It was almost 8am. I was upset because I had missed the 7:42 train by 4 minutes and would have to wait for the 8:12. Tired from the late night studying, I didn’t feel like pulling out one of the many articles I needed to finish reading for my anthropology course on performance and identity. Bleary-eyed, I scanned the other people on the platform and my eyes landed on a man sitting across the train tracks directly across from me. He must have felt my eyes because he glanced up at me. I looked away and darted my gaze over to the LCD screen bolted to the wall above the platform. I thought I saw the word “twerking” flash briefly in the rotation of advertisements. I wasn’t sure if that is what I saw because I saw it right before it changed to an advertisement for Dunkin Donuts, then another for March of Dimes. It just didn’t make sense.
I turned my attention to the screen on my own platform and watched the rotation. After a handful of advertisements, there it was: an advertisement for newsworks.org in which it professed its own intelligence, while attempting to put down its competitors. I fumbled to get my cell phone out for a photo, but the ad had transformed into Celine Dion holding a Black, premature newborn for the March of Dimes. Trains came and went as the platform ebbed and flowed with mostly White crowds in business attire. I waited until the crowd died down, then I lifted my heavy bookbag, walked over to the screen, and waited again for the ad. I took the picture.
"They cover twerking dancers. We cover intelligent answers." Someone had to create it, someone had to approve it, and someone had to make sure it played on that screen, and they all thought it was acceptable. The advertisement is problematic and there are countless reasons why. Newsworks is presenting itself as an intelligent news source, but shows here that it has failed to educate itself on the discourse surrounding twerking and the history behind the widely popularized dance form. It is also indirectly claiming that it is impossible for twerking and "intelligence" to exist in the same space. Who gets to define what constitutes as intelligence? By what standards are they measuring intelligence?
The idea of intelligence is socially constructed and has a history (in the West) of being erroneously synonymous with those who identify as White. Twerking has roots in various forms of movement and performance that are found throughout the African Diaspora. By Newsworks saying that they cover “intelligent answers” while competing news sources cover “twerking dancers” reinforces the negative stereotype that people of African descent are less intelligent than White people, or anyone who does not engage in twerking. This may not be stated, but it is most definitely implied.
This ad also implies that people who read the news sources that report on twerking could not possibly be intellectuals. Even if this ad is focusing only on the escapades of Miley Cyrus, Newsworks’ organization does not have the power to judge her intelligence or anyone else’s. And the fact that this ad was displayed on a rail system that caters to predominantly White, middle class businesspeople makes me question Newsworks and WHYY on the deliberate stratification of their target audience. This is a very poorly constructed and socially irresponsible advertisement and I am extremely disappointed in Newsworks.org, WHYY, and their affiliates for allowing this to be distributed. As a new source that is often socially aware, I would expect Newsworks and WHYY to be more self-aware and understand the role that media plays in shaping public opinion and creating “common knowledge.” In the recent past, I have benefited greatly from attending WHYY events, including Community Cinema screenings and public discussions. This ad does not line up with the WHYY’s mission or programming. It is prejudice and petty. The ad should be pulled and an apology should be issued. I expect better, more informed advertising from an educational, media outlet.
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