Who are the people at the center of Black Twitter?

OPINION: Touré took to the digital streets to find out who are the people driving the discourse on Black Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Black Twitter makes me happy. Not much about Twitter does nowadays, but the Black folks on the bird app who center Blackness, love Black culture, model unapologetic Blackness and tweet in a way that somehow evokes a Black spirit or style—I love those folks. They give Black-table-in-the-college-lunchroom vibes. They give cookout energy. I feel community in the way Black Twitter moves. For me, Black Twitter is by far the most memorable thing about Twitter. 

I remember watching the BET Awards or the Soul Train Awards or the NBA Finals and having my solo watch party enhanced exponentially by feeling like there were thousands of people in the room with me chatting about what was going on from the Blackest place in their soul. My most memorable Twitter moments all come from Black Twitter. I’ll never forget watching BET’s posthumous tribute to Michael Jackson just months after he died and seeing someone tweet “I wish BET died and Michael Jackson was doing a tribute to them.” I’ll never forget the Friday night when @ReignOfApril went on and on clowning someone about some #strugglechicken and it was like your whole friend group was laughing hysterically as someone really read someone.

I remember so many of @soledadobrien’s ice cold and deadly accurate disses. When Will slapped Chris, everyone was commenting, but it was tweets from Black Twitter that gave me the perspective I was looking for on what had happened. When Jan. 6 was happening, I could feel the horror and revulsion Black people felt from our tweets. Black Twitter makes wading through the cesspool of Twitter worth it because having a home base in these digital streets is important, and when I feel like I’m in that home base, I feel seen.

It was my love of Black Twitter that made me think to ask—who are the people at the center of Black Twitter? Any large social group is going to have a leader or some leaders or some people who drive the engagement more than others. Yes, there’s a crucial hive-mind aspect to Black Twitter, a way that it’s powered by the engagement of many people, and even people with small followings can tweet things that get blown up because they’re so on point. @_raviee (4,200-plus followers) recently blew up with a tweet (14,000 RTs, 68,000 likes) that’s loving toward Black culture and smart about it—it tells us something about Blackness that we knew but maybe hadn’t really put down on paper in quite this way. I love this tweet.

That said, there are certain people who consistently provide us with tweets that speak to our Black spirit so often that they become thought leaders as well as the reason for some people to come back to the app as well as the way some people define what it means to be Black on Twitter. Those people are special to this community called Black Twitter. “Thought leader” doesn’t necessarily mean directing our political thoughts. It can also be artistic, comedic or stylistic. There are 10,000 ways to be Black on Twitter, and I’m not here to say who’s the Blackest, whatever that means. 

When I polled Twitter, I got many responses. Lots of votes. This is my attempt to collate many people’s answers to the question, “Who is at the center of Black Twitter for you?” Several names came up many times, a few names came up many, many times, and one name came up far, far more often than any other. I wonder if you can guess who. But this list isn’t just me counting votes. I also thought about who’s giving us information that’s valuable to Black people and/or who’s speaking with the voice of the community, i.e. saying things that are on the tip of 10,000 Black tongues and/or who’s tweeting in a way that indicates a Black style or flair or attitude? Let’s have a look. All of them are worth a follow, but if you’ve read this far, you’re probably following many of them already. I’m not saying these people are the best at Twitter, whatever that means. I’m saying that some people who considered themselves a part of Black Twitter told me that these folks are central to Black Twitter to them. Let’s have a look.

First, the names that were mentioned by many, many, many tweeters. (But not the No. 1 vote-getter. Not yet!)

@notcapnamerica was the No. 2 vote-getter of them all. His name is Chris Evans. I love this tweet for its hilarity, accuracy and how he’s dragging one of Black people’s favorite people to drag nowadays.

@DragonflyJonez may have been the third-biggest vote-getter. (It got hard to count.) He’s a funny brother who talks a lot about sports. This tweet about why Brandy jumped on Jack Harlow’s song and outrapped him is just *chef’s kiss.*

@ReecieColbert is really smart about politics and speaks from a Black woman’s perspective.

@nhannahjones—A genius. A warrior for Black people. An unapologetically Black intellectual who continuously helps shape my thinking about important political and historical issues. I love all of her work from The 1619 Project to tweets like this.

@nuffsaidny—Consistently hysterical tweets like this one make me feel like he’s the kid in the back of the class who keeps saying incredibly funny shit, so much that it makes it hard to pay attention.

@MsPackyetti—Brittany Packnett Cunningham became known after the uprising in Ferguson, Mo. She’s brilliant and inspiring and tweets with a truly Black spirit.

@deray—DeRay Mckesson, who also became widely known after Ferguson, is a really brilliant, thoughtful, creative tweeter whose dry but funny voice comes through on his feed.

@ElieNYC—Elie Mystal is a Harvard-educated legal scholar and author of the best seller Allow Me To Retort. Mystal tweets about the legal aspect of things and politics. He’s a passionate tweeter. I can feel his excitement or anger coming through the screen with tweets like this

@jemelehill—She’s brilliant on politics and remains passionate about sports and an authentic Black voice comes through in her tweets.

@questlove—Brilliant. Funny. A man who clearly loves Black culture, Black people and writing.

@rgay—A brilliant writer. An important author. A true intellectual whose voice really comes through on Twitter.

@lilduvalHysterical and super Black.

@marclamonthill—A brilliant intellectual who’s truly down for Black people. He tweets about politics, sports and life in general.

@joyannreid—Another brilliant intellectual who loves Black people and tweets about everything.

Here are some Black tweeters who got many voters—@2RawTooReal, @bomanijones, @Luvvie, @rolandsmartin, @mharrisperry, @thejournalista.

There are other tweeters who got some voters saying they’re central to Black Twitter for them:

@YNB (if a ray of sunshine were a person), @KevOnStage, @ReignOfApril (Essential. I mean she changed the culture with #oscarsowhite), @sjs856, @karenhunter, @davidalangrier, @Bakari_Sellers, @RealDLHughley, @DrJasonJohnson, @Iambrillyant, @docrocktex26 (one of my absolute most favorite political follows), @Freeyourmindkid, @VanLathan, @BerniceKing, @angela_rye, @ProfessorCrunk, @Naima, @theferocity, @nicolebyer, @AkilahObviously, @_benjvmins_, @LookAtDustin

Which brings us to the No. 1 vote-getter. This person has been central to my feed for years, but I had no idea that he would be the top vote-getter by far. His vote total was leaps and bounds beyond everyone else’s. There’s a clear consensus: one person is the center of Black Twitter for a lot of people. And that person is @michaelharriot. Michael’s Twitter feed is brilliant. I pulled a sampling of tweets of his that I love from this to this to this to this to this to this.

Michael’s a very thoughtful political commentator. He’s funny, his voice is authentic and he’s all about justice for Black people. The way he tweets, I get the sense that he’d be great at a party—he’d hold court on some political ideas for a while, then make people laugh with a witty one-liner, then get all up in some discussion about what’s the best food to make for a Black cookout in each specific region of the country. Michael is my colleague at theGrio, and when I told him that he was the top vote-getter he was not terribly moved. He said he goes off of Twitter sometimes, and no one seems to notice, so does anyone really care about his tweets? I’m here to say yes, Michael, the community does care about your tweets.

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré hosts the podcast “Touré Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.

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