Friday, November 14, 2014


"I didn't want to write a poem that said "blackness
is," because we know better than anyone
that we are not one or ten or ten thousand things
Not one poem" - Elizabeth Alexander 

2014 NWSA Conference...

Thank you for joining us for this panel Technologies of Race and the Futurity of Desire: Feminisms, Gendered Narratives and Cyberspace

Social Media Connections
@nwsa_ig Instagram 
@digifeminist  Instagram 


Please use 'google images'  to search the following:

Take a minute to also explore using a 'google search':

What are the differences in the results?  Please feel free to leave comments in the comments section on this page. 

This project is entitled Surfing for Saras: Black Women in Webbed Worlds.  This research examines the theories associated with information architecture in complexities in contextualizing Black women/femininities in digital spaces.

Research Questions...


“Search is one of the most under-examined aspects of power and consumer protections online, and regulation in the provision of information to the public through the Internet. I contend that there is value in expanding the discourse about search engine results by examining its intersecting racial and gendered bias. By taking a deep look at a snapshot of the web, at a specific moment in time and interpreting the results against the history of race in U.S. society, there is an opportunity to make visible processes that are biased in their impact, but obscured through the rhetoric of technology’s neutrality and popular acceptance in being merely a tool for human use.”  Safiya Umoja Noble, Google Search: Hyper-visibility as a Means of Rendering Black Women and Black Girls Invisible 

We know that physical environments (communities, institutional spaces and ect) can inspire complex negotiations regarding the politics of physical appearances for black women. Often the complexities associated with these negotiations are rooted in historical references and dominant narratives.  My research questions ask: 
  • How do black women negotiate the politics of physical appearances in digital environments?
  • How can the concept of information architecture help us determine the 'beauty standards'  and expectations regarding the politics of physical appearances for black women?
  • How does the concept of information architecture and popular images of black women in digital environments inform the ways that black women negotiate individual identities?  Do these expectations or the negotiations tell us anything about black women's lives?

Information Architecture

According to Internet Live Statistics, Google searches per second 40,000 ; 1.2  trillion per day 

What happens when we google?
Information Architecture 

What is Information Architecture?


Wikipedia states that " Information architecture (IA) is the structural design of shared information environments; the art and science of organizing and labelling websitesintranetsonline communities and software to support usability and findability; and an emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

Typically, it involves a model or concept of information which is used and applied to activities that require explicit details of complex information systems. These activities include library systems and database development.

The father of information architecture is considered to be Richard Saul Wurman. There is currently a growing network of active IA specialists who comprise the Information Architecture Institute...

The Internet as Environment...

Believing that Information architecture (IA) is the structural design of shared information environments, I view Americanist Lawrence Buell's theories regarding  ecocriticism  particularly useful. 
Buell's theories explore four individual aspects of environmental memory categorized as 
•    social
•    cultural
•    spatial (architecture/manmade and natural) 
•    collective identities/collective memory  
According to Buell, environmental studies encourage readers to discover and critically investigate the intersections between collective memory, individual agency, physical environment, and the notion of place.

Because of the presence of digital spaces in the mind and psyche of the American public, I think Buell's theories extend beyond physical spaces into digital environments and I appropriate them into my research.   

Black Women and Western Histories...

  • Saartjie Baartman
  • known as a Venus Hottentot
  • Khoikhoi 
  • 1789 - December 29, 1815
  • most famous of at least 2 (possibly 5) women exhibited in a freak show
  • 4 years on exhibition in England, 1 year in Paris
  • Napoleon's favorite doctor, George Cuvier was obsessed with her
  • Cuvier dissected and displayed her body
  • Baartman's body was on display for 150 years at the Museum of Man in Paris 
From Baartman to slave auctions to human zoos, black women's bodies have a long history of being on display.

Narratives associated with these displays have historically dominated the ways in which popular culture remembers and identifies black women. I am attempting to explore how this cultural and collective memory influences the images of black women over the internet by contrasting general searches and self-mediated posts.    

Desire and 'Designed' Black Women...

In the exploration phase of this presentation, we viewed searches for:
We also explored:

from "Is It Rare for White Men to be Attracted to Black Women?"

In my opinion Nicki Minaj and Oneal Ron Morris are examples of how some black women are negotiating the expectations regarding the politics of physical appearances pertaining to black women.

Nicki Minaj at Fashion Rocks 
Oneal Ron Morris the 'fake doctor' allegedly administering butt injections to over 40 people.  It was important for me to consider Oneal Ron Morris in this research.  For me her personal transformation  and legacy as a 'fake doctor' of plastic surgery illustrates that the expectations for black women regarding the politics of physical appearances in this culture are so high that these expectations  are nearly impossible to achieve-even in drag performance.

Anthony Appiah and Negotiating Identity...

Is the reoccurring image of sensationalized Venus Hottentot creating a new caricature for black femininity that extends beyond the 'Jezebel' sexualized minstrelsy? And if so, how do black women negotiate this image and hypervisability in American culture, particularly in regards to their images in digital environments?

The potential of a Venus Hottentot caricature and negotiations of black women's images in digital spaces can be explored in context of Anthony Appiah’s theories concerning societal norms as social scripts in Ethics of Identity

“In constructing an identity, one draws…on the kinds of person available in one's society... Collective identities… provide what we might call scripts: narratives that people can use in shaping their projects and in telling their life stories.” 

Black Women and Social Scripts...

How does Appiah’s theories pertaining to social scripts also serve as a lens for contextualizing  black femininity and associated narrative symbols in digital spaces, such as the internet? 

We have previously established that popular culture media outlets often rely on the variations and reincarnations of the Venus Hottentot image to standardize and influence black femininity. Considering this h
ow do black women negotiate their physical appearances using the internet? Lets explore.



The reason I selected these search terms is because the three social media outlets in the search are more or less self-mediated image sites, meaning that the images are less likely to be promoted be microcomputers or robotic internet devices and that are selected by the posters. 

I think it is important to note that the expanding of black women's narratives occurred in the late 1970s through early 1990s .

Special thanks to these women and so many others:


Although, I have enjoyed many of the conversations pertaining to black women's images in popular culture, such as:
It is important to clarify that my questions about black women's images are not rooted in ideas of respectability or philosophies of liberation within feminism. 

My questions are more about if and how these images resembling the sensasionalized Baartman may be representative caricatures of black women that are architectured and engineered for consumption for the masses.

And if the popular images of black women resembling the sensationalized Baartman caricature are becoming even further reductive than historically noted minstrels, such as the mammy and jezebel figures.  

Further Questions ...

This research considers the influence of information architecture on the images of black women in digital spaces and the influences of these images of black women in digital environments in physical spaces. Some questions that I would like to continue to explore:
  • Are the popular images of black women becoming monolithic rooted in a sensationalized Baartman caricature? A caricature that is even further reductive than other stereotypes?

  • Considering the contrasts between self mediated images posted on social media  sites and the images that are generated in google searches pertaining to black women, what individuals or groups are searching for images of black women over the internet using broad search engines like google? And what do the masses desire to see when they conduct these searches? 
  •  Are the self-mediated images of black women negotiating, rather than affirming or in some cases directly countering the popular images/caricatures of black women? If so, why? Protest? Agency? Current trends in heightened awareness of individualism?
  • Does the repeated exposure to a Venus Hottentot caricature set unreal expectations for black women regarding the politics of physical appearances?  In kind, do they inspire insecurities in black women's body image because one may not be able to meet the physical expectation without engaging in methods of physical augmentation?
  • Does the repeated exposure to a Venus Hottentot caricature inspire or in some cases concentrate the gaze of broader society on black women? And if so what are the effects of such gazes in the individual lives of black women? 
  • Are the images that resemble the Venus Hottentot popularized by celebrities and popular televisions shows creating a monolithic expectation of black femininity that is being duplicated in order for black women to negotiate healthy and mutually beneficial relationships in their professional, personal, and in some cases spiritual lives?