|President Barack Obama Signs BrownTwitterBirds into Law
Original Graphic by http://lidia-anain.com/
Yesterday, Twitter was all a-flutter for yet another ignorant article trying to tell readers about Black people. For me, the best response to the Slate article on “How Black People Use Twitter” was not the poor manner in which the article did NOT explain how Black people use Twitter. Rather, it was the immediate response of one Tweeter named @InnyVinny who, in her frustration, wrote on her blogsite in all caps, “BLACK PEOPLE ARE NOT A MONOLITH” and then went on to, literally, remix the basic brown twitter bird with the diverse array of Black people—on Twitter. Hers was a visual art protest that parallels, if not supercedes the artist who created the Fail Whale and other popular images on Twitter. In one fell swoop, (now a hashtag: #browntwitterbird), @InnyVinny put on display what is so painstakingly obvious for most of us — “you don’t know me! You don’t know my LIFE!”
You see, in this list are the loc-wearers, the wig doners, the sports enthusiasts, the hometown reppers, the Afrocentrists, the ghetto fabulous, the afro’ed up, the regal ones and the graduates, the lovers of Prince, Michael, Rick James or even Grace Jones…and the hi top fade. Other than the celebrities, it’s clear that not only Slate but the rest of mainstream America has no real idea who Black people are, no real clue about our humanity, in general, so of course they would have no real idea what we’re doing on Twitter and how we express our culture. For us, Twitter is an electronic medium that allows enough flexibility for uninhibited and unfabricated creativity while exhibiting more of the strengths of social media that allow us to build community.
Sadly, when the mainstream attempts to describe or otherwise represent us and our lives, they choose the #browntwitterbird with the boombox, watermelon (and no Blackberry) in hand, standing next to the bucket of chicken. Yes, mainstream America, that is how you see us and, truthfully, that’s a slice of how some of us are (at times). You, however, think it’s us in totality, so we laugh at your lack of intelligence and observation skills and continue to ‘Make Me a World’. This is why @InnyVinny’s Brown Twitter Birds were adopted, in less than 12 hours, as a revolution on Twitter, by throngs of users expressing, adopting and requesting customized birds that reflect our beautiful, Black and multifaceted selves.
Indeed, the best part of the Slate article (outside of the wisdom of quoting @Baratunde Thurston and @ElonJames White) were the revelations that more Black Twitter users than not create a far more balanced, reciprocal relationship to one another, as opposed to the silly, somewhat mindless, stalking behavior of “following” a celebrity and never receiving a response:
Nevertheless, Brendan Meeder thinks he’s got a good hypothesis about what’s going on. Meeder, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, has downloaded the tweets of more than 100 million users. (Twitter gave him special permission to do so for research purposes.) He’s been probing this collection to see how Twitter users interact with one another; he’s particularly interested in how trends begin and spread through a social network. While analyzing his database a few months ago, Meeder noticed something strange—he found a cluster of hundreds of users whose profiles were connected to one another. When he looked up the users, he noticed that a lot of them were black. It’s in exactly these kinds of tight-knit groups that Twitter memes flourish, Meeder says.
Understandable, right? But it gets better!
Not only are the people who start these trends more tightly clustered on the network, they’re also using the network differently. Most people on Twitter have fewer followers than the number of people they’re following—that is, they’re following celebrities, journalists, news organizations, and other big institutions that aren’t following them back. But according to Meeder, the users who initiate blacktags seem to have more reciprocal relationships—they’re following everyone who follows them.
For the record, Black people use Twitter hashtags, thanks! But one final piece of wisdom from the only person to do any actual research here (Brendan Meeder):
These patterns suggest that the black people who start these tags “are using Twitter as a social tool,” Meeder says. “They’re using Twitter like a public instant messenger”—using the service to talk to one another rather than broadcast a message to the world.
Actually, we talk to each other AND we broadcast a message to the world, hence the popularity of the Trending Topics and Twitter usage, yes? Now, if only we were left alone in the real world the way we are on Twitter, perhaps we could effect more change.
It’s not until the third to the last paragraph that, authour, Farhadchooses to explain, in any intelligent manner the obvious flaw of the entire article:
There is an obvious problem with talking about how black people use Twitter, as many of the black Twitter users I spoke to took pains to point out: Not all black people on the service are participating in these hashtags, and there are probably a great many who are indifferent to or actively dislike the tags.
Okay, so “many of the [B]lack Twitter users” Manjoo spoke to “took pains to point out” how we are not a monolith and, yet, you all over there at Slate (editors and all) still decided to run with the title, “How Black People Use Twitter”, eh? Brilliant.
wonders (aloud) how and why the trending topics begun by Black people on Twitter are so “successful” without bothering to consider the numbers game. How do I explain that comedian, MarlonWayans, who, with his brothers, captured the attention of the next generation with hilarious films such as “White Chicks” and “Scary Movie”, has been a source of some of the sillier hashtags ever since he arrived on Twitter? At present, he has 310,00 followers, quite enough to produce a Trending Topic all by his lonesome, yes? And with masses of Black teenagers following him, it just makes sense, right? I suppose this was too logical an answer…
Thus, if they can’t understand something so simple, then they wouldn’t understand why, even though we are really (really!!!) appalled by both home invasion and rape, we love the Antoine Dodson story and find he, his sister, Kelli, (and his other family members) so funny.
And if that’s the case, they REALLY wouldn’t understand why a remix (auto-tune) song was made of his rant, why Antoine has 13 Twitter accounts, a website, is selling T-shirts and has a hotline—all this from the attempted rape of his sister by a roving rapist in their Huntsville, Alabama, Lincoln Park neighborhood. America, gotta love it.
As for what trends, I wonder if we should bother sharing that in addition to the more fun, unpredictable, silly or outrageous Trending Topics, we can also (proudly, thankfully) add the hashtags of #OscarGrant and #AiyanaJones to the list. And would Slate’s audience even know who these people are? Probably not, which further exemplifies the segregation of our communities as well as the problem of race in the 21st Century.
Dare I even mention the Black Weblog Awards or would that be going too far and doing too much? Would we overwhelm the populace?
Over this last year, I observed the fascinating manner in which Black people were expressing their culture and building community on Twitter, particularly those of us in the “Hip Hop Generation”, which is why I decided to focus upon how we were using the medium to effect change. Thus, I put a panel together for Netroots Nation 2010. As it turns out, not all of my panelists could attend but “Tweeting the Revolution: How Hip Hop Transformed 140 into 360″ was, nonetheless, an excellent panel—and videotaped and live streamed just for you!
I felt the need to frame our conversation (because unlike Slate, I KNOW Black people are not a monolith), so I wrote up an introduction (which was a gamble), that proved to be quite fruitful and elicited major response from attendees. And it’s funny because I was in my room typing up the last edits and trying to add some of my favorite Tweeters’ names and folks who had answered my questions prior to the panel, so I am glad I did the intro. During the run down, comedian and co-panelist, @ElonJames White (This Week in Blackness) tweeted “@drgoddess is giving a State of the Black Twitterverse speech”. Hilarity.
I promised to provide it for you in written form—and I shall. Oh yes. I shall. <—–[Melodramatic repetition included for ultimate effect and to inspire shivering due to fright and/or impending doom}
In the meantime, for the mainstream and those trying to figure out Black people on Twitter…
Jesus Be a Brain and a Human Heart.
(Special Thanks to @Punch_VJ @EbonyStarr55 and @Vizionheiry for the links!)