It's Not Us - research process

It’s not us examines citizenship through the lens of Black women in public spaces. Frustrated and inspired by my and my friends’ daily experiences with misogynoir and microaggressions, I wanted to explore what we mean by the term ‘citizenship’ and what are the limitations of being a ‘citizen’ when the concept is applied to Black women. Using misogynoir as the backbone of this research was a very deliberate act. The term ‘misogynoir‘, coined by queer Black scholar and activist, Moya Bailey, refers to the specific anti-black racism and misogyny that Black women face. Through It’s not us, I wanted to explore the ways our experiences were shaped not just by us being Black or woman, but specifically by our position as Black women. To learn more about my research process for this project, keep reading.

I used still photography for my first experiment with methods. Wearing an Autographer around my neck, I walked around various areas of London to begin my research.

 Image 01. Experimenting with methods - Image taken automatically by Autographer on the London Underground escalators, 02 February 2015.

Image 01. Experimenting with methods - Image taken automatically by Autographer on the London Underground escalators, 02 February 2015.

 Image 02. Experimenting with methods - Image taken automatically while walking around Piccadilly Circus, London. 02 February 2015.

Image 02. Experimenting with methods - Image taken automatically while walking around Piccadilly Circus, London. 02 February 2015.

My goal with using this unobtrusive, unnoticeable camera was to capture explicit images documenting the various looks from others that often make me feel uncomfortable when I am in public. However, recognizing the need to document changes in others' body language, I abandoned still photography in favor of video. Unfortunately, it still didn't capture body language as clearly as I thought it would. I also realized that, by using visual methods, attention was inevitably brought to the specific location of the image, distracting from the affective relations that I intended to highlight.

I went through a series of additional short-lived experiments, attempting to find the best method for expressing these affective experiences with microaggressions. Modelling my methods after Adrian Piper's artwork (Indiana University Art Museum 2006), I made cards displaying responses I either want to say or have said in reply to some of these incidences (Image 03). I also made a draft design of a multi-player card game (Image 04) and brainstormed possibilities for creating a single-player computer game (Image 05).

 Image 03. Experimenting with methods - reply cards inspired by Adrian Piper's work. Documentation photo taken April 2015.

Image 03. Experimenting with methods - reply cards inspired by Adrian Piper's work. Documentation photo taken April 2015.

 Image 04. Experimenting with methods - situational card game. Documentation photo taken April 2015.

Image 04. Experimenting with methods - situational card game. Documentation photo taken April 2015.

 Image 05. Experimenting with methods - brainstorm of a potential single-player computer game. Documentation photo taken April 2015.

Image 05. Experimenting with methods - brainstorm of a potential single-player computer game. Documentation photo taken April 2015.

I kept an autoethnographic journal detailing the research process and my reflexive responses to the experiments. I found journaling in this way difficult. The process of writing about the research and new experiences dealing with misogynoir brought to light memories of similar past experiences. The autoethnographic journal was both a research method and a “political reorientation”, affecting not just the research but the way I thought and felt about my political and experiential knowledge (Ahmed 2012: 2). I knew I wanted to create an embodied experience to engage the audience and, therefore, began recording myself reading some of my narrative journal entries, eventually deciding to focus on one specific entry. Using the audio to create a sonic dominance allowed for a variety of responses to the embodied experience.

I used the opening reception of the exhibition Citizenship and Its Discontents (an exhibition put on by students on the MA Visual Sociology program at Goldsmiths), to test how different audiences responded to the audio. Many Black women audience members who engaged with the research found that they were able to connect to it with clear understanding because of their own similar experiences. Other audience members were made uncomfortable – some said they felt as if they were “violating” my personal thoughts and others said they felt I violated their minds. Sonic dominance is embodying and becomes all encompassing for audiences; pervasive.

 Image 06. Research documentation - audio recording with headphones on display at  Citizenship and Its Discontents  exhibition. Documentation photo taken 27 March 2015.

Image 06. Research documentation - audio recording with headphones on display at Citizenship and Its Discontents exhibition. Documentation photo taken 27 March 2015.

 Image 07. Research documentation - sonic dominance audio was uploaded to a Raspberry Pi for display at  Citizenship and Its Discontents  exhibition. Documentation photo taken 27 march 2015.

Image 07. Research documentation - sonic dominance audio was uploaded to a Raspberry Pi for display at Citizenship and Its Discontents exhibition. Documentation photo taken 27 march 2015.

Audio 01. Sonic dominance audio is best experienced with headphones, and, in this case, without visuals.

Because of my role as researcher and participant, I became hypersensitive to these experiences, developing an almost complete inability to go outside to conduct the research. This inability came in waves, but lasted a week at its longest. The process of bringing this concept forward not only prevents me from compartmentalizing its relationship to my daily experiences but also brings misogynoir to the forefront of audiences' minds, even if momentarily. Although the impact of this knowledge on audiences has not been explored as part of this research, it is nonetheless present.

The biggest challenge to the project was not finding examples where I experienced misogynoir, but determining a way to capture and further examine these experiences. By using autoethnographic audio recordings and turning such recordings into audio soundscapes, I present one way by which to disrupt the assumed ‘intangibility’ of misogynoir. Through listening to this recording, audiences are able to get somewhat of a glimpse into my inner thought process as I try to grapple with and understand the experiences I’ve had. Finding ways to make tangible what is assumed to be intangible is one way through which I hope to call attention to and challenge the microagressions and experiences with misogynoir that challenge my and my peers' ability to be a full, free citizen when I am in public spaces.