Meredith Clark was scrolling through her Twitter feed recently when she came across a tweet that made her think back to her childhood in Lexington, Kentucky, and smile.
The tweet linked to a video of an African-American woman waving her hands through a running faucet with the caption, “This makes the water heat up faster.”
In that instant, Clark, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, felt connected to a group of African-American Twitter users – none of whom she knew personally – who were in the midst of a discussion about the video.
Clark said this type of “cultural resonance” is at the heart of “Black Twitter,” a course she has taught for the last three semesters.
UVA Today caught up with Clark, whose interest in the subject of African-American social media use has led to a $1.2 million research grant from the Andrew W.
Q. “Black Twitter” is something referred to a lot, but I think there are some people who aren’t 100 percent sure what it really means. Can you define it?
A. I define “Black Twitter” as a network of culturally connected communicators using the platform to draw attention to issues of concern to black communities. It’s the culture that we experienced in our lives and school, in the workplace, with entertainment – and you see conversations coalesce around specific cultural moments.
I always explain to people that Black Twitter doesn’t have a gateway, a hookupdate com scams secret knock. It’s not a separate platform. It’s all in the way that people use the platform to draw attention to issues of concern to black communities.
A. There are a couple of points of departure for that. The one I take is in 2010: Farhad Manjoo, who was writing for Slate at the time, wrote this article called, “How Black People Use Twitter,” and the response to it on Twitter was fierce and people truncated the headline to “Black Twitter.” That’s where I take it from.
We talked with and Professor to find out how Black Twitter is leading online dialogue and pushing real-life change on the latest #GoingInBK pic.twitter/GoFRhqZcht
Q. Do you have to be black to be part of Black Twitter? It seems like there would be some tricky elements in play there.
How do you decide who belongs to an online community that is bounded by race and cultural experience? Like who’s in and who’s out? That’s not necessarily for the entire community to decide, nor is the entire community that cohesive to be able to say, with a singular voice, “you’re in” or “you’re out.”
I would say the sole exception to that is with [former civil rights activist] Rachel Dolezal. I think that’s where you saw Black Twitter draw a line. They were like, “Uh, no. You are definitely outside of it.” [Note: Dolezal was president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP until her parents revealed that Dolezal was a white woman passing as black.]
But it all depends. There are plenty of white folks that I know who tweet along with Black Twitter, who I think could be considered part of the community. But it’s about knowing what the focus of the community conversations are and knowing how and where to position yourself within those conversations. It’s just realizing that blackness is at the center of what’s happening with these interactions and being OK with that. Being more of an observer at times, rather than somebody who’s trying to control the conversation if you’re not black, is really important.