Lynne d Johnson

 

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08.14.10 01:15 AM

Reading Responses to How Black People Use Twitter

By now there have been a number of responses/reactions to the Slate article, "How Black People Use Twitter," written by Farhad Manjoo on August 10. I've followed the tweets, the blogs, the Facebook comments, etc. but there are three blog posts I read yesterday that really get at the heart of why people have taken issue with the piece. From my own point of view, I can say that the article comes across almost as a fascination that black people use twitter, or that black people use twitter so well that black youth know how to get their topics to trend.

I don't know, maybe I'm over analyzing but it takes me back to the days of Blogging While Black and Where Are The Black Tech Bloggers? But I really don't think that I'm over reacting or analyzing, why? It's because I know there is a larger conversation and larger bodies of anthropological, sociological, and ethnographic work that build a larger and broader context for which this instance of black people's use of twitter fits within. Anyway, my own POV aside, let's hear from the writers who gave me more to think about on this topic, with a couple of quotes from each:

How One Black Person Responds to "How Black People Use Twitter"
by Scott Poulson-Bryant

"The first time I read the article I was a bit bemused by it; my first thought was, well, should anyone be surprised that black folks happen upon some existing entity and re-create it to fit their own style? Of course not, American history is rife with musical, sartorial, and cultural shifts caused by the mere re-arrangement of codes that black folks decided to use to make things sound, look, and just work better for themselves—and eventually anyone else who decided to come to the party (sometimes stealing it in the process, but cultural theft is a blog post for another day)."

"Nor does he seem to understand his article’s place in the larger context of the racialized responses to both the supposed lack of literacy among black folks and the surprise that’s often noted of black folks’ sophisticated use of language—whether written or orally performed—dating from, say, Phillis Wheatley right up to some of the awe and wonder that greeted the early emcees of rap as it exploded out of the hood."

"What I didn’t know was that I was doing something so African-American that someone would write an article about it and act like it was the newest thing since the call-and-response we’ve heard on vinyl since voices started getting recorded. I also know this: if you’re going to write about blackness and “black people,” at least understand the long legacy of reportage and study and field-work that’s gone into making your work possible. "

On Black Tags, Brown Birds and Racial Tourism on Twitter
by Liza Sabater

"To assume these conversations are happening in closed up groups or ghettos is to bring a whole set of assumptions that do not reflect neither the reality of the social interaction nor the reality of the technology and media where its happening. "

"The #BlackTagging Choire Sicha and Farhad Manjoo seem to be addicted to  is nothing more than fun and games as a social app as opposed to a system app. Meaning, Twitter has already a history with @replies and #hashtags of users becoming builders and architects of their own user interfaces and experiences. The #blacktag phenomenon is just one example of how users create fun and games without having to know how to code. The #blacktags are like ephemeral game apps."

A Response to Farhad Manjoo's "How Black People Use Twitter"
by Jessica Faye Carter

"I don’t see Manjoo’s article as racist. I believe he was genuinely intrigued by what he terms “blacktags” (I’ll refer to it as the Black memeplex) and the level of influence they have garnered on Twitter. He followed up on his initial observation with what is evidently a sincere effort to understand the phenomenon. Even if we disagree with his method of analysis or conclusions, casting aspersions on his legitimate work has the effect of forestalling a discussion that many of us are interested in having. His efforts merit a response that is at least equally serious."

"The tendency to focus on ethnic heritage as the definitive aspect of a person’s identity presents a major challenge to discourse on culture and social media, because it ignores the layered existences in which most people reside. Manjoo notes that the Black memeplex he is discussing isn’t entirely Black—it includes people of other ethnicities, and is diverse in terms of national origin, age, and socioeconomic level, and probably in other characteristics, as well. So how did the group he’s studying get reduced to only a Black identity?"

"Why the interest in what Blacks are doing on Twitter? In a way, inquiring about Black youth on Twitter is vaguely reminiscent of the question “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” The answer, of course, is that plenty of different ethnic groups are sitting together but groups who are predominantly “Black” or otherwise differentiated are the ones whose behavior gets noticed. Are Blacks doing something unusual on Twitter? No. But their actions are drawing interest, at least in part, because Blacks are involved."

"All of this is to say that the title of Manjoo’s article was incongruent with its subject matter. His post didn’t really seem to be about how Blacks use Twitter, rather it was an inquiry into why hashtags that originate with Black youth consistently reach the level of trending topics on Twitter. This is a completely different kettle of fish."

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