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Black Twitter Activism
Transcript of Black Twitter Activism
Today, everything happens so fast. We have so many events and experiences to digest in rapid succession. The participatory culture of new media allows us an avenue for responding to our world(s). If we're not active in the response we will not have a role in the composing/ composition of our world(s).
Adorno (2001) wrote about the importance of critical literacy as a skill needed to distinguish between “objective” journalism, opinion, or propaganda and on the truth or untruth of the idea that every individual who can ACCESS social media has an equal chance of their ideas going viral. Critical literacy is needed in social media environments such as Twitter in which memes and micro messages are tweeted and retweeted at the speed of a mouse click.
Responding to our world(s)
(a term from the early 1990s)
DeLaure & Fink (2017) write that culture jamming are "creative acts of popular intervention performed by people seeking change, using whatever means and materials are at hand" (p. 5), such as "activists [that] have appropriated, reworked, and disseminated cultural symbols in order to contest meanings and challenge dominant forms of power" (p. 5)
"These tactics include media pranks, advertising parodies, textual poaching, billboard appropriation, street performances, and the reclamation of urban spaces for noncommercial use" (p. 5)
New media cultural jamming occurs internationally and is one way to give a voice to the voiceless by disrupting oppressive or mainstream power structures.
What is culture jamming?
Black Twitter offers a mode and discourse for the re(mix) of gospel literacy, popular culture, and new literacies. On Black Twitter, the hash tag, which is a literacy event, embodies all four components of gospel literacy. Lathan (2015) presented a “revised perspective” on the Citizenship School literacy narrative using “four core concepts of gospel literacy” (p. 8); gospel consciousness reverberates through new millennial literacy activism and its mantra to #StayWoke, which is an awareness or state of consciousness about the cultural, social, and political status of African Americans living in American society. The gospel literacy components are: acknowledging the burden, call and response, bearing witness, and finding redemption.
Black Twitter & gospel literacy practices
"Culture jamming is the concept of disrupting or subverting a cultural norm (and the advertising that creates or maintains that norm) by creating a brand new message. They are traditionally driven by activist or non-profit groups and are meant to encourage people to question current assumptions about a cultural institution. It often involves taking an existing image and transforming it in order to show the flaws in the original assumption or to emphasize a reality"
Dove's culture jamming goes wrong
New Millennial Literacy Activism
Using the Participatory Culture of Black Twitter to Re(mix) Gospel Literacy, Pop Culture, and New Literacies
and then there's Black Twitter.....
Participatory politics & civic media
Participatory cultures like Black Twitter offer a marginalized group an opportunity to disrupt mainstream messages that perpetuate negativity towards a group of people, in addition to giving voice to the voiceless to advocate for change.
#TweetingWhileBlack. What is that? Smokey Fontaine published Newsone.com infographic on the topic in 2011 because the phenomenon of “Black Twitter” was all the rage in the media. He gave a play by play that started in 2007 when Dana Boyd, a Berkeley researcher, noticed the racial and socioeconomic divide in social networks such as Facebook and Myspace.
Adorno, T. W. (2001). The culture industry: Selected essays on mass culture. Psychology Press.
Alim, H. S., & Smitherman, G. (2012). Articulate while Black: Barack Obama, language, and race in the US. Oxford University Press.
Alim, H. S., Rickford, J. R., & Ball, A. F. (Eds.). (2016). Raciolinguistics: How language shapes our ideas about race. Oxford University Press.
Awesomelyluvvie.com “What is the Dancery that Mary J. Blige Was Talmbout?”
Barksdale, A. “Black Twitter Hilariously Nails Thanksgiving With Black Families”
Finley, T. “You Aren’t A Part Of Black Twitter Unless You Can Answer These Questions:
#BlackTwitterVerificationQuestions are hilarious af!” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-twitter-verification-questions_us_585165f2e4b0e411bfd4a5dd
of new media, students need to learn critical and visual literacy.
(published writers), students need to learn that their published words on new media have potential power as a platform for change.
Michael Jackson and friends sang in the late '80s about how "We are the world;" in fact, today, we are all digitally connected. Those with less access or prowess in new media literacies will not have a hand in the composing of our world(s). "Schools, libraries, and other public institutions have a vital role to play in creating more equitable opportunities for participating" (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. 8).
Hall (2004) writes about “giving voice to the voiceless” (p. 170). English teachers should pursue texts that engage and encourage students to express themselves. Even though new media literacies and participatory culture can give voice to the voiceless, there is still a role for activist teachers and educational programs: activism involves awareness that leads to action.
Black Twitter is interesting because the social media platform allows a marginalized group to advocate for issues and enact change through
practices when the tweeters come together for a common goal via hashtag activism.
Occupy Wall Street & Pepper Spray Cop
November 2011 - "A photograph of Lieutenant John Pike casually shooting an orange stream at the bowed heads of students goes viral as the meme “Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop,” where Pike is photoshopped into various scenes representing US democracy, including the Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore, and John Trumbull’s 1819 painting Declaration of Independence" (DeLaure & Fink, 2017, p. 1)
Chinese Culture Jamming.
June 2013 - "Chinese web activists seeking to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests circulate creative parodies of the iconic “Tank Man” photograph, as search terms related to the incident are blocked on Sina Weibo, China’s popular micro-blogging site" (DeLaure & Fink, 2017, p. 1)
Hijacking Twitter hashtags
"Ostensibly a corporate-sponsored PR initiative to engage the public via social media—modeled after # #AskJPM (JP Morgan), which infamously backfired—#AskChevron was in fact a case of 'brandjacking.' The activist group Toxic Effect had paid to promote the hashtag on Twitter, seeking to draw attention to Chevron’s sordid record of environmental damage and malfeasance in Ecuador by inviting people to tweet their own questions to the corporation" (DeLaure & Fink, 2017, p. 3)
So, Dove, what happened here?
Black Twitter is an enigma to some, including me at times. There's no secret handshake required, but membership is deeply ingrained in having the cultural code. Black Twitter is a microcosm of the African American community. Topics vary from playing the dozens to community activism.
These conversations have always existed; however, now the general public is privy to them because of the openness of the Internet. Navigate through topical hashtags and one can learn what the African American community is talking about.
Are social media hashtags a form of “call and response”? Is that why from a cultural standpoint, Black Twitter is so powerful? “Say it loud; I’m black and I’m proud.”
I tend to hang out with the aspiring writers or "woke" social justice folks always down for a cause in 140 characters or less and a catchy hashtag. I had a tweet rise up briefly in the trending topics once a few years ago.
Just like I could never be comfortable hanging out with friends, playing the dozens, I could never participate in the popular aspect of Black Twitter that crosses over onto Facebook and Instagram as viral witty memes and cultural hashtags. But even in this instance, I feel like I still belong to the "in" crowd on the witty memes because you have to possess a cultural knowing to "get it."
Just like in our real life communities there are different neighborhoods and if you're a visitor, you'll stick out.
Once a Twitter user experienced the wrath of Black Twitter when “the author issued a call to infiltrate and “bring down #blacktwitter,” which was the topic of an article in the Huffington Post titled “You Aren’t A Part Of Black Twitter Unless You Can Answer These Questions” about #BlackTwitterVerificationQuestions, started by “one woman [who] created a [viral] hashtag for users to hilariously imagine questions only true members of Black Twitter would be able to confirm.”
The article featured some of them. I could answer most of them. The ones I couldn’t answer are because I have “aged out” of some activities like listening to certain types of music; I’m “old school” now, lol.
Figure 1 is funny
exactly like “all”
Figure 2 you have to be familiar with Mary J. Blige’s song “Family Affair” and the fact that she mispronounced or misread the lyrics to her own song when recording and performing it. Instead of “dance soiree,” she clearly says “dancerie,” and listeners were always left wondering, “What’s a dancerie?”
to the song
I love Figure 3, although I “get it” I never called red Kool-Aid red flavored. I called it by its flavor; but in the 'hood and in the country, that’s red flavored Kool-Aid lol.
Figure 4 references “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” ‘90s sitcom. The second actress replaced the “real” Aunt Viv on the left and we never forgave the producers for that.
Kermit the Frog memes are also hilarious (Figure 5). Even though the original memes were generated from Black Twitter, I’m not sure about the many derivatives, including Evil Kermit the Frog memes that hit the “interwebs” last month (Kircher, 2016), and Sad Kermit. Murphy (2016) writes that this meme “has been one of the most popular meme subjects around ever since Black Twitter realized that this shot of Kermit drinking Lipton perfectly conveys a ‘but that’s none of my business’ sentiment.”
In 2009 a blogger tweeted because White American Twitter users were in an uproar like “OMG! Black People,” because African Americans were dominating and determining the trending topics and hashtags in Twitter. Fontaine details a thorough history of how the term “Black Twitter” was coined and the ever increasing gawker mentality of mainstream media’s fascination with African Americans’ Twitter use.
When Twitter began curating trending topic in 2011, which became obvious when Troy Davis hashtags disappeared from trending topics and Black Twitter noticed the “censorship” and called Twitter out on it –Black Twitter’s first use of its collective voice to act on a grievance and get results happened and it’s been on ever since.
Acknowledging the Burden and Fostering Students’ Agency
Since “new media enable students to authentically engage in identity work,” (Rust, 2015, p. 492) incorporating a Twitter activity with hash tags relevant to fostering an activist identity, is one way to bridge learning about social justice in classic novels such as
To Kill a Mockingbird
with new millennial online literacy practices.
An example of acknowledging the burden on Black Twitter is #StayWoke, which means “to stay awake” in Dominant American English (DAE) or “standard” English. To the dismay of some people, including some African Americans, #StayWoke embraces African American Language (AAL) and its “complex tense-aspect system, which marks when and how an action occurs” (Paris, 2016, p. 245).
Incorporating popular culture such as movies, TV shows, and documentaries while live Tweeting, promotes student choice just like the framers of the Citizenship School curriculum, and is another way to acknowledge the burden of the past while learning to “value past suffering as a source of pride and honor” (Lathan, 2015, p. 27).
Television shows like “Underground” about the Underground Railroad and Ava Duvernay’s Netflix documentary “13th” about mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow are examples of past trending topics on Twitter.
Call and response
, “an intellectual principle of literacy acquisition and use” and “culturally informed approach to literacy action” (Lathan, 2015, p. 45) is evident on Black Twitter as a community builder as well as for activism.
Twitter’s social media structure is prime ground for cultivating the African American experience online because call and response “is
in nature, not meant to be watched or observed” (Lathan, 2015, p. 8).
The #BlackTwitterVerificationQuestions anecdote is an example of call and response. The article featured some of the verification questions, which is an example that supports Alim and Smitherman’s claim that “other than its ever-evolving slang, the lexicon of Black language is not as widely known outside the Black community” (p. 7). The response hash tags, which included answers to the verification questions went viral.
Cultural and critical literacy, citizen journalism, and activism.
Black Twitter has repeatedly acted on its clout to shut down situations detrimental to the African American community. Even though Twitter use by African Americans has been unfortunately labeled; it’s an opportunity to advance the cultural literacy of mainstream society. Black Twitter’s conversational topics extend way beyond the topics pushed in mainstream media. In fact, Black Twitter has shown the ability to influence the news and “force” headlines.
The murder of Trayvon Martin did not receive media attention at first; Black Twitter’s insistent reporting and conversation pushed it into the headlines.
Black Twitter is giving a voice to the voiceless, often marginalized segment of the U.S. population.
With cell phone cameras, citizens are able to record or live stream video instantly or post later to various social media outlets heinous, criminal acts against black bodies; however, unlike slaves or civil rights leaders who gathered together at religious meetings because that was the only allowable means for congregating or being unnoticed, new millennial literacy activists are out front and center, at any given moment to send a call out for response (action) using Twitter posts and hash tags as a unifying, organizing action.
Counterstory and Black Twitter.
Black Twitter is an avenue for counterstories and counterspaces. Flower (2008) stated that “a rhetoric of public engagement can teach us a second thing: it challenges current images of a media-controlled public sphere with its closely observed accounts of local counterpublics that work by circulating ideas and identities” (loc 103). Literacy activists should “link the grassroots literacy activities of the African American Civil Rights Movement to contemporary literacy issues” (Lathan, 2015).
Using counterstory to disrupt and broaden the dominant, White perspective that disenfranchises students is one way that school and community educators, in and outside the classroom, can challenge racial bias and foster positive cultural identity formation through the (re)telling of stories by and about marginalized people. Through hash tags that promote social issues (#BlackLivesMatter) or not forgetting crime victims (e.g., #JusticeforTrayvon; #SandraBland), Black Twitter promotes a counternarrative to a mainstream narrative in traditional media that might promote hegemonic views and perspectives.
According to Lathan (2015), “bearing witness [or testifying] is a concept that requires sharing valuable knowledge about larger contexts” (p. 75).
Black Twitter does this be creating a common bond of overcoming struggle and sharing cultural memories about survival over the years through hash tags that celebrate the Black family (e.g., #ThanksgivingWithBlackFamilies) or growing up Black, in tongue and cheek ways.
Lathan (2015) writes that “testifying requires a group experience, which is an emotionally dramatic exchange” (p. 79). The Black Twitter community uses hash tags (which are used to categorize topics) as way to share experiences such as #DrivingWhileBlack or culturally affirmation (e.g., #BlackGirlMagic; #MelaninPopping).
The Black Twitter community subverts White hegemony by embracing the use of vernacular linguistic practices while also resisting “dominant social forces [that] denotes deeper thinking, reasoning, and expression: intellectual work” (Lathan, 2015, p. 47).
The text aspect of posting comments provides examples of the moving “in and out of linguistic styles—between varieties of the same language” (Alim & Smitherman, 2012, p. 5). Viral witty memes and cultural hashtags employ the linguistic practices of signifying, talking trash, and “call and response,” and a cultural way of knowing to “get it.”
Alim et al. (2016) discussed “the possibility that certain antiracist strategies, such as satire, have the potential to significantly ‘shift public consciousness’ and ‘particularly as new media technologies continue to change how we experience words and their meanings’” (p. 10).
A Huffington Post article titled “Black Twitter Hilariously Nails Thanksgiving With Black Families” by highlighting a few funny memes (Barksdale).
Finding Redemption and Fostering Students’ Positive Cultural Identity Formation.
“Finding redemption [recovering or redeeming what is lost or excluded] is the overarching theme of gospel literacy. It’s a theoretical interpretive concept centered on recovery, a means of dispelling the myth of grassroots literacy acquisition and use as basic, simple, or mechanical” (Lathan, 2015, p. 106).
The literate practice of writing a concise message in 140 characters or less and the use of appropriate hash tags requires critical thinking and reasoning because of the categorizing topics and considering target audience, labeling, and purpose.
Teachers can advocate and foster ethnically and linguistically diverse students’ positive cultural identity formation, which is vital for self-esteem, self-awareness, and motivation to want to succeed in life through language and learning. Lathan writes that “the ways in which people address reading and writing are themselves rooted in conceptions of knowledge, identity, being” (2015, p. xxi).
Finding redemption has educational implications for new millennial literacy activism using culturally sustaining pedagogies and new literacies because students who are marginalized, seen as Other, and often deficit labeled are given an opportunity to shine to their fullest potential.
In the same way that Citizenship School pioneer Bernice Robinson believed that “she was born to ‘disturb the elements’” (Lathan, 2015, p. 109); new millennial literacy activism is meant to disrupt the White, hegemonic practice of deficit thinking and labeling that marginalizes ethnically and linguistically diverse students in school.
Flower, L. (2008). Community Literacy and the Rhetoric of Public Engagement. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Fontaine, S. D. (2011). Infographic: A history of Black Twitter. Retrieved from:
Hall, E., Macintosh, F., & Wrigley, A. (2004). Dionysus since 69: Greek tragedy at the dawn of the third millennium. Oxford University Press.
Hsu, H. (2017, July). Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies. The New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/stuart-hall-and-the-rise-of-cultural-studies
Kircher, M. “Evil Kermit is Here to Convince You to Be Your Worst Self.”
Lathan, R. E. (2015). Freedom Writing: African American Civil Rights Literacy Activism, 1955-1967. Conference on College Composition and Communication/National Council of Teachers of English.
Murphy, S. “Sad Kermit meme is here – and he’s going to make Dark Kermit and Tea Lizard super depressed.”
Paris, D. (2016). “It Was a Black City”: African American Language in California’s Changing Urban Schools and Communities. In H. Alim, J. Rickford, & A. Ball (Eds.), Raciolinguistics: How language shapes our ideas about race (pp. 241-253). Oxford University Press.
Pryce, M. “This Week in Black Twitter: Standing Rock unity; hilarity ensues with Thanksgiving hashtags” http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/baltimore-insider-blog/bal-this-week-in-black-twitter-standing-rock-20161124-story.html
Rust, J. (2015). Students’ playful tactics: Teaching at the intersection of new media and the official curriculum. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 58(6), 492–503. http://doi.org/10.1002/jaal.390
Twitter went nuts over this with memes and hashtags boycotting Dove, while also poking fun.
In November 2016, there was an article published in the Baltimore Sun titled “This Week in Black Twitter: Standing Rock unity; hilarity ensues with Thanksgiving hashtags” by Meghan Pryce, who apparently has a “weekly digest of the happenings on Black Twitter and cultural conversations on the web.”
a little political humor with your turkey......
Hsu (2017) states that “popular culture is one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle.” Those in power cannot control pop culture, which emerges from the masses; those in power often try to emulate pop culture.
Time and time again Black Twitter has publically shamed these “imposters” who do not realize that there is more to culture than what appears on the surface. Do you have to be Black to participate in Black Twitter? I don’t think so. If you are Black does that make you an automatic member? I don’t think so.