Leave #BlackTwitter alone, please
July 23, 2015 at 2:00 am
However, there is something different and potentially more unsettling about the hyper visibility of “Black Twitter.” It’s not just a bunch of black intellectuals waxing political poetics on “discourse”/“narrative"/“space.” There is a growing economy being built on the analysis and dissection of this notably black and radical space. But we are remiss if we do not consider the power of access.
A symptom of visibility and a consequence of determination, Black Twitter has survived a turbulent rollercoaster of mockery, shame and arbitrary indulgence. We can look to the last year of rampant injustice, where local government officials and national politicians alike shamed social media for “twisting the narrative” and preventing justice. In Ferguson, most notably, online activism was cited as the reason for civil unrest and uprising, somehow justifying the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. The mainstream media has long been hesitant to validate or address the critiques from social media. Whether it be the embarrassment of their lackluster news cycle or their violently problematic click bait, the mainstream saw Twitter as their annoying adopted kid sister. Like many intergenerational dissonances, the old guard is suspect of the quickness and decentralization of information being passed. When the gatekeepers of reporting are those being reported on, the dynamics of power and change shift.
Yet, now that it seems mainstream media has taken a liking to us, black journalists and media producers are welcoming the (white) world with open arms. In a recent Daily Beast article by Barrett Holmes Pinter, he posits that it's good for white folks to be consuming Black Twitter. He suggests that because the space has become such a meaningful location for black conversation, white people have an easy way to learn about racism and injustice. While he accurately locates the importance of Black Twitter in relation to how “black thought has been structurally suppressed throughout American society,” the conclusion of making this space available to white folks gives me pause. When black media makers begin appealing to a broader (read: white) audience, we open ourselves to the same subjugation we already live through in the real world.
In the existing ways that our fashion, speech and music are ripped from our bodies and plastered as spectacle, this otherwise radical platform becomes a tool of injustice and control. This is the shortcoming of inviting the white gaze. While many see visibility as a step toward progress, when we open our cultural products to folks with no access, their cultural power is cheapened. As we saw with the influx of New Blacks from earlier this year, making space for white people doesn’t translate to safety, comfort or support for black folk. When black people make these allowances it validates truly violent, and often essentialist, scrutiny of Black culture and thought. It's the respectability fallacy of black folks being “just like you” but that “you” are those who benefit from white supremacy.
It is unfair for black media makers to frame Black Twitter as just the internet or just Twitter. It’s simply not the same. Our hashtags, our activism, our organizing all exist in ways that are undeniably black and more often than not urgently diasporic. We are represented and utilize Twitter in diametrically different ways that other users. Consider the power of #BlackOutDay and the follow-up #BlackOutEid, that showcased the global beauty and power of black people across languages and beliefs.
An immediate and understandable critique of this thinking is that “Twitter is public, white folks can see it anyway.” Yeah, you right. So why make it easier? Why put the work on a pedestal for them to consume sloppily? Black conversations happen constantly, in public and private, but do we need to come to un-nuanced consensuses and send them to white folks? It’s not like the space is even that safe for black thought or black people. Black (Trans) Women have long documented how their work is mined and stolen by journalists daily. I have personally received threats and extreme hate for not praising white queer folk. And still we come to the platform for our people. We come to learn and build with our folks. Why can’t that be enough? Why can our work for our own be enough.
As Black Twitter continues to gain cultural capital, how can we, as both the creators and subject of the medium, protect ourselves? For black media makers working in the mainstream field, I respect your hustle but I implore you — don’t sell us out for what feels like validation.
Be about it, even if you can’t talk about it.
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