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Black People Still On Twitter! *Clutches Pearls*

On The Root today Patrice J. Williams tackled the uneasiness some feel about "black Twitter" and its love of trending topics. Black Twitter, for those who don't know, is just regular ol' Twitter, only with a focus on how the black folks are communicating with each other via social networking. It's a great time to do some pop culture navel gazing. Most people use Twitter as an act of communication. Others use it as an expression of their worsening narcissism. Some people want to make whatever rap person Lil Duval tweets some variation a trending topic everyday. Other folks want to know #liesmentell. Some of those people are black people.

While I can understand the tendency as a black person who doesn't know who Lil Duval is and doesn't use Twitter to discuss the various ways women cheat on their man-friends to be all "OMG! LOOK HOW IGNORANT THOSE PEOPLE ARE BEING ON TWITTER!" This is one of those situations where I'm like, is this really a problem? And if this is a problem ... why?

More after the jump.

From The Root:

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?

Trendistic, which ranks Twitter trends, marked the most popular trend one day last week as #hoodhoes (and its similar tag, #hoodhoe). For 16 hours, users tweeted their definitions of a "hood hoe":

"If you only get paid when yo baby daddy get paid #hoodhoe"
"I like #hoodhoe they get a discount on they rent and they always got food in the fridge foodstamps lol"
"#hoodhoe emergency kit= leggings, track glue, cab phone number, ebt card, rush visa card, boost mobile phone and pre paid legal"

Twitter users can be fickle, and what's trending at one moment can easily fall off if enough people aren't embracing it. The fact that #hoodhoes was a hot talking point for 16 hours lets us know that people are co-signing and spreading the message.

Unpleasant? Sure. But so is watching most things on BET or listening to certain rappers or watching particular black comedies. What is it about Twitter that would annoy someone more than overhearing your typical conversation between some black teenagers on the Metro or going to a relative's house after church and listening to a three-hour conversation about how "these fast girls out here need to keep their legs closed?"

Oh. That's right. Those things happen in the "white people can't see this" vacuum of still-kind-of segregated America.

Anybody can read Twitter.

From The Root:

Of course, not all black users embrace these trends, but the way many of us choose to leverage our loud voice on Twitter speaks volumes about us to outsiders looking in. The source of entertainment for some may be fodder for white tweeters.

Writer Choire Sicha, who is white, even admitted on the Awl to being obsessed with what he termed "Black People Twitter" because of our "hilarious" trending topics. I wonder if Sicha, along with millions of other white people on Twitter, finds himself amazed that this is how we choose to use our power on the social networking site.

And this is the core of it. It's not like misogyny and dirty jokes and crass teenagers just appeared out of nowhere upon the invention of Twitter. These people and these conversations have always existed. But through a public forum, like Twitter, anyone can eavesdrop in on them. Like, I pretty much don't even notice the trending topics, much like I didn't really care when some variation of "Bieber" was a trend every day. Yet, the trends are there, reflecting what social media addicts want to talk about.

A lot of this concern isn't so much about the reality of how many Americans, including black ones, relish in anti-intellectualism, but about what others will think of us and how they may stereotype all of us for the actions of a few tweeters. This is an old fear, rooted in the reality that, yes, racist people lacking in nuance will hold up ignorance on Twitter as a reason why we shouldn't have nice things. But this is not 1865 and stereotyping an entire culture based on a subset of that culture has always been racist. And ... not our problem.

People who think negative things of African Americans will continue to think negative things no matter what we do. And it's unfair to expect every black person to live their public life going "Oh no, better not tweet this! What will the white folks think?" After all, there has always been people who preferred to chat more about celebrity gossip, brand names, sex and dating than politics or the war in Afghanistan. These people are called "the general American public" and many black people are members of this demographic.

Twenty-five percent of people on Twitter are allegedly black Americans. And much like Tyler Perry, Lil Jon and other black folks deemed "embarrassing" or "tacky" or "low class" before them, a lot of this is "Why do black people have to like such uncouth things? Making me, who only likes Erykah Badu albums and high quality films like 'Love Jones,' look bad?" Even I, as an overly educated person, fall into the trap of this logic from time to time. I hate something (like Martin Lawrence's "Big Momma" franchise), yet so many others love it. Why won't the WORLD confirm to my (far superior) tastes? But this is misguided when it moves from just black bougie bitching to "what will the white folks think?"

Because seriously? Who cares? They're going to think whatever they want no matter what we do and I'm not going to live my life worrying about people I don't know and what they think of me based on that one time they clicked on a #itsnotrapeif hashtag on Twitter. If you are a non-black person and you can't distinguish the difference between me and some bored teenagers who love Lil Duval, am I the one with the problem or you and your stereotyping?

Sure it would be just lovely if black people only used social networking to only discuss philosophy, politics, economics and on what side we like to wear our top hats and monocles, but that's not realistic. Upper class, educated white people don't go around getting the vapors about white folks who like Larry the Cable Guy, busted pick-up trucks, NASCAR and Jesus in equally tacky measures. But, that's because no one ever confuses Jeff Foxworthy with Michael Bloomberg. It's understood and accepted that all white people are not the same. Why we, as black people, can't at least afford ourselves this courtesy amongst ourselves, even within the confines of a society tainted by racism, is beyond me.

The tomfoolery on Twitter is a minority of social media comics, black hipsters, teenagers, Roland Martin, Lil Duval and goofy hip hop celebrities messing around. While I don't like everything that gets thrown around on Twitter, I'm not going to come down as Miss Suzie Buzzkill, the Fun Killer, who goes around slapping the iPhones out of teenagers' hands for tweeting instead of reading Richard Wright. Because, there is this off chance, that some of those lovers of tacky were like me as a young person -- who loved the film "Booty Call" but was a straight A student. You can enjoy crass things and still contribute to society. These things aren't mutually exclusive. The key is to encourage all people to find a balance between the jokes and the seriousness of life, not to condemn people for engaging in tacky Twitter time-wasters.

It's not like they're going to stop anyway.

FYI: I wrote about this topic, in-depth during the height of the #browntwitterbird hashtag bonanza after a Slate article tackled similar territory. Relive the madness here.

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Reader Comments (19)

disproportionately on twitter, but disproportionately NOT going to college or finishing school.

sounds like people have their priorities in order.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhmmmm.....

i still don't know who lil duval is...

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjenifer

REMINDER: PEARLS & Swine...Didn't/Don't Mix - GoOD Afternoon My GOOD APPLES & PEACHES - ONE Nation

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGODSGIRLGODSWAY

this is funny. i too have noticed the #ifsantawasblack to others which many times leave me laughing, all blks are not the same, hence all white folks aint the same.. the only ones that bother me are the racist ones like #stuffblackgirlzdo(paraphase) because non-black and uncletoms alike leave very inappropriate racist things i wont repeat on here. But hey everybody doesnt have hometraining what chu gonna do?

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermeme

To me black people being ignorant on Twitter is no different than any form of internet trolling. People get online and say outrageous stuff because that'll get them attention. People who disagree will respond more forcefully while people who agree (or think it's funny) will join in the fun. With trending topics on Twitter, it becomes a game of oneupmanship (I'm guessing this since I've never used the service). It's basically out of anyone's control.

Good post, as usual.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAntonio

@ Antonio

Exactly. This is especially the case with Lil Duval. He purposely starts hashtags meant to get people riled up or excited. That's essentially trolling. A lot of Twitter hashtags are started that way, just to shock a response and get passed around. It's basically a game. But to use Twitter as any real indicator for black culture is kind of ridiculous and wouldn't make much more sense that basing a study on the behavior of black Americans on an episode of "Good Times" or nothing but Jay-Z lyrics. They're snapshots. Not resource documents.

January 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

"People who think negative things of African Americans will continue to think negative things no matter what we do."

That sums it up.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVal

"Upper class, educated white people don't go around getting the vapors about white folks who like Larry the Cable Guy, busted pick-up trucks, NASCAR and Jesus in equally tacky measures."

Actually they do. Just watch Bill Maher for an example. Bourgie, educated white folks are obsessed with class and are just as disgusted with the "rednecks" and know-nothings in their race as bourgie, educated black folks are frustrated by the "ni**as" and "ghetto" folks in ours. I think that like educated middle to upper class black folks are relatively invisible to the mainstream, the analagous group of whites is not as visible to the mainstream as well. They are obviously more visible than their black counterparts, but when you consider them percentage wise they are a relatively small group. Think about it: how much media is targeted towards educated, upper-middle class, (usually liberal) white folks. Most media caters to the lowest common denominator and is dumbed down to the point of being insulting. They hate their Rock of Loves and Jersey Shores just as much as we hate Flavor of Love and House of Payne.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmpressDivine

danielle, great post as usual. i'm black, i have a twitter account, but rarely use it. i follow a few people for business purposes, so i dont really keep up with how blacks use it or trending topics.

but honestly when i read this on the roots, i was annoyed. i am that black person. they one who wonders what white people think about us? and here is the main reason. my parents, well my mother in particular.

as a black girl growing up, this is what was ingrained in my brain. as a black person, we have to be better, smarter and work harder than a white person in order to be someone and gain respect of white people. and i'm almost positive she learned this from her parents and her experiences growing up during the civil rights movement.

but thru this article i see why i shouldn't care. it all makes perfect sense. but at the same time i can't just forget about everything my mother taught me about being black. so how do u move on?

**sorry for any typos, for some reason the font in the text box is EXTRA small ...

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteraj

Nice article. I'll have to dissent a bit on this one though.

I've felt the same way about Twitter as Patrice. With that being the case, I don't think the point is that Black folks shouldn't have fun and engage in foolery on social media platforms because White folks will see it. I sometimes join the hashtag parties and tweet humorous things myself. That's because that's who I am as a person. I'm balanced.

I say balanced because when it comes to trending topics, I don't always find this to be the case with Black Twitter. We, those of us who are active users of Twitter, could do better. My takeaway from Patrice's article was just that. Just because the White man will continue to think what he thinks doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve how we represent ourselves and what we spend the majority of our time thinking about daily.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSlim Jackson

Of course it matters. It won't matter when there are as many black rocket scientists and brain surgeons as buffoons. Or when blacks aren't regularly at the bottom of virtually every economic and social ranking, except for sports.

Providing fodder to racist whites and indulging inane behavior is not helpful. If you're a black person who's worked hard, made sacrifices, and tried to succeed despite many obstacles, you don't appreciate having your credibility stripped away by these images that all too many people are happy to believe represent the truth about black people.

Don't kid yourself: It's not just white people who are forming negative opinions of American blacks, it's like, every other group in the world.

BTW, it's not spelled "ease drop."

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReader

"Don't kid yourself: It's not just white people who are forming negative opinions of American blacks, it's like, every other group in the world."

yes, and i tend to believe this as well. it not just blacks against whites here. its BLACK AMERICANS against everyone else. blacks in america have the worst reputation among other countries and most of these images have been created by blacks.

and maybe i'm naive or an just an optimist, but what's so wrong in wanting to be better?

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteraj


Exactly. Your mother (and my mother and father) were right. Incidentally, there's a difference between living your life completely in fear of the judgment of other people, which your mother was NOT suggesting, and having a healthy awareness that the way your group is perceived may affect you in immediate, negative ways beyond your control. That in some contexts -- and it's not fair -- you ARE your group in the eyes of some people. People whose support you may need to further your own worthy interests. Many of those people are not American blacks. They're white, Asian, Hispanic, Latino, Caribbean or African or Anglo black, etc. I spend enough time with different groups to know they often think they're superior to American blacks as a group and at times I can't but agree with them.

And, as you say, why is trying to be taken seriously, or to be better, a "white" trait? (Here we go again.)

All groups have their goof-offs, but in America you don't actually see many rising immigrant or minority groups actively, publicly celebrating them and contributing to negative group stereotypes.

Many black Americans have an absolute genius at undermining themselves. I wouldn't give a damn, but it affects other people.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReader

One other thing: I've read several articles about immigrant assimilation to American society. One common behavior is for the outside group to align itself with the majority group by demonstrating how different it is from other pariah groups, often by making fun of the pariahs. For example, many of the most successful blackface performers were Jewish. This was a way for one group to nod at the group in the power and say, See we're not them, we're mocking them.

With things like Black Twitter, ignorant black people are giving a playbook to groups that want to distinguish themselves from those weird black and brown outsiders who are always at the bottom. And some people who are not necessarily racist believe this stuff because they don't actually know many black people very well.

I used to comment a lot on Gawker, which Choire wrote for, and I'd see normal, middle-class white kids describing black middle class people in ghetto slang. They thought they were cute. Gawker for a time ran a horrendous feature (unfunny, horribly written) called "Ghetto Pass," and I can assure you that many whites took it seriously. The guy who wrote it, a black guy, pandered to every crude and stereotypical notion of what black people are like.

Meanwhile, other groups are busting their rear ends trying to be hardworking good little girls and boys and they seek to be portayed that way. Tiger Mom Amy Chua is just the most extreme example. It may be boring at times, but there's more of a future in it.

I'm not aware that there are so many well-cared for middle- and upper middle class black ladies with pearls to clutch and Spode tea sets that this is an issue that should be dismissed.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReader

It's just my opinion, but I don't ever think it will come a day when blacks will be looked at in a favorable light by any group. I don't think it will matter if "there are as many black rocket scientists and brain surgeons as buffoons. Or when blacks aren't regularly at the bottom of virtually every economic and social ranking, except for sports" as one writer so eloquently put it. And that is because of the way we came to America - in shackles. I think the world will always hold this over our heads and cling to the "way it was" if for no other reason than to have someone to feel superior to. Old habits definitely die hard.

I think most of us grew up hearing that we had to be better, smarter, and work harder than a white person. Some of us still hear it today. I still cringe ever time I hear it. While there is nothing wrong with striving to be better, I always had a problem with the being better than whites part of it. It seems to assume (to me at least) that we are inferior to whites. Maybe I was already better or smarter than the white person.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFran

Well for all of the ones who think it doesn't matter, I hope you are running businesses for AAs to work at.

Are you not smart enough to realize that people who are not "racist" see facebook, twitter, etc and will not hire AAs based on the stupidity on them? And no I'm not talking about the openly racist. There are alot of fence sitters who make up their minds based on what AAs show them.

By the way if what racist think doesn't matter then why on every so called "black" site are they usually the main attration via whining about what they say and do?

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrobaire

What is also dangerous about Twitter and Facebook is the fact they are actual people and not actors. People will see actual "blacks" without a script proving using bad grammar, bad english, misspelling words, and keying sub-low intellect nonsense.

What are other groups supposed to think?

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrobaire

This is like when I'm driving somewhere with my sister who lives in MD & a VA driver does something stupid

Or when I go into DC & mention I live in VA & someone makes a negative comment about "VA people"

I don't live my life worried about what other people think about me within a collective group. Perceptions filter your reality.

They don't call them generalizations for nothing.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe_A

There is a black Twitter? Who knew. I'm new to Twitter and I embraced the medium as a means to get my name and my writing out there. I don't use it reguarly and I don't use it often but I know people who are genuinely obsessed with tweeting everything and anything that comes to mind. In the end black folks will be blacks folks and just like all white people aren't the same neither are black people. If some of us want to read and react to the posts of the foolish then that's their choice. I chose to keep it moving.

the Super Sistah

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthe Super Sistah
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