Letter from the Editors
NC State University
A. Joseph Dial
Brittany Clark Young
NC State University
Citation: Scrivens, Kashian, A. Joseph Dial and Brittany Clark Young. “Letter from the Editors.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 25, 2022. doi:10.20415/hyp/025.i01
Abstract: Blackness as a non-monolithic lived experience surrounds us at all times, permeating across institutions and platforms. Within this antiblack singularity where Black is rendered visible through violence and cruelty, Look @ Me Now: Black (In)Visibility across Institutions and Platforms seeks submissions highlighting Black joy, activism, exploration, and liberation as an unapologetic reclamation. Blackness does not and must not fit into Western technocultural modes of being and living. In lieu of challenges, across various spaces, platforms, and institutions perseverance and ingenuity have long served Black people as catalysts for agency and visibility. Shifting perspectives and bending realities, Blackness continues to leave its imprint within cultures, technologies, institutions, and platforms. Black (In)Visibility speaks to Black narratives and traditions as both demanding visibility and foretelling the benefits of an insular and protective interpretation of obscurity. Particularly, the invisibility of Blackness can be combated through non-oppressive systems and frameworks of knowing, doing, and being. What non-traditional frameworks and technologies do we use to make Blackness visible? How do choices of consumption and engagement confront and produce assumptions and frameworks for Blackness and establish alternative frameworks of vitality and joy? And finally, in what ways does visibility, invisibility, or hypervisibility affect the constitution and perception of Black personhood and everyday life? Our interpretation of (in)visibility encompasses the diversity of Black imaging and imagining and redaction and annotation. Moreover, our hope in this collection is to assemble a robust corpus that engages with Black (In)Visibility across various non-academic spaces and academic disciplines and perspectives.
Keywords: Blackness, visibility, platform studies, digital studies, Black rhetorics.
“Emancipation did not make Black life free; it continues to hold us in that singularity. The brutality was not singular; it was the singularity of antiblackness. In what I am calling the weather, antiblackness is pervasive as climate. The weather necessitates changeability and improvisation; it is the atmospheric conditions of time and space; it produces new ecologies.”
--Christina Sharpe, In the Wake
“In Western technoculture, Blackness is theorized as a technical object to be acted upon for the disposal of White political and economic pleasure while for Afrofuturism, Blackness is theorized as a technological avatar to be idealized for Black political and reparative fantasies.”
--Andre Brock, “Black Technoculture and/as Afrofuturism”
The two above epigraphs situate the contextual reality at stake within this issue: first, the ways in which antiblackness functions as an assumed and essential measuring stick of Black life, and second, how Black technocultural practices, both now and in the past, have undermined the disposability of Blackness, giving way to a fuller picture of Black life where joy and liberation are not seen as reparative afterthoughts but central tenets of Black life and living. In lieu of challenges, across various spaces, platforms, and institutions perseverance and ingenuity have long served Black people as catalysts for agency and visibility. Shifting perspectives and bending realities, Blackness continues to leave its imprint within cultures, technologies, institutions, and platforms. Black (In)Visibility speaks to Black narratives and traditions as both demanding visibility and foretelling the benefits of an insular and protective interpretation of obscurity. Particularly, the invisibility of Blackness can be combated through non-oppressive systems and frameworks of knowing, doing, and being. What non-traditional frameworks and technologies do we use to make Blackness visible? How do choices of consumption and engagement confront and produce assumptions and frameworks for Blackness and establish alternative frameworks of vitality and joy? And finally, in what ways does visibility, invisibility, or hypervisibility affect the constitution and perception of Black personhood and everyday life?
While these questions most immediately evoke Simone Browne’s Dark Matters, particularly her understanding of racializing surveillance as being a “technology of social control [with the] power to define what is in or out of place,” (16) our interpretation of (in)visibility encompasses the diversity of Black imaging and imagining along with redaction and annotation. Moreover, our hope in this collection is to assemble a robust corpus that engages with Black (In)Visibility across various non-academic spaces and academic disciplines and perspectives. In sum, Black (In)Visibility challenges us to think beyond binary and often shortsighted politics of visibility, to proffer new ways of seeing the potential of Black culture, performance, art, and critique as being a dynamic, rational endeavor of hypervisibility, camouflage, and the nebulous realm in between. Going further, we also challenge you, dear readers, with this selection of works, to examine the limits of visuality and representation as being effective barometers of healthy Black cultural discourse and output. That is, representation, in its ability to heighten our attunement to the visible, elides the material conditions allowing for its possibility. Better put, when interrogating questions of Blackness, especially, we must always be aware of and looking for opportunities and moments of misdirection, sleight of hand, and camouflage as, not harmful, but legitimate aspects of self- expression, discovery, and realization.
The first of Look @ Me Now’s submissions is Dr. Candice Edrington’s “Looking Back to Move Forward: A Review of Literature to Identify #BlackLivesMatter as the Virtual Community That Sparked a Movement.” In this essay, Dr. Edrington examines the ways in which technology helps combat social injustice, inequality, and police brutality for Black and Brown people by making horrendous events and occurrences, fueled by systemic racism and prejudice, visible for the entire world to see. Her work implements forces the recognition that social media activism demands us to hold Black death up for the world to see, and this act, happening over millions of tweets, posts, hashtags, and likes – in real time – produced a robust virtuality upon which a movement was then built. Moreover, through analysis of what she refers to as “virtual community literature,” Dr. Edrington argues that hashtags, used on social media platforms, serve as not only catalysts for activism but more importantly help create “collective identity in virtual communities.” The initial community formulates through the targeted sharing of hashtags, allowing others in support of the hashtag’s message to identify one another, foster rapport and relationship, and, most importantly, organize to make their virtual activist efforts brought to life through protests and demonstrations. Hashtags, for Dr. Edrington, galvanize online attention to scaffold real-world activism and community, which embeds a Black revolutionary ethic into the expansive algorithms of social media space. #Blacklivesmatter, created as a means of expression to signify one individual's feelings toward the results of a racially driven trial case, blossomed into a movement that changed the ways social media posts can bring people together on- and offline.
Second, Diamond Porter’s “BLERD: The Exploration of Blackness in Gaming Spaces, Practice of Fan interpretations, and Creation of Counterpublics” centers a unique perspective within video games and fandom culture and the discipline of game studies writ large. BLERDS, short for Black Nerds, are the population for which Porter’s piece advocates and, inevitably, affirms. From Black gaming engineers, the inclusion of Black cultural practices within games, and the inclusion of Black characters within games, “BLERD” brings attention to the ever-growing Black gaming community. Using fanfiction as her guiding framework, Porter argues there is space for critically analyzing the role Black discourse, centered on fandom and video games, has within the academy, but also, her work makes space for Black fandom communities and to have their just due. Porter’s work exposes the numerous ways in which Blackness finds sanctuary and vitriol, almost equally, on the online spaces in and surrounding video games as an object, industry, and culture. Through online play and more culturally inflected, online performances of Black embodiment within video games, counterpublics have allowed for not only community to be built, but unique styles in play that may be approached through critical lens. Porter’s innovative approach assists in the expansion of the narrative of Black and Brown bodies within contemporary media forms such as gaming. In becoming visible, accessibility is of the utmost importance. Without access, the monotony of narratives shared across disciplines cannot be expanded and made inclusive. Porter’s “BLERD: The Exploration of Blackness in Gaming Spaces, Practice of Fan interpretations, and Creation of Counterpublics” offers a historical context of Black people’s relationship/access, or lack thereof, within the gaming industry from a cultural standpoint and gradually builds to the cultural impact Black people have had within the gaming industry. Finally, “BLERD” highlights how these virtual Black community spaces are constructed and bring people together in physical spaces too. Looking beyond the assumed status quo of spaces in which Blackness is “supposed” to be found and inhabited, Porter advances the notion that Blackness, emphatically, can never be monolithic, and Black people, for which gamers are included, are a diverse community of individuals with interests that exceed the many stereotypes that are forced upon us.
As our issue’s concluding essay, Dr. Christina Myers’ “Beyond the Lens: Black Professional Athletes on Race, Racism & the Realities of Breathing While Black” is also our longest. This essay takes up how Black professional athletes negotiated the social unrest and unarmed killings of Black folks at the hand of the police. Also, her work centers the online platform, The Players Tribune, which was founded by New York Yankee great Derek Jeter in 2014 as an outlet publishing, almost exclusively, first person perspectives from athletes. Dr. Myers’ work is a qualitative content analysis where she seeks to understand how Black athletes articulate their lived experiences concerning race and racism in the United States through the online digital platform. What’s especially interesting about Dr. Myers work is how she complicates Black visibility. In her essay, the immense visibility of Black athletes across sports and leagues is obvious. However, despite their intense visibility and exposure, Black athletes, aside from social media, have very few outlets to express their opinions and views delving into their experiences outside their respective sports that they can control. The Players Tribune sought to fill this gap. In other words, “Beyond the Lens” presents some of the most visible Black people in the world still want genuine avenues to be visible. To do this, Myers focuses on the reactions of the Black athletic community to the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests during the summer of 2020, and her analysis unearths universal themes such as fear of death and loss of life, theirs and their loved ones; lamentations of violence, reckonings with identity, history, and systemic racism; as well as a call for allyship and Black empowerment and unity.
Finally, in the Gallery we offer Rhian Parker’s “Imago,” a poem, which harnesses the intertwined power of written and visual expression and situates itself within the worlds of entomology and psychoanalysis. “Imago” fascinates with its ability to juxtapose the poem’s primary image of a fly drowning in a glass of wine with provocative binaries of life/death, animal/human, parent/child, and struggle/surrender. Through varying perspectives, Parker unravels the undisclosed and intimate connections linking us all when confronted with the specter of death. Each encounter is different because each has an alternative approach to how the wine is perceived to one another. Parker’s metaphors for the fly and human’s connection leaves something for readers to ponder how visibility, or and sometimes the lack thereof, affects the moving pieces which make life and death unique. As an unusual choice for an academic journal, “Imago,” captures the essence of Look @ Me Now by presenting readers with an alternative to the traditional journal essay. Furthermore, its position among more traditional essays and research challenges the often arbitrary and perfunctory structure of academic production and discourse. If this issue is indeed about the unsung ways Blackness negotiates visibility in and through spaces where it as historically been denied, then the inclusion of “Imago” materializes as a rupture in what we see as the racially codified matrix of the academy’s ivory tower.
To say we, as editors and collaborators, are proud of this issue would be an understatement. Obviously, we believe in the scholarship of our authors. Beyond this pride, though, we are thrilled that this issue could possibly be a platform for four phenomenal and burgeoning Black women scholars. A special issue, which centers the politics of Black visibility in any way within the academy, generally, and this academic journal, more specifically – in any way – would be severely lacking if it did not invest time, resources, and, most importantly, space for these Black women to be, quite frankly, the rock stars they already were. Here, in this letter, we must take a moment to thank them for their diligence in completing this work, patience in dealing with us, and trust in allowing us the opportunity to showcase their brilliance. Thank you!
In conclusion, Blackness as a non-monolithic lived experience surrounds us at all times, permeating across institutions and platforms. Within Sharpe’s antiblack singularity where Black is rendered visible through violence and cruelty, Look @ Me Now: Black (In)Visibility across Institutions and Platforms highlights Black joy, activism, exploration, and liberation as an unapologetic reclamation. Blackness does not and must not fit just into Western technocultural modes of being and living, and we, the editors of this issue believe these submissions span challenge key assumptions in the study of Black representation and strikes new ground for all scholarship concerning blackness and visibility.
Yours in Scholarship,
Kashian Scrivens, A. Joseph Dial, and Brittany Young