Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rejecting the notion of "Black People Twitter"

For more than a year now, folks have been fascinated by "Black People Twitter," or rather the conversations, memes and hashtags that result from the African Americans who make up 25 percent of all Twitter users. Observing black Twitterati has become a popular form of cultural tourism for mainstream media and trend watchers eager to gain insight into African American culture and ascribe deeper meaning to 140-character tweets. And today at The Root, writer Patrice Williams worries about what Black People Twitter will teach the majority about African American culture:
With African Americans disproportionately represented in the Twitter game, trending topics often originate with and are perpetuated by black folks. According to Edison Research, "many of the 'trending topics' on Twitter on a typical day are reflective of African-American culture, memes and topics." Though many trending topics are about specific people, events or silliness like #liesmentell, #itsnotcheating, etc., the mood has recently shifted into far more ignorant territory. Why is this how we choose to wield our power on Twitter? Read more...
What's this "we" business? In a post in 2009 called "Are you a credit to your race?" I wrote:
I have been thinking about what it means to represent the black race and how black people act as ambassadors to the mainstream world. There is this tendency, from which I am not immune, to feel embarrassed by and to make excuses for black folks who behave badly, or rather, act in a way contrary to a certain set of values and accepted norms. There is a real reason for this compulsion: Black people and other people of color are often unfairly judged as group by the mainstream. In other words, the actions of one equal the actions of all. And so, many of us, learn from the time we are children to mind ourselves around white folks--to not do anything that brings discredit to black people and, ideally, to live life with the goal of uplifting the race through our actions. Admittedly, this idea of being a proxy for the entire race has been tied to excellence and achivement--both wonderful things. But, ultimately, this way of thinking is a tyranny and a perpetuation of race bias. Read more...
Watching black folks on Twitter tells no more about African American culture than watching the forums at Salon or Gawker reveals about white culture. Sure, among certain Twitter groups, black folks relax and use vernacular and call on experiences that are unique to us. But attempting to assign deep cultural meaning to trending topics like #hoodhoe is a reflection of racial bias. We do ourselves no favor by buying into the thinking that topics like this and #itaintrape reveal something particularly significant about black people. Don't get me wrong, these memes are misogynist. But anyone who has spent more than two seconds online knows that misogyny and sexism are everywhere--a reflection of American...no...world culture, not that of any particular race. Consider the deeply sexist conversation surrounding the Julian Assange sexual assault accusations and the trolling on the #mooreandme hashtag. These were hardly driven by black Twitterati.

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