Bearing Witness While Black: Theorizing African American mobile journalism after Ferguson

Richardson, Allissa V.
Digital Journalism

Modern black citizen journalists have embraced the mobile phone as their storytelling tool of choice to produce paradigm-shifting displays of raw reportage that challenge long-standing narratives of race, power, and privilege in America. From the cellphone footage of fiery Ferguson, metaphorically ablaze with racial tension and literally erupting into nightly conflagrations of riotous frustration in August 2014; to the final images of a broken-legged Freddie Gray being shoved into a Baltimore police van in April 2015 where he died later in police custody, the familiar tropes of black against blue have transcended the twentieth-century loci of ethnic advocacy press, found formerly within slave narratives, abolitionist pamphlets, and black newspapers, to twenty-first-century sites of black rhetorical resistance, found now in selfies, tweets and, mobile video. What theoretical frames should media scholars use to understand this burgeoning form of mobile-mediated sousveillance? In this essay, I suggest a triangulated approach, where academics meld the literature on media witnessing, Black Twitter, and the black public sphere to explore the full landscape of black witnessing and all of its potentialities.