2019 Kilgour Lecture by Meredith D. Clark

2019 Kilgour Lecture by Meredith D. Clark


well good morning everyone oh you all
do this so much better than my class my class looks at me when I talk to them that way I cannot stress how much of an honor it is to be back at UNC Chapel Hill I give my colleagues at UVA a hard time about being the best public ivy in the land I am excited to be here to give this talk to stand before the faculty members, who
mentored me who helped me along in my research process, who led me to this very
moment before I get started with that talk though being the first black woman
to do the Kilgour lecture is an awesome responsibility I do want to dedicate
this talk to Maya Little because I have been watching the events unfolding as an alumna I’ve been watching the events unfolding and I was just so struck by
how one black woman in particular took action to do something that I did not do while I was here in my time that so many people did not bother to do while they
were here at UNC but instead of walking past the statue every single day and
just assuming that it was going to remain a part of the landscape she took
action and so this talk is for Maya Alright so if the news media headlines are
to be believed, the fate of our republic rested squarely in the hands of Alabama
voters on the second Tuesday in December of 2017. After sitting Alabama Senator
Jeff Sessions was appointed and confirmed as US Attorney General, his
Senate seat was in play for the first time in 25 years. The race was
characterized by coverage of events real and imagined that seemed to come
directly from a television script. The GOP candidate accused of sexual
misconduct against a teenager 40 years earlier. One year one month and 11 days
after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the popular vote yet lost
the presidential election progressives were looking to Alabama to
send a message to Washington and to the rest of the country about their resolve. As with every election night when the polls closed at 7:00 p.m. news coverage
kicked into high gear breaking down why despite scandal and the influence of
an increasingly popular president and hinting that either candidate could win Precinct results were reported on
the hour, every hour, and in smaller increments where time permitted. Having
learned from the presidential election that anything is possible in a post-Obama era, millions of Americans stayed up through the night, watching to see how
it would all turn out. I went to bed. I went to bed knowing that for all of the
progressive fire and conservative ire that the presidential election had
wrought in Alabama, if there were one group of voters who could be counted on
to carry their interests and with them the interest of untold scores of
disempowered groups into the voting booth it would be Black women. And Black women delivered. The next day, Twitter was alight with the #BlackWomen as millions of users talked about the role they played in the Alabama Senate race. How 98 percent of Black women in the Black Belt state had turned out at the
polls for Doug Jones and voted to protect the interests of their
communities. Now to the interest of the casual Twitter user, the conversation
probably seemed pretty simple. Black women, part of a reliable Democratic
voting bloc, had come out to do what they’d always done – vote in our own
interests and thus in the interest of those on the margins. But beyond that
hashtag that trended on the day roiled a series of conversations and debates about the roles that Black women play in maintaining civil society. Leslie McFayden, an activist and creator of the Ferguson Response Tumblr, may have said
it best: when Black women went to the polls for Doug Jones, they didn’t do it
“save” the nation. They did it to save themselves. For many Black women and for
people who study Black women through a Black feminist lens, the outcome was
inevitable. As Patricia Hill Collins theorized nearly 30 years ago in her
seminal work on black feminists thought the collective standpoint of black
women’s knowledge and advocacy can be reliably called upon to work in the
interest of social justice not only for members of our own group but for others
disenfranchised by normative systems of oppression including the law, economic
policy, and media practices. As the #BlackWomen trended on December
13th 2017 it became a digital artifact that reflected the invisible influence
of Black Twitter’s community connections and networked communicative practices
that have influenced social media discourse over the last five to ten
years. The use of a hashtag to shout out Black women for protecting our own
interests in this race and in the 2016 presidential race is technocultural
acknowledgement of the role of Black Twitter as an amorphous socially
constructed site of resistance discourse Black Twitter is one space in which
historically disenfranchised people are developing our own set of cultural
values and filters for culturally competent reporting and information
gathering and dissemination that may be applied to fulfill the charge of media
social responsibility for contributing to an informed and engaged citizenry. I would go so far as to say that centering these emergent values would help any
creator of information systems contend with the perennial issues of dominance
and subjugation by centering the perspectives of the vulnerable in their
designs. While my work focuses on contemporary digital counter narratives
it’s critical to note that these practices are nothing new. Zora Neale
Hurston writing about the signifying tradition of Black folks in her 1934
essay, “Characteristics of Negro Expression” and I maintain the language, links the common understanding between the hushed
whispers and knowing looks exchanged in physical black enclaves such as the
beauty in the barber shop sorority meetings and of course in our own homes
as well as in digital enclaves the comment section of the black blogosphere
and our digitized legacy publications like ebony and jet and on social media
platforms including Facebook, and my preferred site of inquiry, Twitter. “Every phase of Negro life is highly dramatized,” she wrote, and I have to wonder if
prophetically she could see how her 21st century kin resisted over-policing of
Black bodies by recasting nosy women as “Barbecue Becky” and “Permit Patty,” pithy, if problematic nicknames for those who believe that calling the police
is standard procedure when one encounters black people simply living
their lives especially when Black and Hispanic folks are 50% more likely to be
subjected to non-lethal use of force according to Roland Fryer’s 2017
empirical analysis of such encounters. “No matter how joyful or how sad the case,
there is sufficient poise for drama,” Hurston wrote. “Everything is acted out…
there is an impromptu ceremony always ready for every hour of life.
No little moment passes unadorned.” The drama that Hurston refers to is woven of vocal inflection, Black orality, expressive physicality, and it draws on
shared experiences. It’s gone by a number of names in days past at its most basic
level it’s the process of signifying using coded, colorful language to render
the oppressor powerless to draw on definitions from Henry Louis Gates Jr.
and the late folklorist Roger Abrahams. But within Twitter, where semiotic expressions of Black culture meet the
technological affordances of a social networking platform and the
appetite of an audience that is always on, this drama yields what I call digital
counternarratives interactive, multi-layered, transmutable texts that
build on the raw materials of personal experience and culturally resonant
symbols to allow a variety of online collaborators to construct intricate
cohesive social stories that run contradictory to the dominant frames of
black life encountered in mainstream media. I take particular interest in the
ones that arise out of black woman’s narrative theorizing, a sense making
process that begins with our recognition of how certain social factors namely
race, class, ability and access, and gender shape our social lived experiences. We process these observations sharing them with others within our community to make
sense of their commonalities and render them as illustrative tales that are
legendary within our own communities and at least legible to members of
out-groups. The affordances of the digital and
ability to move beyond words and through the use of sound and visual images and
affect in order to create cohesive narrative structures is
critical to making the testimonies of black women’s liberation work
translatable and accessible to wider audiences even if it remains somewhat
unpalatable. Digital counter narratives render the promise of the online news
commons that media gatekeepers sought to create through online commenting into
something that actually works by providing perspectives that are
otherwise shut out of public discourse. The creation of digital counternarratives betrays the benevolent belief that any one person, platform or
profession can provide a voice for the voiceless. Digital counternarratives
amplified the din of marginalized voices that are often hushed because they in
tone with regional dialects or speech patterns or use black vernacular English
or dwell in spaces where few gatekeepers bother to invest in
spending time to understand the norms that affect the lingua franca of
marginalized communities. They exist as hashtags and catchphrases cultural signifiers that complicate multiple embedded meanings through an amalgamation of personal and shared experiences references to traditions and
entertainment and embodied knowledge but they are also longer texts captured
through multiple tweet threads, blogs, memes, web videos and banal conversations
that unfold on social networking platforms and in digital media spaces
everyday. For example, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is a three word digital
counternarrative that performs several functions from its inception as part of
a love letter to grieving Black communities for whom justice in the face
of extrajudicial racially motivated violence is routinely denied to its
adaptation as a form of economic political and social critique that
forces civic actors to consider how their beliefs behaviors and policies are
built on an unfortunate racial binary that espouses whiteness as normative and
black existence as deviant. Black Lives Matter is just one counternarrative created by black women that compounds the lenses of black feminist thought and
intersectional inquiry into a prism through which the complexities of our
experiences can be translated to combat tired tropes about black women and also
dangerous beliefs about black men and mythology about black communities. Digital counternarratives come in a variety of media including print in the
form of those pithy hashtags and in first person tweeted testimonies to also
mobile phone video eyewitnessing They work through a series of rhetorical and logistical moves including visual juxtaposition and the indulgence of
counterfactual scenarios that force factors of race gender and power into
focus. They rely on a sense of temporality
layers of text, image and imagery, evocative language, reproducibility
invocation, public imagination, shared experience, cultural commonality, and in
particular the fact that they are not controlled by governing figures such as
The Associated Press in-house style guides or newsroom norms. They do not
conform to polite conventions. If you are a racist, a person who seeks to benefit
from the power dynamics of heteropatriarchal white supremacy, Black
Twitter will call you by your name. We will call the belief system that you
profess or belie with your own mouth and the actions that proceed from it,
racist. Our ability to use the same communicative tools that allow crowds of
people to connect with one another in the formation in the Information Age to
demand truth from power is essential to the survival of truth when it comes
under fire from forces of power. In the last year when dog-whistle politics
characterized sensational stories and headlines, Black Twitter invoked its own
trademark humor to cope with racial battle fatigue
as news outlets stumbled over every possible combination of words to avoid
labeling an action or statement as “racist”. A shooting was “racially motivated.” The rhetoric from a sitting president and a senate leader were “racially tinged.” Until finally The Associated Press gave its blessing for journalists to call
racism by its name in the latest update to its annual AP Stylebook widely known
as the journalists bible. Black Twitter called those names long before the AP
said it was okay to do so. The social media users whose conversations and
perspectives are at the center of my work understand why we cannot wait for
mainstream media to decide it would rather tell the truth then endure the
threat of lawsuits. They recognize that the media’s ideological role in shaping our definition of race and the imagery that it carries
as Stuart Hall wrote. We live, as he said, “the problem of race,” as constructed by
the media. That when verbal slights against us by sitting politicians draw
on structural inequalities and have the ability to contribute to policies that
impact our communities negatively and when the media failed to confront them,
we recognize that they become complicit in capitalistic white supremacy choosing
the fear of legal repercussions that could lead to lower profit margins in
order to offending the powerful while simultaneously assisting them in
subjugating the other through the social construction of news. And so, we speak. Building upon black storytelling traditions, the obligation of black
intellectuals connected by a web of connective tools our shared experiences
and our common cultural beliefs is to tell the truth as we see them as
mediated by race to create digital counternarratives of how structural
forces of power work in our everyday lives I’m particularly interested in this work
as it exists among black women whom I’ve been studying in one way or another
since I was a child. We’re gonna take you back a moment here so I grew up as a
preacher’s kid and our house was always full of people if we weren’t at church, we
were at home with the people from church those church folks over the years became
my fictive kin. People came over for Sunday dinner. After evening service they
came over for ice cream and they stayed late into the summer nights. They’d drop
by while we were sick and they came by to cheer for their favorite teams during
our annual Super Bowl party. They are the people that I still call to this very
day when my mother, recently widowed, still fairly independent, forgets to turn
on her cell phone and cannot be reached my favorite part though about the visits
to our home were probably listening to the conversations that took place around
the kitchen table. They’re reminiscent of Jada Pinkett Smith’s
Facebook red table talks, but they were missing that multi-generational approach
because children in my mother’s house were to be seen and not heard. The women
in my community in this network would gather to talk about their lives
creating colorful narratives of their lived experiences and theorizing about mastery of the challenges set
before them. These challenges of the workplace and the home. As a college
student I sought to recreate these dynamics, unaware at the time, that I was
participating in an oral tradition as long and as storied as the history of
the people I claimed. This process of narrative theorizing is an integral component in the production of black feminist thought which as I referenced Patricia Hill Collins earlier,
and as I earlier reference Patricia Hill Collins
explained in her 1991 canonical volume on the subject, it has six
characteristics I don’t assume that everyone is familiar
with black feminist thoughts so I’m going to take a point of privilege to explain
them it first positions black women in the United States as members of an
oppressed group it recognizes that while there is no one singular black woman’s
experience, our collective experiences offer a standpoint for engaging and
examining power relations from the perspectives of a subjugated group it centers the alternative practices and bodies of situated knowledge that we
have developed to foster group empowerment it values the contributions
of black women intellectuals and demands that we must be of diverse ages, social
classes, educational backgrounds occupations and the like. it demands that
we ask the right questions and investigate multiple dimensions of black
women standpoints with and for african-american women it is dynamic and
it adapts to complement the roles that black women find themselves in in
society as those roles continue to change. it says that our knowledge our
sites of inquiry and our sites of development
must evolve as well black feminist thought must go into new places it must
go where black women are and where we hope to be and it recognizes that the
strength and value imbued and sense of community must force us to maintain
connections to social justice projects in the spaces where black women gathered
be they kitchen tables, the workplace, sorority meetings, queer reading groups,
or the like, our knowledge production flows without interruption of having to
contextualize it within the white racial frame the so called “view from nowhere”
that Joe Feagin describes as the invisibility of
everyday white supremacy, a schema combining beliefs, cognition, affect and
actions that affirm and uplift whites while devaluing or negating or erasing
blacks or others through a series of frames and subframes. This identity is
often considered as default by white individuals who see themselves and the
way they move through the world simply as things are instead of the outcome of
a complex set of historically defined power relations. This conversation and
its flows uninterrupted connected by black women stories is also true and
also unfolding on Twitter. In the mid-2000s it became the platform of
choice for the black social media user who outpaced every other social group on
the networking site. In 2009 and 2010 it became the site of inquiry for
journalists who wanted to know a little bit more about what black people were
doing on the Internet. Within six years of the platform’s
development, Twitter would play a critical role in broadcasting black
woman’s discourse to the mainstream through conversations about the hyper
sexualization of teenage girls that undergird contemporary calls to mute R
Kelly the coining of the term misogynoir which recognizes the intersecting
oppressions that black women specifically queer black women face
along lines of race and gender and the multivalent political
concerns that drive our voting behavior black twitter structure and it’s process
of black digital resistance offer an explanation for the process of
understanding how black women are using our time-honored oral traditions and
digital technologies to engage in racial uplift reclaim our image from mass media
depictions of black womanhood and draft intricate counternarratives that if the principles that shape them were to be adapted by other creators could allow us
to create more equitable representation in media now I came to the problem of
seeing black women’s digital discourse as more than online chatter shortly
before I began my doctoral education here in 2010 I was finishing my last
days at the Tallahassee Democrat and I see one of my old co-workers in the
audience and I came across a story from Slate Magazine and the headline on the
story read How Black People Used Twitter my first job in the news industry was as
a copy editor and so what I know about headlines is that headlines are designed
to tell the story even if a person doesn’t read it what’s dangerous about a
headline that says how black people use Twitter is that it can convey to a
person who isn’t reading carefully or doesn’t dig beyond the sources used for
the story that this is how all black people use Twitter the story counted
only black media elites among its sources and focused on banal
conversations about sexuality and fun and totally missed the narratives that I
saw unfolding every day about how news and policy were impacting black lives I was concerned about these messages being communicated about black digital
discourse and so I stuck this docket this story rather in my back pocket and
it became a text that I archived for use in courses about the art of ethnography
and ethnography in black communities drawing on the work of Mary Patillo-McCoy
and John L. Johnson to consider class striations in public discourse and also
using Eric Lassiter’s work on collaborative ethnography to preserve my
participants’ sense of agency and to inform my data collection practices Since 2013 I have conducted in-depth interviews with about a hundred
people around their experiences building community, producing shared knowledge, and
engaging in collective action while advocating for black communities on
Twitter. I also used and continue to use participant observation to engage in
black Twitter’s online discourses applying textual analysis to a series of
news media texts which I reconstruct along with my observations and interview
data to make sense of the social construction of reality inside black
online communities with respect to how our communities use, develop, and
disseminate news and information online I first developed a sense of black
Twitter structure and function during its nascent years specifically 2009
through 2014 now this consists of three levels of
community connection including personal communities, neighborhoods or thematic
nodes, and the meta network that unites the two. the idea of personal communities
is a concept advanced by Barry Wellman who holds that our online communities
are reflective of our offline realities specifically the social ties and values
that govern our relationships with people with whom we choose to regularly
interact in physical spaces my initial participants told me that
they join Twitter because their friends were there there was a certain group of
them who told me in fact that they joined Twitter because they didn’t want
to use office IM to gossip about their co-workers Twitter provided another
channel for socialization including information gathering and
sharing and it also met their affective needs for companionship as they disclose
information about the detail of their offline lives two of them told me it was
a space for talk about their divorces because their
family members were on Facebook and they didn’t want to be surveilled once
Twitter conversations between friends and friend groups began to overlap
according to interest, engagement about dialogue, about specific topics and
frequency of use of the platform led to the development of what I call thematic nodes and what one of my participants called neighborhoods, a much
better term Rather than ad-hoc publics that form for a short time around a
single issue, Black Twitter’s neighborhoods are defined by topics of
interest and their related terminology norms and values they differ in that
their participants or residents recognize a sense of community structure
built around a topic and actively identify as members of that community these relationships are stronger than the weak social ties and bonds that are
reified through discourse, collective action, and engagement one of my
participants told me that one of her neighborhoods was Blackademia. She said if you’re black and in a ph.d program you’re going to get followed by me I have a lot of academics who follow me as well I didn’t start out on Twitter
thinking that’s what I was going to use it for I don’t think any of us did I think more academics started joining and they started seeing me retweet and they
retweeted me and we interacted Five years after that conversation, the
development of hashtagged conversations #TrynaGrad and #CiteASista flagged
the digital counternarratives unfolding within the boundaries of this
neighborhood where black students in graduate programs, recent graduates and
members of the academy gather to process our experiences in higher
education. my own handle #TenureTrackHustle is another example in 2018 it was
adapted by Kishonna Grey and Reshawna Chapple for an article about the
experiences of first-generation and low-income women of color in the academy each regular user of Twitter may identify as a resident of several
neighborhoods they’re the spaces that we turn to as we maintain the
construction of our shared social identities they’re the topics of
interest that unite us on the platform even when we are divided by generation, geography, and a host of other factors Now incidentally I found it very interesting
that Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and CEO, recently rolled out a plan to
reorganize Twitter’s algorithm in order to shift users away from people they
follow and toward topics they like Give me a call Jack when an incendiary event
occurs however and this is something that can range from a racist or
homophobic or transphobic remark from a well-known entertainer or politician the
broadcast of a popular television show or the caught on tape assault of a young
black woman by a police officer these neighborhoods and the personal
communities that are comprised within them begin to interact, forming black
Twitter’s meta network the meta network is what most people particularly those outside of black Twitter are referring to when they talk about Black Twitter it’s the coalescence of online interaction replete with enough
discursive power to impact Twitter’s trending topics algorithm, generating
enough online interest to allow information to spread from neighborhoods
that have discussed the topic for years to personal communities that are being
newly enlightened about the backstory of particular issues because of those
conversations the most salient and sustained example of the meta network and its power to use intertextual elements to steer discourse is of course
the Black Lives Matter movement Brooke, one of my participants in my research on the Black Lives Matter movement, described how connection to others provided
support while dealing with collective grief in the wake of two years worth of
news reports about police assaults on Black Americans. In the midst of this
despair, she said, there was a silver lining of community. It was different to
experience it with this community even though we weren’t in the same space. Other participants spoke about how they use the BLM hashtag and ones that bore
the name of slain victims to find protests in
local areas after being forced to share their disappointment behind closed doors
in the workplace, saying that Twitter provided the only comfort they could
find their recognition and use of shared network connections on the platform are a
demonstration of black digital resistance, the strategic process of
amplifying and elevating a multiplicity of black voices in online discourse
while performing the intellectual and emotional labor of being black online the process I identify happens in six stages: identification where people show
up as black and perform their race out online wherein being black online you
could be anyone and Lisa Nakamura talks about the issue of racial tourism self selecting into conversations participation by using a specific
hashtag or phrase affirmation by speaking directly to one another or
engaging in other direct ways be these retweets or quote tweets reaffirmation and taking these online conversations to offline spaces and the
example that I use is that when I moved to Charlottesville on August 13th 2017 I had never seen so many Black Lives Matter signs in my life and finally
vindication, the result of black Twitter’s conversations being translated
into some measurable action whether that’s the loss of Paula Deen’s
endorsements or the loss of a book contract for Juror B37 looking to profit
off of the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial stopping a damaging show
like sorority sisters or indeed muting R Kelly I first traced this process in
2013 following George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of Trayvon
Martin when user Genie Lauren created an online petition to block a book
deal for the juror in the case. She said, I felt weird about calling it online
activism It was cathartic for me because I felt
like we did something positive. We could affect change. Zimmerman wasn’t found guilty, Trayvon was still dead but we stopped the book when people call it online activism I don’t want to reject that but at the same time there were so many more bigger issues than a book to put it in the same
category, to call myself an online activist I don’t feel like I’m saying
anything that anyone else couldn’t do we We stopped the book. We did act. We did
something that isn’t changing the world it’s not changing a big institutional
failure but we did stop that book I couldn’t have done it without those
people engaging me and amplifying my voice black twitter is responsible for
that black women on Twitter working through their networks of personal
communities and developing black digital enclaves hidden in plain sight have
engaged in these digital resistance practices to interrogate mainstream
media depictions of black womanhood in a number of ways Dayna Chatman detailed one in her 2016 exploration of the online conversation
around Scandal, the first prime-time television show in nearly 40 years to
have a black woman as its lead character Chatman drew attention to the way black
women engaged in dialogue about the politics of respectability the burden of
representation and the rejection of tired tropes about black womanhood and
black sexuality creating for themselves an online forum where black female
representation was made and remade echoing Stuart Hall’s observation about
black popular culture that it is a dynamic site where identities are always
contested similar conversations surface again and again. Examples include
the gaps where mainstream media demonstrate they can’t tell two black
women apart denigrate our culture our appearance and call it cultural
criticism or attempt to erase the work of black women who have advocated
for our communities for years One example of this erasure is a lack of the
credit paid to digital interlocutors who highlighted
the hyper-sexualization and exploitation of black girls in 2014 during a
coordinated conversation #FastTailGirls. Now I’ll stop
here just to make sure that we are all on board with the southern-isms. Being fast tailed means that you are sexually advanced sexually mature it’s something
that black mamas and Grandmama and auntie’s used to keep black girls from
performing any sort of form of sexuality as a protective mechanism Jamie Nisbett Golden and Mikki Kendall creators of the site Hood Feminism used
the conversation to talk through the many ways black women and girls are
blamed for our own trauma. When I first decided to do it, Fast Tail Girls, Mikki Kendall said, we were having one of those what should girls do
conversation and I thought we should talk about the idea that girls should do
whatever to her earn respect we have generations of women who have been victimized forty to sixty percent of black women before they reach 18, she
said, will be the subject of an unwanted sexual encounter we have to start
talking about what that means I now know that if you get on Twitter and you give
people permission to speak with the hashtag, they will unclench. The wells of
their souls will pour out I have seen people confess their lives online publicly. The Fast Tail Girls conversation highlighted how the
criminal behavior of known predators like R&B star R Kelly is dismissed and
discounted by placing the onus on black girls the conversation served as a space
for self disclosure and healing for a number of its participants and the
hashtag remains in use as a signifier of the complicated and often cold realities
of being seen as a hyper sexual being before you are physically mentally or
emotionally mature its resurfaced most recently with the “Surviving R. Kelly”
documentary that was produced by dream hampton another example of these digital counter narratives is the criminalization of
black women and girls when we are the victims of public, mediated, and/or state
violence. The hashtag #SayHerName, for instance developed by Kimberly Crenshaw, who is best known for her work on critical race theory and coining the
term intersectionality the lens for interpreting experiences defined by
oppression that fall along lines of race gender and class was created by the work
of the African-American Policy Forum and designed as a narrative device
used to draw attention to the erasure of black women who were also victims of
state violence during the Black Lives Matter movement As a report from the
Forum states: Our goal is not to offer a comprehensive catalogue of police
violence against black women indeed it would be impossible to do so as there is
currently no accurate data collection on police killings nationwide no readily
available database compiling a complete list of black women’s lives lost at the
hands of police and no data collection on sexual or other forms of gender and
sexuality based police violence moreover the media’s exclusive focus on
police violence against black men makes finding information about black women of
all gender identities and sexualities much more difficult given these
limitations our goal is simply to illustrate the reality that black women
are killed and violated by police with alarming regularity equally important,
our hope is to call attention to all the ways in which this reality is a race
from our demonstrations our discourse and our demands to broaden our vision of
social justice all of that in three words Say Her Name when the women of
black Twitter use hashtags like #SayHerName or tell stories of black trans
women whose lives and deaths would otherwise go unreported or reported in ways that disrespect their personhood they are linking back to
centuries-old legacies of mainstream media’s misrepresentations and
inaccuracies regarding black life in the United States In 1827, Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm published the following opening
salvo in Freedom’s Journal, the first newspaper owned and operated by free black men in the United States The peculiarities of this journal renders it
important that we should advertise to the world our motives by which we are
actuated, and the objects which we contemplate. We wish to plead our own
cause. Too long have others spoken for us Too long has the public been deceived by
misrepresentation in things which concern us dearly, though in the
estimation of some mere trifles for though there are many in society who
exercised towards us benevolent feelings still with sorrow we confess it there are others who make it their business to enlarge upon us the least trifle, which
tends to discredit any person of color and pronounce anathemas and denounce
our whole body for the misconduct of this guilty one more than 130 years
later as the nation’s urban centers smoldered in the wake of riots towards
the end of the civil rights movement the impact of these misrepresentations were again measured by the Kerner Commission, an 11-member task force called together
by President Lyndon B. Johnson to answer three questions about how the country
fell into a series of civil disorders they were charged with answering these
three questions: what happened? why did it happened? what can be done to stop it
from happening again? the Commission offered several chapters of advice for improvements ranging from things for federal government to local law
enforcement to mainstream mass media to improve the material conditions and
public sense of social reality around black communities. The Commission warned
that the country was moving toward becoming two Americas, one black and one white noting that a lack of meaningful integration and inclusion
in mainstream media newsrooms contributed to the problems of inadequate and inaccurate coverage of black communities I can attest that this
is true for my own hometown paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, which in 2004
ran a mea culpa about its coverage of local demonstrations, a 22-word statement
to address a critical failure in editorial judgment and political will. It has come to the editors attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the
civil rights movement. We regret the omission. Ten years after the Kerner
report, in 1978, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, now known as the
American Society of News Editors and as of August, News Leaders of America, began to take an annual demographic census of the country’s newspaper newsrooms,
setting a goal of achieving racial parity with the communities these papers
served by the year 2000 that goal was moved to 2025 in 1998 when it became
apparent that the industry was nowhere near making its target. And as I am currently working on this project I can tell you that the goal posts are moving
yet again As of 18-excuse me, as of 2018 all people of color make up only
13% of the newsroom industry as accounted for by the survey all people of color not just black people not just East Asians, South Asians,
not just Latinx folks. All people of color A similar survey conducted by RTDNA finds that people of color make up 24% of the TV news industry and 11% of
journalists in radio. Operating within the confines of these mass media ecologies whose enduring values were shaped in eras when black people had not
been afforded the equal protection of constitutional law and working out of
news outlets that gained traction in the golden era of print when the Kerner
commission rightly acknowledged the discrepancies created
through a lack of meaningful newsroom inclusion the absence of black voices in
the newsroom has been linked to an over-representation of deviant existence
and behavior within black communities In a dangerous distortion of our families a
report released by Color of Change in 2018 Travis Dixon, a professor at the
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that black families represent 59%
of the poor in news and opinion media but make up just 27 percent of the poor
in published reports While white families represent 17% of the poor in news and opinion media but make up 66% of the poor in published reports and 37% of those represented as criminal in news in opinion media are black family
members although black family members constitute only 26 percent of family
members arrested for criminal activity according to crime reports, while 28% of those represented as criminal are white family members though white family members
constitute 77 percent of those arrested for criminal activity, according to crime
reports. As we increasingly critique the role of mainstream mass media and its
progeny, specialized digital media, we must also challenge the existing
approaches that have failed to adequately serve diverse populations Herbert Gans, the German sociologist whose 1979 report, Deciding What’s News,
made critique in that work and updated it again in 2011, but without the benefit
of a critique informed by critical race theory, Black Feminist Thought, or
emergent theories of technoculture. It’s time for an update. Each time black
social media users engage in the process of black digital resistance our discourse creates a series of distinct counternarratives to challenge the
depictions of mainstream media, mainstream media’s depictions of black
life I draw an observation and critical interpretation of these practices to
call for revisiting news media and other information system approaches by
centering such work around black feminist principles
shaped in these faces To revisit Patricia Hill Collins’ framework one more time I consider this how Black Feminist
Thought fosters fundamental paradigmatic shift and how we think about unjust power relations race, class, gender, sexuality,
nation, individual and collective agency black feminist thought is concerned with
social relations of dominance and resistance and thus I contend that
vulnerability must be the locus for the development of a critical cultural
approach to news gathering, filtering and dissemination that enhances our
understanding of what journalism and news media in particular can be and what
purpose information systems can serve for diverse audiences in the digital age black woman’s digital counternarratives are not just compelling objects of study
for media sociology or cultural critique I privilege black women in my work and
encourage others to do the same because our existence is predicated on the very
vulnerabilities that historically journalism as an act of
social responsibility and more recently humanistic commitments to open access
and information systems were designed to addressed When we recall that black women
are women and that black women are disabled women, immigrant women, trans
women, and poor women we realize that we exist at every point of human
vulnerability that can be called by name we will better understand how and why
the situated knowledge of black women holds significant capacity for moving
the margin to the center thus improving conditions of access for all Our perspectives are critical tools in maximizing the potential of information
for social good allowing creative workers to design inclusive, responsive and effective systems for the public Although it was a contentious debate in
my classroom this term I agree with and paraphrase Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza when she says that when black women get free, everyone will be free. I offer that black women particularly within black Twitter have
and continue to create networks within ecologies within our network that show
how vulnerable groups can reclaim their representation in news and entertainment
media and in information systems How we can create digital multiperspectival counternarratives that more accurately reflect the reality of the lived experiences of the vulnerable Now don’t get it twisted I am not saying that
black women will save us all We are not mammy figures nor are we people for whom intellectual capacity is rendered to the public sphere that’s not our job and frankly we’re still waiting to be properly compensated for centuries of
unpaid labor To address back to Brittney Cooper’s call for black women scholars to advance the work of black feminist theorists in the pre and early internet
eras into the digital age I joined this work in conversation with academics including Moya Bailey, Sarah J. Jackson, Safiya Noble, and unaffiliated
intellectuals including I’Nasah Crockett, Shafiqua Hudson, and Trudy among others and Feminista Jones among others and argue that the digital
discursive practices of black twitter’s actors across a series of high-profile
incidents and everyday banal conversations represent strategic and
negotiation of access, technological affordances, media literacy and cultural competency in the creation of black counternarratives. I take on Cooper’s
question, shifting it from the historical and literary origins when she
asks: What for instance is a black feminist account of freedom? What is a
black feminist account of justice? What is a black feminist account of black
life? Specifically I ask this audience What can we learn from the examples of
black women’s digital counternarratives to reflect, rebuild, and reimagine both our informal and formal approaches to media as a tool for constructing shared social realities when we place these questions
at the center of our inquiry, our analyses and our praxis, I believe that we will find what it means to maximize the potential of information for social good thank you

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

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