Hooray for Twitter's Black Tilt
Just as African Americans have influenced language and style, they've "blackened up" Twitter -- 140 snappy and irreverent characters at a time.
During the brouhaha over Oakland, Calif.'s proposal to use Ebonics as a teaching tool 15 years ago, scholars of the subject occasionally mentioned that Ebonics was becoming a youth lingua franca. The observation was typically taken as novel: One thought, "In fact, yes -- I did think I heard a group of black teens near me last week, and noticed when they walked by that they were Asian."
That's less of a novelty now. The "youth" of 1996 are now adults, and the white ones often talk a lot more like black people than their parents -- who themselves were children of the 1960s and '70s -- do. As do today's "youth." The casualness with which white young people of all demographics use "man," "yo," "dude" and "bro" or "bra" is now something we barely notice, but it would have looked like science fiction as recently as 1990. Carl Jung once said that American whites talk, walk and laugh like "Negroes" -- that is now much more true than it was in his time.
Listen to a group of 20-something white male executives having drinks these days. You wouldn't mistake them for black men if you couldn't see them -- but they don't sound anything like their equivalents on Mad Men, either. It's about more than speech -- it's communication in general. Watch the way they hug when greeting one another or taking leave. Among this demographic, the handshake now comes off as a bit stiff. And these guys' favorite music is as likely to be rap as anything else.
All of it is a black "flava," so to speak, in people who would be perplexed to be told of it. That is, it's the real them -- their subconscious, spontaneous way of being. America talks blacker now. America is blacker now. What black music did for America is now happening with language -- such that it is predictable that Twitter's toastmasters are disproportionately black.
Some are irritated that a lot of Twitter discourse has what they might consider too much flava. But they seem to be waiting for an interesting alternate universe in which humor is polite, and mass culture and communication are formal. I, for one, consider myself stuck in this real universe, and it's one where I am happy to be watching the ascendancy of the black Twitterverse.
John McWhorter is a frequent contributor to The Root.