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Thursday, May 12 • 11:15am - 11:30am
Critical and Collaborative Digital Ethnography: Studying Social Surveillance and the Marginalization of Black Girls on YouTube

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This paper examines the social surveillance of watching tween black girls "messing around" while twerking on YouTube. The purpose is to unveil its unintended consequences on marginalized youth in new media ecologies. The paper will meet this aim by: (1) exploring the phenomenon of black girls’ twerking in the YouTube archive; (2) explaining how twerking as bedroom vlogging is read (or misread) by unintended audiences; and (3) discussing the implications of social surveillance for marginalized girls in YouTube's specific new media ecology. 

In 2013 I stumbled upon this adventure in marginalized tweens' online sexuality and play. Ironically it was also International Women's Day. Rapper/pop star Nicki Minaj was featured in a new music video titled "Freaks" by male rapper French Montana. In less than 24 hours, the video went viral with over 1 million views and the top demographic among those views were females 13-17 or 18-24. The partial nudity of Minaj's possibly surgically-enhanced breasts surely keyed young girls' attention towards her privileged celebrity status and persona as a "bad bitch”—doing whatever she wants and owning it. I wondered how little black girls were mirroring the squatting and popping of her ass towards the camera as Minaj was ”seated" with her back to the audience on a lavish gold throne chair. The image was fitting. Minaj is one of wealthiest and most powerful emcees of all time, especially among women. 

With the help of over 100 students in various sections of an introduction to cultural anthropology course and a few anthropological analysis capstone courses, we watched and coded over 600 videos of tween and teen black girls twerking in the blurred privacy of a bedroom or other living spaces in their homes. Their millennial eyes and interpretations offered new insights that my baby-boomer eyes could not see. I discuss the implications for ethnography as a form of “compassion studies” for marginalized groups online. 


Thursday May 12, 2016 11:15am - 11:30am MST
COOR 195 975 S Myrtle Ave Arizona State University Tempe, AZ 85281