It’s always interesting to see how power-deprived respond to new-found power or opportunity. If a group of people fought for their power, then they jump all over it and embrace it. If a group of people happen to fall into power, then power doesn’t change them. In fact, it only precipitates that group’s downfall. If a group doesn’t want power, then it will do whatever it can to squander it.
But there’s another group: the one where, regardless of any change, will never recognize they have power.
This is the world of Twitter in 2010: a cobweb of textual randomness, insight, hilarity and all in between. A silo of social activity.
Well, maybe not a silo. Truth: Twitter holds more news value than a little bit. CNN pulls tweets from the ether and promulgate it on its networks. And the easiest way to do that are through hashtags.
Ah. The beloved hashtags.
(In case you’ve been seeing nothing but rock over the past year, adding a hashtag before any word makes it a trending topic, i.e. #clutchmagazine. Most of these trends last no longer than a commercial, while some catches a spark and spreads like a fire.)
What better way to gauge the pulse of a culture than real-time updates on a specific topic?
It’s not without its faults. Identity is a problem when people use monikers like @spindoctor and @surlysourpot. Also, there are verification issues. One could start an account right now and build a following with any alias. What makes that alias any more credible than “Dan Smith”?
Nonetheless, the silo is illusory, as well as any distinction between the cyber and the real. If there was any prime opportunity to shift paradigms and increasing progressive thought and spurring change within a group, then Twitter is fertile soil. This is the chance we’ve been waiting for right?
Well yes. Only if trends like #uknowurblack and #thingsdarkiessay and #crazyniggas are the type of trends we want to convey to the world.
At first glance, the mining of stereotypical trends are, well, typical. It’s not an anomaly to laugh at yourself, nor is it unhealthy. But it’s one thing if there was a room with 50 black or hispanics or white people in it, clowning themselves. It’s quite another for anonymous microblogging avatars streaming “#uknowurblack when the only way you use a book is when the weed’s on top of it” type tweets.
Anybody can start and sustain a trend. It’s not far-fetched to believe that some race specific trends are started by outside races, and to think that other races don’t participate in clowning blacks would be akin to think that I play the lottery because I want to fund college students.
All of which begs the questions: Who’s actually typing this stuff? What is the curb for ignorance? If Twitter is a reflector of a selected culture or subculture, then is it pointless in attacking the people behind these trending topics?
On a brighter side, Twitter has facilitated a strong connected African-American online blogging presence, sharing common likes, dreams, passions. Twitter has allowed people to content creators in ways that would not have been possible otherwise. I’ve seen regular people bring corporations to their knees because they were able to generate “tweeting momentum” about a specific issue. Above all, Twitter has given young African Americans a voice.
And within the hashtags, a collective voice.
We know that voices can sing different notes, with different intonation. But with many of the non-current event trending topics, African Americans find themselves carrying a tune that would make Carl Lewis proud. The bad notes aren’t the debilitating stereotypes per se; it’s the sense of obliviousness: that “I can say any ignorant and basic drivel I want to in the name of fun because it’s just Twitter.” Or the entitlement: “I can clown my race and I’d be damned if anybody else do it” mentality.
Such thinking is impractical, not to mention illogical. Twitter is global. So instead of bringing positive and erudite thought to the center of the black experience on a massive scale, blackface behavior manifests itself once again, 140 characters at a time.
Twitter is not the tool to decrease the achievement, employment or educational gap between African Americans and the rest of the world. But it is the one medium where a collective voice can be heard in all splendor or rancor. The world is watching to see what songs we will perform. Thing is, we still think we are in practice, frolicking around.
Sooner or later, the playing has to stop, or we’ll just have to accept our fate as a group of mediocre singers. Twitter is not the end-all be-all, but it is publishing. Publishing is media. And media, last time I checked, stills determines perception.