I know you have a blog and you’re on Twitter, are there any other online environments you interact in?
My blog is the space I interact in most intentionally. Twitter I like but frankly don’t use as often as Facebook.
Facebook is seeded with lots of friends and family so I like to listen and chat there and then my blog is a more professional conversation.
I’m just starting to engage in adding video and podcasting, so as I figure it out I’ll add other channels for those too. It’s kind of like there is a destination I want to get to and I don’t mind much which road I take since the roads do keep changing.
All media are roads but the destination is my own.
A destination – so, like a purpose to how you interact, or what content you create online?
Yes, online. For me it is also bigger than the channels. I feel like my mission is to engage others in thinking and talking about race, however that happens. I’ve always been kind of a media comm geek — I did cable vision, I was a DJ in college, I like to write — all media are roads but the destination is my own. I hope before I die I’ll see some platforms online and beyond that we haven’t even thought of yet. I’ll use those too.
I wonder how digital media have shaped race discussions around the world. Not just race – gender, sexuality too. I suppose, the intersections of all these things, have been really made visible by social media/digital publications like blogs… How do you see this?
I think that changes in communication technology produce changes in communication — both in ways we anticipate and in ways we can’t. Changes in how we communicate have allowed for voices that were always there, but were unheard, to finally find ears to hear.
I can speak mostly to the experience of blacks in America but there are lessons and ideas that carry to other identity issues like sexuality and gender.
Examples like Black Twitter… are about black people talking to other black people, redefining blackness in their own eyes, in their own voice separate from what it means to be white.
For hundreds of years in America Whiteness controlled the narrative of what it meant to be a person of color. Except for outliers in every generation, the mainstream story about people of color was told by whiteness, which had a vested interest politically, socially and economically to paint the picture to favor those in power.
Now I think we see whole ways of being, thinking and feeling that are able to have voice and to reach other like minded people, to make people feel a deep connection to others like them that in other times would have been alienated.
Examples like Black Twitter, Awkward Black Girl, and even the Black Lives Matter movement are about black people talking to other black people, redefining blackness in their own eyes, in their own voice separate from what it means to be white.
I think that was what set people on fire over Beyonce’s Lemonade video — it was blackness defined through the lens of blackness. If you have to wait for a Hollywood studio to make a video like that, then you’ll wait forever. With the tools we have now, the power to define the race rests in the hands of every kid with a camera.
We don’t own Twitter, we don’t own Facebook so we will always be controlled by the decisions made by those corporate entities whose bottom line is the bottom line.
The decentralizing of media power has enabled a great diversity of stories to be told… Do you think that social media has liberated the narrative from America Whiteness control? I noticed a great retweet from you today about the racism of algorithms..
There is something about digital spaces that are a mix of wild intimacy and anonymity that kick off conversations that aren’t happening in real life. I think that those were happening created a fertile place when important things happened and needed a formed community that trust each other to get the story out.
To your question… No, I don’t think it has. I think Americans in particular are often blind to the control they have over their media. We don’t own Twitter, we don’t own Facebook so we will always be controlled by the decisions made by those corporate entities whose bottom line is the bottom line.
In America now you see what I call the white power clap back — resistance from corners of power and supported by xenophobia and bigotry cosigned by Trump and others, is shutting down the support growing for Black Lives Matter.
We can speak when they choose to ask — but only if the video is appalling, or if the subject looks like us. Black Twitter is powerful in lots of ways, but still relies on power to let it speak.
I think the division is great for TV ratings, great for driving online traffic — why not let the trolls battle it out, everybody is watching like a fight outside after school. But it’s terrible for the country — so the change can only get so radical before the media shifts its focus, or before they change the algorithms. The algorithm shit is crazy — especially when smart machines and AI are increasing.
I think maybe it’s getting to the point where we are not shaped by the channels so much as we ARE the channels that we travel in.
I wonder how people’s experience of the world is being shaped by whatever social channels they are on.
There have been lots of things that have been removed from Facebook or buried by the algorithm—Jesse Williams BET speech for example.
We are all shaped by the channels we travel in — even more now in the digital age when we are divided into audiences and segregated in information cages. I ask lots of people about their timeline — it’s a reflection of the points of view you allow around you. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t blocked someone over a post or status that supported racism or sexism. That means over time we are increasingly in our own bubbles, listening only to people we can agree with.
It’s tough though, because many of these issues are intensely personal. If someone got shot by the police and I’ve just watched the video, I really don’t care about your post about respecting the cops and black on black crime. You posting that in that moment tells me something you may not tell me to my face, something that we both know could ruin our relationship.
I think maybe it’s getting to the point where we are not shaped by the channels so much as we are the channels that we travel in.
Now we are a monster called the comments section.
An interesting thought. Do you think that perhaps it’s making us more, I don’t know if this is the right word, but, more honest? I feel like racism and sexism is more overt these days – people are proud to be racists.
So it is exposing something that has been hidden, sure. I think we are also developing language and symbolism to more correctly describe a wide range of differing positions. The trouble with guessing is we can’t test if we would still be like this off the grid because that life doesn’t exist. We have only this way forward.
Your question is more nuanced though. Are we real online or are we real in person — when people present two ways which is real? Hmmmm, it’s like chicken and egg. Before there were no online trolls, but there was lynching in the street. People saw the bodies swing and still said racism was ok with them.
Now we are a monster called the comments section, but you can get fired for being a racist or a homophobe. The honesty, right now in America, feels like a blister called slavery popped 350 years too late. If we make it through I think we can evolve. But I’ve never seen it this bad.
I went to a sand castle competition today. Sand castles, right. Where’s the room for racism? But one castle was a pallet with a cop’s head and an eggplant — what the hell is that? It’s like you can’t get away from it. And the animosity is palpable.
Until we elevate the debate above black and white to right and wrong I fear we may battle on for some years still.
The Black Lives Matter movement seems so massive – and a lot of that is through online engagement. I wonder whether we’re either on the verge of Great Change or whether we’re in fact just repeating an old cycle.
I don’t know but I hope like god we evolve this time. I hope the online tools and dialogue will help people who could see, see.
It feels very dangerous here in terms of race relations, but in just a few years, minorities will be the majority. Nothing will stop that: this year the babies born are already majority minority. I think what we’re seeing now is the fight over that power shift.
After the shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the mainstream narrative has turned against BLM. Several Blue Lives Matter laws have been passed at the state level. People are very afraid, and Trump is fanning that. Even if Hilary gets elected, that element is not likely to go silently into the good night.
The narrative battle goes back and forth… until we elevate the debate above black and white to right and wrong I fear we may battle on for some years still.
Thinking about your own interactions online, do you think much about how you present yourself, on Facebook, or Twitter, or your blog etc?
I try to be authentically myself, and at the same time mindful that anyone I know might see anything I write.
Yes, because I try to make sure that no matter where you meet me — online, blog, Twitter, or at work or chilling — you will meet the same me. I want to be free to say what I want, but i’m mindful as a professor, anything I say could have an impact on my career and life.
I try to be authentically myself, and at the same time mindful that anyone I know might see anything I write. I’ve had to think a lot about that this year. My institution was in the news for a story about racism at work and I had to be very very careful about what I wrote. I must admit, it caused me a lot of stress to walk that fine line, and I found myself self censoring — not writing about what was happening because I was worried about my job.
Have you considered an anonymous presence online?
I haven’t because like I said, integrity across my communication is just a thing I have. Also, the time will come when I will tell that story — I just have to wait until I have the right channel.
Have you experienced much online harassment?
No, not much. I guess I keep my gates well guarded. I got trolled for a while last summer on my blog but nothing frightening or overly prolonged. I have unfriended some politically backward “friends” this year.
You think troll comments won’t bother you, but I’m still a person. One thing it taught me is that some people really do believe in the hatred they hold.
Do you try to reason with people, eg. the politically backward friends, or do you just let it go?
I reason — that’s a small thing I can do to try to further the cause. This is kinda random, but I’m a transracial adoptee — that means I am black and my whole family is white. I’m used to having to help people get it.
I think that is a part of my purpose — to be the translator. But some people are uninterested in understanding.
I’m curious as to whether it is possible to reason with individuals, especially in online forums. For some, it seems to work. For others, it ends up in name-calling and worse.
Sometimes people want more information, but sometimes not. I do think you never know who is reading, so that conversation is about more than convincing that person, there may be other readers lurking. Besides, it is like going to the gym — it forces you to keep your facts fresh and your negotiating skills on.
I was once on a Twitter thread and this girl wrote that we were getting through and she had this whole transformation. The next day she was back trolling someone else — I think it turned out to be a grown man acting like a girl.
But back to your question, if we give up trying to convince them then the battle is lost. I think that’s why I love teaching.
I was going to ask, is that why you got into communications and teaching, because of this purpose you have identified?
Yes, I have been very interested in telling stories since I was a kid. Of course, the story I know the most is my own and as time has gone on I increasingly feel like it is a story worth telling.
I also love media!
One of the images you sent me, the doll, can you tell me a bit about it?
The doll is from a store in New Orleans that sells voodoo dolls. I was shocked when I walked in and saw literally buckets of blackface dolls. When I asked someone what’s up with the racist dolls they said oh, they’re voodoo dolls, as if that made it all okay.
It made me realize how there are racist and racialized images and objects all around, sometimes where you least expect it.
Be part of the project!
Share your experiences with us – we’re always looking for more people to talk to about who they are online. There is no story too big or too small!