AfroDigital Women and the Underground eRailroad

Underground_Railroad_MapIn the past few years, I have relied on black women’s youtube channels to move me away from the creamy crack (translation: perm/relaxer) and towards natural hair styles and protection.  Even CNN and Sesame Street have taken stock of the politics of black women’s natural hair.  I became fascinated with what black women do for and with one another on these hair, style, and beauty channels.  I won’t go deeper into these polemics about hair and black women for now (that’s a longer analysis).  I am just using my AfroDigital HairStory here as an introduction to the role of youtube viewing in my life. I am most interested in how black women are creating visual/print/audio/digital communities across multiple topics via youtube and the processes that I use to find these black women.

Most people have been using the personal channel function on youtube for years now, uploading a host of corny and tacky personal videos, crazed-looking rants about nothing, or shrines to themselves and their offspring.  Though I don’t do anything particularly interesting with my youtube channel, I have always been fascinated with the ways that black women use youtube.   Of course, my analyses of the social networking available via youtube isn’t anything new when you look at all of the analyses of the similar media cartels of Facebook and Twitter.   I, however, prefer a more audio-visualized experience and, personally speaking, can’t stand facebook’s appeal to far TOO many as a hook-up spot/strategy (worsened recently with its new dating functions).  As much trouble as fools get themselves into with Facebook thinking they can start real relationships, locate a quickie real quick, or keep the flames burning on old conquests, you would think folk would have learned something by now.  Lesson-learning is not forthcoming for a fool though so I go forth elsewhere.

The Cast of Afro City

The Cast of Afro City

When I type terms like black womanism, black women, and black feminism into a youtube search, I am appalled at what comes back at me: 1) black men explaining why black women are undesirable and unlovable in comparison to other races; 2) all kindsa folk across every ethnicity explaining why black women’s criticisms/anger/beef/feelings are unwarranted (it is all black women’s fault, no matter what the issue); 3) black men and women describing the damage that black women’s womanism and/or feminism are causing to children, families, and nation (with some still going as far as Shaharazad Ali who wrote a book way back when telling black men they should slap black women who she likened to rat and dogs). When I type in black girls, I get videos of young black women fighting with a comment system that ranks the fight like it’s off-track-betting. These images are mind-boggling but certainly not surprising given the history we inherit.   I had to do something different to search for places where black women were using youtube to talk to one another in ways that challenge racism, sexism, capitalism, homophobia, and every soul-negating issue that denies our life force.  80% of youtube suggestions of related videos at the right side are irrelevant to me, at best, or downright offensive so I know to only look at what the people who I subscribe to are uploading.  That’s how I found the show, Afro City, which I followed simply because I was drawn to the very look of the women whose aesthetic dimensions are completely different from the mainstream (and where Afrocentricity/femininity does NOT mean the likes of Shaharazad Ali).  Now I go to what my own subscribers have liked (I only have about a dozen right now so this doesn’t take much time) and what they have subscribed to and I can see a deeper, more relevant set of chosen audiovisual texts that are shaping black women’s lives. When I find a video that I like, I obviously go to that channel and see what else is there.  Most times, it’s a dead-end, but every now and then I can find some gems where I am introduced to new playlists and vloggers, youtube shows, see new channels to subscribe to, and see videos worth watching that the channeler has liked.  If you are interested in real intellectual and mental elevation (most people in the digital universe are not) rather than quickie and often banal socializing and the like, then what happens is that you start visiting all of the places that the black women you respect on youtube visit in order to find more black women.   While this kind of search that I describe is all self-evident, obvious, and common, I think it is still worthwhile to notice the process.


This sculpture is the largest memorial to the Underground Railroad in the U.S. It features Harriet Tubman leading a group of escaped slaves, Erastus and Sarah Hussey and the Station Masters for the Southern Michigan Underground Railroad Operation ushering slaves into their basement

The process that I describe speaks to the ways in which black women must always search for alternative discourses for and about themselves using a kind of underground railroad system of connections and next stations. Black women talking to other black women as and about black women are not going to be readily publicized and easily locatable. When you want spaces to hear and SEE black women using visual, audio texts, you need exacting techniques and details to reach new e-railroad stations.