Late Night Black People Twitter, he called it. With capital letters in all the right places, this could be mistaken for some new and nocturnal David Letterman-esque entertainment feature. Yet, in his article, Choire Sicha goes on to state that it is “an obsession I know some of you other white people share” and at this point, I am almost beside myself. Not only because his sentiments conjure images of black people under the zoo-like scrutiny of white people but because one look at Twitter past a certain hour and his statements do find a solid resting place. In a similar article titled “How Black People Use Twitter: The latest research on race and microblogging,” Farhad Manjoo of Slate has even coined the term ‘blacktags’ in place of ‘#hashtags’ – used on Twitter to categorize ‘trending topics’ (T.T’s). Both these writers have managed to identify characteristics that are unique to some of Twitter’s black population. Unfortunately, these writers do fail to emphasise the fact that Black people are not a monolith and that perhaps their deductions are not sufficient to speak for an entire people.
Most Twitter users use hashtags for various reasons although it happens to be, largely, black people who have the tendency to air out dirty laundry for all of the interwebs to see. The information shared in these so-called ‘blacktags’ is usually negative and ranges from the ordinary to extreme ones such as #LiesWomenTell (“It’s your baby”) and #ProductsForBlackPeople (“A.R.V’s”) with the aim clearly being to out-do each other in comedy and vulgarity. Trending topics have a way of bringing out the worst in people; showing just how far even the most well-mannered people would go just to gain a few L.O.L’s and retweets. Having witnessed the popularity of these sorts of trending topics and taking Sicha and Manjoo into account, I realise that I have no grounds to disagree with their observations and that is both upsetting and concerning.
A while ago, the Twitter trending topic for the day was #ThingsBlackGirlsDo. This hashtag was strewn with the usual ‘black girl’ memes about hairstyles, fashion choices and relationship experiences. This is also the first time that I’ve seen a hashtag spark a noticeable outcry from people, especially females. The more users participated in the trending topic, the heavier the insults became and it was shocking to think that this is the perception that black people, even the ones that I know personally, have of black females.
Reading through the tweets of some people that I had considered worthy of respect was incredibly embarrassing and saddening. The participants may have been unaware but this trending topic and many others like it are nothing but misogynistic attacks: hateful and hurtful.
Although I am not the one that these malicious tweets are aimed at, my very reality as a black girl ensures that I am bruised by them. I am every black woman that was, is and ever will be. I am at root of your beginning and at the heart of every family. Why is it then that this continual crucifixion of women is so entertaining? Why is it that we do not realise that the humiliation of a young woman on Twitter today could possibly raise her into a broken woman tomorrow; her self-worth lowered just for a few laughs? People are too quick to utter the dismissal,“it’s just Twitter” without realising that everything has an impact.
Amidst all the madness, esteemed writer and Destiny Man magazine editor, Kojo Baffoe tweeted: “We spend time on Twitter & say words are taken too seriously. Those words reflect what we accept as society.” Indeed, our words carry the power to create and shape us, thus, it is beyond reason that we should use them as weapons against each other in such a senseless manner. Another aspect is that the massive popularity of these offensive trending topics guarantees that at any given time, millions of users, of all ethnicities, are able to see them. This begs the question: what it is about black people, in particular, that makes us so comfortable with dishonouring and disparaging each other, literally, for the whole world to see? “Well, it shows that we black people can laugh at ourselves,” is the casual response often heard during post-trending topics discussions and I wonder if the likes of Biko, Fanon, Kuti and Onyeani would agree.
If our actions to absurdly depreciate our women and, in the process, ourselves is us being light-hearted then perhaps the “grinning negro” stereotype has not yet been removed by the passage of time. Perhaps it has been so far engrained within us that it has developed and ‘grown legs’ to the point where we do not even recognise it anymore.
Through centuries, Black people have suffered the worst kinds of persecution and still, we are so comfortable to sow seeds of self-loathing and disarray amongst ourselves instead of loving and building each other. Honestly, I am yet to see any other racial groups that behave in this manner. Take the time to acknowledge the scope and power of social networks -this is important, mainly because there are now pseudo-analysts who believe it credible to draw conclusions on entire groups of people based on internet usage, regardless of the wealth of cultures and mindsets within that group.
In the words of Shirdi Sai Baba: “Before you speak, ask yourself – is it kind, is it true, is it necessary, does it improve on the silence?” Think before you speak; a simple lesson learnt in childhood that teaches us to heed the power in words. We truly are reflections of each other. Black girls have grown into women who have become mothers, teachers, healers and lovers.
I am your neighbour, your girlfriend, your sister and your reflection. A Black girl became an ancient Egyptian queen who discovered beauty cosmetics. An Angolan queen who defended her people from Portuguese colonisers. She built the underground railroad. She is a Black Panther, now exiled to Cuba. A black girl grew into the woman who won the Nobel Prize for her efforts in protecting the Earth. She grew up to marry a future president. A Black girl is a president. These are the things that black girls do. Whether it is black people or the human race as a whole, let us use our words to always encourage, uplift and affirm our strength and beauty.
By Lebohang Masango
Lebohang is a ballerina, writer and poet whose interests include ”words. Cupcakes. Boys. Girls. Jazz. Kissing. Ballet. Wine. Passion. Bangs and lipstick. Womanism. Smokers with nice shoes. The Blues. Sounds. Fashion. Bad hair days. Body piercings. Friends. Night. Books. Thrift stores. Bicycles. Art.”
Read more of her musings on her blog
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