From the time when I was knee-high to a grasshopper until about 2 tweets ago and counting, I’ve somehow always garnered the attention of others, oftentimes without saying a word. In high school, my drama coach told me, “You have presence, dahlin’. You will never go unnoticed!”
Social media provides many of us with platforms to reach thousands of people across our respective countries and the entire world. Twitter, especially, has given many of us a forum in which we can commune, converse, cooperate, conspire, and corrupt (heh). It is helping us develop a new form of communication that has both benefits and drawbacks. One benefit is that I’ve been able to become connected to some of the most brilliant minds, the most delightful senses of humor, and the most committed people working for freedom and justice. Another one of the benefits is that we’re able to create global conversations with perfect strangers and spark these extremely necessary discussions about a myriad of topics.
The use of the hashtag has allowed us to group ourselves together by compartmentalizing conversations that we can even archive them for future reference. I’ve been affectionately called a hashtag guru because of my ability to get trends going. I’ve had several national and global trending topics and have created hashtags that have been in use for a year or more. Many are playfully silly, some are celebratory and empowering, others are subversive, challenging, and even controversial. Someone dear to me recently told me that I’m doing my part to shift our culture, and I couldn’t help but think about that for a bit.
I have hero(in)es, the people I look up to, revere, admire, respect, and in whose footsteps I hope to walk and whose legacies I hope to continue. Sojourner, Malcolm, Marcus, Ida, Harriet, Huey, Fannie, and others. The work hasn’t been finished yet and I just want to do my part. President Barack Obama recently stated that we need to have a national conversation about race. I agree with him mostly, but I think it isn’t just ONE conversation, rather several conversations. I’d like to think I’m doing my part to create those conversations and it is naive to think we cannot use social media to invite people to the table to talk.
Race Conversations (as I see the need) should look something like these examples:
- Race and Gender
- Race and Economics
- Race and Education
- Race and Sexuality
- Race and Mental Health
- Race and Employment
- Race and Government (Politics)
- Race and Discrimination
#SmartBlackWomenOfTwitter was in reaction to Fast Company naming the 25 Smartest Women on Twitter and not naming a SINGLE Black woman. I storified my views here. That hashtag spawned several other hashtags representing other women of color and for 3-4 days, many conversations took place about the exclusion of women of color from mainstream feminism and discussions of women, success, and intelligence. A quick Google Images search for “Smart Woman” will show that we have a long way to go. The hashtag sparked conversations about race and gender, race and education, race and economics, and race and discrimination.
#ArmaniCaptions was in reaction to Georgio Armani posting a picture of Alfre Woodard on Instagram and captioning her as being Idris Elba. While it might have been a slip of an over-worked intern, many of us were NOT happy with yet another cisgender Black woman (esp. dark-skinned) being likened to a man. It happens all too often in attempts to dehumanize Black women and void their womanhood (however they define and present it). This was when I began to take notice how media reporting of these trends was changing, and credit was not being given.
First, I noticed that bloggers who understand the importance of being credited for their work are the most likely to make sure to get to the source . Then, I realized that being an active part of a mobilizing group (#BlackTwitter) leads to arbitrary attribution. I’m actually not mad about that; I’m all about solidarity. The exception is that I have a LOT of non-Black and non-”Black Twitter” followers who jump in immediately and help spread these hashtags and in the case of #ArmaniCaptions, they were among the first to join in, mainly because they “got it”. I don’t want to leave them out of the narrative.
What is important to note, though, is that there are MANY of these conversations taking place and they are being started primarily by Women of Color and more specifically, Black women. However, when the hashtags take hold and become nationally or globally trending topics, there is a tendency of White media outlets jumping in and reporting on these trends while completely ignoring the women who created them. It’s been happening so much that you can’t help but notice it and be completely upset about it. I’ve watched it happen to women I admire and respect deeply… and I’m sick of it.
Racism is systematic oppression of people based on their race. Paulo Freire said that in order to end oppression, we must liberate both the oppressed and the oppressors. I understand that there are many #RighteousWhiteous out there who want to do their part to end racism, and their efforts are absolutely appreciated; we need more partners in these fights against racism, sexism, etc. We simply ask that you not jump in and take over and take credit for sparking the rather revolutionary conversations and movements. We ask that you not take on the roles of White saviors who need to come down and help the poor little Black people. We ask that you back away from the microphone when it is our turn to speak. We ask that you do whatever you can to not simply be “anti-racism” but also “pro-people of color who are actually oppressed by the racism you say you hate”. We ask you to not be Tim Wise. Thanks.
Sometimes, we’re treated in rather infantile ways, as if we are incapable of articulating our thoughts and feelings on things. Unbeknownst to many, we’re a collective of women who are highly educated, most of with a number of advanced degrees, and we have studied this stuff, worked in these fields, and have been sparking these conversations for a long time. We are actually women that have more educational credentials that 80% of American adults and yet, we continue to be treated as though we’re simple. Mumble-mouthed. Inarticulate. Incompetent. Unintelligent. Inferior.
I also know that many of you understand that without your validating stamps or approval and support, many people simply won’t listen to us at all. I had a few people contact me privately to say they used their wide reach to spread the word about #RacismEndedWhen because they wanted to help. I appreciate that and at the same time hate that it takes popular White liberals to say “HEY WAIT STOP LOOK OVER HERE WHERE THIS ALL BEGAN”. It isn’t your fault– you exist in the same world I do and benefit from the privileges that oppress me. Most of you recognize it and that’s love. Thank you.
At the time of this post being published, #RacismEndedWhen had over 37,000 tweets in 72 hours. It trended not just nationally, but globally. People from every corner of the world were weighing in with humorous tweets, mocking tweets, and politically charged tweets, sparking several global conversations about race. The most glaring thing was the obvious fear of many in mainstream White media to give credit to a Black woman (or Black people in general) for sparking a conversation about one of their heroines, Rosa Parks, and defending her legacy which had been corrupted by the GOP. They wanted SO bad to take the credit, as they often do, because they want to be the heroes in the “anti-racism” movement. Maybe they want to be known as the victors to assuage the guilt that lingers in their souls over the atrocities done to our ancestors and us over the last 400+years. Whatever it is, erasure of the voices of people of color, particularly Black people and even further, Black women, is commonplace and exists in perpetuity.
You can no longer ignore the importance and impact of these discussions, nor can you erase the people behind them. You will not silence us. You will not suppress our contributions. We are not invisible and gone are the days when we cower and say nothing when you take credit for our work or claim victory for our battles.
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.” - Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man