must admit that the “Negro” has been inviting whites, as well as civil society’s junior partners, to the dance of social death for hundreds of years, but few have wanted to learn the steps. They have been, and remain today – even in the most anti-racist movements, like the prison abolition movement – invested elsewhere. This is not to say that all oppositional political desire today is pro-white, but it is usually anti-Black, meaning it will not dance with death.”
Frank B. Wilderson III

Kizzie

In class Monday, I shared that these deaths at the hands of the police are numbing my ability to cry it’s happened so much throughout my life since childhood. A naive Puerto Rican/ Dominican male whose been pretending he can get by in the class was gleeful and said “awesome!” after I shared that yet another man was shot dead by the cops on video. Stunned, I asked what was so awesome about it. He naively shared, as Darnell L. Moore, points out in the repost below, that this time would actually prove something. His naive public declaration does more harm to others and himself than he knows. It speaks to a problem I face in higher ed among students and faculty who resist that race/racism intersectionally affects them. This young man said in class weeks back that he doesn’t identify with race or ethnicity ; he doesn’t identify as Dominican or Puerto Rican. He’s American. More power to his right to self identify but his reaction was utterly clueless about not only the history of capturing such abuse on video and the lack of effect it has on structural/state violence but also the very thing I talked about in my TEDx talk on self worth being directly shaped by how others view us as racialized and gendered subjects, as organisms living in an environment.

This numbness in the moment it’s happening leaves me reducing individual lives lost to a nameless black man. I never shared his name Eric Harris was somebody’s son, somebody’s love of their life, somebody’s guardian as well as all his not so favorable acts and connections. It’s why we stand indivisible behind #blacklivesmatter with all who join us.

Tulsa Sheriff’s Office Robert Bates, 73, shot to death suspect Eric Harris in Oklahoma after pulling out his gun instead of his taser, all captured on cop cam. An arresting officer whose knee pinned the head of the violently assaulted man to the concrete said point blank “F*ck your breath!” as the wounded man gasped in shock at being shot and gasping for his last breaths of his life.

‪#‎ericharris‬ ‪#‎trayvonmartin‬ ‪#‎renishamcbride‬ ‪#‎rekiaboyd‬ ‪#‎michaelbrown‬ ‪#‎walterscott‬
Who sat in awe for the last breaths of these human being? Who helped them as they lay suffering without compassion? We die black and not human is on all our screens lately. The fourth screen handheld and mobile and the big screen that bears Oscar’s dead body but not Oscars. #oscargrant #12yearsaslave #passingstrange

It’s only at films mediated by a screen that individuals who are marked as oppressed groups of color are allowed to see ourselves as human in public. At least that’s how it feels.

For me as a child 40 years ago, this began first at home, watching television. First, it was the film “Cornbread, Earl and Me” (1975) with young actor Larry Fishburne when I was in junior high. I remember only the dead son not the surviving mother. Or “Cooley High” (1975). “Boyz in the Hood” when I was pursuing my doctorate.

This is patriarchal hegemony at work. It shapes the algorithms of my memory. Even as a woman I remember all these scenes about the boys and men before I think of the character of Celie in Alice Walker story shot for the big screen by Spielberg — The Color Purple (1985) — which broke my heart when I first saw it on TV while pursuing my master’s degree. Or even Tyler Perry’s 2010 version of For Colored Girls which brought on sobbing tears but left out the realities that matter for black and brown women that were so eloquently represented on stage in Ntozake Shange’s original choreo-poem which I saw when I was in junior high. I don’t remember feeling any way about it then but the I later bought book in grad school? Genius!

Only in the dark, narrowly focused attention of screens mediated by actors distancing the reality from its lived moments did it seem that I/we were allowed the permission or the freedom to mourn publicly and to resist before social death. It was only in the personal space of a private or somewhat segregated theater that I could grieve quietly and publicly mourn and even laugh to resist the hegemony of what has come to always seems like a destiny for us black and brown folk–man, woman, and child. And then there’s us women who are black and brown and the girls.

The more hidden deaths not immortalized often screen–the cis and transgender females and little black girls like Aiyana Stanley-Jones–seem to always matter less to everyone but us black women and our allies. Even black female “actors” on TV, film and the news matter less; little black girls like Quevenzhané Wallis or the president’s daughters Sasha and Malia at Thanksgiving or Racheal Jeantel in court not yet 18 are denied humanity online and in public. ‪#‎blackgirlsmatter‬

Really makes me wanna holler, they way they do our lives, to paraphrase Marvin Gaye. A better quote from Zora Neale Hurtston hits the mark.

I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company! It’s beyond me.

My presence in the classroom matters but I wish I was teaching more black students at CUNY how to be engaged and to ethnographically study this networked public crisis. ‪#‎admissionsmatter‬ ‪#‎CUNY‬

♥ Watch Your Back! Stop Messing Around with Your Assets, Love!

 ♡ ♥ A Valentine Weekend Post ♥ ♡

Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval….[It is] a bid for the attention of strangers — … hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see. — Jon Ronson, NYT, Feb 12, 2015

If we’re going to be watched, judged and constantly commented on? We’ll choose just what that is, thanks very much. – Daisy Buchanan, “Anti-Selfie Day,” The Telegraph, Feb 14, 2015

Feminism is worthless without intersectionality and inclusion

One tweet. Just one off-handed tweet that was read at the intersection of whiteness, AIDS and colliding contexts of meaning (i.e., context collapse) cost a young PR director her job. It happened while Justine Sacco was “flying while white” from the United States to South Africa–the land where she was actually born. It took one tweet to have career to fall from sky of privilege. The NYT article about it is a must read for anyone interested in learning from social media blunders including literally-read tweets and the role of public shaming at the hands of your own self-generated digital content today.

My interest in the piece concerns digital self-presentation and the costs of such content. It speaks to two concerns that I’ll sum up in 140 characters (or less).

Number 1:  to the consequences of social media costs more than money and can last a lifetime. Wake up! Stop giving away your assets.

I witness indifference among black girls who broadcast while they twerk. What I notice is their indifference to their own digital ‘net worth — their social capital or assets. Not only what they could make from their content but the consequences of what others see or think about their content that may not matter now but may cost them later. What concerns me is their ecological fitness in a patriarchal, white supremacist, and capitalist world that was not and is not designed for their gain or growth and development. The impact that twerking videos may have on their future net worth — their monetary assets after debts owed — also concerns me. Both your digital and future net worth involve your online reputation now.

The music media of television and radio got us first. We’ve been hoodwinked into believing the struggle is and has been over being consumers of media.  Joshua Meyrowitz corrects this thinking in his book No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior (1985). We were not consuming TV, we were being consumed by it (to paraphrase a powerful expression from a young black woman at a conference I attended on gender, sexuality and hip-hop). We actually were and still are the products of media. Social media platforms sell us to advertisers. That is how the business model of media has always worked. So, even as black girls create their own content, they are being sold to media companies by the eyefull including rap artists like Wacka Flocka Flame, Juicy J and K-Stylis who create twerk songs by the dozen to advertise their “art”. We are all being bought and sold on Facebook and on YouTube to the highest advertising bidders which is … Facebook and YouTube along with VEVO and Amazon and many others.  This is the media ecology of online living. So the issue of your reputation comes second to what advertisers are selling on the back of your videos, tweets, likes and updates. If you lose your job, they still make it rain no matter what.

This is why the study of black girls twerking on YouTube can be insightful and go well beyond being about us vs. them. If a young white woman heading up PR at a firm can lose her job and threaten her future reputation from one off-handed and indiscriminate tweet, what do you think is the cost for you? Studying twerking YouTube videos, videos that will persist for years and years to come for black girls and others of any class or background has a lot to offer in thinking about digital reputations online and off.

Number 2: On social media, your assets can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Protect your future ‘net worth now! Beware 

The misogynoir — the anti-black sexism (as well as the anti-female racism) faced by black women in social media reflect forms of structural inequalities that young girls of color, esp. black girls, on YouTube may learn way too late not unlike Justine Sacco. Dare I say that “the stakes are highest for those who are darkest” in any visual social media on the Internet. They are highest for those who use their bodies to tell stories that strangers (even if black and female) may not be able to decode from your point of view.

Strangers — both people you’ve never met and those you call friends that you only know online–simply cannot decipher others’ behaviors, esp. adolescent play or the messing around that black girls who make twerking videos are doing just like other kids playing around with video production and content creation on YouTube. Black girls generally shoot and upload their twerking videos so their motives — their cultural as well as their technical intentions in making videos — are not apparent. If they were using filters and screen caps or adding verbal commentary to accompany their twerking, the context might be more apparent and more significant to strangers. Friends they know in real life tend to get it. But the issue of what advertisers and media figures get is a whole ‘nother conversation.

Kstylis_Twerk_Music-back-large

Most of us cannot read between the lines of twerking videos, or between the “bottomlines.” This is even more complicated when watching a black teen twerk or bounce her ass to songs like “Trampoline Booty” or “Kangaroo Booty” or even “Booty Hopscotch“–all popular songs by Memphis artist Kstylis.  His songs dominate the dataset of 1000 videos I have collected.

On Cognitive Assets: “The Booty Don’t Lie” (So Saith Monae)

Last summer while conducting this research, I suggested to a white male student that he allow himself to see these young girls are merely having fun online, messing around. He quipped, “I don’t see emotion in an ass!”

This student, in my view, was not trying to be funny or glib. This was not his modus operandi. In class he always demonstrated a slightly older, more mature mindset. He was open but he was also stuck.He couldn’t, at first glance, see past what he imagined was nothing more than sexual, nothing more than (and this is my take not his) “asking for it”; enticing the wrong kind of male attention; all he could see is the notion of soliciting sex with that ass, to be blunt. (Again, this is my take on his reaction, not his).

This is why I have been exploring what I call the “cognitive justice” aspects of digital media studies and media ecology. The part of the brain that is threatened by seeing things different than what we already know–the amygdala that does no critical thinking but does pull patterns from your past for usefulness in what it perceives is happening now —  is alive and well when we confront implicit biases of race and sex. That part of our brain keeps us thinking we are safe–safe knowing that “those” people are get short-shrifted because they are deserve it. Our mind is being confronted with a truth that is difficult to set free. That day that student was cognitively stuck by my suggestion that black girls were just playing. Yet, that moment of cognitive distortion eventually did set him free.  He became one of the best interpreters of the video micro-culture of adolescent black girls twerking in the entire class last summer.  He also did some of the best ethnographic vlogging, too.

We must teach ourselves and teach girls that their cognitive assets come first! That don’t mean you can’t make twerking videos anymore. But it we could see more geeking out in those videos, learning techniques that give you social and cultural capital as a content creator, the conversations which switch from your ass to your real assets.

Just Messing Around on YouTube

Sharing images of oneself is lingua franca for online adolescent and teen girls. It is shaped by hegemonic masculinity and femininity. When we consider issues at the intersection of race, gender and age, we who are older KNOW that some will pay a higher cost for the digital presence and views of their body than others. Reputation politics are not equal. AND the long-term consequences of one’s digital reputation and how others perceive you can lead to future shaming. Your digital footprint (the images you leave on line) as well as your digital shadows (the traces that others leave behind associated with you or your imags) can give new meaning to the expression “Your first impression may be your last” or “First impressions are the most lasting.”  These footprints and shadows can lay dormant for years and then surface during your adulthood when you least expect it 3, 15, or 30 years from now.

Why make life any harder for yourself in the future? Managing one’s future reputation is a hard lesson to learn at a young age. It is  perhaps even more difficult to teach adolescents and teens (without the experience of a significant failure or loss. The adolescent brain and its cognitive resources are operating on impulse and emotion as it begins to prune what it really needs to survive in life and online. Adolescents use social media they way I used to use a mirror. The difference is that black girls as well as their male and female counterparts on YouTube are trying to find themselves through social media, through a networked public of people they do not know in real life, they only know online, and alongside a tiny micro-public of people they actually know both off- and online.  The former trump the latter in the long run.

Watch Your Back: What Happens on YouTube, Stays …

Twerking to Nice and Slow UsherThose of us who are older face the same trouble. We are all must learn that online spaces are not our friends. We all must learn what it means to create a single identity that occupies space online and off, across time and space, between jobs and on-the-job, and find ways to create safe play spaces that do not diminish the marketplace reputation we must begin to build at a much younger age and one that last throughout our lifetime.

Let me tell you. I, of all people, have had my share of public humiliation via social media. I know first-hand regret from my own radical transparency. It matters now that I am noticing just how naive and arrogant I was during my work-life until about 3 years ago. I am still learning.  Your digital reputation requires a new kind of digital literacy for black girls and women that is about much more than what platform you are on and know how to use. We have not begun to fully take into account what our digital ‘net worth means in a racialized, sexualized patriarchal world. It’s about more than shaming we often discuss around respectability politics. It’s bigger than #BlackTwitter!

IRMA: Save Me! Discovered on Vimeo #blackgirlsmatter

Think Feist (1234) meets Des’ree (You Gotta Be). Found a version of it on YouTube. It’s quite amazing after searching the Staff Picks on Vimeo to finally find a black actor in a video.

Here name is Irma. Irma Peny. She is a a Cameroonian singer-songwriter living in France. Love it!!

IRMA / Save me from SUPERBIEN on Vimeo.