Insight – Black Girl Labor as Magic: Toward an Understanding of Digital Black Feminism

This is an insight written by Angela Yang on the recent Bahá’í Chair for World Peace lecture by Dr. Catherine Knight Steele, Black Girl Labor as Magic: Toward an Understanding of Digital Black Feminism, co-sponsored with The Critical Race Initiative, the College of Arts and Humanities, and the College of Behavioral and Social Science on March 12, 2019. 

When first hearing the title of her lecture, “Black Girl Labor as Magic”, I was unsure what the talk would cover. However, Dr. Catherine Knight Steele exceeded my expectations in breaking down this topic by delivering compelling arguments about her theories on digital black feminism.

She began with deconstructing some basic assumptions about black people’s usage of technology. Her assertion that black people are actually technophiles made me realize my unconscious bias of black people as technophobic. This is perpetrated by society and media, such as always showing Africans as poor, tribal people and the lack of visibility of black entrepreneurs in the technology start up space. My definition of technology and innovation is very traditional in that I immediately imagine a new creation, whether it be physical or virtual. Steele uses a much broader definition of innovative technology which includes how the technology is used along with the actual technology itself.

Implicitly challenging the traditional definition of what technology entails is crucial in her examination of digital black feminism. The discussion led me to think about applications of technology in the black community that I would have excluded based on my definition. New uses of technology that were powered by black communities, such as with the Twitter community she referenced or the Black Lives Matter movement, helped me see how progressive the digital black community can be.

The other section of her lecture that especially stuck out to me was her discussion on Beyoncé and feminism. The Lemonade album was a deep dive into issues in her personal relationships and celebrated black culture. While Beyoncé embodies the archetype of the successful, liberated woman who has survives the trials and tribulations of sexism, infidelity, and more, there are people who take an alternative perspective. These opposing arguments critique her usage of sexuality and blackness as a capitalist exploit that reinforces the patriarchal status quo. Not to say that this critique is not valid or important, but these grey areas should not be interpreted with absolute ideals.

Steele makes an excellent point when she talks about how feminists, black feminists especially, are constantly challenged to be as “woke” as possible. In my opinion, this sort of mindset is actually incredibly harmful, because it mandates that individuals must react and advocate for every relevant event or issue. Not only is this exhausting, but it can damage the ethos of the individual when they have a delayed or subdued response. Those who have the loudest or most frequent voice might not always be the most credible or reliable sources, yet this mentality rewards that behavior. The idea that there is a clear, measurable cutoff on a hypothetical activist scale and those who do not reach that cutoff are not progressive enough is neither feasible nor beneficial to the community. I have seen this with my peers who support LGBTQ+ rights, but are excluded from that space for accidentally using the wrong pronouns for an individual.

Overall, Steele’s lecture posed a lot of interesting points that challenged my traditional ways of thinking. Some of the problems she mentioned with digital black feminism are not necessarily unique, but it serves as a great study in how technology has changed the way we interact with the public and with each other. With the rapidly changing state of the world and progression of technology, I would be curious how digital black feminism and other uses of technology evolve with the times.

About the Author: 

Angela Yang is an Information Systems and Operations Management/Business Analytics double major in the Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is involved in MZZ ventures, a non-profit consulting organization that helps agricultural start-ups in Ghana. In the future, she hopes to enter the consulting field then transition into international development work.

To watch the lecture visit the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace Youtube page at the link here.

To learn more about the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace visit the website here.

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