When news breaks — whether it is deemed "ratchet" or "racist" — black Twitter is on the case.
In recent years, African American social media users have taken advantage of platforms like Twitter and Instagram, turning them into a megaphone. While many reduce black Twitter to a haven for jokes about reality shows, it's actually much more diverse. Everything is up for debate, including the fight for equality.
In this digital era, African Americans are continuing this fight with the best tools at their disposal.
Their laptops and smartphones.
According to the Pew Research Center, non-Hispanic blacks represent more than 27 percent of Twitter users, and their influence goes beyond what's on TV and what music we're listening to. They get results. From pop culture to social action, black Twitter has redefined the way many of us think about social media’s power.
Here are a few examples of that might.
It Flushed Starbucks’ #RaceTogether Campaign
Healthy conversations about race relations in the U.S. are not high on most people’s agendas when they are rushing to grab their morning coffee before heading to work. Clearly, the good folks at Starbucks missed that memo.
Led by CEO Howard Schultz, the company launched the #RaceTogether initiative as a vehicle to encourage patrons to make their country a better place.
“If a customer asks you what this is, try to engage in a discussion that we have problems in this country in regards to race,” stated Schultz. Unfortunately for him, black Twitter refused to embrace such a shallow attempt to address such deeply rooted issues.
Despite denying that the social media backlash had anything to do with the decision, Starbucks quickly discontinued the #RaceTogether campaign. Such a timely coincidence.
It Rose to Defend the First Daughters
We can always depend on Republicans to be critical of President Barack Obama, but Elizabeth Lauten went too far. In fact, the former communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) did not aim her criticism at the commander in chief; instead she targeted his daughters.
Lauten was angered by Sasha and Malia’s appearance at the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon, and took to Facebook to voice her opinions.
Black Twitter's legions were just as unimpressed with Lauten as she was with the president’s daughters, and quickly reminded her of another political family who did much worse than wear short skirts.
Some also called for Lauten to be fired, but that turned out to be unnecessary. After a long day of prayer, she quit her job and issued an apology to the Obama family.
It Misunderstood Light Girls
Black Twitter can be a great force for good, but when it gets something wrong, it can do serious harm. Such was the case with OWN’s Light Girls documentary, which caused major divisions on social media.
Light Girls, the follow-up to 2013’s Dark Girls, highlighted the historical privileges and shortcomings stemming from postcolonial colorism in the Americas. However, much of the Twitter commentary centered around mocking the guests who had shared their experiences with the colorism phenomenon.
Some people were not considered bright enough to be called “light girls.”
Others took what was said out of context and blamed black men for women’s problems.
What I got from it was that white men essentially control what blk men find attractive. #LightGirls don't keep this mess up blk men do.
— D.P. (@DIAMOND_NFRAME) January 20, 2015
Finally, there were those who simply re-emphasized the social divisions between women of color without suggesting ways to improve their realities.
On the bright side, some black Twitter voices got the message and highlighted the need for change.
It Shut Down Fashion Police
During the Fashion Police recap of the Academy Awards red carpet on Feb. 23, host Giuliana Rancic suggested that Zendaya Coleman’s hair must smell like patchouli oil and weed. What followed was heated backlash across social media, including Twitter.
Rancic’s comments during the Fashion Police segment were first captured and shared via Vine in a clip. Once that footage was picked up by members of black Twitter, the outrage reached new levels.
Some redirected the focus to Rancic’s own thin appearance.
Even when Rancic tweeted an apology, many refused to ease up, emphasizing the emptiness of her statement with memes and sarcasm.
— KILLAAA (@LINGTunechi) February 24, 2015
Rancic later made an on-air apology to Coleman, but the damage was done. Fashion Police co-host Kelly Osbourne—a close friend of Coleman’s—quickly departed the show, as did Joan Rivers’ replacement, Kathy Griffin.
The return of Fashion Police was then suspended, and new episodes will not air until the panel is revamped for the upcoming fall season.
It Made Ferguson National News
This topic really needs no explanation. Following the events in Ferguson, Mo., that resulted in the death of Michael Brown, black Twitter forced the mainstream media to pay attention by rallying behind the power of the hashtag.
Emerging from that tragedy as well as the prior killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., were a series of movements that showcased just how powerful African-American voices can be when they unite for a common cause.
The #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag challenged the portrayal of black-vs.-white “criminals” in broadcast media. And #BlackOutDay gave black people the opportunity to celebrate their beauty in ways often rejected by mainstream outlets.
#BlackLivesMatter is probably the most potent of black Twitter’s organic initiatives. The movement has blossomed from a hashtag into a real campaign for change as it calls for recognition from key players in the political environment who can make change for African Americans across the country.
Trent Jones is an editorial fellow at The Root. He also produces a daily video commentary called #Trents2Cents. Follow him on Twitter.