The Miseducation of Black Twitter: Why It's Not What You Think

The Miseducation of Black Twitter: Why It's Not What You Think

The haters have it wrong. Twitter's most talked about subgroup is just like you. 

Written by Michael Arceneaux (@youngsinick)

Around 2008, Twitter saw an influx of users who were noticeably younger, darker, and a bit chattier than those who initially signed up for the social media service. Not long after came dissections of the group now deemed “Black Twitter”—a trend still going strong.

Initially, many from the outside marveled at the way select Black Twitter users employed the social platform. The Awl’s Choire Sicha wrote, “At the risk of getting randomly harshed on by the Internet, I cannot keep quiet about my obsession with Late Night Black People Twitter, an obsession I know some of you other white people share, because it is awesome.”

In other words, I love these cool black kids, specifically these cool black kids and their musings in 140 characters or less.

There have also been less tactful, more grating sentiments about certain Black Twitter users, such as, “These people don’t have real Twitter friends. So they all respond to trending topics. And that’s the game, that’s how they use Twitter.”

Translation: I don’t know the people I’m talking about, nor do I have any real interest to make a genuine effort to learn about them. However, I’m going to speak about these folks with authority regardless if I don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about. Why? Well, because I clearly operate with certain privileges of the palest variety.

Others, like Farhad Manjoo who penned the now infamous Slate piece, “How Black People Use Twitter,” sought to intellectualize the boiling question (to outsiders): “What is it about the way Black people use Twitter that makes their conversations so popular?” 

 

Worse are those who have bought into the notion that different means deficient, resulting in Black Twitter bearing a negative connotation.

 

Translation: I’m trying, really, really hard to get these guys…with statistics.

Unfortunately, the piece predictably ended with a roundup of Twitter users who all happened to be Negro, pointing out what should have already been obvious to anyone with a solid amount of brain cells: Not everyone with a higher melanin count is a part of this subculture.

Thus, much of the commentary surrounding Black Twitter has been stuck between conversations about it being an online enigma worthy of countless exploration and explanation or the virtual equivalent of the Land of Misfit Toys. Now years later there are workshops at SXSW still trying to explain what it is to those languishing in confusion. In essence, the lingering dissection of Black Twitter isn’t really all that different from other, sometimes exhaustive, explorations into Black urban culture.

This examination will continue to encompass Black youth who do nothing more but engage each other in shared interests.

One night it may be live tweeting an episode of The Real Housewives of Wherever, Basketball Jump-Offs of San Antonio, or now, ABC’s Scandal. The same proves true for any litany of award shows.

During the day, though, it might very well be one of many, many debates about relationships ripped straight from a black romantic comedy, be it $200 dates, waiting 90 days to have sex, or what, exactly, makes someone a hoe. Or everyone watching Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, or any other temperamental artist break into a temper tantrum—prompting spectators to chuckle and throw shade in their direction.

Then there are instances where a nude photo of a celebrity leaks, prompting ridicule and Law & Order: SVU like analysis of the genitalia now made public record.

Oh, and one can’t forget some of the more asinine trending topics—#BlackTwitterBingo, #thingsblackpeopledo, #itaintrape—which one enters at their own peril.

 

But does any of this sound remotely different from “White Twitter?” When Lindsay Lohan gets arrested for the 97th time, Twitter users talk about it. When Kristen Stewart cheats on that dude from Twilight, she is roasted repeatedly. When Justin Bieber does anything, his fans sit there and obsess over it until he gives them something else to marvel over in another hour.

Perhaps what piques the interest of people who don't identify with Black Twitter is its uniqueness to black culture. Yes, I’m one of those people who dare to continue identifying things as “culturally Black.” I don’t operate in this fantasy world of “post-Blackness.” 

I find it intellectually dishonest when people act as if things can’t be culturally Black. Likewise, it’s annoying when some black people point out how different they are by detaching themselves from certain aspects of that culture. We are not a monolith. Not listening to 2Chainz isn’t the same as buying bleaching cream from a beauty supply store, blah, blah, blah. Is that debate finally settled now? 

Worse are those who have bought into the notion that different means deficient, resulting in Black Twitter bearing a negative connotation.

Take for instance, @YoungFlynMommy’s tweet. She “jokingly” describes her desire for a white person to “deliver” her from Twitter.

Or @illumiNAUGHTI’s quip, where she equates “Black Twitter” with “coonery.”

Apparently, in the eyes of some blacks, only our race has members who occasionally engage in antics that can be deemed bad, ugly, stupid, crazy, or anything else that might perpetuate a stereotype. It’s the kind of self-loathing that resonates among black people in varying ways. I can’t cure one's own conditioning, but I can hit unfollow on Twitter when remnants of it hit my timeline.

I noticed long ago that quite a few people have listed me under Black Twitter. I never take offense to it the way others have, because I know that black people have made viable contributions to the larger culture, and Twitter is yet another instance of that. The sooner more recognize that, the sooner we can begin to have more worthwhile conversations about race and culture on Twitter. 

Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones.

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