#Hashtag #Ignorance

#BringBackOurGirls #BlackLivesMatter #ICantBreathe #WheresHony #YourHashtagsAreUseless #OrAreThey?

We’ve seen it play out so many times already. Something goes down and then its popularity on twitter goes up. A grand jury decides the man that shot Michael Brown isn’t guilty and the nation is united through three words attached to a pawn sign. A massive group of school girls were kidnapped in Nigeria last year and even our First Lady hopped on the hashtag activism bandwagon.

I recently read an article on the site Compare Afrique in which an administrator addressed the issues in Nigeria and the insane spread of #BringOurGirlsBack. The first paragraph states, “Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria.” The article goes on to explain how the hashtag craze is useless and possibly harmful. “When you pressure Western powers, particularly the American government to get involved in African affairs  and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem. You become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa. This is not good.” After this, statistics and facts are whipped out, showing America’s involvement (which many considered failed and useless) with Africa. Remember back in 2012 when everyone was searching for Kony? Since then, over 100 American troops have been sent to search for him and HE HAS YET TO BE FOUND. 

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[The full Compare Afrique article can be found here: http://www.compareafrique.com/dear-americans-hashtags-wont-bringbackourgirls-might-actually-making-things-worse/ ]

Since we are on the topic of Kony, I want to describe my reaction to that event in history. I was a Senior in high school, didn’t pay much attention to the news but I received endless encouragement from my peers to tweet #KONY2012. I did it. Without knowing who the heck Kony was, or why any of us were looking for him, I used the hashtag. I wanted a t-shirt, I considered buying the bumper sticker and yet I still had little to no clue of what exactly the situation was. I was ignorant. This is the main idea of this post. I write this out because I do not want readers to think that I am focusing on these African issues and how we should or should not be involved. I am writing this to express how I’ve discovered that Hashtag Activism makes us feel like we’re doing something when (for the most part) WE ARE DOING NOTHING.

Hashtags work to connect people across the globe but can also serve as the instigators of conflict. When the verdicts of both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner case were revealed, it became absolutely impossible to escape the rants on facebook. We all have that friend who made themselves a judge and attacked someone who didn’t acknowledge the incident on social media, or the other friend who was pissed because some were using #AllLivesMatter rather than #BlackLivesMatter. The media response to the events was incredible and did unite many but it also broke us. Our desire to appear intelligent may have lead to an arrogance that made us feel as if we were entitled to criticize the media involvement of others, leading to unfriending people on facebook and in person. The most crucial necessity to fight the injustice brought by these two verdicts is unity and how is attacking one another on the internet uniting us? Those who felt their voice wasn’t being heard continued to put up statuses over and over again explaining why they will not stand down. I’m sorry, but sitting behind a computer screen (as I am right now) is just as useless as standing down if you’re not taking actions.

Hashtag activism makes us feel like better people while turning us into ignorant and uneducated members of our society.It is an excuse to not thoroughly educate ourselves about the issues and think that we actually made a difference by taking a selfie with a sign. I’m not saying this is the case for all of us. Hashtags do encourage some people to research what’s going, in several cases, it spreads (a very general) awareness. But the majority of us hop onto the bandwagon of “sacrificing” some of our 140 characters on Twitter and calling it a day. Reading Kim Kardashian’s meme on Instagram does not mean I am educated about the girls in Nigeria. Just because I know a few numbers does not qualify me to inform others. There is so much more to the subject that I am still trying to grasp, almost a year later. This is why I refuse to “fight” with my hashtags. Is Kim in Africa right now, working on ways to find those little girls? Is it even possible for her to help those little girls? The answer is no. She simply encouraged her 14 million followers to “double tap” for support. This is the case for several celebrities. With their spotlight, they are expected to assist certain causes and many of them do so with the minimum effort of tweeting a hashtag.

The use of hashtags can spread awareness. It can bring a community together and encourage prayers for the group of children taken to heaven far too early last year. It can help Venezuela inform their neighbor countries of the support they need to fight the injustice they face. But hashtag activism and internet opinions should not be a substitute for actual activism. It should not be enough for us to feel satisfied with ourselves. It should not be done without being informed. It should not be done simply because everyone else, including Michelle Obama, is doing it.

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Go beyond the popularity or timing of the hashtag. Venezuela still has some problems.  Ukraine is still having a hard time. But we’re not worrying much about that because none of our social media is. We need to stop with the ignorance and trends and instead thoroughly educate ourselves on issues and what we should do to fix them. #DoSomeResearch, ya heard?

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Legos vs. “That Pink Stuff”

I remember when I was a kid I would drag my mom to the nearest Toys “R” Us store to buy me the newest Lego X-Pod. Meanwhile other girls were playing dress-up with Barbies, I found more amusement in creating a unique masterpiece out of my Lego pieces. Some may consider this a defiance of gender norms, however, like at the time, 4-year-old Riley strongly argues, “Why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff”?

Lego Friends

Lego Friends

Following the controversial release of the 2012 “Lego Friends” line, which gives into gender stereotypes, young girls like Riley spoke out to express the sentiment that boys’ and girls’ toys should not be based on gender differences. In the video, Riley claims that “the companies who make these, try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of stuff the boys want to buy, right?” Here, she defines a very clear awareness in the marketing strategies Lego has attempted to utilize in their conceptualization of the Lego Friends collection (there’s no fooling the incredibly wise Riley, is there?!). The Lego Friends collection is depicted by a group of slender doll figurines that do “girly things” together. Prior to this, Lego had been a pioneer in fostering child creativity for both boys and girls.

"What it is is beautiful."

“What it is is beautiful.”

A 1981 Lego ad, that reads “What it is is beautiful,” pictures a young girl in denim overalls and braids, holding her masterful Lego creation. Here, the product is demonstrated as being equally entertaining for a young girl as it is for a young boy and makes no mention of gender stereotypes, but rather is a “universal building set” for all kids. After the extremely controversial release of Lego Friends, parents, women and especially girls, petitioned for companies, such as Lego, to cease such gender-based marketing strategies and make efforts to recognize that both girls and boys may be interested in one particular toy and should not have to feel discriminated in any way when choosing to play with it.

After years of discussion, it seems as though Lego has finally gotten the message. Lego has reestablished girl empowerment through their recent, inspiring 60-second advertisement, “Inspire Imagination and Keep Building,” created by the agency, Union Made Creative. In the commercial, a young girl narrates her thought process for creation while using Legos. The girl explains that she knows that no matter what she creates, she will make her parent proud because she used her own creative initiative to make something unique and powerful. Lego aims to reinforce the idea that Legos were made for all types of kids, no matter what gender they may be and that Legos foster creativity in a way in which no other toy can compare to.

Sovereignty in the Digital Era

In 1648 the Peace of Westphalia was signed by the major continental European states (the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, France, Sweden and the Dutch Republic). Out of this agreement came the concept of “national sovereignty”, the idea that all nation-states have the power to do everything necessary to govern themselves, such as making, executing and applying laws; imposing and collecting taxes; making war and peace; and forming treaties or engaging in commerce with foreign nations. Each nation-state was granted the right to govern itself without any outside sources and the right to territorial integrity. However, since the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, it could be argued that the world order of nation states and the form of sovereignty they represent have undergone major alteration. This has mainly been due to the globalization and new media.

With today’s technology, we no longer have to open up our fold-up town maps to see where exactly a friends house is located, tracing the streets with our fingers to help us figure out how to get from point A to point B. We can simply type into Google the exact location we are looking for and within seconds, view the image of the location as well as specific directions on how to get there. As I type into my search bar the address of my house back in Pennsylvania, it takes me seconds to find it’s exact location on a world map, as well as images of my house, the street, my neighbors cars, etc. Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 7.41.58 PM

While I don’t mind people googling my home address, how do nation states feel about Google Earth infringing upon their territorial rights? Many nations perceive Google Earth as threat to their national sovereignty for two reasons: one, because the software creates a threat to territorial integrity due to it’s own presentation of international boundaries and two, because it allows users to access close up images of sites that could be potential targets of attack.

According to Sangeet Kumar, in 2005, great conflict over Google Earth emerged within India for “Google Earth’s version of India’s map differed from the official version in crucial areas such as the disputed north Indian state of Kashmir” (Google Earth and the Nation State 163). In other words, it was Google Earth that mapped the boundaries of India, rather than the actual nation itself. In addition, Google Earth introduced the ability for anyone to see within the border of the nation state, including important government offices, military bases, and other locations for potential attack.

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With the creation of Google Earth and it’s satellite mapping system, the concept of national borders became obsolete- the solid structures of walls and territorial divisions were knocked down. I would argue that Google Earth has become a nation state for it has come to dominate the territorial sovereignty of other nations. Google argues that the mapping system serves the greater ‘good’ for the rest of the world, to retrieve information about other areas of the globe for reasons that don’t bring any harm. But is Google really motiveless? Being that Google is an American company, how would it be perceived by the US government if it had been created anywhere else? I argue that Google has become a dominant nation state that serves under the control of the US, for although it has posed a threat to other nations it still continues to exist because it has only yielded benefits for the nation state of America.

Source:

Kumaar, Sangeet. “Google Earth and the Nation State : Sovereignty in the Age of New Media.” Global Media and Communication. Vol. 6. N.p.: SAGE, 2010. N. pag. SAGE. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <https://newclasses.nyu.edu/access/content/group/007563c9-34dd-4aa1-8e5a-8251f8cfb34b/Assignment%204%3A%20Review%20Essay/Kumar.GoogleEarth_Sovrnty.pdf&gt;.

Ferguson, Social Media, and Visual Culture

On August 9, 2014, white police officer Darren Wilson shot to death unarmed young black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, many have taken to the streets to protest and speak out against systemic and institutionalized racism, as displayed and enforced through law enforcement–police officers shooting and killing black men and women at alarming numbers, usually without any rationale. On November 24, 2014, prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, Missouri Robert M. McCulloh announced that the grand jury had decided not to indict Wilson for the death of Brown. Protests occurred not just in Ferguson, but also in New York City, Baltimore, Atlanta, Portland, Oakland, and many more across the country. Protests also occurred around the globe; activists in London marched and protested outside the U.S. embassy hoping to rally up and incite a response. Activists on social media not only helped organize and tweet/give live updates on what was happening at the protests, but also used to the platform as a form of activism; they began protesting, sharing content, information, news, and opinions on systemic violence and institutionalized racism in America. Both on and offline generated many forms of visual culture that have transcended barriers and borders.

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Lancet speaks about how social media creates a network of news and information that doesn’t go through institutionalized entities. He frames this as the democratization of information; the narrative is now driven by the people, or people who have access to the technology to tweet, update, and take photos and videos. This has facilitated the protests, public discourse, and discussion of Ferguson, black people in America, and systemic and institutionalized entities and powers. People in Ferguson, black people in America, people undergoing similar circumstances, and people who have experiences to share now have a platform in which they can vocalize their concerns, thoughts, and stories. This platform is also situated in a global context, and can reach out to people and communities across the globe.

In August, when protesters in Ferguson took to the streets to raise awareness to police brutality and seek justice for Michael Brown, they were confronted by police officers who were violent and aggressive. The city of Ferguson had enacted a curfew, and those who were peacefully protesting were attacked solely for being there. Police had thrown tear gas at the protesters as an attempt to dissuade them and “keep them in order.” Live tweets and updates allowed people who were directly present at the protests in Ferguson to inform others who weren’t at the protest within seconds as to what was happening. Because of social media, people across the globe have access to this sort of information, and were able to include themselves and stand in solidarity with protests. For example, protesters in Palestine began giving protesters in Ferguson advice about how to overcome tear gas. They also began to stand in solidarity with Ferguson and many Palestinians held signs showing their support. In this moment, two different protests came together, and people began to draw parallels between Israeli occupation and militarization and American police militarization.

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Something quite revolutionary about social media and activism is the plurality of voices that can exist in this given sphere. Instead of news institutions being the dominant form of information, people can now shape the narrative and discourse. Perhaps stories or beliefs that are left out by news organizations can merge itself into the mainstream through social media and globalization. During Ferguson, many people used imagery to convey long rooted historical implications of violence against black people in America. Photos from protests in the 1960s were juxtaposed against photos of protests from today. By comparing these photos taken in completely different eras, people began to see how perhaps not much has changed since the Civil Rights Era, and there may be hidden systemic discrimination and racism still pervasive in America. This sort of gave activism more substance, reason, and, in a way, a more thorough examination of race and violence; it facilitated in creating a fluid and dynamic conversation about the subject matter.

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Due to globalization and social media, we become more aware of issues and opinions that have dwelled underground or have been largely ignored. It also creates an environment in which struggles can unite and people around the world can suddenly have access to things occurring in another part of the world. Ferguson and police brutality are issues that must be addressed and social media and globalization facilitate and add nuance to these conversations.

Afrofuturism and Janelle Monae

Recently, in two different classes I am enrolled in, the topic of Afrofuturism has come up. It has sparked an interest for me, and I have even started discussing Afrofuturism in everyday conversation.

I tried explaining it to my boyfriend, in an everyday, non-academic way. I said something like this, “Basically, African Americans were, like, kidnapped from Africa. They were stripped completely of their background and identity- no country, no language, no family, no traditions to uphold, no legacy, no last name. When you have no past, you have to look to the future for hope. But the thing is, Africa is never associated with the future, it’s backwards and stuck in the past. It’s always in the media as the disease-ridden, human rights-lacking, backwards continent. And so black people are associated with this “Africanism” because it’s part of their identity, even though they don’t know nor do we know their exact true identity. So black people embody this Africanness which is exactly the opposite of futuristic. Black people are not seen as technologically savvy or cutting edge so the response is to make blackness futuristic and cutting edge. Black media makers try to put out media that reflects blackness as futuristic- like science fiction narratives with blacks and cool futuristic sounds and aesthetic in black music. Science fiction narratives are always about people being abducted by aliens and brought to this new planet where they are made slaves, which is exactly what happened to Africans during the slave trade.”

My boyfriend’s response was, “You said you could describe it in 2 sentences. That was a lot more than 2 sentences, babe.”

And much to his chagrin, I did not stop there. I told him about the film Brother From Another Planet and discussed Janelle Monae and Kanye West, their futuristic aesthetics and even the lyrics.

As PopMatters phrased much better than the way I put it, “Afrofuturism wrestles with and reshapes the ways that power is produced and maintained. The exclusion of black people from the vast majority of science-fiction literature, television, and film in the twentieth-century may not have been intentional, but it was never purely accidental, and the resulting message was that unless you were white, you had no significant place or role in these visions of the future.”

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Janelle Monae’s Archandroid album has a lot of Afrofuturist sentiments. From the album cover to Monae’s cyborg alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, to even the lyrics of her song Q.U.E.E.N., Afrofuturism is prominent in her work.

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Janelle_Monáe_-_The_ArchAndroid_album_cover

The final lyrics read, “I’mma keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman/ You can take my wings but I’m still goin’ fly/ And even when you edit me the booty don’t lie/ Yeah keep singing, I’mma keep writing songs/ I’m tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On?”/ March to the streets ’cause I’m willing and I’m able/ Categorize me, I defy every label/ And while you’re selling dope, we’re gonna keep selling hope/ We risin’ up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope/ Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep?/ Or will you preach?”

Not only is Janelle Monae directly linking herself back to black freedom fighters but she is asking the listener to join her and to stop categorizing and labeling her.

As was stated in The Guardian’s article on Afrofuturism, ”

Ytasha Womack sees Monáe’s art as being able to transcend racial boundaries, taking Afrofuturism away from being a purely black concept. “I think that’s why a lot of people enjoy Janelle Monáe, because she talks about this android, this ‘other’. The symbolism is understood,” she says. “A lot of people can associate with this concept of otherness for a whole host of reasons, many of which are not racial, so there’s a connection there.””

In Monae’s song “Tightrope” she features black artist, legendary Afrofuturist, Sun Ra’s “Space Is The Place” (1973). (Afrofuturism the term was invented in 1993, but the sentiments were alive long before).

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My hope is that with artists like Janelle Monae and many, many before and alongside her, blackness can be come distanced from the Africa that is constantly displayed by the media. My hope is that all of the attention on Ebola does not further perpetuate the “otherness” of black people, but that instead the work of black media makers can redefine blackness and begin creating the idea of the future of black people, their role in the future, and their importance.

In light of the recent events in Ferguson, the presence of Ebola ridden countries in Western Africa, and all other negative light that could be shed on black people and perpetuate racist sentiment, I hope that with these black creative minds the media can have more blacks in a positive spotlight.

Globalizing Black Friday

All last week I found myself bombarded with television, radio, and online advertisements for one of the biggest spectacles of the year: Black Friday. Every year stores open earlier and earlier with bigger sales and more aggressive advertising. Recently I’ve wondered what Black Friday means to the rest of the world. The media coverage of violence and riots over half off flatscreens no doubt reaches other nations. Are people intrigued by this day when millions of Americans line up to shop in the middle of the night or even at dinnertime on a national holiday?

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Not surprisingly, this consumer tradition has begun to spread to other nations. In the past few years alone, Black Friday has gone from a strange happening in the US to a major retail day in the UK, France, China, Brazil, and more. While it isn’t as established as it is in the US, large chains and a few prominent stores have begun to participate in Black Friday. In the UK, online retailers were especially optimistic about this year’s Black Friday, expecting record-breaking sales. According to an article on the Economist, Amazon “claims that it introduced Black Friday to Britain in 2010, but it was only last year that it really took off” when other retailers started to join in.   In France, “Le Black Friday” is gaining momentum. Companies in Germany and Sweden are also enticed by the promise of unprecedented profits, some making the commitment to en entire Black Week of discounts. Nigerians are enjoying sales on US products as well thanks to Mall for Africa, which ships products purchased on American websites to Nigeria.

Black Friday is a crucial shopping event in Brazil where imported goods and foreign brands are especially sought after. The rising popularity of this “adopted holiday” is largely due to increased Internet access and a greater knowledge of costs and discounts abroad. An analyst for Euromonitor International, Alexis Frick, explains “In Brazil, we always had high prices and difficult access to international brands, so there’s pent-up demand. There’s even more pent-up demand now because [thanks to higher Internet penetration] we have more information about prices abroad. This is driving awareness of events like Black Friday” (wsj.com). Even though Brazilians have a new way to save money on their favorite products, the event does not come without drawbacks. Thousands of shoppers complain about false discounts, invalid coupons, and other tricks retailers are playing on their customers. Similarly, Costa Rican authorities warn shoppers about counterfeit goods during “Viernes Negro.”

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As the Black Friday spectacle spreads around the world, countries import more than discounts and advertising. Shopping frenzy induced violence results in injuries, arrests, and chaos just like it does in the US. Stores abroad are finding themselves needing increased security and sometimes police supervision on Black Friday. If spectacles are thought to encourage a promotional culture of advertising and consumerism, Black Friday may be considered an ultimate form of commercial spectacle. People are made passive by overwhelming amounts of advertising for huge sales. Meanwhile, the event is obscuring labor relations on the local and global level and also distracting the public from greater news events. Media coverage of Black Friday in the US and now other countries has been an undeniable factor in promoting the event abroad. Based on advertising, media coverage, and increased awareness of events abroad, the spectacle of Black Friday is a highly visual one. Truly all aspects of Black Friday- good and bad- are being recreated as the retail industry exports this American consumer tradition.

Sources:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/black-friday-shopping-is-not-just-a-us-sport-2014-11-26

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-26/-le-black-friday-now-global-with-deals-just-a-click-away.html

http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/11/economist-explains-22

http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2014/11/28/wary-brazilians-embrace-black-friday-shopping/

Higher Education: Globalized

Countries such as China, India, and South Korea have been sending an ever increasing number of students to America as international students to study in undergraduate and graduate universities. Asian international students compose more than 10% of enrollments at institutions of higher education in the US. Students in foreign countries such as those listed above compete with each other to get in better institutions in the United States instead of applying for universities back at home. The idea that the West is the land of opportunities has been deeply engrained in the minds of millions of students across the globe. Thus, these international students receive excellent GPA’s in school and are heavily involved in extra curricular activities in order to stand out from the thousands of mainland USA applicants.

After graduating from an undergraduate program at an Ivy League school in the US, one can say it is definitely easier to get a higher paying, more prestigious job when students return back to their home countries. Because the names of these Ivy Leagues are heavily associated with smart, extraordinary, and admirable connotations, students are more likely to be even more respected by their peers than those who graduated in universities in their home countries.

Globalization has definitely impacted pop cultural and political/economic factors throughout the world, and education is no exception. Getting educated abroad is considered a privilege and has been proven to be extremely advantageous to the student in their future careers.