For Harriet released a video yesterday, “Black Women OU Students Discuss SAE, Race and the University,” interviewing three young Black women at the University of Oklahoma: Aubriana Busby (Junior), Chelsea Davis (Sophomore), and Ashley Hale (senior), all students involved with OU Unheard. I was delighted to watch and hear these interviews as well as the general footage that we have seen in the past week from Black student protesters on the campus.
In 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.
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.
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.
True to her promise, Deborrah Cooper promised to bring the rain even harder on her website after black men kept dismissing her comments about male sexist behavior. For those who don’t know, Cooper’s videos, books, and blog are dedicated to black women and relationships with the kind of vibe where I feel like I am talking to that auntie, mother, cousin, grandmother, or godmother with the special knack to insert well-placed cusswords in an unrelenting reading of black men, misogyny, and relationships. If you know the kinds of women I am taking about, even when you don’t agree with Cooper, you will feel like you are on the frontporch on a hot summer day listening to womenfolk as they shake their heads at all of the foolishness they see. Recently, Cooper shared the story of one of her followers who was walking home from a grocery store in Brooklyn. Cooper’s fan reports that she saw a black man arguing with a black woman and their two daughters with the daughters, little girls, fighting the dad off. The man grew angrier and more violent so the sista watching called the police. As she called the police, the black men on the block just stood there, watched, and laughed, with one pair of young men enjoying the show so much that they sat and ate a candy bar, fully engrossed. Suddenly, about 15+ black girls, maybe in high shool, came along, saw what was happening, and poised themselves to give this man an old-fashioned beatdown. If the police hadn’t come when they had, he would have gotten it even worse. I find this image of black men looking on and laughing at a black woman being physically, publicly abused, along with her small daughters, deeply haunting and depressing. A brother and comrade told me recently that he sees strong correlations between the rise of black male diatribes (i.e., all over youtube), the increase in violence against black women, and the onset of new numbers of white supremacist/KKK-offshoot groups since 2008 (before Obama became president, there were a little more than a 100 white hate groups and yet, after 2008, there were more than 1000.) In an era of newfound white supremacy, violence against black women will inevitably steepen and increase, that’s the kind of history and world we live in. And if bourgeois/capitalist culture incorporates black men, even if as coons (think Lil Wayne or Flava Flav’s television show), then it is inevitable that violence against black women will be the price of the ticket for that. All women are objects under capitalism and black women will fare worst in those equations. This image of the 15 young black women ready for revolution is very striking and haunting, but perhaps, it was always a reality already in the making.
What I am suggesting here is that when I hear so many young black women in my classes still gravitate to and know the context, history, and lyrics of Eve’s 1999 “Love is Blind,” their discourse and memories are about more than just one song. This is why I include “Love is Blind” in what I am calling the Political-Intellectual Canon of Young Black Women. These lyrics feel like they are triggering a kind of lineage of blackwomenspeak and blackwomenthink about violence in our communities that students are building on:
This song, “Love is Blind,” is always voluntarily discussed by a black woman in my class whenever Hip Hop gets mentioned… without fail. Every time. Interestingly though, I have not had students who particularly talk about Eve as a Femcee, only this song. It’s all about the lyrics here:
Hey, yo I don’t even know you and I hate you
See all I know is that my girlfriend used to date you
How would you feel if she held you down and raped you?
Tried and tried, but she never could escape you
She was in love and I’d ask her how? I mean why?
What kind of love from a nigga would black your eye?
What kind of love from a nigga every night make you cry?
What kind of love from a nigga make you wish he would die?
I mean shit he bought you things and gave you diamond rings
But them things wasn’t worth none of the pain that he brings
And you stayed, what made you fall for him?
That nigga had the power to make you crawl for him
I thought you was a doctor be on call for him
Smacked you down cause he said you was too tall for him, huh?
That wasn’t love, babygirl you was dreamin’
I could have killed you when you said your seed was growin from his semen
Love is blind, and it will take over your mind
What you think is love, is truly not
You need to elevate and find…
I don’t even know you and I’d kill you myself
You played with her like a doll and put her back on the shelf
Wouldn’t let her go to school and better herself
She had a baby by your ass and you ain’t giving no help
Uh-huh big time hustler, snake motherfucker
One’s born everyday and everyday she was your sucker
How could you beat the mother of your kids?
How could you tell her that you love her?
Don’t give a fuck if she lives
She told me she would leave you, I admit it she did
But came back, made up a lie about you missing your kids
Sweet kisses, baby ain’t even know she was your mistress
Had to deal with fist fights and phone calls from your bitches
Floss like you possess her, tellin’ me to mind my business
Said that it was her life and stay the fuck out of it
I tried and said just for him I’ll keep a ready clip…
I don’t even know you and I want you dead
Don’t know the facts but I saw the blood pour from her head
See I laid down beside her in the hospital bed
And about two hours later, doctors said she was dead
Had the nerve to show up at her mother’s house the next day
To come and pay your respects and help the family pray
Even knelt down on one knee and let a tear drop
And before you had a chance to get up
You heard my gun cock
Prayin to me now, I ain’t God but I’ll pretend
I ain’t start your life but nigga I’mma bring it to an end
And I did, clear shots and no regrets, never
Cops comin’ lock me under the jail
Nigga whatever my bitch, fuck it my sister
You could never figure out even if I let you live
What our love was all about
I considered her my blood and it don’t come no thicker
I suspect the weight of this song rather than Eve’s person will become even more pronounced in the future since Eve has eclipsed any awareness of racism now that she is a celebrity …AND pregnant by her white millionaire British boyfriend— the race car driver, Maximillion Cooper. See Denene Millner at My Brown Baby for a brilliant critique of Eve’s newfound colorblindness as the racial politics for raising her biracial child. I am pretty confident that Eve’s song will continue to circulate in the annals of young black women’s memory and consciousness though Eve’s own politics and life story may not.
When I hear my students talk about “Love is Blind”– and when I think of the story from Cooper’s follower, the young women fighting back an abusive man on a Brooklyn street, and Cooper’s re-telling of violence against black women on her blog— I see a community of black women speaking into and against violence against them. In a criminal (in)justice system where the men who rape and beat black women are treated SIGNIFICANTLY less harshly than when raping or abusing any and every other racial or ethnic group of women, it will be up to black women to (re)define justice and safety for their own bodies. Certainly, no one else can or will do that for us. When young black women know and discuss Eve’s song in my classes at no prodding of my own, this is the larger epistemological system that I know they are speaking into.
Thank you to Cydni Joubert who created this video-interview below for our English 3475 class, African American Women’s Rhetoric, to let us hear how dance, black women’s lives, and rhetoric all intersect.
And, thank you to Crystal Valentine who visited class yesterday and blessed us with this performance below.
For more on Crystal Valentine, please see Cydni’s slideshow below.
I’ve never been very good with closure. Classtime runs out, we can be in the middle of a discussion, folk need to go to their next class, and I’ll just blurt out, all uncouth, well, yall, it’s time to go. And that will be the end of it. No synthesis, no last words of encouragement, no group hug. I can’t synthesize when I am still processing; and I’m not Jerry Springer with a final public service announcement. After 20 years of teaching, you’d think I would have found some solutions but I have not been able to succeed at any attempt. Maybe I just don’t think serious issues are easily resolved with dialogue alone or I am resisting the simple, Western rush to solutions and conclusions to complex issues. I no longer look for closure at the end of a class. I do put a lot of thought into the first days and weeks of my classes, but I’m not good at going out with a bang on the last day.
When I was teaching at a small college in Brooklyn, I learned the importance of the last day though. Students in an African American children’s literature class inspired me. My plan was simple: let’s eat together on the last day and share what we have done for final projects. That’s it. Nice and simple. Well, they turnt it up and out. They brought in trays, and I mean TRAYYYYS of food. Their kids came too and told us what they liked about the literature (this was a Friday evening class of 39 women and 2 men, all of whom were thirty years old and above.) And my favorite part, of course, was the special corner, far away from the kids, that was for grown-ups only: a maxi-bar that featured a bottle of rum from what seemed like every country in the Caribbean. I made many trips to that special corner. That’s a class that I remember fondly, I can still see each face in my mind’s eyes. It’s the same for the students who did the assembly/performance with their families attending or the students with their curriculum showcases when I was a teacher educator. You can’t really predict this though. Sometimes students are as dull and dry as wheat thins; other times, they are PURE FIRE. My point is that the last class should do something, you should feel the weight of the time that you spent together, you should feel like you have been somewhere together. I no longer assume I can achieve that; students have to do that for and with one another.
Today, however, I thought I would be compelling and close the semester with my favorite thank you speech. I would use black women’s audacity when even saying thank you to thank my class, as if it were me talking to them. I am talking about En Vogue. Instead of walking up to the stage at the 1990 Billboard Awards, all fake-surprised and theatrically-shocked that they won for their single, “Hold On,” these sistas knew they had this award and so they performed an acceptance speech that blew away the crowd– in the very style of the song that was being awarded. I don’t mean to suggest that I deserve the award En Vogue received, but I do feel like the semester was my own sort of award. I must admit that I was little impressed with myself. I had finally found a good-bye lesson plan… but then my little stuff got showed up real fast.
Today, anthologies were due. Anthologies are, well, just that. Students create mini-curricula for their colleagues using black women’s primary texts that exemplify some rhetorical practice or process. Instead of writing the traditional Western essay for this, they create an artifact that does the analysis. Last year, Fedaling made photocopies of texts written by black women, dipped them in tea, burned the edges, and then put them all in a well-worn, beat up piece of luggage. This luggage was supposed to represent the way the family kept its identity papers, papers that had been passed down to her from generations of black grandmothers about their history and lives. An opening letter explained the significance of each text and asked the viewer to add their own writing. Aysha used the same technique and put all of these papers in a decorated shoebox, to look like something she found under her mother’s bed. Celeste created a graphic novel of black supersheroes, “TEAM ABLE” [who consist of (A) Angela Davis, (B) Bessie Smith, (L) Lucy Wilmot Smith, and (E) Ella Baker]. These women do not fight traditional, individual villains. Instead, they fight silence, inaction, and unconsciousness! You get the picture here. I am what we call a visual learner so I have always leaned on multi-media projects in class. Sometimes you just have to mix up the writing assignments because that gets boring real fast for me. Plus, I can deduce my students’ understanding of black women’s history, black women’s rhetoric, and the connections they are making just as easily, if not more easily, with such 3D/multimedia artifacts as with any written exam or essay. This year was a first though— it was a project I had never seen.
Today, Caroline gave us a process. First, there was a collection of black women’s poems where black women discuss sexuality, their bodies; their right to love, live, and own themselves (the first image on this page). It is called “For Colored Girls!” There was an accompanying poster, now gifted to me, soon to be framed in my office (the second image on this page). The process continued with a red velvet cake with chocolate on the outside (the third image on this page). The cake was in the shape of a black woman’s torso, fully naked, demonized dark nipples in full tow, wrapped in chains (signifying too on the Swedish cake performance). Caroline cut the chains from the cake in front of all of us so that we could break this black woman free. She then offered us the inside and outside of this new black woman, ourselves.
It was the perfect closure with a group of students I will not likely forget! Like I said, the students themselves will do the work. I’m glad that I was able to listen to that first group of 39 women and 2 men who taught me this lesson many years ago.