Black Girls as Clickbait. #TEDxEast Subscribe. Like. Share!!

The politics of respectability implies that recognition of Black humanity has to be “earned” by Black people by engaging in puritanical behavior as approved by White supremacy…behaviors that Whites themselves don’t have to engage in to “prove” humanity because of White privilege; they’re always viewed as “the default human.”
~~ Trudy @GradientLair

Recorded May 2, 2016 at City Winery in NYC


TEDxEast How to Twerk: Restigmatizing Black Girls as Clickbait

Introducing #TwerkTech2

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 12.47.55 PM

For about two years or more I’ve been toying with teens and technology and the implications and unintended consequences particularly for black girls or under-resourced girls from marginalized communities.  These communities are rarely represented in videos circulating around the web about social media and screen time.

Girls’ online interest-driven activities–those stepping stones to self-actualization and adulthood–are often stigmatized and stereotyped in networked spaces like YouTube or Facebook. It leads marginalized kids to seek out platforms like Snapchat thinking they are protected when their snaps actually were not deleted or disappearing. It also leads many black girls to seek Tumblr because there is not textual engagement with any uploaded content. Other users leave notes rather than comments providing an affirming space to self-present online.

The technology concerns I am interested in are more about humanizing a group of people who are socially alienated by networked publics. Black girls’s online content tends to be disliked in Generation Like more than their non-black and non-female counterparts.

Studying the misogyny and the sexploitation surrounding young girls’ twerking videos on YouTube has helped me think about the breakdown that can result from others’ judgments of their content and how that then affects their ecological fitness. I wrote about this is the chapter “YouTube, Bad Bitches, and a M.I.C.” in the Hip-hop and Obama Reader edited by Travis Gosa and Erik Nielsen:

Most girls, even the “smart” girls, simply do not yet have the biologically developed cognition needed to process and counter this commercial onslaught of distorted teenage relationships: their frontal lobes will not fully develop until after ages 20–23. Nor do most adolescents and teens have ample“fitness” to do so—defined here as an organism’s capacity to transmit, reproduce, and create a surplus of those things material and immaterial, biological, linguistic, and transactional (the exchange of goods, services, and funds) that it needs to thrive in a particular environment. This includes emotional, mental, and conversational fitness in what are political exchanges for sex, love—and, yes, money—in local and global economies.
Many teens (and adults, for that matter) have not learned to resist the socio-biological pull of their libidos and hormones, which are too frequently directed by the flow of corporate-market music with its twisted myths of romantic seduction. (Gaunt 2015, 221)

 

My aim is to empower those black, brown and/or poor girls who are unlikely to learn to code or elect to study a STEM or STEAM in school or college. Their digital media literacy is perhaps even more important this the lesser number who will go into tech careers. They will be moms, sisters, caretakers, community leaders, health advocates, fitness seekers, and they need to learn how powerful the mobile apps they already have can be in empowering just about any aspect of their adulthood and ambition in their personal, professional,  and physical wellness.


[Ecological fitness is] defined here as an organism’s [or a girl’s] capacity to transmit, reproduce, and create a surplus of those things material and immaterial, biological, linguistic, and transactional (the exchange of goods, services, and funds) that it needs to thrive in a particular environment.


So I came up with an idea from studying thousands of twerking videos featuring tween and teen black girls’ bedroom culture. My mission is to get black, brown and poor girls who use YouTube and other SNSs in musical interactions that often involve their body or dance to extend their online interest-driven activities into tech applications and mobility, too. Thus, the idea of #TwerkTech2.

Join me this weekend at the Rutgers Digital Blackness conference on April 23 at 3:30pm as I present my latest ideas and thoughts about a project I dreamed of almost 4 years ago. Then I called it “Cookies in the Hood”. The reference here is about computer cookies and adulthood (as well as neighborhood, childhood, labiahood or sexuality and intimacy training, and more).

Fitness takes time and planning; seduction is easy and quick. Fitness takes healthy eating, movement, and education; seduction is cheap and fast. Seduction requires nothing of you to participate. In fact, it trades on a naïve notion that your future is far away and that what happens now will not matter later. Why can’t girls as content
creators shift that seduction? It seems so accessible with YouTube—why isn’t it happening? (Gaunt 2015, 221).

Cookies are small files stored on a user’s computer. “They are designed to hold a modest amount of data specific to a particular client and website, and can be accessed either by the web server or the client computer.” What if we took this same concept and restored it to thinking about sovereignty of mind and body as well as the autonomy or learning to DIWO (do it with others) without threats or obligations to others? That’s another way of saying autonomy = wealth. A wealth of skills, capital, and human and non-human resources that all you to “do as you see fit.”

So, that’s what I am up to these days. That’s what I’m going to present about at the Rutgerts University DIgital Blackness Conference this weekend.

Here’s a couple of videos — one for parents and teachers and one for kids and teens — from a great organization Common Sense Media. There mission is to “improves the lives of kids and families by providing independent reviews, age ratings, & other information about all types of media.”  These videos give us insights into the need for new digital media literacies and conversations about the unintended consequences so girls can grow up online free from harm AND free to express themselves and explore technical ways to twerk their user-generated content on any platform.

 

 

Bibliography:

Gaunt, Kyra D.YouTube, Bad Bitches, and an M.I.C. (Mom-in-Chief) ): On the Digital Seduction of Black Girls in Participatory Hip-Hop Spaces. The Hip Hop & Obama Reader, 2015a, 207-26. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199341801.003.0012.

TrickrTreat: Miley, My Little Pony, or Thug Notes?

“The next time you try to seduce anyone, don’t do it with talk, with words. Women know more about words than men ever will. And they know how little they can ever possibly mean.”
― William Faulkner

“That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”
― Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

So I have been busy writing articles about digital seduction versus blogging or vlogging of late. I’m hard at work trying to get my social capital in academia on.

Seduction, blurred privacy, and unpaid labor in networked publics have become new themes in my research on the convergence of marginalized black girls and YouTube’s music media economy. It’s odd how curiously similar this work is to my previous research on black girls’ game-songs and popular songs by male artists over a 50-year period (Gaunt 2006, Gaunt 2011). I’m gonna try to treat you and trick you with this post since it’s October 31st and I’ve been feeling quite “witchy” all week (apologies to my students).

So, why not mess around and blog for Halloween this year; seduce my readers/audience with my own little trick or treat post. 

 

Vanilla or Chocolate, Choose!!

Which of these three things arouses your curiosity the most. I have a YouTube discussion related to each: (1) Miley Cyrus and twerking?; (2) Unpacking My Little Pony Toys?; or (3) Wisecrack’s Thug Notes on Thriller?  You got 10 seconds before the beat drops . . .

TRICK? … OR TREAT?: A HAPPY DANCE

DJ: Hold. Up. 
Crowd hollers: WAIT-AH-MIN-IT!!!!

 

TREAT: The trick would be Miley, but this is actually about me writing on the love and theft of twerking!! The symbolic “beat drop” for any researcher is when you spin a publication in a refereed journal. BAM!!! My article on YouTube was published in September 2015 just after my birthday!! {{{doin’ that happy dance}}}. #getitgirl

MaryJ gif

YouTube, Twerking & You: Context Collapse and the Handheld Co-Presence of Black Girls and Miley Cyrus

Journal of Popular Music Studies

Journal of Popular Music Studies
Volume 27, Issue 3, pages 244–273, September 2

 

Hope you can enjoy this first treat with me. There’s not a lot of articles about marginalized youth and convergence with legacy media in digital media studies; let this make your reading list before everybody else sees it. You can download the article and if you care to share it with colleagues or any grad/undergrad students studying sociology, anthropology, ethnomusicology, intersectionality, and media studies, please do!  Hey, and if you use the piece in your class (1) let me know here, and (2) share about it on Twitter, Facebook or other social media #blackgirlsmobility. Let me know if you love it, hate it or wanna drop it like a Little Pony unboxing video.

TRICK? or TREAT?: Hands Tied!! #theunboxingvideoonrace

THIS ONE’S A TRICK: My students started vlogging two weeks ago, which is what I am becoming known for  as a teacher and researcher. Their little haters are driving up their anxiety because of the awkwardness of digital self-presentation; watching yourself on the screen of your webcam and YouTube causes stage fright in your own bedroom or house. It doesn’t help that I’d never offered a course with personal vlogging during a fall semester before; freshmen and women are deep in that awkward stage of their first semester in college right about now with midterms. I didn’t see that coming. #notetoself. I need to pay attention to that in the future. It’s only the 2nd full semester I’ve experimented with student vlogging during my intro course. The summer classes of 15-16 students in 6 weeks had few distractions. This was like an off-line example of colliding contexts or “context collapse“.

Ideas for this post emerged last night while creating a playlist for my intro students on how to vlog like a pro. In my search, I discovered a video from earlier this year titled the 10 Richest YouTubers uploaded to the channel WatchMojo.com (Feb 15, 2015).  So go figure…All the richest YouTube vloggers appear to be white males except for one. The #1 channel that profits from YouTube monetization features a female voice and white female hands unboxing Disney Collector toys. I swear!! I need to stop teaching and start unboxing toys but being black I’d probaby need to wear white gloves in my videos. Watch Lisa Nakamura’s TEDx talk on five types of online racism including the “plain old racism” from a Stanford study of products sold on Craigslist by white or non-white hands).  Hmm. Is that why MJ wore white gloves and socks? #blackhandsdontsell

Because I am doing research (and not because of FOMO), I watched FunToyzCollector (fka DC Toy Collector) unbox MLP Rainbow Dash Hair Case Radz My Little Pony Kinder Surprise. Her voice is…yeah, it’s obnoxious. It’s like listening to a white suburban adult (with no kids) do that baby-talk thing to a toddler; it’s steeped in a creepy, saccharine-sweet quaalude of consumption. #gagging

While the personal identity of the creator remains anonymous, the channel branding is clearly on fleek as a YouTube space. I bet the top the YouTube Kids spaces. Think of the parents and kids who “ooh” and “ahh” adding toys to their birthday and holiday gift shopping lists. I should see how’s commenting on these videos and check out the thumbnails for the users to see how diverse it is.

Uploaded just a week ago on October 20th, the Rainbow Dash Hair Case unboxing video already has over 300,000 views. Maybe this segment of the blog should really marked as a treat rather than a trick. Why? The seductive ecosystem of user-generated content and its convergence with consumerism is pernicious…but it’s free. There’s a saying in the tech world: “If it’s free, you’re the product.” {{teeth glint DING!}} As Joshua Meyrowitz wrote back in 1985:

The products are the viewers who are sold to advertisers. The more viewers a program [and now a YouTube channel] draws, the more money advertisers are willing to pay to have their message aired. Because of this system, network broadcasters have little interest in designing programs that meet the specialized needs of small segments of the audience. (Meyrowitz 1985, 73; under “The Merging of Public Spheres.”).

When TV was owned and run by people “masquerading” (given the Halloween theme) or performing in their roles as major corporate media execs, it was difficult to challenge. It’s even more pernicious when ordinary people masked by branded channels sell toys to your kids in an age where entitlement meets the arousal of your personalized mobile experience in an attention economy.

TRICK or TREAT?!!!

LAST TREAT!!: After searching for videos and stumbling upon unboxing videos for My Little Pony, this is the treat I seduced you to wait for if you read my Halloween musings thus far. I found a YouTube video that both pleases and toys with the seduction of our attention creatively. This one leads you through a sort of intellectual fun house to places you’d never expect but delights anyone like me interested in black music and the archeology of sound and history. It the Wisecrack channel’s release of the

Halloween Special – The Genius of Michael Jackson’s Thriller

It was released only two days ago so it’s fresh content. Michael Jackson was my Beyoncé in my first year of college. Thriller was the ultimate music video seduction back in my young adulthood. Well I was only 16 in my first year of college. That was like yesterday cuz you know good black don’t crack. #timespacecompression. OK, ghouls and boils, that’s enough. This vlog is long enough. So let me leave you to your Halloween candy and this videos from Thug Notes. It’s classic literature cliff notes read by an “original gangster”. Some consider it among the best educational spaces on YouTube.

Bye for now!!
#cuevincentprice
#ghoulishlaugher

In Memory of Julian Bond (1940 – 2015)

A portrait of Julian Bond by Eduardo Montes-Bradley,7 April 2012

A portrait of Julian Bond by Eduardo Montes-Bradley, 7 April 2012

LOOK AT THAT GIRL

Look at that girl shake that thing,
We can’t all be Martin Luther King.
Copyright © Julian Bond, 1960, all rights reserved.

This was written sometime in the very early ’60s — or perhaps even ’58 or ’59, — when I was a Morehouse College student. From time to time, usually through the auspices of some religiously oriented campus group, we’d be invited to meet with our white counterparts at Emory or Agnes Scott. We’d wear our Sunday best and sip tea and eat cookies. Typically a well-meaning white student would say as we were parting — ‘If only they were all like you.’ That prompted the poem.” — JBond.

A memory of dance with Julian Bond

My very first day teaching as a professor at UVA in 1996, Julian Bond sat in on my hiphop class titled Black Popular Music Culture aka Music 208. It was such an honor. 80 of the 90 students who showed up that first day in a choir room in the basement of Old Cabell Hall were black (that happened only one at a predominately white institution (PWI) but it seemed that none of them recognized who he was or knew the legacy he’d built as a civil rights activist.

I started class with a poem about The Lawn and me professin hip-hop “Dat don’t mean I know everything, jus means I got a jawb— to represent!” and taught them how to do “Check One,” a body musicking exercise I invented to teach black musical ideals like individuality within collectivity, call and response, syncopation and the musical break. I remember introducing him and being so honored by his presence in very first class teaching at Thomas Jefferson’s university or Uncle Thom’s plantation as I would satirically call it.

Julian Bond invited me to lunch. We walked to the Corner — the site where Martese Johnson, an honor student was brutally beaten and wrongfully arrested by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control because of the color of his skin in March of 2015.

 

 

Back in 1996 over lunch at The Corner, I asked Julian if he had learned any dances and what he could remember about them. I was exploring how musical blackness was learned and thought this was a great question to ask the Civil Rights Leader who help found SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). He insisted he didn’t know how to dance. He had two left feet. But about 15 minutes into our conversation, he suddenly got up and showed me the only dance he knew. He grabbed the inseam of his pant-leg with his dominant hand, lifting the hem about an inch above his ankle. “This was the dance anyone could do if you didn’t really know how to dance.” He pivoted back and forth on his dominant side while the other leg remained planted to an imagined beat from the days of Segregation. That moment made my day! It was such a pleasure.

Julian was a lecturer then. I think many of us who knew his legacy were shocked that U.Va. had not granted him a professorship. But perhaps being a lecturer was perfect for the ongoing work and activism he continued through his lifetime, ended too soon but surely packed with profound contributions that most of us never witness in far fewer years. To his family and close friends, I send my condolences.

He nor his legacy will not be forgotten. I intend to use the poem above as part of my scholarship and as a dedication in my upcoming lectures in Minneapolis and at U.VA this fall when I talk about twerking and a conscientious connectivity to black girls online. Bond’s poem was and continues to be a testament to the lives of black girls and women as they stomp and roll their blues away in an era of increasing segregation, poverty and the social immobility of black children under 18, as well as the continued wealth gap between whites and blacks that has seen little change in the last 50 years.

The brief but profound poem by Bond reminds me how much orality, poetry and the word matters to black people despite what others say about our speech, the ways we talk and the ways we are literate (or not). #blacklifematters

All we have always wanted is a little respect and the dignity every human being deserves. In honor of Bond’s legacy, a little girl shakin it to respect.

 

#blackgirlsmatter #blackwomenmatter
#blacktransgenderwomenmatter#blacktransgendermenmatter
#blackdisabledpeoplematter
#blackboysmatter #blackmenmatter
#dignitymatters

“Violence is Black children going to school for 12 years and receiving 6 years worth of education.”
Julian Bond

Seinfeld and Rapper Wale: “Chicken and Naked Women”

wale-attention-deficit

“The pornographers did a kind of stealth attack on our culture, hijacking our sexuality and then selling it back to us, often in forms that look very little like sex but a lot like cruelty.” Gail Dines, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality

“People are famous without having any talent” – Wale in Jerry Seinfeld and Wale Discuss Strip Clubs for Complex (video below, Nov 17, 2014).

Linguistic violence as the “best” jokes

While watching YouTube videos, a sketch of Seinfeld sitting in a NY cafe with well known young rapper named Wale was suggested and started to autoplay. I met Wale before he made it, years ago at the Blue Note. In fact, he gave me his number and it’s still in my phone. I never called. Being a bit older, I had no idea what we’d talk about. But back to this sketch…

Seinfeld is sitting with Wale — the most unlikely pair I could imagine and wonder what the marketing tie is. One of the lines from Seinfeld is “I understand Chicken and Naked Women” when talking about strip clubs. Wale talks about hanging out at Magic City, the strip club in ATL. He says he goes there with his friends. He’s done interviews there, painting it like a social club for men. Wale ends the segment talking about how people are famous without having any talent. Hmm? Being in the entertainment business ain’t about talent. If it was, some of the best artists I know in NYC would be sitting with Seinfeld including myself. Yeah, we all got talent. But business these days is about something else in social media.

You know what I wish? I really wish the talent Wale speaks of in hip-hop or comedy came with gender ethics about misogyny and misogynoir. Ethics about the subordination of girls and women by men who claim to have power. I recently started reading Disconnected by Carrie James, a digital media ethnographer from Harvard. She distinguishes between morals — you’re sense of good and bad — and ethics — your care and attention to/for unknown individuals, for instance, on the web. Girls so could use some ethics in their online lives!

There are few ethics in entertainment hip-hop about girls esp when strip clubs are in the picture. Instead they silence girls (and women’s) voice. The gender lifestyle portrayed in “funny” media — in satire and in spoofs on YouTube — are shaping audience’s perceptions of what is tolerable and thus acceptable to think AND DO to women and girls who are simply unknowns to you–bitches, hos.

UNKNOWNS: UNCLAIMED PROPERTY

Women are the property that makes a joke funny and not only men. It is the stuff of ideology and manufactured consent. Women are bitches and hos. Their bodies make it rain to sell rappers’ content up the male chain supply and demand. Women are property in this discourse of laughs and lyrical labor as well as the prime discourse of the rap music industry. If you like in any residentially-segregated neighborhood it’s present in the everyday discourse you hear on the streets from little boys. It is often cruelty towards girls and women in loud aggressive grand-standing in the name of “being a man.” Even from the  mouths of babes — 8- 12 year old black boys — this is ordinary in the hood.

I know there are probably non-black boys doing the same,  emulating their part of hip-hop in a southern style or drawl or in some ghetto heaven to the east or in midwest.  Still I’ve never seen it. It’s always black boys and men. That reminds me. I need to read about Black Twitter often dominated by women vs. Hotep Twitter. Hotep Twitter is about social justice for black men, but not so much for black women or black LGBT folk.

Let’s go to the videotape and check out Seinfeld giving this linguistic violence with Wale a bigger platform instead of operating ethically in this Complex sketch that seems real as rain. And I don’t mean the rain as in the strip club, although it has over 244,000 views to date.

 

NO BLACK FRIENDS IN NYC? #blackfriendsmatter

I’m in the midst of finishing a script for a major talk about twerking, its interesting historical intersection with YouTube and Katrina, both celebrating 10 years in 2015, and the resegregation of our racial and sexual mentalities by funny or playful social media. It’s about the role this kind of video content plays in reinscribing stereotypes. While the digital mobility of black youth leads all others groups including adults, 63% of black kids under 18 reside in low-income households (i.e., making ends meet without any savings aka wealth). See more about mobile teens in this Pew Internet study.

Based on my analysis of over 615 videos of black girls twerking, not in strip clubs but in the “privacy” of their bedrooms which are likely in residentially-segregated neighborhoods, I am starting to link the isolation of blacks which has returned to levels not seen since 1968 to ways the invisible audiences, like the 28 million views associated with my data, are probably contributing to the problem that is at the heart of #blacklivesmatters. These invisible audiences are not too dissimilar to many of the undergrads I teach who live in NYC. Most don’t have any black friends. They cannot tell the difference between an 13 year old black girl, a stripper, and a woman. And they are so conditioned to not talk about skin color privileges and race that they cannot tell the difference between dark or light skin, black and most Latinas, and they began and some continued to be afraid to even ask so our data could be accurate. As accurate as anyone else guessing on YouTube.

Reminds me of a favorite quote by Alice Walker:

“People do not wish to appear foolish; to avoid the appearance of foolishness, they are willing to remain actually fools.”

I have a lot to write about here but I am just hinting at all I am learning. Still, this study may not be taken seriously because of its content’s association with strip clubs vs realizing it’s little girls under 13 who are not being protected by YouTube, VEVO, mega artists or COPPA act that says kids under 13 should be protected from advertisers online and must have the consent of their parents. Meanwhile, we all agree to the terms and conditions of apps and websites.

FOMO is real but it’s also an illusion. Seductive and irresistible.

fomo

MISOGYNOIR FOR FUN, AN ONLINE BLAST

So what do we do about these misogynoir linguistic environments — hating on black girls and women — that are not private and networked to publics on your handheld always on devices? They are linguistically violent against women everywhere! “I tried to call the cops / That type of thief they can’t arrest” sang Lauryn decades ago about manifesting a women’s ownership over her body and her ability to resist the seduction of her power in the music biz and the world. Misogyny by satire. Misogyny by strip club. Misogyny. When will we restore the feminine and the erotic to empower women and girls? When!?

The only way we do is through dance it seems. Dance is the way out by going in. A way to love yourself and still be here in the patriarchal den of thieves.

I was reading a GQ article “Make it Reign: How an Atlanta Strip Club Runs the Music Industry” by Devin Friedman with photos by Lauren Greenfield (bet there aren’t many black writers and photographers at GQ — #justsayin).

A stripper at Magic City talked about the old days during the BMF (Black Mafia Family) when women who stripped there made $20K vs $5K a night now. (I purposefully am not calling them strippers just as I no longer use “slaves” for African enslaved people. Dehumanization in language is a stealth and insidious teacher. Transforms thinking in a second so you don’t value the people who have had to make choices to combat the lack of opportunity or the feminization of poverty in this nation, esp. among black and brown women.) Ok. I read this quote in the article that stunned me but at the same time I could see how women have come to accept it as normal. C.R.E.A.M. (cash rules everything around me) except “females” are always property, not getting currency. Still enslaved by gender hegemony and misogyny in highly capitalistic ways.

“They was a little brutal back in the BMF,” the dancer Aimee told me. “They would have joy slapping the girls in the face with the money. You get sucker punched in the face with a thousand dollars, but you laugh it off because it’s so much money.”

riri gifIf trauma is something you learn to tolerate, than thinking your in the spotlight when you are the trick to get other’s paid is easy. No amount of money will heal the wounds that come from that misuse of your soul. You cannot kill it and wait for the bonus at the end. You won’t have any soul let to spend it on.

I seriously wonder who social media is making us become as women and as men. Anything for a laugh. Anything for a buck. Anything for internet fame or view or two. Never measuring up.

Dance, baby, dance! to Stupid Hoe

What are we cognitively doing to kids when 8 year olds are twerking to songs like Stupid Hoe even by a female artist like Nicki Minaj. Things are gettin way to hectic! We will not see the impact of this right away but I suspect it’s way too seductive to stop and notice for most of us.  This is just a pondering blog post. I’m pondering how to tackle this as a scholar and as a woman who’s been through her share of trauma digested in the name of romance or sex or marriage. Misogyny is real!

Ordinarily I anonymize info but this content is publicly available. I go back and forth because this young girl is way too young to consent to what happens to her content but clearly freely participating and seduced to do so since an adult provided the mobile device she used to record it, YouTube doesn’t utilize it’s infinite digital power to keep kids under 13 off their site, YouTube, Nicki Minaj, the artist of the song the girl plays, and VEVO all profit off the backs of girls like this. She gets internet fame with over 86,000 views from her first upload posted in 2012 but everyone else is earning a living from the collective messing around on YouTube by hundreds of thousands of girls who are marginalized as well as young white girls, too.

This has been incredibly challenging ethnography and I have so much to say. I wonder if connecting the linguistic violence to the high rates of intimate partner violence that black girls suffer might be a good thing to begin to examine.

Would love your thoughts?

Kyraocity didn’t kill the kat!! Curiosity I hope keep you coming back to my blog.

 

Does My Sassiness Upset You?: Ethics? Meet Pride in Twerking!

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.12.53 AM

“If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed”  ― Paulo Freire
“No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption (Freire, 1970, p. 54).”
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Werkin‘ the Mind and the Body

My anthro vlogging undergraduates done done it again! We approach twerking with new eyes!  All three sections of my Intro to Cultural Anthropology courses, each with about 25 students, did a final project analyzing black girls’ twerking videos that was worth 50% of their grade the last 4 weeks of our semester.

We should treat human behavior as symbolic action; action, which, like phonation in speech, pigment in painting, line in writing, or sonance in music, signifies; the question as to whether culture is patterned conduct or a frame of mind, or even the two somehow mixed together, loses sense. The thing to ask is what their import is (Geertz 1973, 9-10). …

Culture is public because meaning is, and systems of meanings are what produce culture, they are the collective property of a particular people. When we, either as researchers or simply as human beings, do not understand the beliefs or actions of persons from a foreign culture, we are acknowledging our lack of familiarity with the imaginative universe within which their acts are signs (Geertz 1973, 12-13) We cannot discover the culture’s import or understand its systems of meaning when, as Wittgenstein noted, “We cannot find our feet with them.”

The main outcome of studying twerking videos in an intro course was to learn how to do qualitative data analysis along with participant-observation of YouTube vlogging, both of which are key methods used to conduct ethnography in digital/visual anthropology.

As you may recall from my TEDxUofM talk “Broadcasting Black Girls’ Net Worth”, I had a dataset of over 800 videos collected with former undergrad classes. About 80% of these videos feature adolescent girls 16 and younger. Several feature children aged 8 to 12.

The project included:

  1. Basic certification in the ethics of respect, beneficence, and justice in human subject research.
  2. Using college library journal databases to search and find a good scholarly article that exemplified or explained how to do qualitative coding of videos.
  3. Doing a review of two more scholarly articles;  one article had to be about black girls and the other article could focus on one of the following intersecting domains of our study: YouTube, bedroom culture or twerking/black dance.
    1. At least one of the article had to be written by a black female author.
    2. Articles included work by Treva Lindsey, danah boyd, Alice Marwick, and Rana Emerson as well as my own writing about twerking.
  4. Next, students applied open coding or other methods of analysis they discovered to a batch of 12-16 videos. Each small group was assigned a batch from a larger set of 800 videos. They were required to use an interpretive method of ethnographic analysis known asthick description(c.f., Clifford Geertz)

An insight that one student voiced after completing his ethics certification was that we must remember to include the girls in the audience when reporting our findings. As a result, I came up with an idea. I asked each student to make a final vlog and directly address the girls they study in a kind of “Dear Black Girls” structure or something similar. The video embedded above was one that almost made me cry.

On Ethics: Student’s Reflections

If you teach anthro or sociology or to let my students’ words teach and guide your students in ethnical research, take a look at the following video. Here’s a basic overview of students’ insights from learning how to conduct ethical human subject research and reading about the history of exploitation as a result of scrupulous ethics.

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.