#BlackTwitter: How social media is changing conversations about race and privilege

OPINION - Social media has given a powerful voice to people of color, complementing an often one-dimensional mainstream when it comes to representing controversial racial issues...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Social media has given a powerful voice to people of color, complementing an often one-dimensional mainstream when it comes to representing controversial racial issues.

Specifically, African-American users on Twitter have become a particularly powerful force. Termed “Black Twitter” (or #BlackTwitter), this networked group of users has emerged as the 21st century extension of our barbershops, salons, college campuses, and church socials.

In this virtual space, issues such as feminism, race and politics are disseminated and dissected with the abandon often reserved for live conversations on topics about which many blacks are passionate.

What is “Black Twitter”?

Black Twitter has grown in influence and popularity recently, coming into its own just as the black blogosphere has risen into prominence as an alternative to the traditional press. Denizens of the Black Twittersphere include activists who seamlessly interact with widely recognized media personalities, popular bloggers with large followings, and everyday people.

This mysterious sub-culture to many mainstream Twitter users can be a gift and a curse.

Political analyst and author Goldie Taylor, who is arguably a Black Twitter star, opines that it is problematic and powerful in its scope.

“One first has to understand that one in four Twitter users is African-American,” shares Taylor. “Such a platform, including the ability to cloak one’s self in anonymity, affords space for both the profound and the pathetic. I am always a bit bemused with #BlackTwitter. As with any other digital segment, #BlackTwitter can be profound, pathetic and even profoundly pathetic.”

Black Twitter brings power to the people

Yes, people use this web of interconnected African-Americans to engage in loads of celebrity gossip, among other frivolities.

Yet, even with the negativity sometimes witnessed on this broad platform, #BlackTwitter has also been a virtual political tool for an intelligent and eclectic group of thought leaders.

These Black Twitter power users are changing how race and privilege are perceived and re-examined.

Never has this been more obvious than in the last month, as accusations of “black privilege” spread like wildfire through the Twittersphere, sparked by a Tumblr blog entitled “This Is Black Privilege.

The #BlackPrivilege backlash

In late April, the blog, written by a young white woman, was introduced to the micro-blogging network otherwise known as Twitter.

The backlash from Black Twitter was sharp and instantaneous.

Although it might have drawn emotional picket lines in the real world of the ’90s, the assertion that something dubbed “black privilege” could trump ever-present white privilege was met with dripping with irony and bitter humor on social media.

Black Twitter transformed into a bully pulpit through the use of the #BlackPrivilege hashtag. A hashtag on Twitter — a word or phrase without spaces following a “pound” or number sign — can be used to connect tweets between users who may have nothing in common but the desire to weigh in on the idea the hashtag represents.

The #BlackPrivilege hashtag on Black Twitter became a beacon, like a flag during a revolution, drawing all verbal fighters to a battle against the idea that some whites are suffering, as the Tumblr creator believes, under conditions created by blacks getting “too much.”