Digital Project Proposal: Web archiving Black queer and trans activism in BLM collections

In sticking with the theme of social media activism, my digital project is a fraternal twin to my print project proposed two weeks ago.  Through the tools and guidance provided by the DocNow team, I plan to create a collection of social media activism revolving around the protection of Black queer and transgender lives.

The defense of Black queer and trans people is an affirmation of the movement, #BlackLivesMatter (BLM).  The movement was founded as a call to action by three Black queer women who unapologetically use their platform to defend the lives of all Black groups, including those that are often dismissed by hetero-patriarchal Black liberation movements.  This includes protecting the quality of life for Black women, Black queers, Black trans, Black disabled, Black undocumented, Black wrongfully imprisoned, and Black people stricken by a system that binds them to poverty. The movement’s mission is not ambiguous.  The defense of Black queer and transgender people are not intentionally pushed aside for other causes. Yet, most discussion of archiving the social media presence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is centered on the impact of the Trayvon Martin murder and protest against police brutality.  

#Ferguson, #MichaelBrown, #TrayvonMarton, #FreddieGray, and other related hashtags centered on these cases are the most popular subjects of collections and datasets relating to #BlackLivesMatter.  It makes sense. It was the murder of Trayvon Martin that prompted the founders of BLM to start the hashtag, now movement. It was the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that escalated the movement from a social media presence to protestors hitting the pavement in massive droves.  It was the murder of Freddie Gray that ignited the Baltimore Uprising. Millions participated in protests for these events both on social media and in the streets across the country. However, there is still a large presence of social media activism for Black queer and trans advocacy that is not receiving the same push for web archiving.  

It’s important to archive all of the affirmations and activism led by the Black Lives Matter movement.  Lack of web preservation for all the movement stands for will leave silences in the story that will prevent the very transformative social change the founders of BLM are pursuing.  It’s the mission of this project to resolve the missing pieces in the collections and datasets about the impact of the BlackLivesMatter movement. Web content related to #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackWomenMatter, #BlackTransLivesMatter, #BlackTransMatter, #YouOKSis, and other hashtags focused on Black queer and trans advocacy will be added to pre-existing BLM collections and datasets, like Archive-It’s #BlackLivesMatter Collection

The DocNow platform will aid in not just finding preexisting BLM collections and datasets, but advertising the need for black queer and trans content. Remembering Bassem Masri is a model of how I plan to publicize a call for help in web archiving this content for #BlackLivesMatter.  Using Medium/DocNow, this project will seek the attention of archivists, historians, scholars, activists, and the general public.  It is my hope that the project can use this platform to gain contributions and amplify a call to action for more web archiving on Black queer and trans activism.

To be completely transparent, there are still many steps to this project that need to be ironed out.  As a novice to digital preservation and illiterate in the language of coding, I plan to lean on the DocNow team’s expertise in assuring this project comes into fruition.  DocNow is a groundbreaking resource for web archiving significant social media content. I have full faith that the DocNow platform is the ideal space to ignite more web archiving efforts for Black queer and trans activism and all of BLM’s principles.

2 Replies to “Digital Project Proposal: Web archiving Black queer and trans activism in BLM collections”

  1. This is a really fantastic project concept. You’ve identified a significant topic and nicely explained how the work you intend to do would help to fill a gap in much of the work that has been done to date. It’s really important that the archives documenting our moment in time and the significant of black lives matter acknowledge the significant roles that black queer and trans people play in this moment and movement.

    It’s great that you are talking with the DocNow folks. They have been doing some really pathbreaking work in this space. Social media content can be pretty ephemeral so it’s important that folks get into working to ensure access to that content if we are going to have it around in the future. To that end, at this point tools like webrecorder have made it increasingly easy to start doing almost point and click web archiving. So the good news there is that you can do a lot of great work without being a super coder.

    A big issue for you to think about with this work is how you can make sure that whatever you do supports and helps the black trans/queer communities that you want to make sure are acknowledged. A big part of the work that Doc Now has kicked off is anchored in an understanding that work to preserve and document the advocacy efforts of people fighting for social change needs to respect issues around trust and giving back to those communities. That is, swooping in and hovering up a bunch of digital content can come from a motivation to honor an to respect but it can result in feelings of fear of loss of context and control. It can feel like people are having their stories taken out of context and in a society that is largely built around patriarchy and white supremacy documenting and recording people with less privilege can just as well create records that can be used against the people documented.

    So it will be important to think about agency, power and control in this. How can you make sure the work supports and empowers people who are marginalized and make sure that they feel seen, respected, and empowered. What ways could/should you get permission from people for the archive? Along with that, it is worth considering if it might be better to try and do something like oral history interviews or interviews through any other kind of digital medium and then present those results under their terms.

    Again, this is a great and important idea. Very much looking forward to seeing your project develop.

    1. Thanks so much for your note and advice. Agency is definitely a major concern and principle for this project. As of right now, the idea is to track and collect what is already out there on social media. Either create a new collection or add to existing #BlackLivesMatter collections to get a better scope of what the organization is all about and, most importantly, amplify the voices of activism that are already out there. I planned to track programs like the Channel Black Program through BLM and social media activism through the designated hashtags similar to the #Ferguson and #BLM collection models.

      Getting permission for the archives is a great point and very much worth looking into. I hope the DocNow team can shed light on how to request permissions since that is an important piece. Also, oral histories is a great suggestion, but not where I saw the direction of this project. The idea for this problem is to add the missing pieces to the narrative of BLM, what the organization stands for, and amplify the activism for Black queer and trans lives. My fear is that this project does the very thing I’m trying to rectify. Will tracking the social media content for this subject add to the fabricated hetero-patriarchal story of BLM and the people’s lives they affirm?

      I will make sure to discuss permissions and agency with the DocNow team and see how to make sure that agency and respect are clear and this project is helpful for the Black queer and trans people.

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