Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of online talk about "Black Twitter," the burgeoning cyber community that is as hard to describe and comprehend as, well, Black America. I’m a little salty, as I had a great Black Twitter story in the works, but then I went on maternity leave and got distracted by a little baby (whatever, I’m still gonna write it). But I’m also slightly bemused: Twitter’s colored contingent has been going strong for years—humbling celebrities, roasting poorly selected Twitpics, grieving tragedies, supporting folks in need and, most importantly, debating the merits of the $200 date. Where y’all been?
But even more surprising than the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria dropping anchor on Black Twitter? The shock and outrage over the shock and outrage over the racist comments that appeared on a cute Cheerios commercial posted to YouTube. Have people never been on YouTube? The comments section is like a virtual KKK meeting. Getting surprised at racist YouTube viewers is akin to showing up at a Nazi gathering and being confused by the lack of Jewish people. And the same goes for comments on websites for CNN, the New York Post, TMZ, etc, etc. We get some of those comments right here on this very site—can you believe that a publication created and maintained by smart Black people pisses off racists so badly that they can’t help but to come here for the sole purpose of telling us we suck?
I’m not saying people shouldn’t take issue with the racist responses to what was a cute commercial for cereal; it’s certainly unfortunate that something so innocuous brings out the worst in people. However, it’s scarily naïve for people to fail to anticipate such a response in a world where Black boys can get shot down by self-appointed neighborhood watchmen who feel that they have a right—no, a responsibility—to protect the streets from our youth. Furthermore, it reveals a great lack of awareness about one of the Internet’s oldest institutions: trolling.
For those who aren’t hip to the concept (where y’all been???), trolling is the practice of saying awful things on the Internet for no other reason but to be hurtful, offensive, provocative. It’s an easy way for people of marginal importance in their offline lives to find themselves at the center of attention. However, that doesn’t mean that these agitators don’t believe the things that they say. And with the cloak of anonymity on the Internet, the guy who happily eats lunch with his diverse coworkers at 12:00 can become David Duke at 2:00. Because Obamacare stole his guns and he’s a real American, unlike the Kenyan.
We delete those comments here at EBONY.com because, well, you aren’t going to come to our Black website and call us n*ggers. Free speech does not mean you’re entitled to a space on someone else’s property for you to promote hatred. Sorry, not sorry. Personally, I wish that more websites took the same approach. While Internet comments did not create racism, they can stoke the flames and give a sense of connectedness among closeted bigots (and misogynists, LGBT-haters, etc.) who wouldn’t dare express these feelings in real life. Any doubts about the ability of the Internet to create community? Just look at Black Twitter, which has upgraded to $2,000 dates this week (perhaps we’re feeling fancy thanks to all the attention).
These are the days of “digital or die” for brands and media outlets. If you aren’t paying attention to the web, you might as well hang it up.
The Internet has made trend-spotting extremely easy. But as social media and online publishing move in real time, so should the reaction. Surprise over the existence of Black Twitter and Cheerios racism seems to suggest that some folks are just tardy to the party.
P.S.: Here’s a great convo between Black Twitter users discussing Black Twitter, as opposed to the awkward musings of non-Black observers who are surprised that people with things in common Tweet each other. LOLz. Internet, you so crazy.
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. She’s been Black and tweeting #atthesamedamntime since 2008.