Why “Black Twitter” is Important

2 min read

I’ve been in San Francisco for two and a half years and I feel I am withdrawing. I don’t think I fit in here. I spend a lot more time alone than I did in my former life in Los Angeles.

This past year has been particularly isolating as America’s longstanding simmering racial tensions bubbled up to the surface with a vengeance, ignited by Michael Brown’s murder last summer. After which, conflicting emotions of hopeless grief and building fury alternately gnawed at me.

Facebook, on which I was still somewhat active at the time, was a sickening cesspool of cruel, ignorant and outright racist commentary. Or silence. It incensed me how mute some people I followed appeared to be on the subject of police brutality and racism. And if I had to read one more disingenuous, noncommittal: “We don’t have all the evidence yet,” I was going to go mad. Y’all wait around for the evidence, others of us are already awake to what is going on and demand justice.

My isolation threatened to crush me. I didn’t know what to do, but I had to do something. Unfortunately, no one in my small San Francisco network seemed as activated as I was.

I found solace in “black Twitter.” That population of other tweeters united by shared cultural influences, social experiences and united by inclusion in the most disparaged racial group. People from all over the world, not just blacks in the US, with whom I could commiserate; microbloggers who so eloquently voiced the emotions many of us struggled to express; a group of people who wouldn’t try to convince each other that racism is just in our heads. I found comfort in those whose views align with my own, including my belief in the importance of standing up for what’s right.

The benefits of social media, particularly Black Twitter | Read more from "Why I Am Grateful for Black Twitter" on The Girl Next Door is Black

Illustration by John Ira Jennings (@JIJennings)

With each tragedy black Americans suffer, the number turning to the internet for support grows larger. After the recent terrorist attack on the 9 churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, black Twitter was a virtual community in mourning. For some, it is the only space they have to somewhat safely* discuss topics which too many in the offline world try to avoid.

My youngest sister sent me a beautiful post written by a friend of hers which he’d shared on Facebook. It encapsulated the words that I, the “writer”, couldn’t find. I asked her to get his permission to tweet it. As much as his language resonated with me, I knew others would find comfort in it too.

I didn’t anticipate just how much.

That is my most retweeted post in my almost seven years on Twitter. Clearly it struck a chord with many. The replies touched me. To think that so many of us live significant portions of our lives in spaces where we feel isolated and misunderstood is quite distressing.

A few weeks ago, when Rachel “black by spray tan” Dolezal’s “Soul Woman” offense came to light, some of her defenders were quick to lecture remind us all that race is a “social construct.”

Yes, it is a “social construct” and that social construct makes real life more difficult than it should be for some of us. So much so that it sometimes threatens our mental and physical health, even just as observers.

Without Black Twitter, I shudder to think how far off-center I might be today. I’m grateful for the activists  – accidental and otherwise, the educators, podcasters, YouTubers, influencers and entertainers, the natural comedians, writers and bloggers, and the other everyday people across the type of economic, gender, age and educational lines which might otherwise divide us, who inspire and encourage me to keep my head up even when the world seems to have sunk to it’s depths.

The benefits of social media, particularly Black Twitter | Read more from "Why I Am Grateful for Black Twitter" on The Girl Next Door is Black

 

*Trolls who actively seek out and target black people on Twitter are a serious problem. I will cover this topic in a future post.

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25 Comments
  • laure damrose
    July 9, 2015

    Thank you for this inspiring post.I learned something new.

  • Alina Conn
    July 7, 2015

    I make it a point to try and learn something new weekly. You did that for me on this post. I had never even heard of Black Twitter. I, too, got a chuckle from the troll’s comment on your twitter. People are so ignorant. I’m sorry that you have less contact in San Fran. I do hope that you know there are blog followers that are with you in spirit and in print!

  • Katina
    July 6, 2015

    I expect that there will always be a range of opinions, especially on a subject as loaded as race, but I find our current state of affairs and discussion so woeful that it’s depressing. I keep promising myself that I’ll stop reading Facebook comments, but I haven’t weaned myself of that horrible habit yet.

    I admire they way that you tackle difficult subjects and deal with difficult people. I wish I had your fortitude. I think what holds me back from tackling this directly is that I find it so depressing. I’ve been focused on affecting change in our local political system, but that is proving to be such an uphill slog that sometimes I wonder if this is the right approach.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 9, 2015

      I think what holds me back from tackling this directly is that I find it so depressing.

      It is depressing! Some days I want to just pretend none of this exists. Then I walk outside and remember I’m still black and people are still acting funny around me and others who look like me.

      I don’t know if you follow Awesomely Luvvie, she’s a pretty successful blogger. There was a bit of a dust up last week in the black blogging community when she called on beauty bloggers to speak out on social justice (even if just by retweeting others’ words). Some agreed, others strongly disagreed. I agree with the spirit of her comments, but I know it’s not as simple as diving in. I’ve had to learn how to steel myself against harm from hateful and ignorant comments – in real life and online. Many of us have already accumulated (and sometimes repressed) so much racial-pain that it can be an act of self-care to take a step back. It’s work. This is real life for us, not just a theoretical discussion.

      When I talk about silence from some, honestly, I’m calling out white people and non-black POC – who benefit from social justice/civil rights movements started by blacks. Racism isn’t a black problem, it’s a human problem and everyone should be working toward eradicating it, not relying on oppressed people do the work.

      Thanks for your comment, Katina!

  • Mary
    July 3, 2015

    Black twitter is a Godsend. Really. I feel less crazy because of it because Facebook was also a cesspool of ignorance and apathy. I no longer go on Facebook as a form of self-care because it is exhausting having to deal with so-called “friends” put you in a position where you have to basically argue black people’s right to live and to be treated like white people are. Trolls are awful. But, in my experience, they tend to be faceless with some cartoon or political avatar instead of their face. They are cowards to me so that’s why they don’t affect me as much as my Facebook “friends.” I know faceless trolls aren’t all there are.

    The other day, a troll tweeted me three times and told me that I was employed by the illuminati as a part of a race baiting think tank. They newly made their account and I was their first target and the wasted three tweets on me. I was weirdly flattered haha.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 6, 2015

      The other day, a troll tweeted me three times and told me that I was employed by the illuminati as a part of a race baiting think tank.

      I got a chuckle out of this because that seems to be the latest shared “talking point” of trolls. “You’re a race-baiter. Illuminati! George Soros! Paid protestor!”

      In addition to being “faceless” they often claim to be Christian and to love their country, which they emphasize with an American flag displayed somewhere on their profile, maybe with an eagle too. They are often Republican or Libertarian. It’s like plug-and-play ignorance. I think at least some of them have finally caught on that many in the younger generation aren’t checking for Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson so they’ve stopped dropping their names as much.

      There are the people who don’t hide behind an egg and own their hateful comments. The ones who I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually did get paid to troll and harass POC. There’s a special place in hell for those folks.

  • Jayne
    July 3, 2015

    Learned something new today. Both “Black Twitter” and it took me a bit but I figured out POC meant “person of color.” Thanks.

    I prefer Twitter to Facebook because people say what they think without thought to what one’s family or friends might believe.

    White people :::raises hand::: have no clue what it means to be on the outside looking in. And to ever claim that they “get it” is ludicrous. And I can’t figure out why any white person gets butt hurt over something like BET or Black Twitter, etc. like they’re pissed they’ve been excluded from the club. Or maybe that’s it? Maybe they feel threatened? I don’t know. I might be grasping at straws or just thinking while I type.

    I was married to a man who was Korean American. We were house hunting one time in southern Indiana and flat out told that we couldn’t live in certain communities or we’d be burned out. Another time, I seriously thought he was going to get shot for no other reason than he was in a Walmart in Arkansas. I’ve had to stop people from making jokes about Asians asking them, “did you know my son is Korean?” (He doesn’t look Asian.)

    And as much as those things hurt me, my hurt doesn’t hold a candle to how they must feel. To be threatened or belittled simply because of their genetic code and not because of any actions they may have taken.

    There’s a saying about “if you throw a stone into a pack of dogs the one that yelped got hit.” I think when these conversations occur and a white person gets defensive, it’s because the stone popped them on the head.

    I’ve re-read this about 10 times hoping to edit out anything offensive. If it slipped past me, I’m sorry.

    • Jayne
      July 3, 2015

      To clarify: I stop all ethnic jokes.

      • The Girl Next Door is Black
        July 6, 2015

        I prefer Twitter to Facebook because people say what they think without thought to what one’s family or friends might believe.

        Me too. It’s like Facebook mutes people from sharing their true thoughts. It’s fake to me in that way and unappealing.

        I think in our country we’ve done such a good job of making racism a “bad” thing, that no one wants to believe they are racist or hold racist beliefs. It’s said that these days the “easiest” way to offend a white person is to call them “racist.” It hurts people who believe they aren’t racist or a “bad person” and often they respond defensively. We all hold prejudice beliefs. It doesn’t make us “bad people,” but we do have a moral responsibility to acknowledge and work through those beliefs.

        There’s even the “benevolent racism/prejudice” that your son or ex-husband may experience where people assume that all Asians are smart. That may seem like a compliment, but it’s still problematic and rooted in grouping people by ethnicity or race rather than seeing them as individuals with diverse experiences.

        Individual racism is a problem for sure, but an even more insidious and perhaps greater problem is systemic and institutionalized racism, which is what we’re seeing raise it’s ugly head with the now more publicized bouts of police brutality against black (and brown) Americans. These ingrained societal beliefs in black or brown people as “deviant” that are woven so deep into our culture that some no longer bat an eyelash. It’s just become how life is. That’s incredibly dangerous. We’ve got to dismantle our racist systems.

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jayne.

  • dinahthomas
    July 3, 2015

    As a white woman, I’m grateful for Black Twitter. Since Ferguson I’ve realized the most important thing I can do is listen, and Black Twitter enables me to do that. I know it’s not for me, about me or any of that, but as a byproduct of the space that’s been created for expression there’s a window into the Black experience that I’ve never had before, and I grew up in a relatively integrated area.The famous Internet anonymity that emboldens trolls also brings out a level of honesty in good people. I would not necessarily have access to those important conversations in person. Even as a Jew I will never fully understand. But I will continue to listen to the voices of Black Twitter, and try.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 6, 2015

      Listening as a way to understand and learn is extremely important as it’s easy for those in the majority to assume their experiences are universal when some experiences most definitely are not (and that’s goes for race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.)

      I appreciate that social media allows people windows into worlds they may not otherwise be exposed to. We are curious about each other.

      I have already learned so much from people I follow who are part of other “communities.” Helps me learn proper language to use, some of the difficulties others experience and provides general insight into what life may be like living as _____ .

    • lifeofatravelingnavywife
      July 11, 2015

      I am in agreement here. For all intents and purposes despite being Hispanic, I’m white. I don’t feel that I have the right words and sometimes I don’t feel worthy of an opinion, because, really. What do I know? I hope to be part of the change, though and I am learning to better listen thanks to posts like this.

  • Ally | A Home Called Shalom
    July 3, 2015

    I just wonder if there’s a group out there for me… like… ‘Infertile Twitter?’

    Honestly, I haven’t had to deal with racial prejudices in my life, but all of us have that ‘thing’ that separates us from the rest of the population, that puts us in the category of “other.” I have to listen to people who are blessed with children complain about those blessings, read stuff about abortions, have people ask (and not very politely) about my reproductive capabilities almost every day. Shouldn’t there be a Twitter for me, too?

    (And isn’t this what forums were for? To connect with others just like us?)

    I can’t understand how the African American population expects white people to mix, intermingle, get to know “the Black Girl Next Door” with things like “Black Twitter.”

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 3, 2015

      Unlike many things in the US, this post is not about white people. This is about black people seeking comfort and solace in a difficult time among others who share similar experiences and will not demand from each other draining explanations. That should not threaten anyone. We are not a majority group with economic and social power working hard to subjugate another. We’re just trying to stay sane in a country that for centuries has treated us like animals or children to be wrangled and then blames us for our own oppression.

      Studies show the majority of white Americans do not have non-white friends and I guarantee you that is not because POC exclude themselves. OTOH, people of color, like myself, tend to have white friends and friends of other ethnic groups. Instead of shifting blame to me or other POC, a better question is: why don’t more white people have non-white friends? Or what are (some) white people doing to make POC feel unwelcome and unsafe?

      You can look all through my blog and find that I do not have an issue with “intermingling” with people of all colors and from different walks of life.

      If you’d like to find infertile people on Twitter, they exist, just like many other subgroups of people. It’s just a matter of finding them. Just as there are subTwitters of moms, dad, other ethnic groups, Democrats, Republicans, Christians, atheists and even white racists who seem to make it a goal to harass POC on Twitter. As a matter of fact, “black Twitter’ which is not even an official entity on Twitter, hence the quotes, includes non-black people, like white allies. It’s not exclusive and there are no rules.

      Here’s a good post written on another site, written by a white man, that might provide more insight to anyone who has more questions, because I will not respond to this line of questioning in this post again:

      “White Americans rarely find themselves in situations where they’re more or less surrounded by people of color. In those rare situations where they are, all they usually have to do to get over any racial discomfort is step back out into the “normal” world. Back out into spaces where the majority is made up of people like themselves.

      But again, those situations are rare. Partly because most white people spend little or no time in spaces that are mostly non-white, they tend to find it confusing, and even “wrong,” for people of color to seek out spaces and situations that are not predominantly white — to “self-segregate,” that is. Because seeking sanctuary from a situation in which you’re no longer surrounded by your racial peers could merely mean stepping back into the great (white) norm for whites, it wouldn’t seem like racial self-segregation for a white person to do that. Even though that’s what it is, and even though white people actually self-segregate almost all the time.”

      Read the rest here: http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2010/03/fail-to-understand-why-non-white-people.html

      • Ally | A Home Called Shalom
        July 5, 2015

        Ah, see, therein lies the biggest mistake of my comment… I’m not on Twitter at all, and so didn’t realize that “Black Twitter” wasn’t an official thing. Sorry about that- I should really join the 21st century! =) I had no idea there was such a thing as subTwitter.

        Honestly, in a very geographic sense, I have a hard time finding people of color to befriend (which is very unfortunate). We live in rural Iowa, so most of the interactions I have in real life are with the five other people who live in my town (exaggeration… but not by much!), who happen to all be white. It’s not a choice I would have made to be surrounded by such a non-diverse population. I went to college in Chicago and loved the meshing of so many different cultures- it was great! And then I fell in love with an Iowa farm boy… and the rest is history.

        Because I get so little connection with people of different races and cultures than my own, it makes me sad when I hear about things like “Black Twitter.” I want to have more interactions, make more friendships, with people of cultures different than mine, and I can’t do that where I live without the use of technology.

        That’s (one reason) why I follow your blog, and the blogs of several other folks who are different from me (in different ways- by gender or race or ethnicity…)- so I can have those interactions.

        • The Girl Next Door is Black
          July 9, 2015

          It probably would have helped if I’d clarified that there’s no official portal to BT.

          You bring up a good point about geography. There definitely are many places in the US without significant populations of black people and other people of color, Iowa being one of them. 🙂 To be fair, why this happens is due to several different factors and self-segregation (because some white people do self-segregate whether consciously or unconsciously) is only one of them. One of the side effects of this is, it’s sometimes easier for people to believe the negative imagery of black people they see projected in the mainstream media and Hollywood. That’s all they know, all they’re exposed to. This is one of the reasons I created my blog, I wanted add another dimension of “blackness” to the mix. We’re more than stereotypes.

          I appreciate you sharing your perspective.

        • lifeofatravelingnavywife
          July 11, 2015

          I shared this on my blog’s Facebook page and thought you might like to read it. It’s food for thought: https://medium.com/@johnmetta/i-racist-538512462265

  • Kristin K
    July 3, 2015

    You know…African Americans want to be treated like “everyone else”…until something happens! I am tired of people of a certain descent wanting to be treated equally, and then blaming the “white” people for everything that goes wrong! Yes, the Michael Brown incident was unfortunate…but, if is was a “black” officer who did the same thing, would you have the same reaction??

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 3, 2015

      Don’t comment on my blog again. I find your comments offensive, uninformed, insulting and abusive.

    • Jossie
      July 4, 2015

      But it wasn’t a “black” officer who did it, so that’s irrelevant.

      Also, why are you using black in quotes? WTH! Go away.

  • Heidi
    July 2, 2015

    I’m so sorry to hear that your FB was filled with such horror after Michael Brown’s murder. Mine was the opposite… People ready to go protest, to make the cops pay. You’re welcome to have some of my friends whenever you want. They are good people like you. I can only imagine how isolated you feel, especially working in the IT industry. There are so many people that think the way you do- I’m glad you’ve found some in blogs and on black Twitter. Take care luv!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 3, 2015

      With FB it wasn’t so much my real life close friends. It was more situations like reading an article about Michael Brown and seeing all the vitriolic comments from people across the country. As much as you don’t want to engage, you can only see “n–er,” “thug,” “beast,” etc. thrown around so much before you threaten to snap. I did defriend a few acquaintances who wrote some sideways stuff. Coming across unexpected hateful commentary almost feels like being assaulted. Some people truly hate us.

  • Shahidah
    July 2, 2015

    I am right there with you. Black Twitter is the business….I jusy get frustrated that I can’t keep up!!! I try to check in but by the time I do its evening. I just end up retweeting. I love the social conciousness!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 3, 2015

      There are definitely times I’ve stayed on Twitter too long because BT was lit about something. Lol

      RTing is important. It helps amplify messages. It wouldn’t be as powerful without people sharing and resharing!

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