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.

5 Digital Lessons, pt. 3: Practicing Non-Violence (the real way)

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”
― Kahlil GibranThe Prophet

I love how my work sits in the between spaces of girls’ musical expression in games and twerking and male expressions in commercial/mainstream hip-hop music. Doing this new work on twerking seems so relevant to my earlier research the deeper I get into it. I love to write about music between the sexes in ways that allows race, gender and generation to come across in my interests to show the socialization processes at work as an ethnomusicologist.

So here’s one final lesson, though it’s really an afterthought while writing the previous two posts (see 5 Digital Lessons part.1 and part. 2 for the larger discussion but here are the 4 previous lessons I outlined:

Lesson #1 Websites containing YouTube videos can disappear.

Lesson #2: Capture everything that is meaningful while you work with online media.

Lesson #3: Stop and Think! Find Other Solutions When Data Goes Missing

Lesson #4: Stay Calm and Keep Love Alive

And now #5 reserved for throwback Thursday. After hearing John Lewis speak on MLK day for the second time, the latter via a podcast, it’s led me to think about the ways non-violence, the actual study of what it was back in SNCC activist Ella Baker’s and Dr. King’s time, what it might mean for a scholar like me today doing work on gender and sexuality within black cultural studies. We black feminists studying hip-hop do this out of love. Love of community. Love of music. Love of blackness as a cultural signifier of our time and place in the world. But I never really got present to the root of nonviolence being love until John Lewis talked about it that way.

It helped that Sunday night I witnessed love as music by Toshi Reagon and a host of African American singers I love and adore as musicians and people at the Public Theater of Joe’s Pub. So the notion of what love means as active participation in struggles have been very real for me relative to music this week.

Lesson #5: Practicing (and Studying) Non-Violence Can’t Hurt

I heard John Lewis speaking yesterday in an On Being podcast from Krista Tippett that I regularly follow. He talked about what “Love” meant practicing non-violence in the face of viscious attacks by whites who claimed then to hate black folks. In an aside, he said the Dr. King used to jokingly tell them “Oh, just love the hell out of ’em anyway!”

Lewis talked about the discipline, practice and study required to learn to be “non-violent.” It wasn’t some romantic idea as some young generations seemed to believe. Doing this kind of work on twerking, black girlhood and hip-hop has required a similar same kind of love–discipline, study and practice–in the face of hearing popular male voices now broadcast 24-7, anywhere, anytime, and being able to access explicit video content the same way. It takes something to learn how to protect minors from the possible cognitive and emotional harm that is no longer protected by the FCC with these privatized platforms that seem to be free-sharing sites. Sites that now promote a different kind of “hyper-masculinity” via new media, in quantity not necessarily quality; where we are bombarded by visual and aural images naming “females” bitches 24-7 as well as emasculated men (if you need reminded watch Slaughterhouse defend such positions back in 2012).

Mainstream hip-hop’s gendered discourse seems designed to seduce girls and grown women into patriarchal bargains where our affection for their music content as fans may be making even emerging feminists complicit in a queer form of economic oppression that also has emotional and social consequences in gender relations, both romantic and non-romantic in nature. Gender is not simply a conversation about sexuality in hip-hop. It serves any number of unrelated ends aside from sexuality as Lewis Hyde once defined (1983).

Separate But Equal. Debt Slaves.

“To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” – Chief Justice Earl Warren in Brown v. Board of Education, 1954.

Integrated School of Girls

May 16, 2013 by

On May 17, 1954 [59 years ago today], the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision, ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in public educational facilities was unConstitutional. The case was brought on behalf of Linda Brown, a black girl from Topeka, Kansas, who had been denied admission to her local elementary school on the basis of her skin color.

At the time, public facilities were segregated based on the justification that a 1896 Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” accommodations in railroad cars conformed to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. But in Brown’s case, the all-white school she wanted to attend was closer to her home and was far superior to the all-black school that other children of her skin color and from her neighborhood were required to attend. For more read here.

Today, students of color and poor whites in industrialized countries like the UK or the US still struggle for access to the right to an education but it’s not skin color that limits most anymore. The film DEBT SLAVES gives us a view into the problems college students are facing today. I wish I could an embed it here but trust me — you want to what this short but engaging film by young film-maker Makeda Mantock in association with the Guardian and the National Union of Students

In the US it is said that there remains a 60% drop out rate for high school and 40% drop-out for college. Students today, who are emerging adults, have “money on our mind” and cope with being “burdens on parents and the state.” There’s little time to focus on a higher education that could solve the needs of society and dreams of our societies — the next generation.  Who would have thought Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign would include college students?

Wonder if there will ever be a National Union of Students here in the “Untied” States of America (where separate but equal remains in higher ed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways)?

Please watch the short film DEBT SLAVES from the Intergenerational Foundation Young Film-makers’ short film competition.

marshall-quote-1What I love about this short film is its use of a personal poem (written and co-directed and co-produced by Havana Wellings-Longmore, performed excellently by several actors). It’s got a hip-hop and spoken word feel though in reality it’s scripted and performed with veracity. The flow and the passion is palpable and speaks to issues college and university students around the world are struggling for. #powertothepeople #educationforall

We just ended our spring semester at Baruch College-CUNY on Wednesday. After engaging and empowering 33 diverse emerging adults in my political sociology course to “go public” — to plan and launch public speech acts around issues they cared about for at least 20 people —  I noticed we never once considered working together as one group, as a collective on one collaborative act. That would have been social power in a social setting. In any event, the class tracked over 400 courageous acts throughout the semester. Many if not all now feel empowered to express their freedoms and practice their civil rights like never before.

Unionizing efforts may seem long gone in higher ed but I just bet eventually these emerging adults are gonna surprise us all. I’ll be waiting!

No More Debt Slaves! 31525_20121106_204725_bored_quotes_03

Up with the Learning Revolution!!!