Black Twitter Growing into Online Force

Jesse J. Holland, CNS News, March 10, 2014

The hashtag gave it away.

When a Florida jury convicted Michael Dunn of attempted murder, but not actual murder, in the shooting death of black teenager Jordan Davis, the hashtag #dangerousblackchildren popped up on Twitter. Users posted photos of black babies and toddlers, spoofing the fear that Dunn testified he felt before opening fire on a carful of teens at a convenience store.

That hashtag was the calling card of Black Twitter, a small corner of the social media giant where an unabashedly black spin on life gets served up in 140-character installments.

Black Twitter holds court on pretty much everything from President Barack Obama to the latest TV reality show antics. But Black Twitter can also turn activist quickly. When it does, things happen—like the cancellation of a book deal for a juror in the George Zimmerman trial, or the demise of Zimmerman’s subsequent attempt to star at celebrity boxing.

Catchy hashtags are a hallmark and give clues that the tweeting in question is a Black Twitter thing.

“It’s kind of like the black table in the lunchroom, sort of, where people with like interests and experiences, and ways of talking and communication, lump together and talk among themselves,” said Tracy Clayton, a blogger and editor at Buzzfeed known on Twitter as @brokeymcpoverty.

Black Twitter is not a special website or a smartphone app. The hashtag #blacktwitter itself won’t necessarily lead you to it. It doesn’t exactly stick out among the trending topics on Twitter, even though it’s been known to cause a topic or two to trend. It is not exclusively black—there are blacks who don’t participate in it, and people of other races who do.

“Black Twitter brings the fullness of black humanity into the social network and that is why it has become so fascinating,” said Kimberly C. Ellis, who has a doctorate in American and Africana Studies, tweets as @drgoddess and is studying Black Twitter for her upcoming book, “The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter.”


Most recently, Black Twitter reared its head through hashtags like #stopthefight, to protest a proposed celebrity boxing match supposedly between Zimmerman and rapper DMX. The promoter quickly canceled after a flood of Twitter complaints.

Such death-by-Twitter activism could very well be the harbinger of a new civil rights strategy, Ellis said. She noted that a short amount of time elapsed between the moment Black Twitter noticed the juror’s book deal and the moment it was called off. The same was true of the Zimmerman boxing match.


Black Twitter arguably had its biggest field day last year with embattled celebrity cook Paula Deen, whose admission that she used racial slurs in the past inspired the #paulasbestdishes hashtag, featuring recipe titles such as “Massa-Roni and Cheese” and “We Shall Over-Crumb Cake.”


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