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Handbook of Writing, Literacies, and Education in Digital

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Cultures

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Kathy A. Mills, Amy Stornaiuolo, Anna Smith, Pandya Jessica Zacher

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Integrating and Humanizing Knowledgeable Agents of the

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Digital and Black Feminist Thought in Digital Literacy

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https://www.routledgehandbooks.com/doi/10.4324/9781315465258.ch7

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Ellison Tisha Lewis

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Published online on: 15 Aug 2017

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How to cite :- Ellison Tisha Lewis. 15 Aug 2017, Integrating and Humanizing Knowledgeable Agents of the Digital and Black Feminist Thought in Digital Literacy Research from: Handbook of Writing, Literacies, and Education in Digital Cultures Routledge

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Accessed on: 24 May 2021

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https://www.routledgehandbooks.com/doi/10.4324/9781315465258.ch7

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7

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Integrating and Humanizing Knowledgeable Agents of the Digital and Black Feminist Thought in Digital Literacy Research

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Tisha Lewis Ellison

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Living life as an African American woman is a necessary prerequisite for producing Black feminist thought because within Black women’s communities thought is validated and produced with reference to a particular set of historical, material, and epistemological conditions.

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(Collins, 1990, p. 230)

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Throughout my discussions and research on African American1 women,2 mothers, and adolescent females from my dissertation and the Dig-A-Fam: Families’ Digital Storytelling Project,3 I observed how they created, composed, and dominated digital texts and tools in and out of the home. They spoke about the challenges they experienced that stimulated their love, attraction, and addiction to the digital in their lives. I observed the ways they used these tools to help them cope with life issues on social networking sites, interact with their children, and establish voice across multiple texts, all while creating a sense of agency4 throughout various practices (Lewis, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014; Lewis Ellison, 2016, 2017; Lewis Ellison & Kirkland, 2014).

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Each woman was unique and literate in their own right and, whether they admitted it or not, they were brilliant, sharp, and resourceful. They also carried with them qualities that I call knowledgeable agents of the digital, as those who acquire powerful, agentive, and candid realities around their expe-riences with digital and non-digital texts that are reaffirming and salient. Within these agents, African American women self-define, empower, and advocate for themselves that disrupt oppression, sex-ism, and exploitation in digital spaces. For instance, African American women possess the multiple ways that they enact digital literacies (multiple and interactive practices mediated by technological tools) (Lewis, 2013) and digital (and non-digital texts) to make sense of their literate worlds. For example, these women made literate decisions in how they wished to be identified, created practices that expressed the needs and desires of and with their children, and characterized multiple modes of texts to produce the narratives they wanted to be and see. In essence, I argue that these African American women humanized themselves as knowledgeable agents through their involvement with the digital and in how it transformed them within these practices.

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As an African American woman, I celebrated the fact that their practices around the digital were unique, salient, yet were lacking. However, I experienced that when a woman, in particularly an African American woman, exudes the knowledge she possesses in dominant spaces, society’s per-ception of her is noted, but is often followed by bewilderment and disdain which, in turn, seeks to oppress and desensitize her abilities as powerful and relevant. In fact, based on the current political

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Integrating and Humanizing Knowledgeable Agents s 89

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climate of the potential of having the first woman president of the United States, there are still bar-riers that refuse to acknowledge how wisdom and knowledge come in all shapes and hues. Yet, for African American women, the struggle is real and intense where our voices, ideas, and intellectualism are often muted, not known, or not believed in. These beliefs resemble an interplay between oppres-sion and freedom (Collins, 1990, 2009).

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Historically, Black women have been active knowledgeable agents in how they live, think, survive, and achieve in and out of the home. In fact, they are humanized as such. While uniquely complex, they have often been embodied by the emblems of how they are shaped, misshaped, and are read based on distorted narratives or stories that have been written to understand and exploit them and their epistemologies in the world (Bailey & Cuomo, 2008; LaVoulle & Lewis Ellison, under review; Lewis Ellison & Kirkland, 2014; Richardson, 2002). Black women have been known for their asser-tiveness and outspoken nature but their voices have been misconstrued and misunderstood. Yet their resiliency and resourcefulness rests on their ability to be creative and negotiate the selves they want and attempt to portray in their homes and in their world. Based on this belief, Orbe, Drummond, and Camara (2002) contend, “Black feminist thought constitutes a conceptual approach that reflects the special standpoints that African American women use to negotiate their positioning of self, fam-ily, and society” (p. 123).

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African American women today stand on the shoulders of Black women agents who took on active roles to write and rewrite themselves in the spaces they inhabit. Because of activists like Sojourner Truth, whose oral text (1851), “Ain’t I A Woman,” became a sounding board for women against the deferential and sexist treatment of woman; or Harriet Tubman, a leading feminist abolitionist, who fought for freedom of the inequitable injustices perpetuated against Black women and men; or Anna Julia Cooper, a renowned educator and scholar, who later became the personification of Black feminist thought (BFT) because of her political achievements and activism toward the uplifting of Black women without neglect; or even Ida B. Wells, known for her journalistic abilities, who led an anti-lynching campaign and formed clubs for women’s suffrage; my first encounter of this force in a woman came from my mother, whose quiet, yet profound stories, actions, and artifacts came offline.

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My mother’s notes in her Bible and church bulletins spoke about the kind of woman she wanted to be, and is, and she never hesitated to verbally and nonverbally support my ventures on a daily ba-sis. As a successful small business owner for twenty-nine years and mother to me and my two older brothers, she thrived to be a knowledgeable agent and worked hard at her tailor shop in addition to holding down the home front when my father, a now retired police officer, was on his beat. My mother often felt guilty working on Saturdays. She recalled, in a selfless comment that suggests how she had to juggle between the family, work, life balance, and faith ethics that still speaks to the daily struggles and social norms of the African American woman:

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I felt that I was supposed to be at home with you all…I always felt guilty, and still do. In my mind, I should not put my work in front of my family. I thought it was my duty to put myself on hold and be a nurturer till you all were able to do for yourselves.

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She wrote pieces of herself on scrap paper and slid them under my brothers’ and my pillows each Saturday morning for years before she left for work. Each paper, composed of different positive and miscellaneous notes and artifacts, reaffirmed her presence until she arrived home that evening. Overtime, those scraps grew into letters, cards, text messages, and digital images that helped me un-derstand how literacy practices, small, large, monomodal, or multimodal, were relevant and power-ful within family relations. Most importantly, because of my mother’s versatility, as a woman whom I perceived as agentive and knowledgeable, I sought more understanding of my narratives and the narratives of the powerful African American women, mothers, and adolescent females I studied and

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90 s Tisha Lewis Ellison

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continue to study. I highlight how their views about themselves and their families around the digital and non-digital help explore these analytic connections within digital literacy scholarship and also, humanize their efforts in these spaces.

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In this chapter, I outline both Knowledgeable Agents of the Digital and BFT as frameworks to examine the ways African American women, mothers, and adolescent females are portrayed and empowered within digital and non-digital texts and literacies. I argue for this examination and inte-gration of frameworks because BFT became a catalyst for Knowledgeable Agents to exist. Due to the paucity of studies that reflect African American women’s digital literacy practices among issues of race, gender, and class that reclaim their voices, I draw from studies with the above themes in mind to strengthen these claims. I examine the ways women have been acting as knowledgeable agents across multiple intersectional contexts and settings. In addition, I take on a new paradigm of BFT to articulate the importance of including, invoking, and recognizing the voices and perspectives of African American women as knowledgeable agents in their own right. As BFT seeks to acknowledge the perspectives of Black women, I question the ethical implications and obligations that the larger literacy field and policies have to fully humanize all people, in particular, Women of Color, which involves positioning them as knowledgeable agents. This stance comes during critical moments in educational, racial, and political history of the marginalization of the African American woman in various spheres in society. Thus, in light of systemic inequalities and unfair structures that create ten-sions around this population, research and practice need to embrace equitable responses throughout time and space.

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Tensions

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Over twenty-six years ago, Patricia Hill Collins (1990) favored us with her book Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. BFT is a term that carries con-tradictory and complex meanings. First, with this theory, Collins privileges the viewpoints of Black women. She argues that for Black women there is a Black feminist consciousness that is based on their experiences and ideas, and that Black women have to constantly struggle for equality as both women and African Americans. BFT is situated under Black women’s emerging power as “agents of knowledge” (Collins, 1990, p. 256), stating it is impossible to understand African American women in practice without acknowledging their agentive, dominant, and knowledgeable selves. BFT attends to how African American women speak about themselves and the issues that affect them and the intersections between race, gender, and class. According to Collins, “African American women use their social locations as intersections of multiple systems of power to claim and not apologize for the vision provided by that space” (personal communication, 2014).

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BFT was created based on the self-actualizations, self-affirmations, and self-valuing of African American women and their experiences in the world as relevant and meaningful, but Black women continue to occupy a space between oppression and freedom with the recurrent trajectories of ad-versity as they seek respect and recognition. The racial, gender, and class discrimination in and out of educational, workplace, and societal environments are prevalent, and with little attention focused on the challenges of the African American woman, there is a deficit in approaches that address a historical timeline about their stance in society.

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For instance, in 1905, Fannie Barrier Williams, an African American educator and political and women’s rights activist exclaimed, “the colored girl…is not known and hence not believed in; she belongs to a race that is best designated by the term ‘problem,’ and she lives beneath the shadow of that problem which envelops and obscures her” (Williams, 1987, p. 150). Similarly, in his 1962 speech, Malcolm X shared about men’s accountability to respect and protect Black women, he argued how society viewed them as “the most disrespected woman…the most unprotected person…the most

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Integrating and Humanizing Knowledgeable Agents s 91

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neglected person in America, is the Black woman” (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWfM9DOEJf0). These quotes carry the weight of how African American women are negatively stereotyped and per-ceived in today’s society that stem, in one way, from the effects of slavery, segregation (see “The Doll Test” from the 1940s),5 and sexual abuse of female slaves.

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Throughout history and now, Black females, along with males as young as five- and six-year-olds, are perceived by society as threats to school and public safety and receive the highest levels of exclu-sionary discipline in educational settings, which led to the “school-to-prison pipeline.” This term relates to the increasing patterns, implemented by educational institutions, where youth and young adults have contact with the juvenile and criminal system, which ultimately results in incarceration (Crenshaw, Ocen, & Nanda, 2015; Morris, 2012; Winn, 2011). Slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and now the Black Lives Matter movement, reflect centuries of racialized, hatred, and violent killings of African American women and men that continue to validate the claim of how this population is negatively portrayed, spoken about, and vilified by digital media and in society.

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These racial threats and stereotypes slither throughout the school system and land in higher ed-ucation, and African American women, even with the highest level of academic degrees, still receive more biased, unethical treatment than their White counterparts during the tenure and promotion processes. In addition, some African American women have to include subliminal texts (images, messages) about personal issues of race or advocacy in digital platforms for the fear of allowing their ideas and voices to cause judgment or the loss of employment. Furthermore, when African American women and men celebrities seek to project their voices toward activism by rewriting the narratives about this population and affirm the political Black Lives Matters movement, the media, for instance, continues to represent this spirit as disrespectful and unimportant (i.e., Beyoncé’s Super Bowl 2016 halftime show and Colin Kaepernick).

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Thus, these tensions represent why BFT was created: to be a voice in the dialogue of African American women who have been oppressed, silenced, and overlooked. It is important to understand their stance as knowledgeable agents who rewrite the narratives and histories, that we see and want to see in digital and non-digital texts, that portray a humanistic approach rather than an animal-istic approach to and about this population (i.e., ex-Univision TV’s host Rodney Figueroa’s firing over racist comment about the comparison of First Lady Michelle Obama to characters from movie

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Planet of the Apes).

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Emerging Theory: Literature on BFT and Black Women

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While BFT has been explored to speak to the African American woman’s “agents of knowledge,” when it comes to the emerging theory about digital literacies, and extending to knowledgeable agents of the digital framework, this work is least researched. Within this age of new technologies, litera-cies, and practices, it matters to explore African American women’s digital narratives and practices in research because it humanizes our stake in the world of who we are. Collins (1990, 2002) argues that there is much to learn from an African American woman’s knowledge. Collins (1990) has ac-knowledged that “African American women not commonly certified as ‘intellectuals’ by academic institutions have long functioned as intellectuals by representing the interests of Black women as a group and fostering Black feminist thought” (p. 15). It is significant to examine African American women’s empowering thoughts and agency in an effort to recognize how these lives matter and why. The integration of African American women’s digital literacy practices in digital literacy studies can help situate this culture, gender, and population to determine how programs and policies can be implemented to make theoretical contributions to the field of education.

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Headlining this important topic across several years of study (Lewis, 2009, 2011, 2014; Lewis Ellison, 2014, 2016; Lewis Ellison & Kirkland, 2014), my work describes the tenets of knowledgeable

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92 s Tisha Lewis Ellison

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agents of the digital. I examined the digital literacy practices of an African American mother and her family. Data illustrated themes of agency, identity, and power through family relational practices that addressed how their engagement with digital tools helped them make meaning of their lived experiences (Lewis, 2011). Through extensions of this work, I focused on Larnee, a participant from my longitudinal study, who described her allegiance to digital literacies from a past of physical, emo-tional, psychological, and sexual abuse, and having been born with a rare skin disease, Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). She viewed digital literacies and the accompanying digital tools as a way to help her cope with the trauma in her life. Even through her past, she was still noted as a knowledgeable agent of the digital because she explicitly became a sounding board for survival, one that echoes themes raised in BFT. For instance, she educated herself and her son to rely on digital tools for living, and to express their knowledgeable selves, both in and out of their digital worlds, and she became an activist for EB.

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Overtime, I explored, along with co-author David Kirkland, in a critical piece how conceptions of language, literacy, and black femininity, via the agentive, powerful, and knowledgeable selves of African American women, were often missing from the scholarship on African American women, digital literacies, and their practices of self-definition. More specifically, we used BFT as a conceptual lens and a framework to illustrate how two African American women used figurative language along-side technological tools. We captured how they understood their experiences, histories, and relation-ships that carried meaning through scenes of struggle, abuse, and silence (Lewis Ellison & Kirkland, 2014). Both women created relationships with a computer motherboard and a microphone as exten-sions of self to articulate aspects of their identities and self-expressions—even labeling themselves: “I call myself the motherboard” and “I am the mic” (Kirkland, 2010; Lewis, 2011; Lewis Ellison & Kirkland, 2014, p. 392). The authors concluded that by using hardware as language to articulate metaphorical selves, these women embodied a much broader notion of literacy by reshaping Black female narratives where the technologies of the self-embodied the subject.

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Our analysis spoke to how African American women made use of, reshaped, and/or remade them-selves through a variety of literacy tools. This work contributes to the emergent perspectives of BFT in that it adds another dimension to how we understand Black female narratives of the self. What BFT offers is how Black females are agentive in reconstructing the Black feminine mystique (Collins, 1986; Robinson & Ward, 1995), and use technologies that have boldly transformed how voice is amplified, through complex and emerging Black female self (Knadler, 2001; Paris & Kirkland, 2011; Richardson, 2002).

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Based on emerging literature about African American women in digital literacy research, three characteristics of the literature reveal how they have been examined. One characteristic explores how African American women are agentive in rewriting the histories and images of themselves in digital and non-digital spaces. Another characteristic develops the idea that Black women, and their family’s relational practices, shape the digital and non-digital worlds in which they live. A third characteristic demonstrates how the utilization of online digital tools helps them cope with trauma (i.e., physical and sexual abuse and illnesses). These characteristics set a foundation for how this population contributes to digital learning and composition in and out of places and spaces of color, and can provide a critical analysis to learning and education. The above are descriptors of how knowledgeable agents are extended from BFT that are used as a point of departure to explore neglected concerns of Black women’s culture.

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There exists a body of scholarship around the consciousness, knowledge, and lineage of Black women within the terrain of knowledgeable agents and BFT (Collins, 1990; Cooper, 2015; du cille, 1994), within the academy (Griffin, 2012; Harris, 2007; hooks, 1996), childhood education (Pérez, Guerrero, & Mora, 2016; Pérez, Medellin, & Rideaux, 2016), queer theory (Story, 2015), hip-hop (Morgan, 1999; Pough, 2007; Richardson, 2013), and violence (Crenshaw, 1991). However, there are few studies that highlight how African American women enact agency into the digital worlds in which they live. Studying African American women and their on- and off-line literacies (i.e., digital and print) from a knowledgeable agents and BFT lens, are salient in understanding how they choose

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Integrating and Humanizing Knowledgeable Agents s 93

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to (a) revise their identities to make sense of their lives as knowledgeable agents; (b) explore issues of race, gender, and class in families and community spaces; and (c) rewrite new narratives about how their emerging presence informs digital literacy research and literacy education. In the following sections, I highlight the interconnections between knowledgeable agents of the digital, BFT, and Af-rican American women’s agentive practices with digital texts, and how African American adolescent females write their identities with digital and non-digital texts.

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Black Women’s Digital Narratives

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In creating knowledgeable agents of the digital, some scholarship examines the ways Black women create themselves and negotiate within digital tools for empowerment and agency. For instance, Hall (2011) chronicled how three young African American women positioned themselves as “knowledge producers” for their digital stories. The three women drew upon, created, and wrote narratives that spoke against the dominant discourses they perceived about body image and beauty as sources of pain for African American women. This work is relevant to this culture and their digital literacy practices because it positioned them and their voices as dominant readers, writers, and creators about something that was meaningful to them.

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In addition, Kirkland (2010) penned organic pheminist (/feminist/) framework as an exploration of the stories and lives of females of influence, and shared the writings of his mother and a young Black woman’s narratives on MySpace and YouTube. The narratives illustrated the delicate truths of being a Black female in an oppressive world through poetry and performance. Behind the tools of online social sites, such as MySpace, BlogSpot, and YouTube, these women rewrote and re-extended the ways they had been written about to create new counter-stories and digital identities as con-structed in digital contexts. Findings illustrated how Black women use digital tools to tell their stories online which moves toward ways to fortify how Black female online narratives can provide a critical analysis to engage in digital literacies as a liberating space.

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Writing Identities across an Ecology of Texts

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There are knowledgeable and agentive practices that cross texts and contexts among African American adolescent females. For instance, in two separate qualitative studies, Muhammad and Womack (2015) examined what Black adolescent females did with texts based on their representations of their worlds. The authors explored how these females used pens (writing pens) and pins (pinning images and objects on Pinterest boards) to shape their histories and identities about their girlhood in popular culture. Through collected writings from twelve Black females that represented forms of self through multiple modes (i.e., journaling, poetry, letters) and two 15–19-year-old Black females’ autoethnographies that utilized digital tools (i.e., Pinterest and Prezi), they collected literacy artifacts from topics to (re)pin and (re)write images that represented Black girlhood. Findings illustrated that the females penned and pinned against representations connected to physical beauty, sexualizing, and education. This study is important because it allowed each female to self-identify texts and tools that made sense to her, some-thing that is not often discussed in the literature around adolescent and adult females of color.

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Moreover, the need for African American females to occupy spaces where trauma, poetry, and music become safe havens add to the belief and understanding about BFT, as in the case of Riley’s (2009) autobiographical research that helped her express herself through digital texts and writing after her childhood friend committed suicide. Studies like Brock, Kvasny, and Hales (2010) frame BFT to understand how issues of technology and social inequalities displayed in three weblog dis-courses about Black women help them accumulate and activate cultural and technical capital. Simi-larly, Johnson and Nuñez (2015) used social and digital media platforms as a place to meet and vent

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94 s Tisha Lewis Ellison

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personal stories about their traumatic, activist, abusive, and loving lives they have survived on blogs, tweets, and posts. Calling it a digital Black feminist community, they sought power from each other to build a community online. They used “notifications, status updates, timelines, dashboards, and reblogs” to create a bond online. What makes this study of theirs and other women’s digital lives so relevant to today’s knowledgeable agents is that it epitomizes BFT via the ways that these digital Black feminists expressed their oppressed selves to feel free and meaningful. Similar to Larnee, her survival through creating blogs for her son and me, as researcher, not only gave us the space to share our digi-tal literacy experiences with one another but it also provided Larnee with the opportunity to explore parts of herself by writing poems, creating videos, and sharing very candid narratives online about her struggles with having EB where she would not be seen or judged (Lewis, 2014). These women all epitomized what a knowledgeable agent of the digital (and non-digital) embodied.

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Ethical Implications for Pedagogy

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The ideas and layers formulate how knowledgeable agents of the digital and BFT frameworks inter-sect that explore and identify the already-existing (digital) literacy practices, digital and non-digital texts, voices, and perspectives of African American women. The lineage of my research on the digital literacy practices of African American women and families, and the agentive identities and powerful stances within the narratives of this population, demonstrates the reason why this work on being a knowledgeable agent of the digital and BFT are needed in literacy research as well as for educators. For educators committed to understanding the plight of the African American women and mothers, this work is important to consider how one can engage in teaching about race, culture, social justice, and empowerment, without a deficit approach, but through methods that foresee the full and real realities of what a knowledgeable agent is. This information is important to understand how African American women situate themselves across various ecologies of texts within the digital.

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Being able to communicate, interact, and create across digital and non-digital texts, helps them make meaning of their literate lives. It also brings attention to ways in which they matter in a field that wants to discover new experiences and knowledge about their educational and everyday litera-cies. As many reports are now studying the means and ways this population interacts with digital texts and on networking sites (The Nielsen Company, 2014; Smith, 2014), it is bourgeoning a new integration for knowledgeable agents of the digital and BFT.

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For instance, honing in on Larnee’s rich traditions of her literacy, experience, and self-actualiza-tion within the digital, I have been met with numerous disparaging comments about her life and her agentive practices. These comments asked, “what was wrong with her,” how to “fix her,” and her enactments of her digital literacy practices were often thought of as “dumb” or “dismissed,” rather than seeing her through agentive lens. These observations told me how I had to speak back to my research about her in educational research, at conferences, and in everyday conversations. That is, without the BFT perspective, she is marginalized and placed in a space that is undermined, devalued, and disenfranchised that breaks her from her agency.

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As an African American woman, I am privy to the ways that Larnee, and other women mentioned earlier, might be theorized within the conversations on literacy. For instance, these women would continue to remain irrelevant within the floods of deficit view models that would capitalize on the “things” she may not have instead of focusing on the strengths, competencies, and agencies that she does exemplify. Without examining stories like Larnee and other African American women knowl-edgeable agents, we first lose out, as members of the field, on the true intersections of their lives and identities that would have never examined race, class, gender. Without this understanding, such notable African American women advocates from our past (Anna Julia Cooper, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Barrier Williams) will no longer be regarded and remain silent.

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Integrating and Humanizing Knowledgeable Agents s 95

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In taking an ethical approach to understand the intersections between knowledgeable agents of the digital and BFT, instructional practice, literacy research, and policy need to provide ways to understand and account for the lived, digital, and racial experiences of African American women, mothers, and females as important factors to be included in curricular, research, and policy reports. With this in mind, African American women can no longer be reduced to objects or dominated by narratives to be stereotyped. Rather, we come from historical upbringings of strength, power, and expression. While honing in on the Black feminists of the past, Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, and Coretta Scott King, primarily during Black History Month, let us also imagine, daily, up and coming African American women whose digital (and non-digital) narratives have yet to be explored.

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Let education, research, and policies be held accountable to humanize African American women as knowledgeable agents who are unapologetic about who they are in the world today (Collins, 1990; Kirkland, 2010; Lewis Ellison & Kirkland, 2014; Richardson, 2002). In addition, African American mothers can be seen first, as teachers of their children’s education, and can be acknowledged as owning unique educational skills and digital practices that they embody and mature at home with their children (Lewis, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014; Lewis Ellison, 2016). Lastly, young African American females can position themselves and experiences in and out of digital spaces, to become advocates of their learning (Crenshaw et al., 2015; Hall, 2011, Muhammad & Haddix, 2016; Price-Dennis, 2016).

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As a result, I designed seven key components that are needed to make the above claims about being a knowledgeable agent an impetus for teaching and researching digital literacy practices and creating policies (see Figure 7.1).

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Each component of knowledgeable agents of the digital framework extends from BFT to include distinct ways that African American women should now be perceived about who they are and how

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Embody Self

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Reaffirm /

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Disrupt

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Oppression /

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Self-Define

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Inequities /

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Injustices

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Knowledgeable

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Agents

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of the Digital

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Possess

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Foster AgencyPower /

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Advocacy

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Create

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Make

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Intersectional

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settings among

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Meaning of

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Race, Gender,

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Lived

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Class

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Experiences

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Figure 7.1Knowledgeable agents of the digital framework

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96 s Tisha Lewis Ellison

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they embody parts of the self through digital and non-digital tools that resemble themselves (Lewis Ellison & Kirkland, 2014; Muhammad & Womack, 2015). In addition, African American women disrupt oppressive, inequities, and injustices that have tried to historically damage the narratives of who they identify as. They possess power and are advocates for issues that they envision on digital and social media that attempts to oppress rather than empower (Richardson, 2002). They are con-stantly making meaning of their lived experiences whether on blogs, texting, or social groups with expression and candor (Lewis, 2013, 2014). Knowledge agents of the digital also create moments that challenge individuals to explore intersectional settings among race, gender, class whether they are comfortable with these factors or not, in and out of educational borders (Lewis Ellison & Kirkland, 2014). Similarly, knowledgeable agents of the digital are women who foster agency to re-identify and remake themselves across diverse social and geographic populations (Lewis, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017; Price-Dennis, 2016). Lastly, knowledgeable agents of the digital always reaffirm and self-define the roles they play, work, write, and learn in (Lewis, 2013).

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Recommendations and Forward Thinking

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Since the digital will continue to be increasingly powered by individuals, corporations, and educational entities, I question, how might (digital) literacy researchers maximize the voices and perspectives of the misrepresented? Within this vein, (digital) literacy researchers can challenge researchers to maintain an ethically responsible approach for the research they conduct among African American families, women, mothers, and adolescent females. In this way, I argue for humanization of what these women experience and practice to make it more authentic and tangible to understand the nuances and complexities of what it means to be a knowledgeable agent of the digital in this racialized, gendered, and classed society. This means, more examinations of African American women’s digital literacy practices and their roles as powerful, agentive women across spheres in and out of educational spaces need to be explored.

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I recommend that educators and researchers first think about their own pedagogies and their roles as knowledgeable agents in their disciplines. Then explore how continued work on this topic matters for the African American community, in particular among African American women. In other words, this work has and is shaping how African American women have been seen and are portrayed today.

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The seven components of the knowledgeable agents of the digital were structured for educators and researchers to consider: How might I teach with this approach/framework? How can I use the (dig-ital) narratives of African American women, mothers, and females with curricula? In what ways can I create a humanistic approach to integrate knowledgeable agents of the digital and BFT in my classroom, around my community, in my research?

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I challenge and place the onus on educators and researchers to answer for themselves these ques-tions and why being a knowledgeable agent of the digital is relevant for their students and their par-ents and research participants, and why would we want to study this population. I argue that when these statements are explored and questions answered, and when we reaffirm what African American women do with digital and non-digital texts as worthy in pedagogies and communities, then the op-pressive vandalisms, via speech, texts, artifacts, music, literature, that effect this population and the generations to come, can shut down. Rather, we began to integrate and to bring humanity back that positions African American women as knowledgeable agents of the digital as relevant.

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Notes

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  1. The terms African American and Black are used interchangeably.
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  1. The terms women, woman, and females are used interchangeably.
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Integrating and Humanizing Knowledgeable Agents s 97

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  1. The Dig-A-Fam: Families’ Digital Storytelling Project was funded by the National Council of Teachers of English Research Foundation.
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  1. Agency and agentive are used interchangeably as a heuristic to describe one’s understanding, the re-identifying, and remaking of self (see Bruner, 1994; Moje & Lewis, 2007) and the understanding of capacity to act upon one’s world and give it personal significance (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998).
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  1. The Doll Test was a series of experiments conducted by African American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark 14 years before the Brown v. Board of Education. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Brown at 60: The Doll Test, www.naacpldf.org/brown-at-60-the-doll-test.
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References

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Bailey, A., & Cuomo, C. (Eds.) (2008). The feminist philosophy reader. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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Brock, Kvasny, & Hales, K. (2010). Cultural appropriations of technical capital: Black women, weblogs, and the digital divide.

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Information, Communication & Society, 7(13), 1040–1059.

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Collins, P. H. (1986). Learning from the outsider within: The sociological significance of Black feminist thought. Social Problems, 33(6), 514–532.

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Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (Vol. 2). New York, NY: Routledge.

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Collins, P. H. (2002).Contemporary Black feminist thought. In T. Lee Lott (Ed.), African-American philosophy: Selected read-ings. Prentice Hall.

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Collins, P. H. (2009). Black feminist thought in the matrix of domination. Retrieved April 26, 2009, from www.hartford-hwp.com/ archives/45a/252.html; www.turning-the tide.org/files/Feminist%20Thought%20and%20Matrix%20of%20Domination. pdf.

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Collins, P. H. (2014). We who believe in freedom cannot rest: Lessons from Black feminism. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/ watch?v=36Iq8XkfQ-0.

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Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review 43(6), 1241–1299.

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Crenshaw, K., Ocen, P., & Nanda, J. (2015). Black girls matter: Pushed out, overpoliced, and underprotected. New York, NY: African American Policy Forum & Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies.

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du cille, A. (1994). The occult of true Black womanhood: Critical demeanor and Black feminist studies. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 19(3), 591–629.

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Hall, T. (2011). Designing from their own social worlds: The digital story of three African American youth women. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 10(1), 7–20.

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Harris, T. (2007). Black feminist thought and cultural contracts: Understanding the intersection and negotiation of racial, gendered, and professional identities in the academy. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 110, 55–64.

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LaVoulle, C., & Lewis Ellison, T. (under review). Bad Bitch Barbie craze and Beyonce: African American women bodies as a commodity in hip-hop culture, images, and media.

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Lewis, T. Y. (2010). Intergenerational meaning-making between a mother and son in digital spaces. In C. Compton-Lilly & S. Greene (Eds.), Bedtime stories and book reports: Connecting parent involvement and family literacy (pp. 85–93). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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Lewis, T. Y. (2013). “We txt 2 sty cnnectd:” An African American mother and son communicate: Digital literacies, mean-ing-making, and activity theory systems. Journal of Education, 193(2), 1–13.

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98 s Tisha Lewis Ellison

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Lewis, T. Y. (2014). Apprenticeships, affinity spaces, and agency: Exploring blogging engagements in family spaces. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 58(1), 71–81.

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Lewis Ellison, T. (2016). Artifacts as stories: Understanding families, digital literacies, and storied lives. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59(5), 511–513.

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Lewis Ellison, T. (2017). Family stories, texts, meaning: A study of artifacts during a digital storytelling workshop. In C. Burnett, G. Merchant, B. Parry (Eds.), Literacy, media and technology: Past, present and future. Bloomsbury Press.

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Lewis Ellison, T. (under review). Bringing humanity back: Conceptualizing race, police, and racism among families and communities of color.

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Morgan, J. (1999). When chickenheads come home to roost: My life as a hip-hop feminist. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Morris, M. (2012). Race, gender and the school-to-prison pipeline: Expanding our discussion to include Black girls. New York, NY:

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African American Policy Forum.

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Muhammad, G. E., & Haddix, M. (2016). Centering Black girls’ literacies: A review of literature on the multiple ways of knowing of Black girls. English Education, 48(4), 299–336.

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Muhammad, G. E., & McArthur, S. A. (2015). “Styled by their perceptions”: Adolescent girls’ interpretations of Black girlhood in the media. Multicultural Perspectives, 17(3), 1–8.

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Muhammad, G. E., & Womack, E. (2015). From pen to pin: The multimodality of Black girls (re)writing their lives. Ubiquity: The Journal of Literature, Literacy and the Arts, 2(2), 6–45.

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The Nielsen Company. (2014). Powerful. Growing. Influential. The African American consumer 2014 report. Retrieved from www.thechicagourbanleague.org/cms/lib07/IL07000264/Centricity/Domain/76/nielen-essence-2014-african-american-consumer-report-Sept-2014.pdf.

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Orbe, M. P., Drummond, D. K., & Camara, S. K. (2002). Phenomenology and Black feminist thought: Exploring African American women’s everyday encounters as points of contention. In A. Davis & M. Houston (Eds.), Centering ourselves: African American feminist and womanist studies of discourse (pp. 123–144). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

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