What is Black Twitter? What excites you most about the project? Users logging onto Twitter caught sight of a new face — or rather, a lack of a familiar one— on April 3 when the social platform’s iconic mascot appeared to be replaced. Instead of the bright blue silhouette of a bird, users were welcomed by the official logo of the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, a derpy-looking Shiba Inu.
TODAY.com reached out to Twitter for information about the change, which was not formally unannounced, but has not heard back.
“There is a little dog at the top of my Twitter…” one user wrote in a tweet shared to the platform early Monday afternoon. “He looks guilty…”
What is Black Twitter?
WACO, Texas (Feb. 19, 2019) – “Black Twitter” is a social media phenomenon that is changing the national conversation, but many people – including professional and strategic communicators – do not understand what it is or how it works, says Baylor University’s Mia Moody-Ramirez, Ph.D., professor of journalism, public relations and new media.
Moody-Ramirez is a nationally recognized expert on mass media representations of minorities, women and other underrepresented groups. She coauthored the 2018 book From Blackface to Black Twitter: Reflections on Black Humor, Race, Politics, & Gender with Janette L. Dates, Ph.D., educator and critical commentator on the images of African-Americans in media.
First things first, Moody-Ramirez said, Black Twitter is not a separate entity from Twitter. Black Twitter is a grassroots movement within Twitter that has provided a virtual community of mostly African-American Twitter users a collective voice on a variety of issues, including Black Lives Matter. Black Twitter users often identify themselves using the #blacktwitter hashtag or by focusing on issues related to the black experience.
“We conclude [in our book] that alternative spaces, such as Twitter, offer a platform for ideas and concerns from a black perspective about social inequalities, politics and social justice, that were historically prohibited from taking root in other communication venues,” Moody-Ramirez said.
“Black Twitter” is something referred to a lot. Can you define it?
I define “Black Twitter” as a network of culturally connected communicators using the platform to draw attention to issues of concern to black communities. It’s the culture that we grew up with. It’s the culture that we experienced in our lives and school, in the workplace, with entertainment – and you see conversations coalesce around specific cultural moments.
I always explain to people that Black Twitter doesn’t have a gateway, a secret knock. It’s not a separate platform. It’s all in the way that people use the platform to draw attention to issues of concern to black communities.
Did somebody coin the term “Black Twitter”? And when did it start?
There are a couple of points of departure for that. The one I take is in 2010: Farhad Manjoo, who was writing for Slate at the time, wrote this article called, “How Black People Use Twitter,” and the response to it on Twitter was fierce and people truncated the headline to “Black Twitter.” That’s where I take it from.
Do you have to be black to be part of Black Twitter? It seems like there would be some tricky elements in play there.
Absolutely. How do you decide who belongs to an online community that is bounded by race and cultural experience? Like who’s in and who’s out? That’s not necessarily for the entire community to decide, nor is the entire community that cohesive to be able to say, with a singular voice, “you’re in” or “you’re out.”
I would say the sole exception to that is with [former civil rights activist] Rachel Dolezal. I think that’s where you saw Black Twitter draw a line. They were like, “Uh, no. You are definitely outside of it.” [Note: Dolezal was president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP until her parents revealed that Dolezal was a white woman passing as black.]
But it all depends. There are plenty of white folks that I know who tweet along with Black Twitter, who I think could be considered part of the community. But it’s about knowing what the focus of the community conversations are and knowing how and where to position yourself within those conversations.
It’s just realizing that blackness is at the center of what’s happening with these interactions and being OK with that. Being more of an observer at times, rather than somebody who’s trying to control the conversation if you’re not black, is really important.
What’s the easiest way for people to see what’s going on with Black Twitter?
Sometimes the community is visible through hashtag and trending topics, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes there are just conversations going on that don’t bubble up to the surface where an algorithm can pick up on it.
Are there prominent African-Americans within Black Twitter to follow?
People like Jamilah Lemieux, who was an editor at Ebony.com and worked as communications director for Cynthia Nixon when she was running for governor. People like Vann Newkirk, who is a writer at The Atlantic. People like Genie Lauren, who created a petition to get a book deal from one of the jurors from the George Zimmerman trial dropped.
She was just an everyday person doing her thing. Mikki Kendall created the hashtag “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen” and that thrust her into the limelight. Jamie Nesbitt Golden came up with “#FastTailGirls” which was a hashtag to talk about the hypersexualization of black girls. She’s also done a lot of work around drawing attention to grievances that black women have with [singer] R. Kelly.
What’s the focus of your upcoming book on Black Twitter?
I’m really interested in positioning Black Twitter as a source of digital counter-narrative for the way that black life in the United States is depicted in mainstream media. There have been numerous studies about problematic framing of black people as being deviant, as being, in some ways, subjugated to dominant culture. Aside from creating outlets for black voices – like Ebony, Essence, the weekly black newspapers – there wasn’t a way for people to contest the narrative in real time.
And that’s what Twitter has allowed so many black communicators to do. To coalesce around an issue, to speak back to depictions and to really offer an alternative way of seeing black lived experiences.
What excites you most about the project?
Creativity and connection with communities. Anytime that you’re able to make something out of the digital world – not just analyzing social media messages, but putting them back together to tell a cohesive story – that really excites me.
And watching students take what they learn in class and then working with members of whatever community they’re interested in is really exciting because you just never know what students are going to come up with. They come up with some of the coolest stuff.
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