March 23, 2012

Reading is Fundamental: Zebra Katz and Njena Reddd Foxxx's Ima Read

Children! Class is in session. The library is open.

A friend posted the music video of Zebra Katz and Njena Reddd Foxxx's

Ima Read on my facebook wall to give me inspiration to write my dissertation.

And inspiration, it has provided. I now strut through the library with this song blasting into my headphones. It puffs up my confidence enough to slice up my bitch of a dissertation. BAM!

As with most of the music videos that interest me, I find this both disturbing and compelling, but mostly awesome.

So this shit is multivalent. It inspired me to re-watch Paris is Burning, and I was considering re-reading some bell hooks and Judith Butler and giving you guys a proper freaking analysis.

NAH. CHANGED MY MIND. Because I need to spend less time analyzing music videos and more time writing my dissertation, I’m going to give you the quickest and dirtiest rundown of three possible readings I see of this video. And I want to know how you people are reading it.


If you spend a lot of time hanging out with queers, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, or if you’ve at least seen Paris is Burning, then you’re probably familiar with “reading” as an art of insult. I was going to summarize Paris is Burning for you and give you some more background about reading, but instead I’ll tell you to WATCH IT NOW if you haven’t yet, and in the meantime, I’ll let my co-pilot Ru give you the simplest of explanations:

“Now, as drag queens, we shrug off a lot of insults. So when we get our chance to throw an insult, we turn it into a high art form. We call it reading or throwing shade, and it’s part of our culture.”

So, when I watch the music video, I’m reading the reading to be this kind of reading.


Now let’s try to imagine what someone unfamiliar with drag culture might think about this video. (If any of you are out there, please comment and tell us your impressions, because I can only speculate)

If I didn’t know what reading was, I think this video would seem violent. Maybe it’s the talk about wanting to slice and ice bitches and sluts. Or maybe it’s the way that both twins and masked people remind me of horror movies (I haven’t seen many horror movies because I grew up in a bubble, but I think of the images I’ve seen from the Shining, Scream, Jason, and The Silence of the Lambs).


I experience a tension produced by readings #1 and #2 because of the way that queerness is referenced aurally to an insider but is not referenced visually.

The visual performance of “schoolgirl/schoolboy realness” in the video makes it read, visually, as more violent than I know it is as an insider. A quick google search of Ojay Morgan’s other projects, listening to some of his other songs, and the fact that he's often performing at queer events lead me to believe he’s probably queer (or a non homophobic ally who loves queer culture). But many people don't know that, and there is nothing about the visual aspect of the video that makes that apparent. So even though I know this is a queer project, the experience of watching seeminly cis-gendered, seemingly hetero men and women singing about wanting to slice and ice bitches and sluts that they hate still disturbs me in a sort of visceral way.

For me, the tension produced by readings #1 and #2 is disturbing, provocative, and productive. I go back and forth between the occasional warm fuzzy moments of thinking about alternative queer kinship structures and queer cultures, on one hand, and the different kinds of physical violence and structural inequalities against queers, women, and people of color, on the other hand. Somehow, this back and forth leads to think about how homophobia, racism, and structural inequalities are reproduced in educational institutions. These threats of violence in the setting of a school make me think of bullying, especially the recent suicides of bullied queer kids.

Then I remember that I really should be writing my dissertation, so I watch the video again to give me the strength.

A few friends have noted that there might be an additional postcolonial critique, that the twin dancers might be a visual nod to Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, and that the song could be some kind of call to action re: these educational institutions. I like this idea and don’t have time to further explore it right now but hope you will in the comments. DISCUSS!


  1. I haven't much experience with analyzing music videos and I am always lacking in pop culture references, even queer ones. So, I found myself somewhere between reading #1 and #2 as well, but for different, and yet similar reasons. Having recently finished my master's thesis, I felt I could relate to the song in sort of a blissful remembering of the ups and downs of finishing that fucking beast. I found it haunting, but almost in a joyous way, like I was conquering something and revisiting it's pain all at the same time. I read 'bitch' and 'slut' as references to objects or feelings not to specifically people, and not in a negative way, as I don't think bitches and sluts should be negative; although, I am fully aware of the mainstream use of the terms as negative terms for immoral behavior-- I have invested a lot of time writing about this subject. It's also something I go back and forth on in my mind. You know, all the usual things that keep me awake pondering at night. I always think of the best comebacks just before I drift off. So, I suppose I could keep watching this video and go deeper and deeper into it's various interpretations too. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this video, as well as your knowledge and thoughts. Cassandra


    This could be the future of K4H! (Not the catering company. SXSW and NYT writeups.)