Something is happening everyday on Black Twitter, the social media platform that amplifies African American culture.
When Twitter began in 2006, it is doubtful that the founders had any idea that it would become a platform for race dialogue. Yet from Nicki Minaj’s critique of structural racism to Donald Trump spreading fabricated statistics about the relationship between race and crime to the recent discussion and debate over the #BlackGirlMagic and #OscarsSoWhite hashtags, here we are, almost ten years later, watching racial debates play out in 140 characters or less.
For those of us in academia, Twitter provides ample “teaching moments” for our students. The combination of relatability and timeliness makes Twitter something that millennial students can understand, often better than they can understand traditional academic material.
For example, in Angry White Men, sociologist Michael Kimmel elaborates the concept of aggrieved entitlement. Kimmel explains that because straight white men are used to race, gender, and sexual orientation privilege, recent societal changes towards equalizing the playing field– such as equal rights and the increasing social and economic parity for racial minorities, women, and LGBT Americans– feel like mysandry and oppression. Many of the people Kimmel interviewed felt as if the things they deserved were unfairly being taken away from or denied to them.
This feeling of entitlement to be the sole possessor of social goods is often evidenced on Twitter whenever black users create a culturally-relevant hashtag. For example, in August of 2015 the hashtag #IfHogwartsWasAnHBCU resulted in days of comical tweets from the amorphous, ever-present “Black Twitter”. As Buzzfeed reported at the time, Black Twitter used this hashtag to poke fun at life at an historically black colleges, while also imagining a Harry Potter world of Hogwarts infused with Black culture.
Some of the more hilarious examples of this collective Black imagination included the band being better than the football team (and thus being the only real reason anyone attends football games), as well as speculation about which black celebrities would play which Harry Potter characters:
Yet the Black imagination– conjured solely for the Black gaze– was too much for some Twitter users to handle. Feelings of entitlement to white dominance, both on social media and in society’s collective imagination, was no doubt the logic behind one user who tweeted that a hypothetical, magical HBCU was ruining Hogwarts for her:
For Blacks to create a form of entertainment that neither featured nor benefitted the White majority was seen as, for lack of a better word, perverse.
Then, a few months later, right before Thanksgiving, the hashtag #ThanksgivingWithBlackFamilies found Blacks again sharing intra-cultural jokes and social commentary on our culture. Black users’ application of the hashtag revealed a collective insight into a social zeitgeist, one created and perpetuated by the fact that many black Americans share similar culture and experiences.
Still, before we had finished laughing so hard that we choked on our “diabetes-sweetened Sweet Tea”, some white Twitter users fired back, calling us “racists”.
In the words of the illustrious prophet, Yo Gotti, “We woke up to some Twitter beef.”
Notice here that there is no attempt to gain awareness of a historically-suppressed perspective, no urge to debunk the narrative of power and privilege that has pervaded our country for centuries. No desire to understand or deconstruct the cultural implications of the hashtag. There is just one sentiment: rage. Rage at the perceived unfairness of asymmetrical license to stereotype Blacks.
This rather insidious envy, born of the desire to engage in uncritical mudslinging with impunity, obscured the more socially-significant questions that White Twitter users should have raised. Instead of asking, “I wonder where these cultural jokes are coming from?”, these Twitter users ask: “Why can’t we be ‘racist’ too?”
The disappointment shown towards a missed opportunity to subvert and demonize a celebration of Blackness is a clear sign of the terminal illness that mass majority racism has inflicted upon our society.
And that’s just half the problem.
Twitter users not only lamented this missed opportunity, but seemed incensed that their perspective on this intra-cultural issue wasn’t even acknowledged.
To expand, Black people are notorious for what is called “playing the dozens”, for our resilience, wit, and ability to laugh in order to get through tough times. After a long, harrowing year of watching the extrajudicial oppression and execution of countless innocent Black men and women, the #TWBF hashtag emerged as an attempt to gather around the cultural fire, to enjoy a holiday, to laugh off stereotypes, and to live in our resilience. This one social media phenomenon was a true and necessary manifestation of the cultural love, joy, and resilience shared within our culture, not only in spite of, but because of the race-specific and global challenges Blacks face in the world today.
This feeling of Black togetherness and camaraderie is ever-present, and the use of culturally-specific hashtags on Twitter only serve as contemporary mediums for expressing this inner beauty and strength. That the #TWBF hashtag was seen as a racist affront to Whites is as random as an outsider trying to get in on a family joke.
Dude. No one was even talking to (or about) you.
More so than classic white privilege or Kimmel’s concept of aggrieved entitlement, the white Twitter users who angrily object to the existence of black hashtags epitomize mass majority narcissism, wherein not only do Whites believe that they should be the sole possessors of social goods, but of the social gaze as well. For these White social media users to be offended by a minority group’s celebration, discussion, and acknowledgement of its own culture only further illuminates how deeply this mass majority narcissism sits in the bosom of our country.
In spite of the strange and self-centered opprobrium launched at Blacks having a good Turkey Day, Black Twitter users will continue to create and enjoy our hashtags. Because they’re fun. Because they’re funny. And because despite the narcissistic expectations of the mass majority,not everything on Twitter has to be about, for, or even intelligible to white users.
So stop being mad, son.
~ This post was written by Jennifer Patrice Sims, PhD, and Vanisha Renée Pierce, MS. Sims is an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Her work examines racial perception, mixed race identity and the sociology of fictional societies, in particular Harry Potter.
Pierce is an urban fantasy, dystopian sci-fi, and sci-fi thriller novelist and creative entrepreneur. Her fiction work explores the collisions between socio-political hegemony and the Afro-futuristic imagination. Her entrepreneurial mission is to educate, inspire, and empower women to connect with their innate creativity.