Deviant Black Bodies and Embodied Black Feminism in the Blogosphere

Home > Dialogues > Catherine Knight Steele Digital Dialogue
Catherine Steele

Catherine Knight Steele

University of Maryland
@SteeleCat717
MITH Conference Room
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
12:30 pm

Online space often operates within an invisible white universe with blackness becoming apparent only insomuch as it is rendered deviant. In a post-Cosby and Obama era of perceived post-raciality, black people are left to exist purely within the “dominant social imagination as media constructed stars and fantasy figures.” Black characters in popular culture thrive only insomuch as they propel the post racial fantasies of white America. Radhika Mohanram argues that the black body is only black when out of its place, for within context it is but a body. She goes on to point out from Fanon, that the black (wo)man exists to provide perspective rather than to she herself have perspective. A critical analysis of the digital culture of black and white feminist thought in Jezebel and For Harriet provides a site to examine what happens when the subject, the black body, at least temporarily does not exist as an ‘other’ but is squarely within a context that allows it to be merely a body.

Within the blogosphere there are rules of invisible whiteness that pervade online interaction. Examining whiteness as embedded within the digital culture of a blog like Jezebel is done by combining material and discursive theories of whiteness focusing on how the codes of conduct privilege white discourse, culture and values. Toni Morrison describes the invisibility of whiteness as the fishbowl that contains both fish and water. While seemingly invisible, whiteness paradoxically “may be hyper-visible as either a preferred or a threatened status”. Whiteness is only made hyper-visible through its absence in the discourse about black character by black. Critical techno-cultural discourse analysis requires us to view technology as artifact, function and belief. Therefore, to better understand technologies as cultural objects we must parse through the beliefs as articulated by users and visible in the content they produce.  In a CTDA of two blogs, For Harriet and Jezebel produced for and by women that articulate a feminist agenda. For Harriet intentionally targets black women and centralizes black feminist thought while Jezebel, a feminist blog, implicitly promotes what Mariana Ortega deems ‘white feminism’. The default status of ‘white’ is removed for white feminists who must contend with becoming deviant within the normative universe created by black women in the blogosphere.

Kishonna Gray explains “embodiment is a process rather than a given, and in order to sustain this meaning, it must constantly and continually be articulated and performed.” Black women utilize online blogging platforms in celebration and critique separate from the dominant group. As Jessie Daniels explains, “the Internet offers a “safe space” and a way to not just survive, but also resist, repressive sex/gender regimes. Girls and self-identified women are engaging with Internet technologies in ways that enable them to transform their embodied selves, not escape embodiment.”

See below for a Storify recap of this Digital Dialogue, including links to resources and projects that Steele referenced during her talk.

Catherine Knight Steele is a native Chicagoan who received her doctorate in Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She previously served as an assistant professor at Colorado State University. Her research focuses on African American culture and discourse in mass and new media, and publications have appeared in the Howard Journal of Communications and Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online (Peter Lang, 2016). Her dissertation, “Digital Barbershops: The Politics of African American Oral Culture in Online Blog Communities,” explored the politics of African American blogs as contributing to online counterpublics and secondary orality. She is currently working on a monograph about digital black feminism and new media technologies. Steele will serve as the first Project Director of Synergies Among Digital Humanities and African American History and Culture (AADHum).

A continuously updated schedule of talks is also available on the Digital Dialogues webpage.

Unable to attend the events in person? Archived podcasts can be found on the MITH website, and you can follow our Digital Dialogues Twitter account @digdialog as well as the Twitter hashtag #mithdd to keep up with live tweets from our sessions. Viewers can watch the live stream as well.

All talks free and open to the public. Attendees are welcome to bring their own lunches.

Contact: MITH (mith.umd.edu, mith@umd.edu, 301.405.8927).