Saturday, July 2, 2011

Black Twitter and Inequality

Early on while teaching the African American Literatures and Cultures Institute in Texas this past June, the Fellows and I were having discussions about twitter. A few of them kept mentioning "black twitter," a phrase that pushes the idea that African Americans "run" the micro-blogging site, as evidenced by all the distinct black language and apparent over-representation of African Americans.

I spent over a week fumbling around with responses to the idea. My responses were always inadequate.

Enter Columbia University professor Alondra Nelson, who's done work on race and technology.

On June 17, our group had a tweet-session with Alondra, and I knew it was only a matter of time before someone from our crew asked her about "blacktwitter." It didn't take long.

"There's a noticeable AfAm presence on #Twitter," noted one of our participants, seeking to start a celebration of black folks' major involvement on the site. 

However, Alondra responded with a series of tweets that helped us get to another level of thinking on the subject:
Yes, in many ways #Twitter is a black space! The call-and-response rhythm of it; the dozens playing w/ #hashtags. But let's not forget that it's a black space also because so many more AFAMs use *only* phones to access the web and may not have jobs that involve sitting at a desk w/ a computer or may not have a computer at home. Mobile tech allows more access of a basic kind--it raises the floor a bit. But so-called #blacktwitter is also abt inequality.
Our Fellow who posed the question repeated Alondra's words "so-called #blacktwitter is also abt inequality." And then added "<--- I find this incredibly interesting. Thank you for your response!"

Yes, a useful response that helped us expand our thinking about so-called black twitter.

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