Granted, I probably take the public nature of a digital universe too seriously. I will concede that. When I see “professionals” in my field uploading videos of themselves where they are dancing to one beat, their small child dancing to another beat, and a black artist’s song playing in the background with an entirely different beat altogether, I think: oh hayell TO THE naw. If that weren’t bad enough, these folk got the nerve to be singing along, karaoke machine in full display, to the tune of yet another beat, wearing the paraphernalia of their college alma mater. If I were the president of that college, I would have to pull these folk aside and talk to them. It’s like an audition for American Idol that has gone very wrong: someone has got to step up and just say naw, baby, this right here ain’t for you; focus on another goal. Call me an essentialist then… I think this might just be a black thang. The black folk who I know and who raised me simply would not be out here uploading videos of pre-rehearsed performances (copied from TV) to broadcast for the world where they and their CHILDREN are singing and dancing with NO KINDA RHYTHM, RHYME, or TIME. You have to be the Jackson Five for that kind of thing! In what I define as black culture, when you publicly display yourself, you better be ready for sharp critique: think Showtime at the Apollo here— the youtube before youtube. It ain’t nuthin nice when you need to be told to exit that public stage. Even with those youtube videos that bougsie black folk like to critique forever and a day of black mothers twerking (with their kids mimicking in the background), you have to concede one thing: them. folk. CAN. dance. I’m not saying all the black folk that I know can sing and dance, just that when they can’t, they KNOW it and so don’t arrogantly display it for the world. At the end of the day, even in the worst kind of minstrel show, black folk just don’t get the option of public display without an iota of talent or rhythm. And though we are never credited as such, the black folk who I know and those who raised me have some high standards by which you come to understand yourself.
It ain’t like I don’t have a sense of humor. I laughed all day long when I saw Jimmy Fallon, Robin Thicke, and the Roots do a rendition of “Blurred Lines” with children’s musical instruments. Thicke never sounded better and this version of the song is so much better than the already played-out radio version. The brotha playing the banana might be the new love of my life. And, interestingly, this New-Skoolhouse rendition makes the song more than a wanna-be Marvin Gaye clone and the new rhyme rewrites some of the song’s problematic gender politics. You see, even for the sake of humor, black folk don’t give up the seriousness of real rhythm and creativity… and knowing what the hell you are doing and who you are.
When it comes to online spaces, I use a black sensibility to tell me what is wrong and what is right. I might offend folk with what I am saying but the structural racism that I discuss is not something I haven’t examined/read closely. But that too is a black sensibility: say what you gotta say and whoever feels a certain way about it, let them go on and feel it. That ain’t my problem or cross to bear. Mostly, it’s my standard of performance, skill, and appropriateness that I see as AfroDigital-Sensitized. In just a few weeks, I will be teaching three sections of first year writing (FYW) where students and myself will interrogate digital literacies and digital empire more closely than I ever have before in FYW. The modules are finally coming together and I am quite clear that I am using an Afro-Digital-Sensibility to craft the units of study, the framing of the course, and the polemics of digital spaces. This is about more than what African Americans do or consume online; it’s about an ideological framework inside of yet another system we have not designed. Like I seem to be saying over and over again here, I haven’t ever needed to look further than the wisdom of my people to know how to navigate the world, digital or otherwise.