About This Whole Black Twitter Thing…
The phrase Black Twitter started as a joke when people realized the power of Black people who use Twitter. People started noticing that we were driving hashtags and trending topics. Then Nielsen did research and found out that African American women are the most active group on Twitter.
Since then, #BlackTwitter has become a THING that folks study and report on. Slate wrote a piece called “How Black People Use Twitter” in August 2010. It wasn’t that good and it wasn’t nuanced, nor did it talk about the complexities and power we have. BUT one great thing came out of it, and that was Inny Vinny’s brown Twitter birds.
She created them to poke fun at the illustration that was used in the piece (a brown bird holding a blackberry while rocking a fitted cap) and it turned into a hilarious thing, with people creating all these birds. On her post, @InnyVinny said:
“I figure that if Slate and the world are really that intrigued (and because Twitter can’t provide empirical data on who is who), those individuals who want to be identified as a black person using Twitter should be able to do so with a brown bird wearing a fitted cap in a color that best represents them.”
And so began the meme. People created and requested their own birds and we had a good time with it. Black Twitter was HERE. Born from the obsession of how Black folks live and what we do and how we do it. Many more #BlackTwitter articles have come out of mainstream outlets since then.
But… now? Something about the Black Twitter coverage makes me uncomfortable and it was hard for me to pinpoint why. In fact, I’m probably about to do a bad job of explaining my problem with it, but bear with me and deal.
The other day when the #BlackBuzzfeed trending topic started and got REALLY good, I tweeted that I want people to actually write some of the pieces they were pitching. Why? Because they were BRILLIANT ideas and I’d love to read them! Plus, if we don’t profit off our original stuff, someone else will. Ideas are nothing. Execution is everything.
And of course BuzzFeed has posted at least 3 pieces that were inspired by some of the tweets (22 Essential Pieces Of Relationship Advice Learned From “Martin”). As they should have.
There’s A LOT of interest in #BlackTwitter and my hope is that whoever profits off this trend the most looks like the people who claim it. But that is often not the case and I see that as a huge problem. That #BlackBuzzFeed hashtag should have led to AT LEAST 10 people writing those articles (either on their own sites or as a community post on BF). But nope. BuzzFeed staff wrote it.
We are letting other people tell our stories.
Become a content creator sometimes instead of a consumer always. Notice I said SOMETIMES. I’m not saying start blogging every day. Or start posting long diatribes. No. Just sometimes, tell your story instead of waiting for someone else to do it.
Some of the folks who join in on these trending hashtags are brilliant! I LOVE the wit, the intelligence, the discourse and sometimes even the shade on Twitter. Black folks have created these deep communities that make social networking a delight. A lot of y’all are funnier than some professional comedians. Start getting something from your brilliance (besides 20 more followers).
There are folks with hundreds of thousands of tweets and they’ve never seen a dime from their time spent on Twitter. I want them to start a blog and get some Google Adsense coins from followers reading their online homes. I’m not saying everyone who is on Twitter needs to be there to make money but we get mad when people see the profitability of our ideas. We, the originators, have to start making our own things. Ideas mean very little until they’re executed. Technology and content creating are the future and there’s power in being able to tell your own story HOW you want it to be told.
Again: this is not to say everyone should have a blog and the only reason they should be on Twitter is to make money. NO NO NO. That is not what I’m saying. BUT I want people who have 400,000 tweets to be able to say they got something tangible off their time on there. If it’s an expanded network, or them building their voice. Or great relationships. SOMETHING.
Either way, I WANT US TO TELL OUR STORY!
The reason why I don’t like MOST of the convo around #BlackTwitter is I feel like we went past the initial joke into trifling territory. Black folks are trendsetters in EVERY way. We not only dictate culture; we ARE culture. But the conversation around #BlackTwitter often takes on a “OMG LOOK AT THE BLACK PEOPLE.”
We are more than trending hashtags. And we are more than a monolith, which people have repeated over and over again. But I also want want us to be cognizant of what is happening and how we don’t always tell the story of how we want to be represented well.
Last night after seeing Don Lemon’s CNN feature on Black Twitter, a white lady tweeted “What is the difference between #BlackTwitter and #WhiteTwitter?” The responses she got included things like ass eating, chicken, basketball and paternity disputes.
We are more than the parts that make up our sum so there is space for some of that, I guess.
Again, I repeat. WE ARE MORE THAN TRENDING TOPICS. And this #BlackTwitter trend feels like what happens when people start laughing AT you instead of with you. Remember when Dave Chappelle felt like his show went past the point he wanted it to? That’s how I feel about this whole thing.
It was cute in the beginning but now it’s HA HA HELL.
We are too smart to be represented as people who sit on Twitter playing dirty dozens with the worst hashtags all day. The hashtags I end up blogging about are the ones I think show the best of Twitter; the ones that show the intelligence and quick wit. The #PaulasBestDishes and the dragging of Chuck Woolery the bigot. We do unite for epic wig snatches often.
But that’s not only what we do on there. In case you need someone who does a good job of highlighting the dope things Black folks do on Twitter, check out Brokey McPoverty’s social media column (The Grapevine) on The Root.
But that Slate article from August 2010 is the same type of article being written in July 2013. And there lies the problem.
The mainstream conversation about how Black people use Twitter hasn’t evolved in THREE years. And for me, it feels divisive how it’s positioned. We don’t use Twitter in one way, just like white folks don’t. But we DO drive conversation. Just like in regular pop culture. Our influence on Twitter is similar to our influence in music, and fashion. We’re just awesome and people wanna know how we are the definition of cool. I get it.
If they want to know how Black people who are really active on Twitter use it, I can help. Twitter is a support system, a global classroom, a job hunting site, a sitcom in words, and sometimes even a 1st date you don’t know you’re on. It’s an activist’s dream, a recluse’s fantasy, networking on steroids and connection building on SWOLE.
What do Black people do on Twitter? We joke, we live-tweet shows, we inform, we protest, we network, we do too much, we don’t do enough, we do just what we’re supposed to and we produce awesomeness in 140 character spurts. DASSIT.
Do you understand what I’m tryna say here? Am I the only one who’s slightly put off by this Black Twitter convo? Talk to me.