In Conversation is a Media Speaks! summer blog series where we chat with fascinating folks in the field of technology, media, and education. For our current feature, we’re highlighting women of color mediamakers, techies, content producers, and programmers.
This week I spoke with Moya Bailey, current PhD candidate in Women and Gender Studies at Emory University, blogger for The Crunk Feminist Collective, and self-described Black queer feminist who's a "southern girl through and through". We discussed everything from Frank Ocean, Black feminism online, labels, cyborgs, and the future of Digital Humanities. Read on below.
Photo courtesy of Moya Bailey
Tara: The first time I came across your work was by way of the Ms. Magazine piece in 2010, “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: Black Feminism Lives (Online!)” You, along with co-author Alexis Pauline Gumes celebrated a newer kind of Black feminism at the intersection of online media and academia. That was two years ago. What does Black feminism look like now, particularly in the context of newer forms of online media that extend beyond blogs and outwards towards other, more micro and social platforms like Twitter and Tumblr? Is there a new theory of Black feminism on the rise?
Moya: Yes, yes, and yes! I think that Black feminism online looks different than it did before because we’re in different parts of the Internet. We’re using different tools of the Internet to accomplish our goals. There was a moment when blogs were really big and then a lot of folks switched to Twitter and Tumblr, and I think that’s definitely changed the way we’re doing things. People are also finding other mediums, like YouTube for instance, which are working for them too. People are cultivating community by way of many diverse media platforms. There’s multiple nodes where people are connecting, and I think that’s pretty awesome. I think feminism is more diffuse, which is also pretty powerful.
Tara: Yes, I’m thinking about the ways in which gender, sexuality, class, and race issues get discussed. I can’t help but think about Frank Ocean for a moment and about how he used a platform like Tumblr to talk about something so personal like his own sexuality. Ocean reminds me of how other young people continually take to these types of microblogging mediums to essentially tell their own stories.
Moya: Absolutely. And then think about way his story changed dramatically. I think after Frank published the Tumblr piece, he said something afterwards where he was like [paraphrasing] ‘Well, my first love was man, but I still date women’, which is interesting--and then there’s a response from dream hampton, who said something to the effect of [paraphrasing] ‘when I asked Frank about this piece I was doing, I asked him if I could use the word bisexual, and he said yes.’ So having access to that information in real time makes the story so much more complex and narrows the scope of what they’re saying about themselves. It’s dynamic and you can’t really put people in one place for too long, which is very cool.
Tara: Absolutely. I recently came across a Twitter conversation about labels. Poet and activist Staceyann Chin asked her followers: “Are identity labels obsolete categorizations? Are they of any use to us today?” You describe yourself as “Black” “queer” and “woman”, what do these labels mean to you? Do you even consider them labels, and do you think that labels are becoming a thing of the past?
Moya: I’m not sure what context Staceyann was tweeting so I’m not sure if agree or disagree. Labels are important to me. Those labels you described of me are important because they mark my location and say something about my perspective and where I’m coming from. So, you know, Audre Lorde talks about how naming yourself can be very powerful. Audre Lorde is a Warrior Poet, mother, lesbian, all of that. I think it’s really important for me to say that I am Black and I am queer and I was a girl child raised in the south, which means a lot about who I am, and it’s also a way for people to find me, and mark my connection to other folks who share my identities.
Tara: I believe Staceyann Chin posed the question to her followers and she tweeted a variety of responses from others who said “No, labels are obsolete” to “Yes, they totally are obsolete.” It was interesting to watch the debate occur via Twitter. From what I saw, Staceyann did a good job of moderating a controversial topic online. Moya: Yeah, I totally think it’s different for different people. I know people who really don’t feel as though they fit in the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ that we have been described in the United States at this particular moment. I think it’s really important to assert that ‘yeah, these labels don’t fit me.’ But I think that even in doing that, you’re still naming yourself, even if it’s not with a label.
Read Part II of our conversation.