In my larger study, I interview 4 of my blood/biological sisters. But for the sake of time, I only interviewed Magdaline here. Magdaline is 24 years old, a fraternal twin, stylist, conceptual artist, and lives in the Philadelphia area. My sister Magdaline says that I have a lot of influence on her individual style, but today she inspires me much more. She's the type of woman who knows trends but creates her own. Magdaline is what would happen if Erykah Badu and Betye Saar had a baby. She’s creative and fly ASF.
Public vs. Private
An overlapping theme in the category Public vs Private, Magdaline and I talk about the way Black women challenge the black oral tradition to not put your business out there and on social media. In Public vs Private, I interrogate the enforced tradition to not speak on family matters to anyone outside your family. A popular saying in the black family is to, mind yo’ bidness’. Sometimes minding yo’ bidness’ meant acting cordially in public to not bring trouble to yourself but sometimes it meant turning a blind eye to an injustice within the family. There was an expectation to keep a level of privacy, not sharing information too intimate to foreign ears. In a way, this deterrent to not speak about family issues outside the family turned into not speaking about these issues at all. They were either too delicate, intense, or uncomfortable to discuss. In addition to protecting the family from their bidness' being used against them, there were some topics so heavy, it was discouraged to talk about them. In the black family, there are clear boundaries between what you should and shouldn’t speak about to others. This rule of thumb usually means you don’t speak about it all. However, within the digital landscape, Black women are blurring the lines between what is or isn’t appropriate to share about themselves online. Magdaline defines blogging as “constantly posting things to your social media”, which groups blogging and social media together. I also look at the ways black women challenge this tradition by sharing testimonies, self-reflections, and their personal lives online. Magdaline and I compared why sharing personal antidotes on social media is different for black women today than it was pre-internet. Apparently, millennials have an obligation to say, “who, what, when, and how they're doing something.” Compared to back in the day when social media was not a part of the way black women communicated or expressed themselves.
Magdaline and I discussed what’s considered inappropriate before social media which needs to be adjusted to fit the times. In the 21st century digital age, it’s okay to overshare, its actually expected. Our discussion on the way in which black women choose and how they participate in the overshare culture was reminiscent of Boylorn’s (2013) article, “Blackgirl Blogs, Auto/ethnography, and Crunk Feminism”. Boylorn (2013) writes, “in my community it was important to keep personal business personal. It was considered scandalous for private things to be made public” (p. 74, para 2). As a black female blogger, I’ve also came to a crossing point unsure of what I can’t or shouldn’t share on my blog. In a blog post about bonding with my sisters, I wrote, “I find myself debating what is and isn't appropriate to share on my blog” (2018). It’s my self-doubt which conflicts with my belief in privacy and desire to share myself online.
Early on, Magdaline and I chatted about our tradition to keep our bidness' private. It’s common for black women like Magdaline and I, invested in ‘being’ online, to eventually talk about what it means for black women to really be themselves online. We are grappling with wanting to be candid, honest, and open on our social media, but feeling that it goes against our belief system. The undertone of our accusations says these traditions are oppressive and silencing. More importantly, our resistance starts the conversation about outdated traditions which are passed down to the following generation, regardless if it’s useful or relevant to said generation. Considering the evolution of social media and the nature of online sharing, we must interrogate black traditions that no longer serve the generation who’s it’s a part of their social fabric.
In the black family, keeping yo bidness' private is a coping mechanism intended to protect us. I think about the selective sharing within the black family that decides on what remains a secret. I also think about “tattle telling”. Again, I think about a way of survival and how these traditions were created with a purpose to protect. For example, not snitching is a street code which does not involve law enforcement and a pseudo-community protection mechanism. Magdaline points out the contradiction between wanting to share online she says, “I think it could be conflicting because you on one hand you want to be transparent and share what's going on and on the other hand, you want to just keep certain things, we want to keep certain things personal so that I think could be a big contradiction”.
I argue that the underlining objective to hold back information is to protect black men. There’s the family pedophile who’s never called out or ostracized because black families just don’t speak about them. It’s a slippery slope comparing family bidness’ to public information, but it begs the question of who decides, what is spoken about, when, and where. The bigger question challenges traditional black communication strategies and their repressive undertones which ask Black women to protect black men even at the cost of suppressing their own voice.
According to Magdaline, communicating online for millennials is a new age wave. Although all millennials and all Black women do not use social media to share their personal lives, like Magdaline says, “it’s not for everybody”. She believes it’s a system that only applies to those who use it and works for those who feel closely to it. She says, “millennials take blogging and the digital world more seriously”. Being yourself in the digital world provides Black women with an outlet to express themselves fully and authentically. Sometimes, using these online spaces to purge suppressed family traditions. The ability to open an Instagram page, Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter account that solely represents you is liberating at best but damaging at worst to the traditional black perspective. We use the tools of social media to share our opinions of the world, stories about ourselves, strait from the horse’s mouth. Instead of hearsay, social media allows one to speak directly about themselves. On social media, being real is relative. But when it comes to representing yourself, it’s important for Magdaline to uphold a personal reputation that’s authentic to who she is. She says, “well, because that's what I see like who I am. So, I went to it. That's what I'm putting out there that that's who I am. I think that I should like uphold, you know”. Magdaline comments on her personal brand and why it’s important to her online.
This idea of being real but still protecting one’s privacy was a conflict when referring to her online reputation. Magdaline is into fashion and art and is very open on her social media about her thoughts, feelings, and process. She refers to herself as a visual artist, but she’s also a stylist, designer, and sketch, conceptual art. So far, Magdaline has curated her own art exhibition called ‘POP’, where she painted various sized, colorful circles on repurposed denim jeans, skirts, and bustier. In addition to designing her ‘POP’ collection, Magdaline creates collage art. I’ve witnessed her be vulnerable about issues like unarmed black men being murdered by policemen. Her social media is a collection of visual art, styling, but issues that are important to her, separate but overlapping with her art. She creates socially aware and conscious art about the environment, her ascetic, and the black experience. In a way, her art forces her to draw inward and be vulnerable about her whys and the inspiration behind her art. It can be argued that she does not have to share that process online. But it can also be argued that without her vulnerability, her art would have less meaning.
Like Leeke’s (2013) Digital Sisterhood and the way she formulated businesses based on her network and online community of digital sisters. Similarly, Magdaline reaches directly to potential customers and investors by the way she represents herself. Magdaline’s online persona her is reputation which is the story linked to the art she’s selling. In today’s marketing, millennials expect a story and face they can access which connects to a product/business they’re investing in. It’s no different for entrepreneurs or smaller brands where customers want to feel personally connected to the product/service their investing in. This authentic connection to a product is expected more from one man/woman run businesses. Millennials want to shop human. That’s why it’s so important for businesses to be on Twitter and Instagram directly engaging with their client base. No more are the days where people are ok with not knowing who their buying from. Black women are packaging who they are to create an online reputation, which will ultimately be their businesses. In this way, Black women have more access to their target market, as long as their accessible in some way shape or form. However, this contact comes at a cost. Solopreneurs are subject to more harassment, stress, and fatigue because of the higher expectations. The only thing new about Black women are make a living from their skills/talents in the digital landscape. There are high rewards for Black woman’s business if it is correctly aligned who they are. This is why there’s an incentive for Black women to be open and vulnerable, sharing who they are is associated to their livelihood.
Black women are coming together across time zones and state lines because of the way social media has brought them together. From chat rooms to Facebook groups, social media users who are both black and female are gravitating towards one another with common interests. When I asked Magdaline why she interacts with other bloggers on social media, she said, “I feel like I'm a part of the community”. It’s true that the internet is a great place for anyone to find a tribe whose interests align with theirs. There’s a website for everyone and the spectrum of interests is vast. However, for Black women, there’s a special type of connection that’s built when meeting with other Black women in an online space dedicated to their specific interests.
I’m a part of several Facebook groups, but there’s one group in particular called, ‘Life of a Single Spoon’ (LSS). I was invited to this private group by Jasmine, a roommate to a friend who I met at an event I hosted called, “My Brother’s Keeper”. Jasmine and I kept in contact, she attending a couple more events I hosted. However, we did not begin to build a relationship until she invited me into her 2,000+ member Facebook group. LSS is, “a gathering place for content and discussions relevant to black millennial women”. I do not update my Facebook status often, but I am an active member in LSS. I often make social commentary on posts about pop culture or the current news. Outside of LSS, I make comments on personal status but rarely have full on conversations with people from my friends list. However, in LSS, I often interact with other members with respectful dialogue. Although LSS is a private group underneath the umbrella of Facebook. I participate in the group much differently, it’s as if LSS is another social media network on its own. Black women will find a place and reason to gravitate towards one another because our growth is dependent on it.
Although terms like blogging and bloggers have blurred now in 2018. Magdaline uses blogging interchangeably with anyone who posts on the internet, whether they identify as a blogger or not. It’s not important that I enforce my definition of blogging/bloggers onto my research participants. However, for research purposes, I will define blog and bloggers. A blog has a web address and is hosted on platforms like WordPress, BlogSpot, Square Space, or Weebly which are intended for blogging purposes, but isn’t limited to those platforms. A blogger is someone who posts consistently on a platform with the intention to blog. Blogging as an intentional act of writing, sharing, and posting photos onto said website. The definition of blogging is loosely defined because a blogger can blog about anything they choose. Also, a blogger is loosely defined because its more about the intention of the person.
In 2018, bloggers are known for taking professional photography in their curated outfits or sharing tidbits of their life in personal journal entries. In my study, blogging and bloggers are used interchangeable with social media users. Even though I came into this research with the expectation to talk about blogging and bloggers as a separate entity from social media. According to Magdaline’s definition, there is no difference between bloggers and social media personalities, nor is there a difference between blogs and Instagram. For that simple fact, I have also redefined the term blogging and bloggers and what they do. For the purpose of this study, blogging was used as an umbrella term.
In this study, a blogger is anyone who posts photos, words, and videos on a public platform with the intention to share and exchange with other users on said platform. Also lumped together are social media handles like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and blogging platforms mentioned above. It’s possible a person can do all those things and not consider themselves a blogger. In this study, it was unnecessary to create fine lines between the two. Following my research, I’m invested in the idea of storytelling and personal narrative. How do black women use their agency to break through personal barriers? How or why do Black millennial women expose themselves online?
I’m interested in the evolution of sisterhood, the use of a person’s image to create a business to reclaim the narrative of/for Black women. How do Black women use digital businesses to commune and how sisterhood has transformed in a digitized context? After the interview with Magdaline, I’m captivated by the idea of secrets and public/private information. The black community, specifically in my family, there’s certain things we just don’t talk about, be it for our own good, protection, or survival. There’s a sexist undertone that specifically silence women to uphold black male patriarchy. Black women in black families are told to keep those family secrets on a hush and are discouraged to talk about them even within the family. Black women are particularly unprotected and shamed in moments when wanting to speak up or against a family perpetrator.
Black women carry a burden to keep quiet about issues they want to address, which is solely considered family business. This type of secrecy bleeds into other areas of our lives. Ultimately, if we’re discouraged from talking about these things with our family, we definitely don’t feel safe and comfortable to talk about these things with ourselves. I argue that they are physical ramifications to keepings secrets. But what happens when Black women connect with Black women who’s been through a similar experience? We don’t feel so alone anymore. Keeping quiet about pressing issues is isolating and Black girls carry that isolation into adulthood. Jay-Z said, “but you can’t heal what you never reveal”. We walk in our adult lives with baggage we don’t recognize because we’re taught not to talk about it. With keeping secrets, not talking about certain things, and denial it also disconnects us from one another. The oral tradition to keep secrets is a sexist survival tactic which silences black female family members. The line between private/public information holds back black millennial women from healing and sharing their story. It took my third therapist before I openly talked about my childhood trauma. I carried the rule to not tell my family business, even if it directly affected me. I felt deep-seeded loyalty to protect those I felt harmed by. Even at the cost of my own healing and understanding of myself, I felt the need to protect my family, even in private. Looking at this oral tradition within the black family to keep secrets negatively impacts black women because it suppresses their voice. This oral tradition aligns with patriarchal guidelines that honor men above women. Although family secrets vary, often to keep them is to protect the reputation and credibility of the male family member.
The silencing of Black women’s voices is done outside the home and within the black family. Black women are discouraged from sharing personal stories to avoid concealing family business which may embarrass black male family members. In Boylorn’s article, “Blackgirl Blogs” she touches on making the private public as an autoenographer. She writes, “in my community it was important to keep personal business personal. It was considered scandalous for private things to be made public” (p. 74 para 2). In 2018, it’s not as controversial for Black women to disclose testimonies on social media. However, there is a stigma attached to sharing too much for public ears. According to black families if it’s not in private, it’s inappropriate to share in public. This family business does not have to connect directly to the family but can be perceived as “blowing up someone’s spot”. In this way, hiding behind secrecy allows some families to not address the inappropriate uncle or abusive step-dad. It’s easier to conceal injustices with a stamp of, mind yp’ bidness. Howver, Black women are breaking those stigmas and revealing to heal on their time. This points to the digital liberating potential of un-silencing for Black women.
Boylorn, R., M. (2013). Blackgirl Blogs, Auto/ethnography, and Crunk Feminism.Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, 9(2), 73-82.
Carter, S. (2017). Kill Jay Z. On 4:44 [CD]. Los Angeles, CA: No I.D.’s studio. Christie, R. (2018, January 18). The Love Between My Sisters is the Answers to My(Our) Prayers [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.rebekahlove.com/journal/mysisters.