The most frustrating part about most mainstream media examinations of Black Twitter — Lisa Respers France’s recent CNN piece, for instance — isn’t the examination itself. Because there’s no inherent wrong in dissection and deconstruction. And when performed by the right person, those types of explorations can be both enlightening and entertaining.
No, the problem is that they often read like a report from an astronaut who just discovered a new element on Mars. Or, better yet, an astronaut who thinks he just discovered a new element on Mars, when that element has also been on Earth for a billion years. The words accompanying these pieces somehow manage to be both perplexed and pamphlet-esque. Like a brochure of Blackness written by an English-speaking Martian who just landed on Youngstown.
The function of Black Twitter during tweetable events isn't to provide a collective voice. It's to shape-shift.
You’d be led to believe that each of the millions of Black people on Twitter were not only watching The Wiz Thursday night, but watching the same way; each of us knowing the words to every song and the steps to every dance. But while there were undoubtedly many of us who did know all there is to know about The Wiz, there were also many like me. People who’d never seen The Wiz before and were taking it all in for the first time.
It’s instances like this — which happen quite frequently, because, well, we (Black people) don’t all know the same shit — where the idea of Black Twitter possessing a certain monolithicness is proven the most wrong. Because the function of Black Twitter during these hypertweetable events isn’t to provide a collective voice. It’s to shape-shift. It exists as whatever you want it to exist as. On days when I’m more familiar with and knowledgeable about the subject manner, Twitter is a sketchbook where I throw pithy and witty and insightful comments into the ether to test exactly how pithy and witty and insightful they actually are. Sometimes it’s a seat at a lunch table in college on one of those days where lunch ended at 2:15 but it’s 3:47 and you and your friends are still there because the conversation (or the spades game) is too riveting to conclude. And sometimes, like Thursday night, it’s each of those things. Plus a hypercompetent Google. Where instead of searching “Who’s playing the Cowardly Lion in The Wiz Live?” I can refresh my feed and see…
That’s what this bowl of hominy needed: some ham. Thank you, David Alan Grier.
— Wesley Morris (@Wesley_Morris) December 4, 2015
…and find the information necessary, wrapped in seventeen different levels of hyperspecific Blackness, and expressed in less than 15 words.
Perhaps this is why it’s so difficult to write about Black Twitter. Because writing about it is basically just writing about Black people who happen to be on Twitter, and an attempt to distill that is ultimately an attempt to somehow distill Blackness, which is impossible.