At a recent meeting I attended, a participant talked very disparagingly about scholars who do work in digital rhetorics and digital humanities. Now, it ain’t like I ain’t got my own questions about the aforementioned, mostly along the lines of why is this scholarship so damn white, but that was not the participant’s beef. His beef was that scholars in digital rhetorics and digital humanities only offer meta-analyses of digital culture and not actual digital products and projects. That’s not true, though I can see where the impatience is coming from: a dull, visually stale website that you paid someone else to create and an active twitter account ain’t exactly sophisticated digital production. I said, for the most part, that these impressions were false and then really left it alone.
Because you see, I was operating from a black cultural/language frame. And that means something very simple: if you dissin what somebody else ain’t doin, then it must be because YOU DOIN IT!
In my childhood, we would simply say it like this: if you gon sing it, then bring it. This expression could be applied to someone who was poppin off at the mouth about you behind your back but not bold enough to bring it to your face; OR if an athletic team, especially, talked a lot of junk about their impending win: this was a reminder to watch your mouth unless you were really bringing your A+ game. What does this mean in the context of the situation I described in the first paragraph? Well, as soon as I got home from the meeting, I google-stalked this participant like it was no tomorrow. And what did I find? Not much of nuthin.
I was seriously confused at first. I was expecting some kind of dope archival project, animated series, video webseries, robust website with years of posting and commenting, or stuff I hadn’t even thought of. But, nope. Nuthin. This fool dominated the conversation about digital work without even an interesting list of items connected to his name with a google search? How could this be possible? I mean, really?
That’s when I realized I was operating from a black cultural framework, a black cultural framework that produces expressions like: if you gon sing it, then bring it. The critic who only produces criticisms of someone else’s stuff without getting down and dirty with the people, the artifact, or the movement may be a glorified “scholar” in white, western, elite corners, but black vernacular cultural frameworks won’t grant you that status. You gotta be actually DOIN SUMTHIN. Patriarchy and whiteness alone do not grant you special privileges to be heard about things you have not done. Digital scholarship ruptures this distant gaze of the scholar on high (no one is considered a specialist in digital scholarship without, um, digital products), but that’s not a given across the board obviously.
Ironically, as much as black cultural expressions related to “Bring It” have been co-opted by mainstream media, really BRINGIN IT is a worldview and cultural framework never in full grasp. It is not merely an expression to be peppered in the titles of corny movies, exploitative reality TV, and musically-challenged song lyrics. In my world, when you ain’t bringin it, you are not granted the authority to talk about it.