Call Me On My Cellphone, Late Night When You Need My Commentary on Black Culture
A recent episode of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend explores black culture in the age of dating apps, Goop, and a growing national dialogue around blackness.
Every morning, I listen to a podcast as I buzz around my apartment — curling my hair, feeding my cat, making coffee. Previously, the even-keeled tones of the NPR Morning Edition fill the sleepy air of my studio, but lately, I’ve been listening to a much different podcast: Call Your Girlfriend.
Call Your Girlfriend is the audio undertaking of two amazing women: Ann Friedman (a New York Magazine columnist) and Aminatou Sow (a digital strategist who was named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in their tech category). After Robyn’s sugary pop song “Call Your Girlfriend” thuds each episode to a start, the women talk about everything from politics to periods.
Ann and Amina share their unique perspectives on pop culture and current events, and engage in a dialogue as best friends from very different backgrounds: Ann is white and Amina is black, which they openly discuss in nearly every episode. As a white 20-something who grew up in rural, middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin, learning about different backgrounds and different perspectives is incredibly important as I begin to resemble an adult. Lately, every cultural conundrum I have encountered has been swiftly tackled or touched on by Call Your Girlfriend, from the Amber Rose/Kanye Twitter feud to — most recently — black culture on the Internet.
Reading Doreen St. Felix’s insightful “Black Teens Are Breaking The Internet And Seeing None Of The Profits,” I was confronted with a truthful but bleak take on the fate of black cultural contributions to the Internet. Felix pointed to virtual trends of appropriating black culture without any credit. For instance, 16 year-old Vine star, Kayla Newman invented and popularized the phrase “on fleek” which has circulated the web and has been capitalized on by corporations. Additionally, Felix talks about black dancers whose videos cause dance crazes and promote the music featured in their choreography, only to have their efforts taken down from Youtube over copyright violations.
I was processing and grappling with Felix’s article again this morning as I got ready. I was — and still am — puzzled over the intricacies of this problem. Ownership, dissemination, appropriation, and remixing in the age of the internet are boundless. I’m not even sure I believe it is feasible to expect recognition or renumeration for contributing to Internet culture, when anyone who uses the Internet — especially those who use constant culture-generating platforms like Vine, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, etc — must understand that the nature of the internet is rapid dissemination, and, ultimately, anonymity.
Felix counters these questions in her article, saying “that the speed and relative borderlessness of the internet makes cross-platform, global dissemination seem like a consequence of tech is a convenient amnesia.” And while I cannot entirely agree with this dismissal of the nature of the Internet, I have to admit that the white and corporate pillaging of “Black Cool” (and the subsequent and hypocritical disinterest in the issues that black people disproportionately face in America, like incarceration, discrimination, and murder at the hands of the police) must be considered when discussing the Internet as well.
What also stumped me about Felix’s piece was that it didn’t offer any counter examples, any links or nods to black people on the Internet who are generating culture and cultural criticism, and are being credited for their work — and demanding that others and they themselves get the attention they deserve.
This was the internal conflict I was having when I wandered into my tiny bathroom this morning and turned on Call Your Girlfriend. Fatefully, blessedly, Amina’s voice rang out over the cold tiles of my bathroom. Every other week, the women of CYG “phone a friend” and introduce their listeners to one of their fabulous female friends. On the February 12th episode of CYG, Amina called her friend Jenna Wortham.
The women talked about a new project, Bloop — the half-joking, half-serious “black Goop” (both a nod and an eye-roll to Gwyneth Paltrow’s ridiculous lifestyle blog and online shop), which you can read about right here on Medium. They discussed exclusively black social media and dating platforms. The women even offered a complex reading of Sex and the City (no small feat) and chatted about realistic depictions of psychedelic drugs in recent films.
Amina introduced me to Wortham’s work, which in turn got me Googling about her other work. Wortham and her friend—Kimberly Drew, who runs the fantastic blog Black Contemporary Art — are the co-founders of a project called Black Futures. The forthcoming project was described by the Walker Art Center blog as a “hybrid project [that] will combine short essays and original, commissioned artworks from a variety of sources, all drawn from personal networks that span from storied institutions to Internet artists to online communities.” Speaking of the project, the duo elaborated:
We’re devoted to the act of preserving and documenting contemporary blackness in the post-digital age and our ultimate plan is to create a time capsule that reflects the deep contours of global blackness at this precise moment in history.
The entire post, besides offering an introduction to the Black Futures project, highlights Wortham and Drew’s ten best things that happened culturally in 2015 — a list dominated by people of color generating, examining, explaining, consuming, and dominating culture. Read the entire piece here.
This is all to say that while I agree with Doreen St. Felix (black teens are breaking the Internet and seeing none of the profits) there are also vibrant spaces on the Internet where the cultural creations of black people are being discussed and disseminated respectfully — like a podcast named after a Swedish pop song.