♥ 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!

Jay-Z poses with hashtag (probably photoshopped)

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   Anything for a laugh, right? 

   “The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.” 
― Virginia WoolfA Room of One’s Own

#BringBackOurGirls #changetheratio #VoicetheUnspoken

Free our Minds from This: Minaj Cover of Malcolm X (El-Shabazz)

The Miseducation of our Minds by the Media of Black Folk
The Miseducation of our Minds by the Media of Black Folk
Thanks to Brooklyn-based filmmaker and FB friend Stacey Muhammed for inspiring a rich conversation on her FB wall about Nicki Minaj’s latest video “Lookin A** N***“. Thanks for challenging us and reminding us to think about how black folks are exploiting our own radical history and libration.  I will not add the link for the video.  I refuse to give any eyes or promote the video’s views (literally and figuratively). I do not support the view count or the view WorldStarHipHop!
All I will say is that the use of violence, sexual misrepresentation and “lookin ass nigga” discourse with Malcolm X’s image is worse that the proposed (and beat down by an NAACP petition) Zimmerman fight. This is peculiarly significant in my mind. It’s like saying it’s ok to indoctrinate girls into this imperialist, twisted white supremacist, gun-totin’, school-shootin’, patriarchal system of misrepresentation as if it’s part of our freedom is to say whatever the f*ck we want on social media. That ain’t liberty! It’s cultural narcissism.
Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which people have an excessive sense of self-importance, an extreme preoccupation with themselves, and lack of empathy for others.
This is narcissistic: No empathy for the impact on those of us who stand in and with the legacy of the life of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. No empathy for releasing this ish during black history month. No empathy for the commitment Brother Malcolm was for black folks’ liberation and for the liberation of ALL people before the ending of his life.
The music industrial complex’s freedom to do this kind of marketing and sales is a 21st century version with wartime overtones of Step-and-Fetchit. Those actors made lots of money. For them, it was  the only option in white mainstream entertainment. Nicki Minaj, Cash Money and WorldStarHipHop.com got other options. We need to start pressuring them to take ‘me.
Facebook comments on thread by Stacey Muhammad today.
Facebook comments on thread by Stacey Muhammad today.
Standing for the Liberation of and Power to ALL People especially black girls and women!!
Kyraocity works.
POSTSCRIPT from  a Newsone blog post on Feb. 13, 2014: “In a post on Instagram, the Trinidadian barbie, who clearly has no concept of appropriate context, said that she meant no harm by using the picture and has nothing but the utmost respect for Malcolm X’s family:

What seems to be the issue now? Do you have a problem with me referring to the people Malcolm X was ready to pull his gun out on as Lookin Ass Niggaz? Well, I apologize. That was never the official artwork nor is this an official single. This is a conversation. Not a single. I am in the video shooting at Lookin Ass Niggaz and there happened to be an iconic photo of Malcolm X ready to do the same thing for what he believed in!!!! It is in no way to undermine his efforts and legacy. I apologize to the Malcolm X estate if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued. The word “nigga” causes so much debate in our community while the “nigga” behavior gets praised and worship. Let’s not. Apologies again to his family. I have nothing but respect an adoration for u. The photo was removed hours ago. Thank you.”

My thoughts after the apology
My thoughts after the apology

Thoughts Beyond the Body, Pt 2 of 2 (VIDEO)

This is Part 2 of 2 Beyond the Body in response to a short video clip from the dialogue between bell hooks and Even Ensler Tue Nov 5th.  Here is the video clip that was the basis of all three posts.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/79268730]

If you haven’t watched the documentaries Misrepresentation or Sut Jhally’s Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video, put it on your list!! It it easy to simply dismiss critiques of capitalism and patriarchy as some feminist rant. Non-dominant identities and the bodies used to represent them, that perform those positions, that are assigned and associated with those positions in various socially-mediated contexts are most at risk, and perhaps the most risky kinds of culture in the immaterial aka symbolic cultural warfare commodified by a supremacist patriarchal system of media even when its YouTube. The lyrics from the auto-tuned song, Bedroom Intruder, makes my point about the hyper-penetration of media that promotes the hyper-sexualization of girls by their own hands and content creation in twerking videos, as just one example:

He’s climbin in your windows
He’s snatchin your people up
Tryna rape em so y’all need to

Hide your kids, Hide your wife
Hide your kids, Hide your wife
Hide your kids, Hide your wife
and hide your husband
Cuz they’re rapin errbody out here

Read more: Antoine Dodson – Bed Intruder Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Both bell hooks and Eve Ensler talked briefly during the dialogue about unplugging, about this other bedroom intruder for girls which bell hooks calls the “imperialistic, white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchy”not, she asserted during the evening, because she likes to say it but because it “connects all the forms of domination enslaving us today.” I heard this as a call for an extreme self-care of protection against and armament from the explicit and hyper-sexualized media which we now share as participatory culture. This is the kind of self-care that Audre Lorde articulated as a political act of warfare.

We must begin to help teen girls or color in particular learn this kind of self-care especially now that the “bedroom intruder” out to rape your mind of its power lives in the mobile devices you carry 24-7. Devices whose media teached us all to be available 24-7, complicit in lyrical blow jobs as part liking and commenting on hip-hop music as videos an lyrics on YouTube, WorldStarHipHop.com, Rap Genius, and  through funny yet uncritical interpretations of patriarchal thinking that are created as provocative shareable looped miro-videos in the form of gifs on Tumblr or videos on Vine.

By unhooking ourselves, girls, women, boys and men, dislodging ourselves not completely but at least reccurently and regularly, we learn to dis-associate ourselves and more imporantly, our minds, from this sexist matrix of video sharing. The imperialistic, white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchy will always be there when you get back. Or you can back that thang up (download it and watch it later). It will still be there, promise. We must begin reclaim not just our bodies, but the real agent of our own change, our language, our embodiment and the center of all of it, our minds which is ultimately beyond the body.  The mind–our sociological imagination–not our physical body, our skin color or our othered shapes and sizes, our social body–it is the mind that is the actual house we human beings live in.

Time to build a new home for our self and what may seem contradictory is that YouTube as participatory culture, as a media with easy to use access, and self-reflection built into the content creative process, can serve the reconstructive role but that kind of self-mediation is least popular among youth of color. They remain consumers of the new culture primarily in a house of consumption not creation.

This is all a new realm of study for me. I was the consumer of such media and an influencer. Now I am learning to think critically and

Beyond the Body? bell hooks + Eve Ensler

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ― Alice Walker

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Tuesday, November 5, 5:00-6:30pm
Beyond the Body? 
A public dialogue between bell hooks + Eve Ensler 
Tishman Auditorium, The New School
66 W 12th St
New York, NY 10011
Free

I’ve not posted much this semester about our project and perhaps that has been good in that chaos lives in the beginning of anything new  and not everything needs to be broadcast I have learned (the hard way). This is particularly a concern I have been pondering relative to black girls on YouTube–girls and women. The limitless audiences who see our thoughts, feelings, actions and beliefs, those audiences are not always aware of any historical context of our lived experiences nor are they willing to do that work in the current pace of entertainment-as-news or the sharing of must-see-TV and tweets that serves as a constant distraction to the extreme self care everyday people need to be attending to. But that is another blog post.

[NOTE: This is the first of three parts about the event. The last will feature the video itself so stay tuned.]

Q&A on hyper-sexualization

This post about a  1-1/2 minute video clip recorded with my iPhone. It was in response to the first question from the audience after an amazing dialogue at the New School between cultural critic bell hooks [who always spells her name in lower case] and V-day founder and Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. I am in the process of editing the video and preparing to share it with my research assistants in my Black Girl You Tube Project course (aka ANT4800 Anthropological Analysis).  The video will definitely be posted on YouTube so you can share. But first I transcribed the clip and wanted to share the text. Why? 1) Because I think that visual media has stolen or at least it’s dominating our critical thinking of late; and 2) Because it might serve as an experiment for you to notice and reclaim how reading is an equally engaging and transformative media of shared culture and visual culture to which I am returning. 

IMG_8449Mine was the first question in the Q&A. Stepping to the microphone I announced myself as Kyra Gaunt, professor at Baruch College-CUNY and  purposefully broadcast to the hundreds attending [see panorama view] that I was doing a project called the Black Girl YouTube project.  Then I succinctly asked bell and Eve, “Could you speak to the hyper-sexualization of teen girls in our media today?” 

The clip captures their amazing response which I have transcribed here:

0:00″  Eve Ensler:  [I’ve been traveling around the world] in the States and in Paris, and I’ve just been around a lot of teenage girls looking at this kind of insane pressure of over…of [the] incredible sexualization that is happening, that is making them feel as if somehow they are empowered.

:20″ Eve: It’s this weird flip but which is actually…it’s kind of like a… disempowerment within an empowerment…façade.

:30″  Eve: Watching girls who are not actually inhabiting their bodies but inhabiting a performance idea of themselves which has been projected onto them by the media and

:40″ Eve: I look at it with my granddaughter who is 17. I look at it with teenagers all the time and I see this…it’s almost like you have to become this girl in order to be somebody in the world.

:53″ Eve: This very sexual, this very performative, and somebody who is not actually in your body, but announcing your body, or demonstrating your body or…

           1:02″  bell hooks interjects: Or worse yet, Eve, offering your body…

Eve: [reiterates bell] offering your body

hooks [takes the stage and the proverbial mic]: … as a living sacrifice.

Eve [passes the space to bell; they swap positions with little tension]: Yes, that too.

1:06″  bell: I think that we are demanding of girls that they offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. And of course the sacrifice is to the institution of patriarchy. And the message to grown women is that if you won’t offer your body, we will take … the bodies…of daughters…and  [1:28″]  other people  who have the unclaimed bodies. I mean the 27,000 kids. [end of clip]

thx.

Dr. Gaunt aka @kyraocity on Twitter.