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Monday, February 10, 2014

The Buzz Over ‘Black Twitter’

In recent months, there has been a lot of media buzz around the African American community that tweets — so-called “Black Twitter.”

Ph.D. candidate Meredith Clark is writing her dissertation on Black Twitter at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

She joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss her research and the media coverage.

“I call it basically black people using Twitter. It’s very simple. You’re just being a part of a private conversation that’s held in public,” Clark says.

The conversations on Twitter range from social justice to community issues to social viewing of television shows.

“I will never watch an award show without it again,” Clark says.


  • Meredith Clark, Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism & Mass Communication. She tweets @meredithclark.




When I was in North Carolina recently, the Raleigh News Observer was crowing about a new hire, Meredith Clark, new editor of their community papers and a doctoral candidate at UNC Chapel Hill. Well, they have a reason to brag. Meredith has become the go-to person about Black Twitter. She's writing her dissertation about it. Black Twitter, mostly young African-Americans sending messages in 140 characters or less, gathering in networks, often generating the most popular hashtags in the Twittersphere. Like one about a white professor who had a battle with black women over feminism and ended up having something of a meltdown when he apologized to them for denying their claim that white feminists often didn't include their issues.

Meredith Clark joins us to talk about that and more from WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Meredith, how else would you characterize Black Twitter?

MEREDITH CLARK: Basically, black people using Twitter. It's very simple. You're just being a part of a private conversation that's held in public.

YOUNG: Baratunde Thurston, well-known author, says that it's new but it's really a new take on a very old tradition. The Dozens?

CLARK: That's part of it, and that's one of the parts that, I think, a lot of people are paying attention to, right? The humor definitely draws other people in.

YOUNG: In fact, for people who don't know the reference, the Dozens, this sort of call-and-response tradition, some would call it smack talk. How do you see this happening through Twitter? Pick some of the hashtags or conversations that you might follow.

CLARK: One of the ones that I absolutely loved a couple of months ago was #racismendedwhen. And so, of course, that was predicated by GOP tweet that referred to Rosa Parks ending racism. And so you pick up on that message and you turn it into something of your own. It becomes a joke for those who participate in it, who know that racism is very much still alive and can see insincerity in a message.

YOUNG: And what were some of the other tweets?

CLARK: #Racismendedwhen that Cheerios commercial came out. So glad that the GOP declared racism to be over. So, so glad. Who knew it was that easy? #Racismendedwhen Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder recorded "Ebony and Ivory" while living together in perfect harmony. #Racismendedwhen Mitt Romney sang on "Who Let the Dogs Out."


YOUNG: And on and on.

CLARK: Racism ended - yeah. It keeps on going.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well - but some of the threads - that obviously has a serious underpinning but a lot of humor there. But some have voiced a lot of anger, frustration. I'm thinking of the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen. Tell us about that hashtag.

CLARK: Well, #solidarityisforwhitewomen was started by Mikki Kendall. Her handle is @Karnythia. It was in response to a conversation she was having with another Twitter user, @blackamazon, about how @blackamazon had been targeted by this white feminist man and basically torn apart in their very public intellectual circles.

YOUNG: This is Hugo Schwyzer?

CLARK: Yes. Correct.

YOUNG: Well-known professor, author, speaker. But he was sort of attacking these African-American outlets that were questioning whether parts of the feminist movement address their concerns.

CLARK: Right. And going on the offensive really in saying that their work wasn't meaningful, that it did not have the same place. And so when he had this meltdown and the resulting conversation among these women who had been impacted, where is the help? Where is the support from my community of white feminist allies? And Mikki answered, they're not coming because solidarity is for white women.

YOUNG: What were some of the things that people wrote, again, pointing out that solidarity wasn't for blacks?

CLARK: #Solidarityisforwhitewomen calls Hillary the first viable women's candidate even though Shirley was the first and only nominee. That's making a reference to Shirley Chisholm and her presidential run. #Solidarityisforwhitewomen equals fighting for reproductive rights, but saying nothing about the shackling of pregnant and forced sterilization incarcerated women of color. Lots of different references spanning a number of different cultures. #Solidarityisforwhitewomen when conversations about gender pay and the gap ignore white women earning higher wages than black, Latino, and native men.

YOUNG: We're talking with Meredith Clark. She's writing her thesis at UNC on Black Twitter. You're listening to HERE AND NOW.

And, Meredith, the topic can also be just fun. Long before "Saturday Night Live" had her on, Black Twitter was talking about Kerry Washington, who plays Olivia Pope. Her mother is played by Khandi Alexander on ABC's "Scandal."

CLARK: Absolutely. Social viewing is a huge part of what Black Twitter does. You get together with your friends, and rather than talking one to one on the telephone or via text, you get to talk with hundreds of thousands of people who are watching what you're watching. And the commentary is fantastic, particularly with "Scandal." ABC went out there first with the hashtag #mamapope, and so everyone is talking about Olivia's family and how they dress, how they talk and whatnot all behind the hashtag #mamapope.

YOUNG: What are some of the things they say?

CLARK: Hashtags about Mama Pope talked about how her hair was laid even though she'd been in jail for 20 years, how she had the same tenor and rhythm in her speech that Olivia had. You just absolutely knew that this figure was representative of our TV heroine.

YOUNG: We're reading another instance where so-called Black Twitter really had an impact. It's after one of the jurors in the George Zimmerman trial decided she was going to write a book. And Genie Lauren, @MoreAndAgain, found information out about the publisher and started a groundswell, and that book was squashed because people felt it would be benefiting off the tragedy of Trayvon Martin.

CLARK: Yes. And so you're able to see the great ways that coming together in these network connections, using influence when that's through the power of clicks, through the power of hashtags to get something started actually has an offline consequence. So it is not all fun and games. In a lot of cases, it's social activism, certainly the cases of Trayvon and George Zimmerman being tried in his slaying. Kendrick Johnson was a high school kid who went into his gym one day and never came out. He didn't come out alive.

YOUNG: He was found rolled up in a gym mat.

CLARK: Right. His parents are still trying to figure out what happened in his case. Stories that you may not have heard or that may not have lingered in the news for many days, if not for a social media presence, pushing for answers and asking for accountability.

YOUNG: What happens, Meredith, if a group decides we're going to have white Twitter? Even as I say it, some people might say, well, there's whole batches of the Twittersphere which are that anyway. How do you respond to that?

CLARK: Well, it's a very reactionary take, right? And so if you want to go ahead and stage white Twitter, by all means, go ahead and do that. But realize that Black Twitter is not something that was created or formed out of hate. It was formed out of collective self-awareness, out of responsibility for community, and out of individual desire to advance certain causes and to connect with other like-minded individuals.

YOUNG: So what happens now with this sort of corner of the Twittersphere where, you know, many other people might want to get onboard?

CLARK: Well, that all depends on the individual. But there's a difference in participating in the conversation and hijacking the conversation. It's the same thing as going into a public meeting space where people are talking - so perhaps that's a church, it's a hair salon, it's a barbershop - and going in and listening to what's going on and then working your way into the conversation, or walking in and just saying, hey, I have something to say and I want to participate.

YOUNG: That's so fascinating. Think of it as the hair salon or the barbershop.

CLARK: Absolutely. As so many people have said, this isn't a new phenomenon. We can go back to the first black newspaper and see that the messages that were of concern to black people were being talked about there because they weren't being talked about in the mainstream press. In terms of the Internet, we're seeing the same phenomenon unfold. But you don't necessarily have to be black to participate, and it's certainly in no way limited to only black people and topics of, quote-unquote, "black interest."

YOUNG: Meredith, thanks so much for speaking to us.

CLARK: Thank you for having me.

YOUNG: Meredith Clark. She's writing her thesis at UNC Chapel Hill on Black Twitter, young people, in particular, gravitating to the social website for social commentary and social change. She also recently joined the Raleigh News & Observer as editor of two of their community papers. You can tweet her @MeredithClark.

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


Or as we know you, @hereandnowrobin. I'm Jeremy Hobson, @jeremyhobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • loyal listener

    Tomorrow you can do a story about the “white twitter” in order to be fair.

  • Baba Olaitan Osagbemileke

    Meredith you nailed it. Excellent responses. Congratulations on all your hard work and just rewards.

  • AHEC

    http://www.Whouter.com is being built by a Black African American. Whouter – Check it out. Social Media Rocks and Whouter offers a free speech platform that values user’s privacy.

  • http://www.BR-549.com Junior Samples

    The problem has been the focus on irrelevant arguments – some of which are actually unsupported by the evidence.

    1. ‘George Zimmerman (GZ) racially profiled Trayvon Martin (TM)’ There is no evidence of this.

    2. ‘GZ disobeyed an order by the police’ * The civilian dispatcher, Sean Noffke, testified that he did not give GZ an order and, in fact, he, like his fellow dispatchers, are trained not make comments that sound like commands. * Noffke also testified under cross that, as a result of his asking GZ which way TM was going, GZ could have reasonably interpreted this as being asked to follow Martin. * It is also not a crime in Florida to disregard a comment made by a civilian dispatcher.

    3. ‘GZ got out of his car’ Not a crime on public property and not negligent either.

    4. ‘GZ followed TM’ Again, anyone can follow anyone on a public street unless the followee has obtained a restraining order against the follower and even there, the RS only places time, place, and manner restrictions on the person enjoined.

    5. ‘GZ wasn’t really injured’ * Under Florida’s self-defense laws, one doesn’t have to be injured AT ALL to use deadly force * No one is required to refrain from defending himself while another is engaged in or attempting to commit a felony.

    6. ‘TM is dead through no fault of his own’ * If you believe that TM assaulted GZ, then he IS dead as a result of his own actions.

    7. ‘GZ could have left’ * Under Florida law, there is not a duty to withdraw rather than use deadly force * TM was straddling GZ so how the latter was supposed to leave the scene is unanswered.

    8. ‘GZ was armed and TM wasn’t’ * One’s fists can be considered weapons and can result in severe bodily harm or death. * GZ was legally carrying a weapon * There is no requirement under the law that the same weapon be used by the assailant * A homeowner can kill an intruder whether or not he has been threatened * Those that attack cannot feign surprise if they are met with superior firepower.

    9. ‘Stand Your Ground!’ * SYG is NOT at issue in this trial. * The defense is a classic self-defense case.

    10. ‘Black men NEVER get to use SYG!’ * Wrong http://tinyurl.com/nboht35

    11. ‘GZ is a man and TM was a boy!’ * As if ‘boys’ don’t commit murder, rape, and assault everyday in this country.

  • NC-Dragon

    suggests that White feminists do not consider the “issues” of Black women and
    cites a White professor’s “meltdown”* when he had to apologize to Black
    students’ claim that it does. Is this
    not too much of a generalization? I do
    know of feminists who do take into account others’ issues. It would be helpful to know roughly when and
    where these students made their assertion and what their evidence was.

    wish ”meltdown” had been more specific or clarified since it can cover just
    yelling to a nervous breakdown

    the ultimate goal still color blindness?
    If so, don’t racially focused activities discourage this and encourage
    separation? I think a reading of Why Are All
    the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About
    Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2003) might be
    of benefit.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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