The Effective Social Justice Workings Of Black Twitter Is Neither New Nor Accidental
September 20th was the night of the Emmys, and really just another Sunday for me. I spent my night getting my lectures ready, every now and again catching updates of who looked what and had just said blah-blah—that is, until Viola Davis became the first Black actress to win an Emmy for a lead role in a Drama.
She stood statuesque on the platform, her dark-skin radiant in the lights against the fabric of her dress, and eloquently called for TV and film to diversify, specifically for women of color. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that simply aren’t there,” she spoke, and somewhere between that and the next commercial break, a soap star named Nancy Lee Grahn thought it fit take to Twitter and criticize Davis for, in essence, “bringing race into it.”
Grahn’s mentions must have initially been incredibly supportive as she continued on, claiming that the Emmys was not a venue for racial opportunity and that “ALL women are belittled” (“All women” now a widely known coded message to mean white women) and from there Grahn grew more bold and bizarre, going so far as to tweet that Viola Davis was not Harriet Tubman because she was winning an Emmy, not “digging a tunnel.”
I’m convinced that Nancy Lee Grahn has no real friends. Not only because friends don’t let friends think that the Underground Railroad was a bunch of slaves literally digging tunnels to the North, but because no one thought to warn her about Black Twitter.
So friendless Grahn kept on and on until the Eye of Sauron turned on her and sent its army of razor tongues and fast wit to come snatch her wig and get her all the way together. Poor Nancy tried to defend herself. She employed the no, no let me explain strategy, next followed by a few you’re bullies parries and my personal favorite: I would have marched for these people!
But it was too late for Nancy. Her hypocrisy had long been exposed. Her failure to recognize her white privilege and embrace intersectionalism in feminism was obvious. There was only one thing for her to do, and that was to apologize profusely until she was forgotten — and so the story goes that Nancy tweeted out official apologies over and over, she sought out individual Viola Davis fans and tweeted them personally, telling them she’d acted dumbly, that she was oh so very sorry and now understood the error of her ways. She did this until—I imagine—she tossed her buzzing phone into a trashcan and ran screaming into the night, never to be heard from again (or until the next episode of “General Hospital”).
A friend of mine, also in media, once chided that her life goal was to make it off this Earth without catching the wrath of Black Twitter. Another friend, Cultural Strategist Kevin Walker, even claimed: “Time magazine should consider Black Twitter for Person of the Year”and yo, I totally understand.
“Black Twitter” refers to the super-identity on said platform that for the most part, focuses on the issues and interests of the African American community that may have began as a forum to channel scathing and poignant Black humor, but eventually evolved to incorporate social justice. I’m sure some would argue that it’s nothing but a bunch of angry teens prone to mob mentality and bullying, but between all those barbs, all that humor and wit, Black Twitter has managed to become a virtual megaphone for several unheard generations, sick of the injustices and ready to fight back.
How is this possible? Twitter was founded in 2006 by Odeo to essentially emulate Flickr and SMS texting. Jack Dorsey (co-founder) went so far to describe it as follows, “We came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.”
Except Twitter became anything but inconsequential, as most brilliance is found by accident, so essentially was the heart of Twitter. It may have started off as “lazy man’s Facebook updating”, but social groups began to pass information to each other, hidden in plain sight. A huge example of this being the 2011 England riots, where British protestors used Twitter to warn each other about the movements of the police.
Black Twitter’s inception is often credited to have begun a year later, sparked by the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, when in reality that is only when the virtual entity’s social justice pursuits gained worldwide fame.
Yet, I can recall Black Twitter at work back in 2009, raising awareness of the murder of Oscar Grant. As a native of the Bay Area, I knew of many young persons of color brutalized by the police, but their stories always discredited, ignored, even buried. Mass Media outlets weren’t interested in reporting stories of Black kids, let alone Black kids with police records getting killed in the streets, who would find them sympathetic?
As a result, the Black community, who justifiably has little to no trust for the media, for the government, for the many institutions of this country that are thoroughly plagued by systemic racism, once again turned inward, while the rest of the world much later realized they needed to catch the hell on up.
There is this strange misconception that Black folks tend to just stumble into movements, when the truth is that every movement we’ve been a part of, we’ve had a hand in meticulously planning. Harriet Tubman did not “dig a tunnel”. She helped fashion a network of allies to help her ferry a thousand slaves to freedom and later became a spy during the Civil War, code named Moses. Rosa Parks didn’t just one day decide she wasn’t getting her ass out her seat for some white man, it was strategic, planned by Black social activists to kick off the Civil Rights movement.
The Black community has had their own newspapers and their own magazines founded for the sole purpose of exchanging information that often saved our very existence. The NAACP had actual spies, light skinned African Americans who could pass for white, traveling down South to witness and gather the names of white people responsible for lynching. They’d gather all the information they could then sneak right back up North where the NAACP made it a priority to publish these men’s names, highlight these towns and put them on our radar while pressuring the justice system to consider us worth saving.
All things considered, representation is no longer held through a select few channels. Black Twitter can be credited for singlehandedly making Shonda Rime’s Scandal rabidly popular, to pressuring Marvel to diversify and create new characters like Miles Morales, and some would even argue that parts of Black Twitter are the founders of the monstrous Bey-Hive (Beyonce’s terrifying fandom).
But from the rise of #BlackLivesMatter to a recent faux pas at Advertising Week, New York where a panel highlighted on the plight of black advertisers in the most unfortunate, most ironic way possible, my people’s ability to communicate effectively with each other is not a new concept. What’s new about it is that suddenly you all are paying attention.