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January 11, 2017

[liveblog][bkc] Kishonna Gray

Berkman

Kishonna Gray [#KishonnaGray] is giving a Berkman-Klein [#BKCHarvard] Tuesday lunch talk . She’s an ass’t prof and ML King Scholar at MIT as well as being a fellow at BKC and the author of Race, Gender and Deviance in Xbox Live. She’s going to talk about a framework, Black Digital Feminism.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

She begins by saying, “I’ve been at a cross roads, personally and intellectually” over the Trump election, the death of black civilians at the hand of police, and the gaming controversies, including gamergate. How did we get to this point? And what point are we at? “What matters most in this moment?” She’s going to talk about the framework that helps her make sense of some of these things.

Imagine we’re celebrating the 50th birthday of the Berkman Klein Center (in 305 yrs or so)? What are we celebrating? The end of online harassment? The dismantling of heteronormative, white supremacy hierarchy? Are we telling survivor narratives?

She was moved by an article the day after the election, titled “Black women were the only ones who tried to save the world Tuesday night,” by Charles D. Ellison. She laughed at first, and retweeted it. She was “overwhelmed by the response of people who didn’t think black women have the capacity to do anything except make babies and collect welfare checks.” She recalled many women, including Sojourner Truth who spoke an important truth to a growing sense in the feminist movement that it was fundamentally a white movement. The norms are so common and hidden that when we notice them we ask how the women broke through the barriers rather than asking why the barriers were there in the first place. It’s as if these women are superhuman. But we need to ask why are there barriers in the first place? [This is a beautifully composed talk. I’m sorry to be butchering it so badly. It will be posted on line in a few days.

In 1869 Frederick Douglass argued that including women in the movement for the vote would reduce the chances of the right to vote being won for black men. “White womenhood has been central in defining white masculinity. ” E.g., in Birth of a Nation, white women need protection. Self-definition is the core of intersectionality. Masculinity has mainly protected its own interests and its own fragility, not women. It uses the protection of women to showcase its own dominance.

“Why do we have to insert our own existences into spaces? Why are we not recognized?.” The marginalized are no longer accepting their marginzalization. For example,look at black women’s digital practices.

Black women have used digital involvement to address marginalization, to breach the boundaries of what’s “normal.” Often that is looked upon as them merely “playing around” with tech. The old frameworks meant that black women couldn’t enter the digital space as who they actually are.

Black Digital Feminism has three elements:

1. Social structural oppression of technology and virtual spaces. Many digital spaces are dominated by assumptions that they are color-blind. Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name are attempts to remind us that blackness is not an intrusion.

2. Intersectional oppressions experience in virtual spaces. Women must work to dismantle the interlocking structures of oppression. Individuals experience oppression in different ways and we don’t want a one-size approach. E.g., the “solidarity is for white women” hashtag is seen as an expression of black women being angry, but it is a reminder that feminism has too often been assumed to be a white issue first.

3. The distinctness of the virtual feminist community. Black Digital Feminism privileges women’s ways of knowing. “NotYourAsianSidekick” is rooted in the radical Asian woman tradition, insisting that they control their own identity. Black women, and others, reject the idea that feminism is the same for all women, disregarding the different forms of oppression women are subject to based upon their race, ethnicity, etc. Women have used social media for social change and to advance critical activism and feminism.

The tenets of Black Digital Feminism cannot detach from the personal, communal, or political, which sets it part from techno- and cyber-feminism.

These new technologies are not creating anything. They are providing an outlet. “These groups have never been voiceless. The people in power simply haven’t been listening.” The digital amplifies these voices.

QA

Q: With the new administration, should we be thinking differently?

A: We need to identify the commonalities. Isolated marches won’t do enough. We need to find a way to bring communities together by figuring out what is the common struggle against structural oppression. Black women sacrificed to support Trump, forgetting the “super-predator” stuff from Hillary, but other groups didn’t make equivalent sacrifices.

Q: Does it mean using hashtags differently?

A: This digital culture is only one of many things we can do. We can’t forget the physical community, connecting with people. There are models for doing this.

Q: Did Net Neutrality play a role in enabling the Black community to participate? Do we need to look at NN from a feminist perspective…NN as making every packet have the same weight.

NN was key for enabling Black Lives Matter because the gov’t couldn’t suppress that movement’s language, its speech.

Q: Is this perceived as a danger insider the black feminist movement?

A: Tech isn’t neutral, is the idea. It lets us do what we need to do.

Q: Given the work you’ve done on women finding pleasure in spaces (like the Xbox) where they’re not expected to be found, what do you think about our occupying commercial spaces?

A: I’m a lifelong gamer and I get asked how I can play where there aren’t players — or developers — who look like me. I started the practice of highlighting the people who are there. We’re there, but we’re not noticed. E.g., Pew Research showed recently that half of gamers are women. The overwhelming population of console gamers are black and brown men. We really have to focus on who is in the spaces, and seek them out. My dissertation focused on finding these people, and finding their shared stories: not being noticed or valued. But we should take the extra steps to make sure we locate them. Some people are going to call 2016 the year of the black gamer, games with black protagonists. This is due to a push from marginalized games. The resistance is paying off. Even the Oscars So White has paid off in a more diverse Golden Globes nominees set.

Q: You navigate between feminist theory and observational work. How did the latter shape the former?

A: When I learned about ethnography I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever created — being immersed in a community and let them tell their own stories. But when it came time to document that, I realized why we sometimes consider ethnography to be voyeuristic and exploitative. When transcribing, I was expected to “clean up” the speech. “Hell no,” she said. E.g. she left “dem” as “dem,” not “them.” “I refer to people as narrators, not ‘research participants.'” They’re part of the process. She showed them the chapter drafts. E.g., she hasn’t published all her Ferguson work because she wants to make sure that she “leaves the place better.” You have to stay true to the transformative, liberatory practices that we say we’re doing.” She’s even been criticized for writing too plainly, eschewing academic jargon. “I wanted to make sure that a community that let me into its space understood every word that I wrote.”

Q: There’s been debate about the people who lead the movement. E.g., if I’m not black, I am not best suited to lead the movement in the fight for those rights. OTOH, if we want to advance the rights of women, we have to move the whole society with us.

A: What you’re saying is important. I stopped caring about hurting peole’s feelings because if they’re devoted to the work that needs to be done, they’ve checked their feelings, their fragility, at the door. There is tons of work for allies to do. If it’s a real ally dedicated to the work, they’ll understand. There’s so much work to do. And Trump isn’t even the president yet.

Q: About the application of Black Digital Feminism to the law. (Intersectionality started in law journals.)

A: It’s hard to see how it translates into actual policy, especially now. I don’t know how we’ll push back against what’s to come. E.g., we know evaluations of women are usually lower than of men. So when are we going to stop valuing the evaluations so highly? At the bottom of my evaluations, I write, “Just so you know, these evaluations are filtered through my black woman’s body.”

Q: What do we get things like”#IamMichelle”, which is like the “I am Spartacus” in the movie Spartacus?

A: It depends on the effect it has. I focus on marginalized folks, and their sense of empowerment and pride. There’s some power there, especially in localized communities.

Q: How can white women be supportive?

A: You’ve to go get your people, the white women who voted. What have you done to change the thinking of the women you know who voted for Trump? That’s where it has to begin. You have to first address your own circle. You may not be able to change them, but you can’t ignore them. That’s step one.

Q: I always like your work because you hearken back to a rich pedigree of black feminism. But the current moment is distinct. E.g., the issues are trans-national. So we need new visions for what we want the future. What is the future that we’re fighting for? What does the digital contribute to that vision?

A: It’s important to acknowledge what’s the same. E.g., the death of black people by police is part of the narrative of lynching. The structural and institutional inequalities are the same. Digital tools let us address this differently. BLM is no different from what happened with Rodney King. What future are we fighting for? I guess I haven’t articulated that. I don’t know how we get there. We should first ask how we transform our own spaces. I don’t want the conversation to get to big. The conservation should be small enough and digestible. We don’t want people to feel helpless.

Q: If I’m a man who asks about Black Digital Feminism [which he is], where can I learn more?

You can go to my Web site: www.kishonnaGray.com. And the Berkman Klein community is awesome and ready to go to work.

Q: You write about the importance of claiming identity online. Early on, people celebrated the fact that you could go online without a known identity. Especially now, how do you balance the important task of claiming identity and establishing solidarity with your smaller group, and bonding with your allies in a larger group? Do we need to shift the balance?

A: I haven’t figured out how to create that balance. The communities I’m in are still distinct. When Mike Brown was killed, I realized how distinct the anti-gamergate crowd was from the BLM. These are not opposing fights. They’re not so distinct that we can’t fight both at the same times. I ended up working with both, and got me thinking about how to bridge them. But I haven’t figured out how to bring them together.

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May 4, 2016

Too slow, Treyarch

I am far from the first person to notice this, but it really pisses me off.

Treyarch, the creators of Call of Duty, in the latest version let’s us decide to play as a woman. Other games have been doing this for a long time. So, have half a yay, Treyarch. Nevertheless, your player’s gender is not reflected in the script. There’s an argument I don’t want to have about whether this makes sense; it really just comes down to bucks.

But what really pisses me, and many other people, off is this character choice screen:

character model screen

This was an incredibly expensive game to design. The graphics are awesome, the sets are amazingly detailed. In single-player campaign mode, it’s a full length action movie—albeit not a very good one—and is budgeted like one.

But Treyarch couldn’t be bothered to spend $2.50 more to add some non-white faces to the roster. Really?

Here’s a fairly random screen shot I picked up from the Web.

typical scene

Keep in mind that this is about one sixth the resolution you get on a gaming PC. Treyarch can add intense detail to a gun or piece of shrapnel but can’t be troubled to design a few faces that aren’t white?

We’ve got a word for people who assume that the white race is the “real” race.

Not ok, Treyarch.

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March 24, 2015

In praise of Starbucks’ #racetogether

There are a lot of things wrong with how Starbucks implemented its “Race Together” program for which it deserves the mockery it’s been getting. Whether it was intended to stimulate discussions with busy baristas (“So, you want that with nonfat milk and we shouldn’t fill it to the brim. Right? What’s it like being white? Did you say ‘Nicky’ or ‘Mickey’?”) or among customers who in my experience have never struck up a conversation with another customer that was not met by a cold stare or a faked incoming text, it was unlikely to achieve its intended result. (Schultz seems to indicate it was to be a barista-to-customer conversation; see 0:20 in the John Oliver clip linked to “mockery” above.) Likewise, the overwhelming male whiteness of the Starbuck’s leadership team was an embarrassment waiting to happen. The apparent use of only white hands holding cups in the marketing campaign was inconceivably stupid (and yet still better than this).

Yet there’s much that Starbucks deserves praise for more than just its recognition that racial issues permeate our American culture and yet are more often papered over than discussed frankly.

  • They trusted their on-the-line employees to speak for themselves, and inevitably for the corporation as well, rather than relying on a handful of tightly constrained and highly compensated mouthpieces.

  • They have held a series of open forums for their employees at corporate events, encouraging honest conversation.

  • They did not supply talking points for their employees to mouth. That’s pretty awesome. On the other hand, they seem also to have provided no preparation for their baristas, as if anyone can figure out how to open up a productive conversation about race in America. The made-up phrase “racetogether” really isn’t enough to get a conversation going and off to a good start. (Michelle Norris’ Race Card Project might have provided a better way of opening conversations.)

Starbucks got lots wrong. Too bad. But not only was it trying to do something right, it did so in some admirable ways. Starbucks deserves the sarcasm but not just sarcasm.

[Disclosure: No, Starbucks isn’t paying me to say any of this. Plus I hate their coffee. (The fact that I feel the need to put in this disclaimer is evidence of the systemic damage wrought by “native ads” and unscrupulous marketers.)]

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July 25, 2012

The Anglo-Saxon president

Wow. An adviser has explained to the Brits that Romney better understands and appreciates the UK because Romney is Anglo-Saxon:

We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

This is as close to a casually racist remark as we’re likely to get, at least I hope. I’m finding it hard how to take it otherwise. So, maybe the adviser thought he (she?) was making a positive statement about shared heritage, the way President Clinton might have talked about feeling a special bond with Ireland because of his Irish heritage. But I think this goes beyond tone deafness. This is not a statement of warm feeling, but a negative statement that without that shared heritage, you can’t really understand the UK. It is (to me) very clearly an attempt to boost Romney while declaring Obama to be Other: Obama can’t understand America because he’s not really one of us, where the “us” means Anglo Saxons. If there’s a more charitable way of taking this and its implications, let me know.

I only wish that the first stop had been Germany so that the adviser could have talked about how to fully appreciate the shared history we have with that country, we need an Aryan president.

 


[A couple of hours later:] The Romney campaign has officially denied it. His press secretary said:

“‘It’s not true. If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign,’ she told CBSNews.com in an email. Saul did not comment on what specifically was not true.”

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July 22, 2011

Racism is dead? Not hardly

From the latest American Journal of Political Science 55, 463 (2011):

Not All Equal to Politicians

Barbara R. Jasny

In considering how much progress the United States has made toward racial equality, one aspect that has been hard to study has been the political system itself. Do legislators give preferential treatment to certain constituents? To answer this question, Butler and Broockman conducted a field experiment. They sent 4859 U.S. state legislators an e-mail asking about how to register to vote. The e-mail letter was signed by one of two aliases: Jake Mueller or DeShawn Jackson. Previous studies had indicated that these aliases were strongly associated with individuals identifying themselves as white or black, respectively. Alternate forms of the letter indicated no party affiliation or Democrat or Republican, resulting in six experimental situations. The DeShawn alias received significantly fewer responses than the Jake alias when a Republican affiliation or no party affiliation was given. Legislators (or at least their offices) from both political parties were more responsive when they thought the letter writer was from their own party. Minority legislators replied more frequently to the DeShawn alias than to the Jake alias. The authors conclude that racial discrimination is still present in U.S. politics.

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May 27, 2011

What foxes eat, with a twist ending

Having seen a fox crossing Comm Ave in Boston yesterday…


View Larger Map

…I googled to find out what they eat. I went to a helpful article in Time magazine, and discovered that foxes are 44% rabbit.

But the last sentence in the article gave me a WTF moment.

After I realized what was going on, it seemed to me that the article provokes several topics for discussion: The Demeaning Power of Condescension. The Ease with which an Entire Culture can be Trivialized. And, Please, People, Make Your Metadata More Obvious!

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June 15, 2010

[berkman] Lisa Nakamura: Don’t hate the player

[NOTE: This post uses some awful words because they are important to what Lisa is researching. The spottiness of my liveblogging may be especially misleading in this post.] Lisa Nakamura is giving a Berkman talk called “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: Internet Games, Social Inequality, and Racist Talk as Griefing.” She’s going to talk about ROFLcon and Twitter. She begins by showing some tweets from ROFLcon that simply repeat the word “nigger.” She says that as a researcher, she’s not trying to place blame. She wants to know what these racist tweets are trying to accomplish. What are the ties between racism and social production in griefing?

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.


ROFLcon is a conference celebrating Internet “memes.” Christina Xu from ROFLcon says that she thought that these tweets were coming from people who were not at ROFLcon. “It was straightup griefing,” says Lisa. And it didn’t happen during the race panel (which Lisa moderated). It happened during the keynote when Moot (Chris Poole, founder of 4chan) was speaking. Two years ago, there was boombox disruption of his talk.


The Net is an attention economy, says Lisa, and the use of words such as “nigger” enables you to “jump the line.” But, she says, there are lots of bad consequences. Chris Lander pointed out in a tweet that different platforms have different forms of hate: Racism is for the Internet, and homophobia is for Xbox (where players use”fag” as a generic insult). “Racism is a meme,” Lisa says; it works just like a meme. The word “nigger” has become completely toxic, which is why it’s used frequently by griefers [i.e., those out to disrupt an online activity]. “Griefing is about mocking those who take the Internet too seriously.” We are currently in a moment of what Lisa calls “enlightened racism,” in homage to Douglas’s “enlightened sexism“: You take the social gains and use it for permission to reintroduce retrograde images. E.g., “The Man Show” knew that it was ridiculously sexist to have women in bikinis bouncing on a trampoline. It’s all about the humor, the currency of Net memes. TV’s “post racial humor,” says Douglas, allows a nostalgia for sexism and racism, e.g., Mad Men. But, says Lisa, post-racial humor is a confusing mode for young people. The extremism of The Man Show’s sexism says (or so we would like to think) that there is no sexism, although of course there is. The N word is so extreme that to use it is to implicitly state that one is not racist and racism is no longer an issue (or so the users think), but it is.


She shows a video of 4chan’s “Patriotic Nigras” ruining a SecondLife social meeting (online, of course) just to “make people angry.” “Patriotic Nigras” are not primarily African-American. If you call out their racism, then say you’re a racist because it’s all about lols. (Or so they think.)


Leeroy Jenkins is quite famous for outrageousness at World of Warcraft, but people don’t talk about his adopting of minstrel-speak, Lisa says. You’re not supposed to talk about that, though, because it’s just about the lulz. It’s hard to call this out because you’ll be told you don’t get Net culture. To protest it is to declare oneself unqualified to comment on it. But, Lisa says, we need to teach children that racism is not acceptable. If sexting is bad, a child saying the N word over and over is also bad for that child. Youth are going online to interact. This is where they learn to be civil. We need to be able teach them. If the words are banned, they’ll count it as nothing more than “ass-hattery” to be routed around.


Lisa concludes by showing us a vid of some Chinese goldfarmers. “One’s person’s lulz is another’s non-lulz.”


To what extent does this racist humor occur in non-English cultures?
A [audience]: Donnie Dong said that on Chinese boards there are ethnic insults.
A: [lisa] Griefing is transnational.
A: [audience] Korean youths will sometimes play on American servers and announce that they’re young Koreans in order to annoy the older players.


A: How about YouTube comments that have racist comments? That doesn’t seem to be enlightened racism. Does enlightened racism provide an ethical framing for Youtube’s racist comments?
A: People do that on YouTube in part because there are so few other places where Americans can talk about race.


Q: Is racism or enlightened racism better?
A: I don’t think either is good. Enlightened racism is a symptom of a society that thinks that racism isn’t a problem any more.


Q: Will this change when the constituency of the people who determines the lulz changes?
A: Could you start a meme of blond frat boys invading a space and griefing?


Q: If you watch Arizona politics, the idea is that men are the underdogs now.


Q: Will enlightened racism eat itself? Maybe someone from the inside can critique it? Griefing the griefers? Is that happening?
A: [audience] At SomethingAwful, there’s a lot of calling people out.
Q: Maybe the enlightened racism meme will be tired?
A: I’d trace it to Dave Chappelle. He was unhappy that he had licensed people to say things they shouldn’t. He was mocking them, but it gave them license.


Q: Once there are more people online who are not white males…
A: People socialized into this culture may have a hard time of it transnationally, or in the workplace, or wherever this is not the idiom.


Q: This type of humor is balkanizing and isolating. Griefing is about shutting down conversation spaces….


Q: How do we know that it’s white males, since these are often anonymous posts? Might these be a deconstruction of racism? [E.g., gays taking back the word “queer.”]
A: I wish, but I don’t think so.


Q: How does enlightened racism affect structural racism?
A: Irony has become a mode that people retreat into when they don’t want accountability. Enlightened racism is still racism.


Q: Is it possible you’re conflating different forms of discourse? Maybe this is just a particularly disruptive form of static…
Q: Maybe it’s a form of play. It’s like playing violent video games: expressing something that you’re unable to express. It’s playing taboo, which is fun. Maybe it’s like a form of play in which the players know the rules. It may be a procedural rhetoric…
A: Yes. But who gets to decide? The people who are gay should be the ones who get to decide if “fag” is an insulting term, etc.

TAGS: -berkman

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January 3, 2010

News from the Is Avatar Racist? front

Annalee Newitz thinks Avatar is racist (as do I-ish), and points to interesting comments by Remington. Will Heaven points to a bunch of other sources as well. OuttaContext replies to the racism charge, seeing also a more inevitable and mythic story. But I think he underestimates the perniciousness of the specifics of the native culture the movie depicts: They’re not just the “other”; they’re blue native Americans.

By the way, do you think the Na’vi and JarJar Binx descend from some ur-stereotype progenitor??

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July 3, 2009

Coup Coup Catch You?

Ethan is once again knowledgeable and provocative, this time about what it takes for a coup to get some attention in this country. He compares the media’s interest in Honduras’ institutional coup (as a guy called it last night on The News Hour) with the almost complete ignoring of various coups in Africa.

Ethan concludes (but read the whole thing):

So why does Honduras get the Iran treatment, while Niger is ignored like Madagascar? Proximity? Strategic importance? (though Niger’s got massive uranium reserves – you remember yellowcake, right?) It’s not population – Niger’s roughly twice the size of Honduras. Expectation? Perhaps we’re sufficiently accustomed to African coups (Madagascar, Mauritania and Guinea in the past year) that Niger’s not a surprise.

Or perhaps all the pundits are still trying to figure out which one’s Nigeria and which one’s Niger…

Ethan conspicuously leaves out racism — the soft racism (as that ol’ phrase President George W. Bush once put it) of not knowing, not caring, and not bothering to develop a narrative.

(By the way, be sure to click on the link in the quote from Ethan. It leads to one of The Onion’s funniest videos ever.)

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December 26, 2008

The Lincoln Memorial rededication

Like every New Yorker reader, I am perpetually behind. But I’ve been greatly enjoying reading issues from before the election. Knowing how it turns out relieves all the stress.

It also deepens the joy. Thomas Mallon has a terrific article (book review, actually) in the Oct. 13 issue, about how our view of Lincoln has changed over the years. For example, when the Lincoln Memorial was first opened, in 1922, Lincoln was celebrated as the Great Unifier, not the Great Emancipator. Here’s how the article concludes:

In 1909, the Reverend L. H. Magee, the pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Springfield, Illinois, voiced his disgust at the exclusion of blacks from the town’s centennial dinner, but he imagined that by the time of the bicentennial, in 2009, racial prejudice would be “relegated to the dark days of ‘Salem witchcraft.’ ” Next year’s Lincoln commemorations in Washington will include the reopening of Ford’s Theatre, restored for performances for the second time since 1893, when its interior collapsed, killing twenty-two people. Congress will convene in a joint session on February 12th, and on May 30th the still new President will rededicate the Lincoln Memorial. The look and the emphasis of the occasion will have changed—measurably, for certain; astoundingly, perhaps—in the fourscore and seven years since 1922.

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