- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - If you miss one day of Black Twitter, you’ve missed a revolution - one waged not with smoking guns but with smoking hashtags.

Within the last year, Black Twitter ceased to be just an intramural pursuit and stepped forward to drive the public debate.

Many Black Twitter users think of it as the voice of David against Goliath. It’s not separate from Twitter, but a space within it where many less-heard voices find a megaphone. Kimberly C. Ellis is a scholar of American and Africana Studies and an activist. She is working on a book titled The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter. “Black Twitter as a multifaceted collective,” she says, “has witnessed the efficacy of our own power.”

Black Twitter, above all, is voluble. Consider the range of Black Twitter-originated hashtags enjoying national attention. #IWonThemBoth echoes President Obama’s best one-liner at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. #ReclaimMLK challenges the alleged smudging of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. #OscarsSoWhite protests the heavily white Academy Award nominations. #MyTrendyLips lanced perceived double standards, in society and the fashion industry, of physical beauty. #ShadesOfRevlon is a brickbat tossed at Lorenzo Delpani, CEO of Revlon, for allegedly making racially insensitive remarks, and #Blackbrunch is a meet-up tool for police-brutality protests at which names of purported victims are read.

In 2014, Black Twitter was instrumental in bringing the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of Michael Brown to the national forefront. And it kept it there, even when other media tried to move to other stories, such as the Ebola virus outbreak. Users critiqued media reports and organized protests.

Out of Ferguson, and later, out of the death of Eric Garner of Staten Island, N.Y., Black Twitter birthed hashtags that will forever be a part of our historical lexicon. #BlackLivesMatter is still going, echoed in the State of the Union speech. As Jamilah King tweeted: ” ‘Every life matters’ is as close to #BlackLivesMatter as we can expect to hear from a sitting US president. Huge.” There are also #HandsUpDontShoot, #Ferguson - and, later, #ICantBreathe in response to Garner’s death.

On Jan. 2, a lawsuit was reported against Delpani of Revlon, alleged to have said that he hates “dirty” Americans, that Jews “stick together,” and that he can “smell” black people before they enter a room. Black Twitter caught wind, and Revlon caught … #ShadesOfRevlon.

Perry Divirgilio, known as Vision, is a poet and activist in Philadelphia who tweeted an array of witty, trenchant responses with the hashtag:

“Revlon coming out with that new gentrification gloss. Goes on glittery black before turning an awkward judgmental white #ShadesOfRevlon.”

“Black folks have been able to do that,” said Divirgilio. “Take our pain and flip it back to the person who created it.”

Ellis says it’s different from the mainstream depiction of black protests: “fists in the air, worn down, crying.” This is assertive, assured, nuanced, insistent. Think of when Black Twitter eviscerated chef Paula Deen in 2013 for racist comments. “Our humor is incisive as well as critical,” Ellis says. “We laughed at her, and she became the focus, instead of internalizing the racism and feeling like we had something to prove.”

Temple University sophomore Nayo Jones, 19, is a part of the young adult council In Defense of Black Bodies, which used #FergusonToPhilly to help organize protests across the city. “There’s a scene in (the movie Selma) where the leaders are strategizing and figuring out the best tactics,” Jones says. “Instead of convening in a physical location, we have a virtual location.”

The parallels, Jones says, are clear: In 2015, discrimination is “just being done covertly. In a way it makes it harder to target, to fight against, so we have to broaden our scope.” Twitter is an ideal tool for that.

Black Twitter “has brought relevant voices to the attention of major news outlets,” said WURD radio host Keaton Nichols. From Feminista Jones - who launched the hashtag #NMOS14 for a national moment of silence days after the Michael Brown shooting - to Reign of April, who created #OscarsSoWhite, many of those voices belong to black women.

In fact, Twitter is very much young, black, and female. “Black women’s voices have been given a stronger and greater platform through which we could literally profess our ideals and protest,” Ellis says. A 2014 Pew Research report shows that of all U.S. African Americans active online, 22 percent are Twitter users, compared with 16 percent of online whites. Of all tweeters, 22 percent are black female, 21 percent black male, 18 percent white male, and 15 percent white female. Forty percent of African American Internet users 18 to 29 use Twitter, compared with 28 percent of whites of the same age.

Temple graduate Juliana Pache, 22, who identifies as Afro Latina, sits on her bed with a poster of Sade behind her.

“Her lyrics are so raw and simple,” Pache says.

Pache has almost 8,000 followers on Twitter. There she honed her ideas about feminism, patriarchy, neocolonialism, and homophobia: “I’ve grown so much as a person with Twitter. I tweet about anything on my mind, whether it’s society, racism, sexism, feminism, love and heartbreak.” Limiting complex thoughts to 140 characters has, she says, “turned me into a critical thinker.”

Pache’s tweets are witty and strong-willed: “Men be like ‘WOMEN DON’T MAKE SENSE BUT … I know everything there is to know about them. I know how they should dress, behave & think.’ ” Or ” ‘My brain and body were built in a woman’s body for 9 months, but I’m still more intelligent than women.’ - men”

“It’s challenged me as a man and as a black man,” Vision said. “It’s made me check my privilege as a male.”

Cory Townes, 27, a Philly-born social-media manager at Ebony.com, has never been a fan of the label “Black Twitter,” which he thinks was the first step in commodifying it. Last year, he says, “was the year Black Twitter became a marketable entity. Brands and companies have realized they can target this demographic with the popular sayings in Black Twitter. That’s why we’re seeing IHOP’s page tweeting, ‘Pancakes on fleek.’ “

Black Twitter users say this is a case of a medium appropriated by people much appropriated from. “Historically,” Ellis says, “we have been taken from and not given our just dessert. We burst upon the technological scene… . Our robust humanity appears on Twitter in an unfettered and unfiltered way, and that in and of itself is explosive.”

Shamara Lever, radio personality and Twitter enthusiast, summarizes the subversion in a very Twitteresque aperçu: “You’ve heard of Wiki Leaks? This is Black Leaks.”

With every passing year, the David that is Black Twitter gets a stronger and stronger voice, taking on something much larger, more systemic and institutionalized, rock by rock.





Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com

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