Just this past Sunday, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) organized the inaugural #BlackTwitter Conference 2016. Naturally, the conference was anchored in the meeting of social media and social justice, covering topics from #BlackLivesMatter and #OscarsSoWhite to tips on using social media to build identity with integrity.
For those unfamiliar with #BlackTwitter, you can read this 2015 The Atlantic article on The Truth About Black Twitter where they speak to Professor Meredith Clark (@meredithclark) from the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, who completed research establishing a theoretical framework for exploring #BlackTwitter. Clark defines #BlackTwitter as a “temporally linked group of connectors that share culture, language and interest in specific issues and talking about specific topics with a black frame of reference.”
Today, it is not uncommon to see journalists and news sources turning to the twitterverse as a way to keep a finger on the pulse of current affairs and an authentic arena of response and feedback. 10 years ago, who would have thought that tweets would appear under the headlines on the news? Within an environment that has systemically neglected the voices of non-white communities, #BlackTwitter is a bold and expansive space that directly acknowledges and represents the complexity and diversity of the Black community.
As Clark notes, “participation is marked by a certain degree of performance. That performance could be choosing to use a hashtag, choosing to use the semantic content in your tweet to make a very specific point. It could be re-tweeting or saving somebody’s tweet. These are ways of indicating to other people, both those that follow you and those who are part of this conversation, that you’re invested in this conversation.”
On one hand, hashtags can sometimes come across as vapid in this digital age and social media is admittedly a curious, fascinating phenomena of the 21st century. On the other hand, #BlackTwitter becomes a living, breathing archive compounding and deconstructing the cultural currency of our time. Every February, we look back to commemorate the struggles (and triumphs) against the oppression that the Black community has faced — but the work is not done. #BlackTwitter is an opportunity for community & conversation where whiteness is not placed at the center for empowerment. There is no time but now to tune into a vernacular that might make you uncomfortable, that might be contentious and confusing but ultimately seeks to weave a narrative that is more inclusive and equitable.
In this past weekend, we were also present for this year’s Dance/NYC’s Dance Symposium and there was a palpable urgency for arts funders and institutions to embody the very values they profess to have. #BlackTwitter isn’t everything. But it isn’t nothing. Hashtags are not answers but certainly listening is and perhaps that is the beginning to building the mechanisms and strategies to movement. Community and consensus building requires both an understanding of the context in which we are operating in as well as a desire to be honest and active in our present to create the equitable and vibrant future we want.
You can check out the Storify of #BlackTwitter conference here.