I’m a part of a couple of social networks, some that I’m more active on than others. My main ones, however, are (in order of usage) Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The first and the final share communities which are marked solely by race which are often called “Black Tumblr” and “Black Twitter“, respectively. There’s really not much of any other binding factor at work. Not age, not gender, not sexuality, not location, not even beliefs. Are you Black? Are you on Tumblr or Twitter? Well, then, welcome to Black Tumblr/Twitter. And the presence of both communities is strong. There are plenty of times when these communities come together, and they come together for any number of reasons. Recently, there was a discussion on Twitter about Pharrell’s album cover and how it featured exclusively white or white-passing women, a discussion that gained such force that it made it to a news video on Complex Magazine’s website. The conversation centered on issues of racial representation, racialized misogyny, and Eurocentic beauty standards, all topics that had been discussed long before both Pharrell’s album and the Twitter platform. Just weeks before that, though, Black Twitter had also exploded about Pharrell’s now infamous hat, which he debuted at the Grammy’s, which spawned a number of photoshopped images as well as pop culture comparisons (no worries — the album cover discussion had a few photoshop gems of it’s own).
Really, I bring all this up in an effort to underscore parts of chapter one of Digital Diaspora: A Race for Cyberspace by Anna Everett, particularly when speaking to the technophilia of Black people. Her point about the difference between the assumptions made about Black people and Internet usage, often based in racism, and the actual online of presence of Black people immediately brought to mind the sorts of instant communities that form on social networking websites. Even when Black people wielding the Internet in their own ways became news, Everett points out that “the sporadic nature and incredulous tone of much of the coverage betrays a sense of condescension, ghettoization, trivialization, and a general air of dismissiveness” (21).
In short, it was considered a joke.
But really, let’s think about how powerful the Internet becomes in the context of a diverse and scattered peoples, who have their own individual identities but many of the same shared experiences. If the past for Black people is a patchwork quilt in progress, darned together from the fabric that chattel slavery and decades of degradation tore into scraps, then community is the sewing circle. We all come together in a way that often isn’t physically possible and get to share our thoughts, our feelings, our stories, our rage, our critiques, and our humor. Despite the fact that “racism transfers very smoothly to a digital format” (29), the Internet becomes the closest to a public sphere for the Black community, one that easily lends itself to all situations. Just as easily as the community can spend time laughing at photoshopped pictures of Drake in his Dada outfit, the community can come together to talk about the the verdict of the Michael Dunn trial… and neither is exactly privileged over the other, generally speaking. Both get their time in the Black public sphere to be examined and talked about.
What’s at the heart of this? Solidarity. And I try to avoid thinking of this as a pie-in-the-sky sort of solidarity where we all (proverbially) hold hands and sing “We Shall Overcome” and agree with each other constantly. I mean the sort of solidarity that can be seen in such places as the I Am A Jamaican Facebook page. With almost a half a million page likes and another nearly 60,000 people discussing the page on Facebook, you can certainly make a claim to a serious community. The page is seemingly moderated by a single person, but people are free to talk among each other and comment on the content posted, which includes pictures of the island, memes, and videos, such as “How To Tell You’re In a Jamaican Home”, which makes a very obvious mockery of white voyeurism into Black cultures. The comments and discussions follow the example of the content, focusing on community and solidarity, coming together rather than picking at differences. Comments like “Lawd dat look sooo good…wish wah shop did deh round di corner so mi coulda get some….miss JA bad” on a photo of men eating titled “Bulla and pear” show people simultaneously missing Jamaica while displaying their pride through dialect. Here, the Internet is not just a way to connect to each other, it’s also a way to connect home… a way to connect to yourself.