LIMITED OFFER on AMAZON today!! a free book to Protect your Privacy

You never get a second chance at a first impression.

Before online, [it was] private by default, public by effort. After online, public by default, private by effort. ~~ danah boyd

YouTubeSpaceNY Kids

As you all know, I am on a mission to educate girls of color, specifically black girls, and the people who love them to consider protecting your future digital reputation while you grow up online.

Your future depends on what you do today more than ever before.

Your digital reputation is critical to your future net worth in a networked reality. The permanance of what you do on YouTube or other social networks and the searchability of most data is not your friend.

What you say and do online can and surely will ruin your reputation for decades to come and girls of color should be particularly concerned.  Other people’s perceptions of us matter even while we campaign for our own lives mattering to them. #blacklivesmatter #blackgirlsmatter

As a demographic minority, we cannot guarantee the the millions of strangers out there can get us without meeting us in person. In other words, how people tend to perceive black females (cis or transgender) is already stigmatized and latent with stereotypes and symbolic meaning that the youngest black girls online have not yet fully grasped nor learned how to manage. Your reputation is everything! And adolescence is no longer protected given the millions of kids 13 and younger on YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms. How do we get kids and adults, alike, in communities of color to start thinking of that I am a brand not just as an individual. I represent more than my present self. I also represent my future selves in perpetuity.

Here’s a quick remedy. Eric Qualman’s book WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS STAYS ON YOUTUBE: Privacy is Dead (2014). It’s a must read and a quick one, too! Be sure to download it from Amazon while it’s still free!

Not convinced? Don’t forget what happened to our girls. Think of Rachel Jeantel, Quevenzhané Wallis, Malia Obama, whose selfie that leaked before she knew it, or Mo’ne Davis and the negative attention they received that wasn’t even warranted. What happens to girls who twerk? Nothing wrong with twerking. It’s the broadcasting it online before you’ve even finished high school that threatens a young black girls’ public identity and future net worth (online and off). Mo’ne and Quevenzhané have publicists. Every day people do not.

TIP OF THE DAY:

I bet many of you have YouTube channels but do not have your settings for your History or your Searches “private.” Don’t wait! Do it today!!

 


The World is Watching and You are Listening

“One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves…. We proclaim our devotion to [our passion or dream], but we sadly practice the very opposite of [its] creed. … This strange dichotomy, this agonising gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love

 
Disney myths

 

This past week or two has been what I might call my test at confronting the tragedy of not crossing the gulf between practice and profession, between what needs to be done and what I do instead. It ended in giving the talk of my life at TEDxUofM on my Bottomlines YouTube research about the digital ‘net worth of black girls ages 13-17 and younger on YouTube. I talked about the racialized and sexualized disparities in search results, views as currency, and in the comments directed towards white girls vs. black girls. No one had to tell me I accomplished something spectacular when I left the stage. I’d done more than I ever imagined and felt it was some of my very best work as a writer, a speaker and even as a singer.

When I left the stage, my former voice teacher, the renowned MET tenor George Shirley with whom I studied for 2-1/2 years at the University of Michigan, was waiting to congratulate me backstage. What a joy that moment was!! I hadn’t seen him for over 20 years. He said “You sound good!” And we spent about an hour over tea talking about the work you must do to do you best and how that work will eventually pay off in whatever you do. Even if you don’t sing for a living. He intimated that the work he saw me do on the stage of Power Center in Ann Arbor was my life’s mission, what I was made to do on this earth. I fell and felt that way. It was like belonging and being all rolled into one and finally the place or my skin didn’t matter. I wasn’t diminishing my own voice anymore.

For 20 years I’ve been studying the intersection of race and gender in black expressive cultures through the lens of black girlhood and their musical play. For the last 2 years, my attention has focused on online black girls who are “messing around” on YouTube–uploading videos with editing, twerking to invisible audiences from the “privacy” of their bedrooms while others degrade their practices below their videos treating them like call girls and sluts. On YouTube you are who others say you are, or so it seems for online black girls. And so it has seemed for me as a black woman, as an African American citizen whose family has been in these lands for 9 generations and still suffers the effects of institutional racism.

The Life Course for Black Girls and Women

The black women in my family are not far ahead of the stats from 2010 that says we have zero or negative net worth and yet we come from an ancestral connection to middle class values. My grandmother was educated at the Mary McLeod Bethune Finishing School and almost went to the New England Conservatory of Music before she married my maternal grandfather, a Navy cook. My mother and her older and younger sisters had two parents at home. I was an only child but our lives were still touched by drugs, by gettin’ by cause the system didn’t seem to allow black folks after Desegregation to have a sovereign way of life or earn a real living that had comparable worth to white women or white men and their families.

So, for me to return to a stage where I’d had some of my worst moments of stage fright and give a talk that spoke to the self-worth and digital ‘net worth of African American girls who twerk!! It was a revolutionary moment for me and I hope for the 1300 people witnessing my shedding of skin and releasing of burdens. Mine and others. And not just black folk.

The view of the online adolescent black girls that I study in YouTube twerking videos are being shaped in ways I never was offline by interactions with people who don’t understand our history or the history of white superiority and hegemony in this country. They just adopt the stereotypical positions that black girls are ratchet, low-class, baby mamas or reckless and ignorant or that their parents don’t no know better. They are slut shamed and respectability shamed by whites and blacks online. Who will protect them from doing what all of us are doing online–playing with sharing our identities and trying on new things.

We were being introduced to one of the most precious of American freedoms, which is our freedom to broaden our personal culture by absorbing the cultures of others. — Ralph Ellison (1986, 186).

This past 7 days I’ve given my talk on The Bottomlines Project: On Black Girls’ Digital ‘Net Worth in Ann Arbor, at the Nassau Community College in Long Island, and at City College (CCNY) in an evening of work about hip-hop by  my dear brother media assassin Harry Allen and fellow ethnomusicologist Tim Mangin.    The TEDxUofM talk should be available online soon.

Confronting the Weight Not the Burden

I don’t feel tragically divided this week and with that feeling I realize that 2015 must be a line in the sand for me about my life goals and my ethics and my mission as a scholar and professor. It also must be the year I handle my biology and my health since black girls and women are the top demographic for obesity and I know now how absolutely essential to where I am heading that my well-being is to my success. I know but there I am still a bit tragically divided. I haven’t been to the gym for almost 2 weeks. I know what I ought to do but the gulf is there between what is.

So when my old American U collegemate Ken Brown tagged me on this video this morning, I knew I’d post it here. The world is listening, Kyra, and that world includes YOU! As India Arie sang, “The words that come from your mouth, you’re the first to hear!”  #towerk  #twerk

So today, I werk. I write. I write articles to publish. To get back in a tenure track job. I am here and I’m bringing new knowledge for a weary world. New insights that inspire and challenge us to grow with online black girls. #whywecantwait

H/T to Ari Gagne, a fellow ethnomusicologist who writes and studies the bounce scene in NOLA. He pointed me towards the Ellison quote and is educating me about bounce and its queens.

The Black Girl YouTube Project Begins

I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” … at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” 
― Audre Lorde

This fall I am teaching an Anthropological Analysis course for the first time in the department of Sociology and Anthropology at Baruch College-CUNY. I decided to use this process as a working group focusing on my latest research — black girls, explicit hip-hop videos and YouTube. I recently completed a chapter for the book Remixing Change: Hip-Hop and Obama titled “YouTube, Bad Bitches and a M.I.C. (mom-in-chief): Hip-Hop’s Seduction of Girls and the Distortion of Participatory Culture” edited by my great colleagues and friends Travis Lars Goma and Erik Nielson for a forthcoming publication by Oxford University Press. 

I did so much research and data collection that I realized I had the makings of a book. So ANT4800 Anthropological Analysis seemed a perfect realm to continue my research and empower and educate undergraduate students taking a capstone course how to conduct and apply anthropology’s distinctive research strategy — ethnography — to the intersectionalities of real-world politics including domestic race and gender issues to social media publicness and privacy to the globalization of mediated identities and culture. 

 

In our 5th week of collaborative study, we begin creating our own YouTube videos as participant-observation and collecting user-generated content for what I am calling simply the Black Girl YouTube Project. With 18 female and male students from various ethnic and national backgrounds from Bangladesh to Barbados in the course, we will collect data on YouTube videos via a Google Docs form that generates a spreadsheet of our data (which we will soon share). We will also be collecting data from the relatively new YouTube Trends Map and Dashboard

We will use the collected data to analyze the field of our study and ultimately create our own ethnography or anthropological introduction to black girls on YouTube before the semester ends. Hope you’ll follow our discoveries.


SPECIFICS OUR OUR YOUTUBE STUDY

Simply put, we are exploring digital ethnography, social media, and the identity construction and socialization of adoloscent black girls ages 13-17. The participatory culture or user-generated context of YouTube is our field of study. We will examine black girls’ user-generated content (twerking videos, blogs, memes, gifs, and more) and other re-presentations and/or mediations of or about black female embodied identity including representations inferred by VEVO’s always-on explicit hip-hop videos that include immersive advertising for liquor and other products including the strip club scenes.

This collaborative study involving myself and 18 undergraduate research assistants is unique at a college like Baruch better known for collaborative work in the Zicklin School of Business within our institution. Our model of ethnographic social science comes from the previous digital ethnography of YouTube by former U.S. Professor of the Year and KSU distinguished prof Michael Wesch known for his Anthropological Introduction to YouTube uploaded July 26, 2008 that has over 1.9 million views to date. His incredible research still resonates as does similar research by social network expert Professor danah boyd whose work on teens touches significantly on matters of gender and race but still too little research exists in this realm. Just search work in sociology, anthropology and ethnomusicology and see what you find on black girls in this digitally mediated age. It’s revealing but there’s little ethnographic research relative to social media and social networks yet.

I just found a great article by Dionne Stephens and Layli Phillips titled “Freaks, Gold Diggers, Divas, and Dykes” in Sexuality and Culture 7/1 on adolescent African American women’s sexual scripts that will be very useful to educating students in the group. This is not a light subject to take on in a classroom setting. It’s complicated. 

 

NEW BODY OF RESEARCH

This is a new line of research following my previous scholarship and award-winning book on the popular offline social play of girls called The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double Dutch to Hip-Hop.  Handclapping games, cheers and double-dutch jump rope and the rhymed chants and embodied percussive play are in decay and the rise of social media online and mobile devices contributed to its decay as  African Americans are the fast-growing mobile devices users in the U.S. and yet black girls represent the demographic with the highest rates of obesity which I discovered from examining the fight to end childhood obesity around FLOTUS Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. Studying black girls online is a natural extension of my social media participation and presence since 2007.

In 2011, I was one of six finalists for Nokia’s Special Connecting People Shorty Award along with Amanda Palmer (of “The Art of Asking” TED Talk fame). We both lost to a school librarian in Iowa which speaks to the real power of participatory social media today.  But teen black girls on YouTube are “winning” on YouTube for all the wrong reasons if you asked me some days. 

BATTY-WUK AS FACE-WORK

The team of our Black Girls YouTube Project will be specifically studying twerking through first-hand personal study on YouTube rather than simply the firestorm of recent events sparked by Miley Cyrus in the blogosphere. We will track and analyze user-generated content including vlogs by or about black girls reflecting on the meanings of their symbolic, embodied behavior. Said another way, how do we understand their body work as “face-work” (following the sociologist Erving Goffman’s 1967 study). As social beings, we all do “face-work” — performing social calculations that involve evaluating situations and the context(s) of our audience(s) while also evaluating our own selves and how that self fits into a situation(s). “The image we portray of ourselves (our “face”) is constantly being negotiated, a process Goffman calls “face-work” (p. 12). And although the individual takes an active role in the presenting, preserving, and sometimes adjusting [of] her face [or ‘batty-wuk’ (body-work) in the case of many black girls], it is not an object of solo authorship….Face-work us a complex collaborative dance in which all participants and their every word, wink, gesture, posture, stance, glance and grunt take part” (Michael Wesch, “YouTube and You,” 2010, p. 22).

So how do we provide a richer ethnographic context to the stereotypical views of black girls in a social media vlogosphere that tends to play on 1) racial and gender stereotypes of low-class, loud and angry black females, 2) negative perceptions of social media as well as debased popular “views” or view counts that do not always reflect their perceived reality, and the influence of commercially mediated images of black female-ness by the lyrical blow jobs of VEVO music videos featuring popular rap artists from Lil Wayne to Nicki Minaj?

 

A CURIOUS CONNECTION FOR THE CURIOUS WHO QUESTION

Ultimately, we will ask:

How do we and how can we learn to understand the complex sociological dance and the “face-work” of a black girls’ life-world on YouTube and in the context-collapse of today’s socially-mediated public culture?