Modern Griots Interviews: Renina Jarmon and Black Girls Are From the Future

 Renina and Jessica share notes before the meet and greet. Erica Jane takes photos.
Renina and Jessica share notes before the meet and greet. Erica Jane takes photos.

Renina Jarmon is a writer, cultural critic, blogger and educator whose work centers on Black women’s sexuality and pop culture, as well as race, technology and the concept of self. She recently released her book, Black Girls Are From the Future, a collection of essays based on her popular posts from her blog New Model Minority. Here is part one of my interview with Jarmon in which she talks about her inspiration for her book, what to look forward to in it, its appeal to a variety of people, her documentary, and social media and women of color. Part two will be up tomorrow.

1) What or who was your main inspiration for the putting together the book?

First let me say thank you for creating the space for the #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture online book tour (#thetour), I really appreciate it. I remember that you reached out to me way back in February so I just wanted to state my gratitude. Having folks check for me earlier this year means a lot.

So to answer your question. Well, I’ve written over 963 blog posts. About 100 of those are essays, full out essays with citations. My friend Garland McLaurin was the first person to say that my blog was like a book back in 2007. I have had two explicit conversations on my blog with blog readers about what they would pay for and the readers were very clear in that they would pay for a book, a magazine or any other kind of printed item. But they wouldn’t pay for blog posts. It was really important to have this information. In fact I wrote about how significant having this information was in the essay “A Mini Social Media/MBA Boot Camp For Your Brand: 7 Key Steps.” I recognize that it is rare to be able to connect directly with your community and ask them exactly what they would pay for, especially as an independent media producer.

Also, I know that there were plenty of bloggers, Black women bloggers who were using their platforms to move on to do other kinds of work, Britni Danielle (Clutch Mag Online), Jamilah Lemieux (Ebony Magazine), Luvvie Ajayi (The Red Pump Project and Social Media Trainings), Latoya Peterson (Al Jazeera) are just a few. It was helpful for me to help me to see these Black women making digital moves, 2013 – 2014 is #blackgirltime. What I mean by #Blackgirltime is that the barriers to entry are only going to get higher so it is important to make your move now, if you so desire.

2) As you know, the name of the book is a popular hashtag in social media and with other popular hashtags, like #solidarityisforwhitewomen, what is the importance of social media and new media in black girls’ futures and creating a space for ourselves there?

Girl. I love the internet, and I am also ambivalent about it. I Love the internet; I think that it has served as a powerful tool for Black women, for Women of Color, Native American folks, Muslim folks to speak back to and engage with mainstream media instructions and to find community. Tumblr in particular has served as a hyper-networked space for stories that have been marginalized. Some examples of blogs that accomplish this are Microaggressions: Power, Privilege and Everyday Life edited by Vivian Lu and David Zhou. There is also a wonderful list just put together by the blog Racism School. This list names nearly 100 tumblr blogs that featuring People of Color.

On the other hand I am ambivalent about the internet because while it allows our work to circulate, it also creates the opportunity for folks to (mis)use our work or just not cite Black and Brown women at all. In fact, every time I see someone using Mikki Kendall’s #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen hashtag without attributing it to her grates against my skin. Getting a hashtag to trend globally requires having a HUGE network with deep connections and a timely message. I recognize the work and history and archive building that went into accomplishing that. With that being said, I was using hashtags within blog posts in 2010 and I remember people asking me what are you doing? So yes, the Black and Brown girl hashtag game is serious, it always has been. I don’t want us #digitalsharecropping for anyone. And sometimes it seems that social media creates the expectation that Black Women and Women of Color are here to teach you shit that you can google. We are not.

To go back to the hashtags and ownership, I trademarked #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture for this reason. Quite simply, people will take your shit, they will take your magic if you don’t recognize game. Now #BGFTF doesn’t belong to me on the internet or even in person. I LOVE hearing stories of how Black women or folks in general use #BGFTF. It is a bit peculiar in that regard. Folks use it everywhere and I love it. I mean #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture wouldn’t be anything without the community that Loves the hashtag. In fact, I just discovered the #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture hashtag on Instagram. Instant Freshness.

For me the issue has been folks using it in print without my permission or the possibility usage of it in other

Renina being silly @ TV One, promoting the #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture brand.
Renina being silly @ TV One, promoting the #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture brand.

social/financial capital gaining contexts without my permission. In the words of Busta Rhymes, “I’ve got to own all my masters.” (Peace to my homegirl @dylandigits for continually talking to me about issue of independent media ownership over the years.) I know that in addition to being a content producer, I have to go into stealth Black girl content protector.

3) You mentioned that you are creating a documentary as a Black feminist response to what you call the “Steve Harvey Industrial Complex.” That’s an interesting concept, especially with men like Steve Harvey, Tyler Perry, Lee Daniels, Tyrese, Rev Run, etc. writing books, getting talk shows and getting the spotlight through putting black women “in their place,” so to speak. Can you expound more on that idea and your documentary?

Wow. I forgot that I framed the documentary that way. I initially started off with the Steve Harvey Industrial Complex and the ways in which there is a veritable industry that pivots on monitoring, analyzing and scrutinizing heterosexual Black women’s dating lives. I think that we do in fact need to keep an eye on these narratives but my documentary project has shifted to thinking about what some Black women are saying about some Black women’s sexuality. I am also very interested in what some Black women filmmakers and scholars have said about Black women’s sexuality over the years. In particular I am thinking about Kathleen Collins, Hortense Spillers, Gloria Naylor (The Women of Brewster’s Place), Barbara Smith and the new web series featuring Black women and women of color such as The Peculiar Kind and The Real Babymamas of Richmond. While I am still concerned with what the brothers are saying, I shifted my point of departure, to a starting  point of Black women.

4) What can readers look forward to? Which essays do you think will stand out to readers?

Oh my. What a great question. They can look for some great feminist writing that looks at life at the intersections. I think I had the most fun writing the Race and Kickstarter essay, “Thinking About the Politics of Race and Fundraising on Kickstarter” where I examine three Kickstarter campaigns. The footnotes in that essay are bananas. In this essay I analyze the racism that Spike Lee encountered when he launched his Kickstarter campaign this summer and the implications of this racism for the future of Black filmmaking.

5) How will this book speak to and include not only black women, but also other communities of people, like men of color and LGBTQ?

This is an interesting question because I wouldn’t separate Black women from LGBTQ communities. Now this isn’t to say that I haven’t struggled with naming, and identity categories because I have; we are all trying. In fact I have a good story about this. One of my favorite stories from the process of the shooting the documentary was that I wanted a friend, my friend Z, who I identified as a Black woman to participate. Well Z, turned around and said “I don’t identify as a Black woman, I identify as gender queer” and “I was like OH DIP, you have to be in the doc, because the purpose of the work is to push the boundaries of how we think about race and gender.” Z thought that how she identified meant that she couldn’t participate. The opposite was true. I went on to tell Z, well, you can identify as a “gender queer Black woman” and you need to be here, because the focus isn’t just on cis-gendered Black women. This moment is important to me because it is a reminder of how process and outcomes are connected. Meaning that I had to go through this with Z in order to see the work that goes into interrogating how we use language to describe our realities.

So there is work in here for the brothers. The essay “Why I Will not Be Going to See Fruitvale Station” focuses on issues of gendered violence against Black men. I also talk about how my brother was beaten by the Oakland Police Department and how this has shaped and influenced the kinds of violence I am willing to consume in pop culture. I also include an older essay that I’ve written “Hip Hop & Patriarchy: My Struggle with Mobb Deep” where I talk about what it means to be entertained by music where Black men are killing other Black men and my LOVE of boom bap rap music.

There is work in here for the sisters such as ” A Black Feminist Response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In” and “Black Women Who Run From Their Genius (May) MakeThemselves Sick: Thinking About Kathleen Collins.” I like the Lean In essay because it doesn’t dismiss Sandberg’s book outright, in fact I focus a lot on what is awesome about it. But I also focus on shifts in US employment for White women and Women of Color and how Lean In could have had a richer analysis if looked at working class and low income women.

In terms of the appeal of the book, if you enjoy the Black feminist blogosphere you will like the book. I think that folks across race (White Folks and Folks of Color) who like thinking through issues of gender and race using pop culture as a point of analysis will really like the book essays in the book. Journalist and scholar Evette Dion just mentioned to me last week on Twitter that the book should come with a warning, that it may trigger moments of deep reflection. I was honored when she said that but I was also mortified. It made it sound too serious. So I think when you sit down to read the book, your mind might need to be in a specific kind of place. I respect that she told me that and I want other folks to know that this has been said about the book.

Part 2 tomorrow…

“Black Girls Are From the Future Essays on Race Digital Creativity and Pop Culture” was named one of the “Black Feminist Books Everyone Should Read” by The Root. The book is available on Amazon and at Big Cartel. Join the Facebook Community here. Check out the blog here. Sign up to receive updates about Renina’s work here! #kaboom.

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