Tag: identity

  • #Duke21C, McLuhan, AFK, & Life Before the www.

    I am in a McLuhan-esque mood, which I imagine has something to do with the fact that I am auditing a class on Media History & Theory and week 1 is McLuhan week. I’m also teaching a course on introduction one Media History, Theory, & Criticism and the end of the first week of readings is “The Medium is the Message”. This makes me insanely happy. I am looking forward to speaking about it because I saw the trailer for the Pirate Bay movie (above) and it sort of changed my life, or the way I was thinking about life. Then I went to the #Duke21C class yesterday and Cathy Davidson said something that changed my life, or the way I was thinking about life again. She reminded us that most of our students have never been alive in a world without the internet/world wide web. Whoooooooooosh!

    So. I am old, relatively, in that I lived in an ancient world. I understand that it is the result of the last information age and the amount of things that changed with it. I am thankful to have gone through it, and to have the frame of reference that allows me to speak to my students about a time when everyone had to use a calling card or make a collect call at some point. And use a pay phone. And not have social media in the way we think of social media today [side note, when I asked them to rank the most important forms of media from 1-2, most of them had only 1. The Internet, 2. Social Media. In the past news always came out on top.]

    I think that, for the people of my generation, the transitional generation (home internet really took off when I was in middle school, so I had the landline version of a social network before I had my award winning geocities site in the 90s), the adjustment of seeing the computer as more than an extension of our hands took a lot of time. We have memories of a life outside of the screen. I am making a guess here, but I am feeling like the thing that made the TPBAFK trailer so “whoa” for me was that they said that the stuff that happens in the computer is real life, so they say they know each other AFK (Away from Keyboard) instead of IRL (In Real Life). They already know each other IRL through the screen! This means, and really this explains so much, that the screen, especially for say, my students who have always had these kind of screens, is no longer a window to an imaginary world. Screens are, instead, just an extension of the whole body/world. Things that happen there are real! It seems we haven’t readily acknowledged this culturally completely just yet.

    I mean, I joke about the idea of relationships being “facebook official”, even as I watch relationships develop, evolve, and devolve through facebook status updates. I come across editorial stories from other people weekly that speak about the brother or sister who found out their brother or sister was pregnant or had a baby through a mass social media post, mass texting or a blog post instead of calling on the telephone and how confusing/upsetting the situation was for the receiver of the news. I think it is funny though, that most of us, even those of us old enough to remember a time before the internet, upon receiving good news often post it somewhere rather than individually emailing and calling. It is simply more efficient, and it is where most of our interactions with friends, family, and colleagues are happening anyway. It might not be physical, but it is our world. I think that is where we are with the screens. We are not IRL and online anymore. We’re either At Keyboard or away from keyboard… but even then, we usually have a keyboard in our pockets at this point.

    And a lot of times, even when we are in the same room, something that happened in #Duke21C yesterday, we are still At Keyboard, having conversations in the backchannels of our worlds with the people in the room as well as those in the open world of the web.

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  • Trigger Warning Project / Playing with @mozilla Popcorn Maker

    It’s been about a month since I made my initial post on the Trigger Warning that appeared on Sociological Images.  Since then, they’ve posted another post with the exact same trigger warning and issue.  It has been very generative for me to experience this.  I am working through what it means to face oppression the way that we do.  I think I am almost comfortable with my thoughts on it, which is good because I have a final presentation/performance thing for my last performance studies course ever on December 7th and that is what I wrote/am writing on.  This is what I’ve come up with so far (aka iteration/draft 1) for my digital installation:

    I might play with it a bit more… I might even try to play with popcorn.js, but I am happy with where it is.  Popcorn Maker was easy to use.  Working through this  allowed me to let go of that second post.  I think I don’t need to comment on it. But I will add it to the list of things that make me shake my head and push me to do my project.

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  • The Whisper Room #tweetasound

    The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a Whispering Gallery. It is a 40 foot long sroom covered in metal. The thing is, when you stand at one end, you can whisper the quietest whisper you can manage, and the person at the other end can HEAR you as though you were speaking right into their ear. That moment when you realize that your little voice has made it to the other side, because the other side replies and you experience what happened to them when they heard your whisper, is a moment of glee. And then you keep doing it until other people show up because even though you may have heard that voice before, you know get to hear it as breath, a whisper, loud and clear. Digital media, for me is like that whisper. There is loud talking about what it means to be black and what it means to be a black woman and what the black experience is supposed to feel like, look like, sound like, taste like, etc. that we have a hard time letting it just be. When I say be, I mean it in terms of being a state of becoming.

    Ghana 1881/1895
    Ghana 1881/1895

    Digital media is the place where I can’t see the other side of the whisper room, but I know it is there. I hear the whispers that make their way to me, across time and space, through cables (as light, yay fiber optics!). Digital media is the space where I can find a photograph and post it with the whisper “did you know she was this beautiful?” and I can hear back “she really is”. And while yes, she might be and/or represent all those things that define the black experience, in fact, I may be even placing her as “the Black Woman” at that moment of whisper, we are allowed to just see her and see that yes, she was, is, and will always be beautiful. And we are allowed to see her and say yes, she is and will always be, like me.

    I go into my project knowing it is not a critical mass project. However, I know how whispers affect feeling and how seeing affects world making. My only hope is that by sharing these photographs of women who were here before us, I help keep their images in mind. Having that image creates a new world. This is, of course, the moment when things move from media to performance.

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  • Looking at History vs. Looking at the Past

    This post brought to you from the confines of my humanistic little heart.

    I am in the midst of an interesting internal debate with external consequences. I think I don’t like History.  I am also so/so on history. Actually, I am probably currently rejecting any kind of historical derivative as well. Despite this, I am in love with the idea of looking at the past.

    This line of thought started a while ago, but came to a head with the following image.

    (I created a mini-project around the recent conversation/thoughts I’ve had and am having about this photo:

    Here is what is happening. History feels like myth to me. There are too many (w)holes and the narratives are to totalizing for my comfort level. I was speaking to someone about my project, and they said that they can never see the image in a photograph as separate from the history the photograph was created in. This meant that any photograph of black people they see are read as part of a horrible historical narrative regardless to the image in the photograph. [I am thinking of photograph as the thing and image as the read because it is easier than explaining Barthes].  This meant that, for said person, black people in the United States had no existence outside of the confines of a History of (violent) slavery.  And, as this person was a black American, their existence was also articulated by slavery.  I acknowledge that the legacy of slavery still exists in our social structures.  However, that is not all black people are, nor has it ever been.  If this is what history is doing to people, I don’t want it.  But I knew this.  I have major issues with the type/time (I wrote time initially when I meant to write type, but I think it works too. Yay Freudian slip) of empathy historical narratives of trauma create. I have a whole map of this system that I was not going to include in my dissertation (I was using it as a way to keep the work I am doing on track), but now I think I have to because I do not want this reaction.  Nor do I want to be pulled back into the space of everyone always only being an agent of history.

    There is quote that I commonly see attributed to Harriet Tubman that I thought of as I was going through all of this. I have no idea if it was really said by her or not, but I get the sentiment of both the speaker and the”not knowing” subjects being conjured.

    I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.

    So, I move to the past. The hinge of how I think of the historical past is not History, but a temporal separation. I am playing with coevalness and presence, and the freedom that the speed of digital contact gives us. I am not saying we need to end History. I think we need it and it is necessary. I applaud anyone who can spend their life’s work looking at traumatic imagery and narratives. I am thankful they are able to write about it, theorize it, analyze it etc..  I am thankful for those who are out there writing counter narratives and working on understudied H/histories. I am thankful that those people exist, because I can’t do it. And if those people weren’t doing it, I couldn’t do the project I am doing. Histories need to be known.  But we also have to accept that the past for many people was just that.  Many people just lived their lives, just like we are.  That is where I find beauty, at times tinged with sadness. It is beautiful none the less.

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  • On the Specificity of Black Experience

    I am in the midst of an argument. A colleague of mine who is also black, and also in Performance Studies (and is male) doesn’t understand my frustration with people and their talk of essentializing. Any claim to a universal but closed off experience is cornered as being essentializing. Apparently performance can close gaps in experience. I don’t agree. I think performance can make the gaps smaller, but there are some things that certain groups or people experience that others will never completely understand. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to deepen our understanding of each other. It does mean though that we have to accepts the limits placed on us by our social positions in terms of race, class, gender, nationality, etc. We have to.

    He seemed really frustrated and said I was claiming there is such a thing as black authenticity. I agreed with a caveat. Anything I do is an authentic black experience because I am authentically black. Even though my background is what it is, the way I am interpreted in society as I move through the world is as associated with blackness, not always as all black mind you, but black is always there, literally on the surface. I feel like the beauty of Performance Studies, for me ,is it allows us to expand and share and play with what authentic blackness is. The more representations of blackness we have, the more diverse the experiences we share are, the greater our potential to explode the idea of an essential blackness.

    The next part of the conversation had to do with people experiencing the black “Other”, and accepting their positionality. Different bodies in traditionally black spaces does things to that space. Even when different bodies are invited to those places some people might see this as problematic because they don’t think the space should be changed in that way. Or, they might just not be comfortable in a black environment. In this specific instance the discussion was around the black church. As much as I want to explode the idea of blackness, I think so much of life is meeting people where they are. If someone feels like they don’t belong is a we need to accept that they might not belong in that space. At the same time, it is important that we in our role of teachers help them interrogate why they feel the way they do in a meaningful and productive way and nudge them towards new experiences without pushing. And then we hope that someday, preferably that day, they will take the dive into the discomfort and reposition their world.

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  • Thoughts on Modern Human Zoos

    Yesterday I came across an article in the Guardian,
    Human safaris may be banned, but still tourists flock to Andaman Islandse My initial reaction was “I can’t believe they are still doing this”, because, as the article states, this is a re-visit, but also because “they” have been “doing this” for a while. I found my reaction to be interesting, because, well, we’ve been doing this, and are still doing it, to.

    We, in the USA, have a unique relationship to the places that were so often a part of looking at the other with a consumptive gaze (I hesitate to add spectatorial because I feel like it is too neutral for the spectacularization of peoples that I am thinking of). There is an entire segment of this country’s population that, due to their epidermal schema are not allowed to trace themselves back to any place but a continent, not even a country, and as such identify with anything coming from that direction, even as history tells us this group of people is a blend of multiple ethnicities from multiple continents. Additionally, 20th and 21st century movements have called for connections across the Black/African Diaspora as though our histories are universal (something I think they both are and are not), or, to make it sound more theoretical, our histories are not not universal.

    That being said, when old school, circa 1860s, colonization gets talked about in the US, I feel like we act as though this country’s role was as spectators of the spectacle. We keep a cool distance, perhaps because it would bring up our own elephant in the room that we never exactly confront head on. That elephant is of course slavery and the reasons why our African-Americans are African-Americans and not Specific-Place-In-Africa-Americans.
    As a quick aside, I just realized I’ve never once contemplated the links that can be made between slaves being put on display at auctions and people being put on display in colonial villages. I find that very odd. We are not disconnected from the larger history of people being put display in the context of colonization, from the Expositions and World’s Fairs hosted in this country to Ota Benga being put on display in the Bronx zoo, we are implicated in this history.

    A big part of my project is reclaiming some of the traces of that history through recontextualization. And yes, it is as problematic and complicated as it sounds. I like to think that these complexities what makes it a project worth doing. The project started when I found the archive of photographs W.E.B. Dubois sent to the 1900 Paris Exposition. Like everything related to this topic, I find his participation in the Exposition problematic, but I understand. I think it was step 1 in trying to flip the narrative from written about us to written by us, and for us. I imagine some of my discomfort comes from the idea of visualizing the talented 10th and not the whole. But that is another post. Maybe.

    The reason I find modern human zoos so disconcerting is because we know, unequivocally now I hope, that all groups are capable of speaking for themselves and creating their own (hi)stories. As an example, look at what is being done with L.A. Gang Tours, a program, that, like Dubois, I find problematic as it re-inscribes dominant narratives of “the hood”, but its heart is in the right place (more or less my feelings on Dubois and Paris 1900). Still, programs like this seem to be the exception, and, despite our visible age, there is very limited digital visibility, and I can’t help but question why these things remain so hidden, even as I know what the reason probably is.

    The power structure we continue to live in means that certain groups that have less access to power (in all ways power can be defined) are still placed within contexts, both spatial and temporal, real and imagined, that mirror the past of expositions and zoos that put humans on display. From the Polynesian Cultural Center and their calls to “Go Native” by participating tree climbing, spear throwing, and fire making, rather than positioning it as learning about indigenous traditions, to the imagined Z-world of Detroit, that I imagined hoped to employ local, mostly black populations in the role of zombies, a concept that was born from the history of various African countries and made its way to the US via slavery and Haiti, at risk communities are still seen as something that can be contained, commodified, and experienced from a distance even in our own USA backyard, even as we try to write ourselves out of the History of colonization.

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  • Thoughts on Being Black Online

    This is more of a stream of consciousness post while I try to figure things out.  At some point I hope to do more research on the issues at hand write something a bit more coherent.

    It all started with the Article on Gizmodo, Why I Stalk a Sexy Black Woman on Twitter (And Why You Should, Too)

    It rubbed me the wrong way.  People who were offended by this had a very hard time articulating why they were offended.  The easiest term to come up with is “racist”.  Though it does come across that way I am fairly sure it wasn’t intentional.  What it did bring up were issues of privilege,the gaze and the black female body.

    The fact that there are so many black people shouldn’t be shocking, but the privilege aspects means that when people think of digital media outlets, especially mainstream ones, black people aren’t the first users that come to mind for a majority of people (for better or for worse).  The worst part is, all the black people I know read Gizmodo.  But, our readership is apparently invisible.

    Another privledged issue was this idea of “picking” a black person after searching for one.  From the article “So I picked out my new friend and started to pay attention.”  It is a terminology issue. Most people follow people on twitter because they have tweets that are of interest to them. They follow said person.  The picking a random black female to follow, even subconsciously, can’t help but hearken back to the days of slave auctions.  Which brings us to the gaze.

    Regarding the Gaze, the sexualization of her body in the title alone, added to the use of the term “stalking” and in the parenthesis addendum at the end of the article after stating she was charming and attractive was very… of putting:

    “You can start simply, like I did, by finding someone charming and attractive. (I’m not ashamed to say I enjoy looking at the sexy pictures she puts up when she’s flirting with guys online.) “

    It implies that despite anything else she may bring to the table, in the end, just as in the beginning, the most important qualities she could have as a black female deserving his interest (and she is the first one on twitter who ever did), is her sexuality.  And it isn’t an interactive sexuality.  It is again controlled by his gaze over her body as though she were on display.

    So, this made me think about my biggest question in terms of my research, “what does it mean to be black online?”

    This article would lead me to believe that for some people being black online means that a (black) person gets denied part of their humanity and becomes first and foremost black.  A (black) person exists to be observed as though they were an exhibit of the viewers notion of blackness.   This very much reminds me of human zoos of yesteryear (and today in some places, though they are now “cultural centers”).  I think it will be a very interesting place to possibly take my research.

    To be black means to be invisible until sought and to be sought to fill a need of someone that is not part of your social group by choice.  (I say by choice because if someone is on twitter or reading gizmodo and in to tech or an all around ‘dork’, they were part of the author’s social group.  The author made them “other”.)  The reason I found this so disturbing is the distancing that was done by the author.  The user he was following never had the capability of becoming just another twitter user.  The only reason the person was worth following was their blackness.  This means that, regardless to what the person was tweeting, all of their tweets were seen as representative and inseparable from their blackness further continuing the dynamic of privilege that exist for the author of the piece.

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