You are now part of my project (Black Girl iPhone). This piece—a series of screenshots documenting black feminist discussion—is the first iteration of my project. This project seeks to provide a publicly accessible witness to black feminist discussion. It is a tool to discourage ignorance. A lens, for black girls, into the discussions that some other black girls are having.
The images I present are not finished works; rather, they manifest—symbolically and figuratively—silent, internalized discussion, nodes of exchange in real life. These screenshots document excerpted bits of discussions with my friends and notes that casually outline unborn essays and other such posts.
I aim for the content that I include to be opinionated and unafraid. However, through the gesture of presenting these open, unfinished threads of thought and discussion, I hope to go about this project without the typical hostility that often encompasses presentations of these kinds of ideas, when they are formatted in anticipation of non-black communities. I hope that this project can help enrich the texture of culturally investigative conversation between black women and non-black women, and black women and men in general. I hope that the anonymity and non-linear way in which I present these screenshots can help underscore, as a friend of mine articulated, how “dispersed” identities can be “in our day and age”.
The Form in Relation to Communication
I am interested in presenting information more like a feed or stream that one can jump into. Or perhaps a window is the better metaphor. Today, people aren’t communicating in finished, complete thoughts. Nor do we exist as such. Today, there are two increasingly pervasive conditions of communication, which are influenced by the Internet, that I want to take advantage of here:
Feed as Form
First, the speed at which we can share information: it’s almost trite to repeat this point now, but social media encourages a way of communicating that becomes less about the preciousness and accuracy of specific content—be it a news article or Facebook status or Tumblr image—and more about the way the content behaves. The content acts almost as a TV channel, a stream of water with a particular taste and weight that constitutes a brand. Through these branded feeds, we feel like we become familiar with the lived experience of these content-sharers. Our new way of reading is not about the specific information or narrative sold within isolated content, but the way the content contextualizes the content-sharer. By swimming through the stream of the content-sharer, we become immersed in the sharer’s language and way of seeing.
(un)Stable Racial Identities
Secondly, a deep look through someone’s Facebook timeline reveals anything but consistency. Anyone who is my age has grown up representing themselves on social media and can certainly vouch for the violent shifts that some of us exhibit in the way that we present and come to understand ourselves. This applies especially, I think, to racial identity. The way I currently understand myself as black is perhaps different than my understanding of my race in high school, middle school, elementary school, etc. My understanding of my racial identity is susceptible to the same maturation and shifts as any other part of my identity. And yet, we often regard racial identity as fixed and stable. I have always been black and known that I was black, but my notion of what it means to be black in America has changed.
As difficult as it is, I have intentionally avoided the term “political” in this introduction. Why? I find that people often use the term “political” to dismiss a topic as too difficult to understand, or to describe the interests of a distant, irrelevant “other”. Certain readers become fatigued at the mention of another problem that they couldn’t help solve anyway. Part of the aim of this project is to move away from the explicit morphologies of a “thinkpiece” or social justice theory. Instead, I am merely providing an environment that allows a window into the kind of discourse that my friends and I engage in on a daily basis. I think that the points we discuss are important to share with people who are neither women nor black. Yet conditions of safety and security, which come with discussing primarily with other black female friends, allow us to generate this kind of discussion. We have a shared understanding and do not have to worry about continually explaining ourselves to one another, something that happens when discussing with someone less familiar of our identity and culture, something that can sometimes be a painful process.
As you may begin to see, a big theme in this project is process. I want to promote a more process-oriented means of producing and documenting thought and selfhood, to express in real-time the formulation and structures of individual thoughts about what it means to be black and female. Other forms of writing and documenting, like the essay, are designed for presentation, to be shown to others. By contrast, notes and excerpted conversations belong to the realm of the private. I believe that in translating these more private affirmations of expression and self-definition into presentational forms (essays, speeches, etc.), there is something lost and something denied. I want to bring these nuances back into view and present insight into the ways that some of my friends see themselves. I want to show that being black and feminist does not necessarily mean any one, unified thing. I hope that I can also encourage people of other cultures and genders to reframe their approaches to educating themselves about black culture, by becoming more sensitive and attuned to the nuances of what that may be.
C. Jackson is a graphic designer and UCLA student based in Los Angeles, California. Recent obsessions include scented candles and Ettorre Scottsass.