I learned today on Facebook that Ava DuVernay won the Tribeca Film Institute’s Inaugural Heineken Affinity Award. Kudos! Her wonderful films and ambitious African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, are much-deserving of this support. Understand: her work, her films, her prize-winning is not what I am against. Prizes like this help independent cinema. So, as a producer myself of two African-American indie features, I say: the more prizes the merrier!

I write, instead, against the social-media based gamification of this award whereby the many, equally deserving African-American filmmakers also up for this prize (Andrew Dosunmu, Cheryl Dunye, Nelson George, Kahlil Joseph, Victoria Mahoney, Terence Nance, Akosua Adoma Owuso, Yvonne Welbon, and Ross Williams) were asked to mobilize their (my) cultural community, daily, by having us vote for them, for what seemed like an eternity. But, the makers, supporters, scholars, and perhaps even fans of independent black cinema are a small, and devoted subculture; one in which I am proud to play an active part. We know each other, help each other out, and are in political and personal support of the project, writ-large, of African American visibility, voice, and complex and sophisticated expressive culture. All the influential artists on this list get their work made, watched, financed, written about, taught, and distributed largely within a committed cultural milieu founded within a politics and practice of the sharing of resources, support, community, and artistic vision. This is a community of care, mostly working outside of dominant institutional support; and (I know), to get indie black films made, people support each other!

It pained me more than I wish to express that I had to vote for my “favorite” between friends, respected colleagues, family, and artists I admire and support in other ways. This popularity mentality, this gamification of an intimate cultural sphere, has nothing to do with my commitments to this project, nor that of the people who were lucky enough to be its potential beneficiaries. My friends and colleagues were forced to compete against each other, rather than engage in the supportive, communal, politically-motivated practices that define black independent cinema. Of course, for a measly $20K, Heineken got more information about the buying habits, and other likes, of this influential community then can be easily quantified. I knew I gave this for free every time I voted. Which, I will also admit, I did on many occasions (although I was and am against it), in the name of my friends, their amazing work, and the possibility of supporting a project from this unstoppable community, albeit one always strapped for cash.

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I first blogged about five years ago (on August 21, 2007) following the always astute advise of Yvonne Welbon who was, at that time, producing a feature documentary I was making with and about my sister Antonia. Always a student of industry, Yvonne was convinced that producing a vibrant web-presence for myself would also enable grand possibilities for SCALE. In this she proved both dead-on and also off-target. Over three-hundred posts later, and a much more dispersed and vast Internet life than I could have ever imagined in 2007—one that includes this blog and another, three YouTube channels, a born-digital video-book, several websites, a global initiative to teach feminism and technology online, and uncountable web articles, interviews, reviews, guest-posts—I would like to pause and think about what and why I do here; who I am when on this blog; and why none of that mattered much for my documentary but did end up affecting my work and myself in other ways:

I am also speaking (metaphorically) to Geert Lovink, who I have been reading lately (about blogs: see his Networks without a Cause and Zero Comments), and to graduate students and their mentors who just might be reading, some of whom I’ve (literally) been talking with a lot about the role of blogs and other forms of Internet presence within our profession. I think, with all the best intentions, like my producer Yvonne before us, we’re getting some of this quite wrong (that is to say in what ways it actually helps us; and how we might best use it) as well as other parts right. Most specifically, the Internet’s unassailable logic of numbers, popularity, or virality is actually not well-suited to the kind of work that most of us do which is deep, focused and small by design; and the neo-liberal production of glossy or cool, sellable, spreadable things and surfaces (selves, websites, blogs) does not map neatly to careers based first upon content. By looking to mainstream Internet practices (as was true for Hollywood film before us) we fail to understand the norms and needs of marginal, radical, or alternative users or uses of a medium. So:

  • I see this blog as a tool and extension of my professional life as media scholar, maker, and activist. I think of it as an “academic blog” or “professional blog” with little in common with blogs that re-post things by other people, mark the mundane and private, or sell things.
  • I write quickly (usually in an hour or less) about the work I am currently seeing, making or reading, what I am thinking or teaching about (including other blogs), and cultural concerns that connect to topics of interest to my work and so now also to this blog (AIDS, fake and real documentary, YouTube and Internet culture, queer and feminist art and media).
  • I write short because: that is part of the style I have honed for this place (I also try to include at least one video); I imagine that that is what readers expect online; this allows me to write quick, so I can do so often and even when I have other responsibilities.
  • I try to write in a voice that is neither overly academic nor excessively personal, even as
  • I write in the I voice.
  • I am not anonymous even as I rarely discuss my private life.
  • When I reveal personal things about my non-professional life this is because theyare part of my professional life, in that my work is most often about the personal and political. Even so, I do so with care (marking and monitoring my own limits for revelation) and because my feminist methods, topics, and politics so demand.
  • I write to a small but steady group of readers who rarely comment. I know who a few of you are, I guess about some of the others, and a significant chunk I have no idea about, although I know you wouldn’t read me if you didn’t share some of my professional concerns. I am small and specific enough not to draw haters (although I get a lot of spam).
  • I have no interest in growing my readership although I do cross-blog, on occasion, because I think communities outside my niche might be interested.
  • I have met people through my blog and have gone on to work on projects with them.
  • I have met readers of my blog, and learned that sometimes I speak to them.
  • I have used writing from the blog towards other, larger projects. The quick words often become more thoughtful talks, larger articles, or merely the records of thoughts I had that help me to develop new thinking and remember old.
  • I do not think about this as a “publication” (for my cv), but I do include it as an entry under the category: “on the Internet.”
  • I do not think of this writing as self-branding, although I suppose it could be construed as such. Rather, I imagine myself talking first to myself, and then anyone else who might want to listen because we share interests and might want to learn more from each other.
  • I do not think of this writing as self-promotion, although I suppose it could be construed that way. Rather, I imagine it at work within a network of the like-minded who are seeking evidence of, and new insights upon, our shared interests in our rather hostile, inane, or rushed culture.
  • I do not think of this writing as a diary: it is neither personal nor hidden.
  • I do think of this writing as critical Internet and cultural studies, about and in its vernacular, place, and spirit while also exhibiting and enacting the feminist qualities I wish for this and other places: visibility, context, criticality, safety, community.
  • I think of this Internet practice as Internet theory.
  • I write first to craft and share this Internet self to myself, then to place my marginal cultural interests and insights into the record, and finally, to anyone else who will have me.

As it is wont to do, the blogisphere will tackle, pin-down, chew-up, devour, and spit out the story of the phony “lesbian blogger Amina” and her pseudo-lesbian editor, “Paula Brooks.” I would like to enter my two-cents to the fray by speaking as a “black lesbian.” I do not take on this position lightly, as was also true for Tom McMaster and Bill Graber who say they understood some of what was at stake during their lengthy charades as “lesbians.” However I do not do so because I hear this titillating character inside my brain or because I need a beard to write in support of lesbian issues. Black lesbians speak just fine for themselves, and much of what they demand and produce is the possibility to voice their experiences and knowledge into history and culture on their own.

I speak here as a “black lesbian” because when I was teaching my course on feminist online spaces during the Spring, to my surprise and initial confusion, so many of my students did. They were assigned to inhabit an online space for the semester and make a number of interventions there about feminism and anti-racism. Somehow, a significant enough number of them decided to do so as a “black lesbian” that this became a short-hand for us to name a number of online behaviors worth noting here:

  • the “black lesbian” marks the outside limit of difference on the internet, a non-differentiated space where race, class, gender, and sexuality are neutralized
  • the “black lesbian” marks the outside limit of difference for the bodies and lived experience of many humans who are more hegemonically situated
  • these limits so broken, the “black lesbian’s” position authorizes her to raise otherwise unmentionable or outlawed points about race, gender, class, and sexuality online by anchoring these forbidden thoughts to a body that seems to have the right and need to so speak
  • as if we white, straight, male, wealthy, Latino, biracial, bisexual, working-class, transgender, Jewish, Hungarian others don’t already have our own authority to trouble so easily or casually or “honestly” or “naturally” the norms, boundaries, and rules of the spaces we inhabit

Internet studies has thoughtfully and carefully worked through the reasons of the cyber-ruse over these many years, and I hope the blogisphere will find Lisa Nakamura’s work on cybernetic-tourism, or Allucquere Roseanne Stone‘s thinking about “virtual cross-dressers,” to be useful to think through today’s late-breaking fake-news. My own work on the “Increasingly Unproductive Fake,” in relation, in particular, to queer representation and YouTube ironic freefall might also prove helpful.

MacMaster blogs, “I want to turn the focus away from me and urge everyone to concentrate on the real issues, the real heroes, the real people struggling to bring freedom to the Arab world. I have only distracted from real people and real problems. Those continue; please focus on them.”

The problem with this plea, as sincere as it may be, is that popular culture reminds us again and again that men and white people always play better women then women, better lesbians than lesbians, and better blacks than blacks because the real ones are too right, or correct, or left, and in the end, it’s easier to palate difficult issues with irony.