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?
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.