The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.― Audre Lorde
“The best way to avoid being confused about [Caitlin] Jenner is get your head out of [her] bedroom and closet, and then think about all of the things you’ve been hiding and been miserable about. … Just focus on the feeling of finally disclosing something that enables you to be free and to live as authentically as possible. …[then] you will no longer be confused.” ― Robin Caldwell
To study marginalized girls and digital seduction online means I also have to constantly revisit and stay current with ways people are thinking and moving from what they think they know about gender (vs. sex), gender roles, gender stratification or the unequal distribution of multiple forms of capital on YouTube. I do this so I can try to accurately interpret how gender performance is at work within the digital ecologies and spaces of YouTube and not just in rap music videos. I need to understand how vloggers/creators as well as viewers and invisible audiences are grappling with those ideas.
This week as we study the socio-cultural construction of gender in my intro to anthro courses, an ambitious and curious student reminded me of the Genderbread Person. The designer of this brilliant graphic and meme is Sam Killermann (ya can’t make these names up). He writes: “Gender is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but don’t. This tasty little guide is meant to be an appetizer for understanding. It’s okay if you’re hungry for more.” – See more at: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2015/03/the-genderbread-person-v3/#sthash.c9Nmralr.dpuf
He has three versions in the evolution of the Genderbread Person by Sam Killermann. One of my favorite pages on his website is Breaking Through the Binary. Check out the evolution of his ideas:
Teaching students to revise their ideas is what shows up when I see these three versions. Crafting a practice of revision of thought is so essential as new media seduces us to click-whirr and simply save cognitive energy by merely reading and accepting what comes across our feed. There’s little time to revise and reflect or as Audre Lorde suggests in the quote above to redefine and re-empower the process of thinking not thoughting. That’s it for now!
Happy queering your thinking not your thought, people!!
“Black males who refuse categorization are rare, for the price of visibility in the contemporary world of white supremacy is that black identity be defined in relation to the stereotype whether by embodying it or seeking to be other than it…Negative stereotypes about the nature of black masculinity continue to overdetermine the identities black males are allowed to fashion for themselves.”
― Bell Hooks, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity
“For me, it’s not just about blessing my generation, I’ve done that already, I also have to be a father to the fatherless.”
― Onyi Anyado
Happy Father’s Day!!
This video from the Representation Project speaks to the relationship we have as daughters — young and old — with our fathers and the role they can play in undoing the patriarchy that oppresses boys, girls and women. They have a pivotal role to play.
What did your father do to raise your sense of who you were as a girl and a woman??
What wisdom can you glean that may not have been seen before?
What did he do when you were young or what has he done since you’ve grown up?
What examples of courage has he displayed when the man box tells him otherwise?
This is an unusual Happy Father’s Day greeting for all the daughters who seek connection and have not found it … YET! I did at 40. And you can at anytime with some patience and determination. Don’t forget! They are as scared of our rejection as you are of theirs. Be kind and forgiving!
Your father gave you the one thing no other man ever could —YOUR LIFE!
Be kind to yourself and him!
“If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
In my previous post inspired by learning that the Juicy J Scholarship site on WSHH has gone down, I shared lessons 1 and 2:
Lesson #1 Websites containing YouTube videos can disappear.
Lesson #2: Capture everything that is meaningful while you work with online media.
These were more tech oriented lessons that a new digital ethnographer of YouTube must consider in collecting data online. Here’s part 2 of the post. It was way too long to subject you to in one sitting.
This set of lessons speaks more to my upcoming political sociology course. I needed a thrust for the semester. Some way to make it both real and relevant. I call this the “going public” part of every course I teach. It usually involves 1) sharing whatever we learn with people outside the academy, 2) collaborative learning, and 3) often but not always a publication of work in the public sphere.
A Relevant Pedagogical Aside:
Check out my curated op-eds by Baruch students from 2011 released on MLK day that year, dedicated to James Baldwin, titled Could You Be the Bigger Nigger?on Scribd.com (View count: 7700+). Check it out and please rate it if you like it the idea and/or the project and share it with both teachers and students in high school and college!
On to the final three lessons I learned doing a digital ethnography of twerking on YouTube.
Lesson #3: Stop and Think! Find Other Solutions When Data Goes Missing
This past Saturday, I had just shared with a sister in Harlem about my aims for my political sociology course that starts next week. In the conversation, I convinced myself that studying the Juicy J site was a perfect plan for the semester. Stop and think. What could I do that would be equally engaging and how could I use it still to teach my political sociology course? What about involving all 36 students in the sociological analysis of the 67,000 videos results that are yielded by a search of “Juicy J scholarship contest” on YouTube’s massive archive?
OK 67,000 is too large, but we can choose a significant sample of say 200 contest videos. Maybe some other sociology or anthropology professor could do the same and we could compare and contrast our methods and results.
What fascinates me about the idea is that my students and I can collaborate to study and analyze the political sociology of the contestests’ submissions (where they all women? all cisgendered?) while we learn and study from a new textbook by Dobratz, Waldner and Buzzell titled Power, Politics and Society: An Introduction to Political Sociology (2012).
I may no longer have access to the top-rated and most-popular videos in Juicy J’s contest, but there still remains a huge pool of valuable and meaningful data on YouTube that will allow us to study on race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, socioeconomic class and social-class values, and age relative to adolescent black girlhood, youth dance culture and the exploration of emerging adulthood through embodied musical practices among black and non-black women. The top-rated videos would have added a real powerful dimenstion to the study that students might find fascinating but all’s well because of YouTube.
Here are some thoughts about how I intend to link the study of hip-hop music videos and twerking videos around the following chapter themes. Would love comments and other ideas if you’d care to share. Here’s what I am thinking:
Chapter 1 Power
C. Wright Mills wrote (1959: 181): “Power has to do with whatever decisions men make about the arrangments under which they live, and about the events which make up the history of their times…men are free to make history but some are much freer than others.” (Dobratz et. al, 3).
In the social settings of online always-on media, what kinds of power do black girls/women twerking have and what kind of power (economic, social and structural) do the owners in the recording industry who produce hip-hop videos via VEVO or the owners of social media distribution sites like WSHH and YouTube have around these women’s user-generated content?
Chapter 2 Role of the State In this chapter, democracy is discussed after distinguishing the nation from the state. “Markoff (2005) contends that there is a great deal of variation in ‘democratic’ nations, with some having widespread violations of civil liberties [my concern is about minors and black girls] despite holding free elections and others so ineffecient at providing basic government services that they are termed low quality democracies” (Dobratz et. al, 47).
From a class-based view of the state, the FCC once monitored public airwaves like radio and TV to protect minors from harm by advertisers and content creators. Since YouTube or WSHH are privatized entities, they are not bound by any laws to protect minors from harm, and you cannot make a request based on the FOIA — Freedom of Information Act — for such a privatized company to share its data or the ‘user-generated’ data it used to promote the contest or to hide incriminating data affecting the politics of youth culture, gender, or patriarchal abuses in the corporate personhood of capitalism)
Chapter 3 Politics, Culture & Social Processes This chapter includes a discussion of the “faces of ideology” Are black girls and other non-black girls the faces of ideology in hip-hop–with their asses?)
Chapter 4 Politics of Everyday Life: Political Economy
This chapter deals with the Welfare State: “all people in American society benefit from these programs” (Dobratz et. al, 130). Corporate welfare is called “wealthfare” or “phantom welfare”. How much money does the record industry make from hiphop and from YouTube’s music videos, which occupies 90% of its most-watched videos? The other part of the welfare system “has been referred to as public assistance programs that are funded through general government revenues” (ibid.) from the income of the working classes of Americans often legislated through Congress or state-level government.
How are changes in public assistance programs for college student loans and the feminization of poverty among college-age mothers apparent among the user-generated videos submitted for the Juicy J contest? Check this submission video of a black woman sharing what it means to have to “pay outta pocket” (1:40″) for college.
The remaining chapters offer similar correspondences that we could make between the twerking videos and hte politics of power, people and the state in our society:
Chapter 5 Politics of Everyday Life: Social Institutions and Social Relations Chapter 6 Political Participation Chapter 7Elections and Voting Chapter 8 Social Movements Chapter 9 Violence and Terrorism Chapter 10 Globalization
I believe having students learn to how to make their own assessment and perhaps a powerful argument about the impact of music and hyperconnectivity on the Always On Generation, how entertainment information overload and hyperstimulation of explicit mainstream hip-hop video content by distributors like the always-on VEVO and WSHH in tandem with viral twerking videos always available as user-generated content that girls and women upload themselves may (or may not) suggest, using various methods, a kind a sociologial warfare being waged on girls and all youth via linguistic violence (Gay 1997). We will see.
Lesson #4: Stay Calm and Keep Love Alive
In the past, perhaps a sign of naivête from my own feminine insecurity in a patriarchal world, I’ve wanted to get mad and turn off when things like this happen. I turn away. Jump on the bandwagon and fight! Or make snap judgments without assessing the problem at hand as if media is always evil even in the age of YouTube. Immersive ethnographic study requires staying power. So, I’m stickin’ and stayin’ but I am trying to catch my faux pas’s too. This digital ethnomusicological research on twerking has a robust potential to say some things that aren’t easy to find, say or see in our society around black popular music cultures.
Last year I had my snap judgements about Lil Wayne’s viral YouTube video released on Valentine’s Day titled “Love Me.” I have written about what I learned after some analysis in a forthcoming chapter of a book on Obama and Hip-hop edited by Travis Lars Goma and Erik Nielsen. I was amassed at the social impact this media may be having on girls. The YouTube video had amassed over 63 million within four months, which seems big but is dwarfed by videos by white male rappers in the mainstream. Yet this traffic is not insignificant. To date, it has yielded over 100 million views in just under a year. What was noticable then based on YouTube statistics up through June 2013, when the format changed–another lesson in capturing things–was how they revealed that females ages 13-17 and 18-24 lead in its audience demographics not males 13-17. Males 18-24 came after the two female demographics. Gives credence to the hook in the song: “Long as my bitches love me. I don’t give a f#ck about no haters, long as my bitches love me.” The music industry trades on this seduction of girls.
So “Stay Calm and Keep Love Alive” because the most damaging war of revolution is not being waged simply between “these thighs” as Sarah Jones once rapped (learn about how a recording of this poetry was banned by the FCC back in 2001). The actual war is being waged over our minds and our attention. A soft head in this sense will make for a tougher life esp. as the feminization of poverty widens. The mental slavery of women continues in new ways on YouTube in my opinion.
NOTE: If you’re looking for a broader context on sex, gender and desire in commercial music videos, broadening the analysis beyond black artists or hip-hop, check out Sut Jhally’s DreamWorlds III. Here’s a clip. These issues are not limited to hip-hop not music and any rapper using tired old argument about sexism exists in the broader public needs to move on.
Please like or comment. Engagement is a pathway to higher learning. The views in my head require feedback to know whether it makes senses beyond my internal logic.
Now that the barriers are crumbling everywhere, the Negro in America must be ever vigilant lest his forces be marshaled behind wrong causes and undemocratic movements. – Mary McLeod Bethune, Last Will & Testament
In my previous post Class is (Not) in Session, I mentioned that one of the best submissions to the Juicy J contest was made private when the winner of the contest was announced. Since then YouTuber Miss Kimari has made the complex submission public once again and I hope you’ll not only take a look but you’ll take multiple looks at what a complicated representation of self is in an age where context collapse (having the context of who you are, where you came from, what you really mean to portray from your POV) denies viewers a complex understanding of black girlhood and black female agency and consciousness.
I have begun interviewing Miss Kimari about a week ago and I’d like to share one thing she shared with me. I asked her several questions that are helping me ethnographically understand what is happening inside being a practitioner of twerking. Kimari is an undergraduate student at a major university in the so-called Dirty South where twerking is common body language. She has had an online identity since about 2005 on MySpace as a ninth grader and has “shut down” a couple of her YouTube accounts to manage her public persona, which was something I was not expected to hear from her. My preconceptions of the women who might twerk for the contest was stereotypical until I started studying the phenomenon and remembering the dances I did at her age and beyond as part of the black expressive vernacular communities of music and dance.
She said one thing that struck me. I wasn’t surprised as much as I was struck by my own past identity as a college student, as a black female student, who had never learned that black people even went to college before Civil Rights until I went to a school, the University of Michigan, that had a significant black presence on faculty and among the graduate students. What she shared reminded me of both the empowerment that comes with learning about being black in America and the disempowerment that comes from learning more about patriarchy and sex oppression. I am paraphrasing from my notes because I haven’t yet transcribed the recording.
Miss Kimari (paraphrasing): Last semester I was learning about black women’s struggles in the transnational state in all of my Africana classes and what I learned was who I am is a problem and that’s what I’ve seen my whole life. The way we talk about stereotypes. the way we reproduce them…it kills people living this reality.
In the video, Miss Kimari lets us see her black feminist textbooks and her twerking. She has video, the context of which gets collapsed, from when she danced professionally in a former iteration of her life, and video of her teaching classes at college. She consciously presents views of race, gender and sexuality which the generalized other on YouTube and other social media channels might consider challenging to their moral or societal values about young women and their freedom of expression in this day and age. But she has agency. She is exploring and quite consciously and, as her withdrawal of her video from YouTube suggests, she knows she is not completely in control of it all.
We live in a world of radical openness and we often, I can attest, learn our mistakes in highly public ways that can be emotionally traumatizing before we realize that we left the doors to our safety unlocked. While we think we see what we are doing when we create a video of twerking or even a personal vlog, we are totally unawares of the infinite ways that chunk of media could have not only now but in the infinite nows that will live as a result of our transmission.
It’s hard our here for a black girl. But this is the new context of our self-construction and it’s not just a adolescent age thing. Anyone on YouTube or social media is slowly learning the very old lessons once taught by Reconstruction era grandparents. This is why when I was a girl we had oratory lessons in our privatized spaces. Practicing how you present yourself to a general audience mattered and it still does. But YouTube is a mixed space where things that were once private and local and highly publicized, persistent (you may never get rid of it online) and no longer personal.
Would love your thoughts about how you manage your online identity but also invite you to consider HOW you online interactions are reshaping the construction of your SELF. Once online, always online. Be careful out there!
After spending all of my adult life on what I will generously call the Left, I have become suspicious and uninterested in any Art tied to an ism. I agree with Adrienne Rich’s call for an art that “goes to the edge of meaning” as well as Art that discovers new resonance in the familiar. But, if ever we need an avant- garde (for lack of a better term), it is now.
This essay/talk was given by poet by Sekou Sundiata. Must read. This doc was discussed and dissected at HarlemStage Friday night. It challenges people of color and “people of whiteness” to rethink not diversity but our democracy and this State. A poet, Sekou speaks also to the power of words, imagination and art to facilitate the 51st state of our union.
My work has always existed at the intersection of art and democracy with girls, learning and ethnography at the center of it. Socialization of self, group and how we represent ourselves in seemingly sovereign ways to others and how we seek to maintain our cultural values and ways in this democracy.