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Social media gives voice to marginalized groups and brings them into a large-scale dialogue with the rest of the world.

Black Twitter is a name given to the collective cultural identity that is present on social media that focuses on issues relevant to the black community, primarily driven by black American users (although other identities and allies contribute to the sphere as well).

While hashtags like #howblackareyou or #dangerousblackkids (a biting response to the shooting death of Florida black teen Jordan Davis and the following conviction of Michael Dunn) make rounds in the Twittersphere, it is important to know that Black Twitter is not solely defined by a particular hashtag, nor is it a specific website or app.

According to Kimberly C. Ellis, a digital strategist studying Twitter for her book “The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter,” “Black Twitter brings the fullness of black humanity into the social network and that is why it has become so fascinating.” Black Twitter includes the thoughts and voices of users commenting on more or less anything that pertains to thecommunity – from subcultural references to vocalizing critical social issues that directly affect black Americans. For example, the #dangerousblackkids hashtag demonstrates a very real reaction to the conviction of MIchael Dunn for attempted second-degree murder by including photos of black children. It is political commentary that attempts to showcase to the rest of the world how the current justice system works against marginalized groups and functions as part of a system of institutionalized racism.

Screenshot taken on 10/22/2014 of Twitter user @hfdavis's tweet

Screenshot taken on 10/22/2014 of Twitter user @hfdavis’s tweet

Screenshot taken 10/22/2014 of Twitter user @Rhonda_A_Lee's tweet

Screenshot taken 10/22/2014 of Twitter user @Rhonda_A_Lee’s tweet

…Why is this so important? In traditionalized forms of communication within a pre-social media age, marginalized groups of people have not seen much ability to have a voice within American mainstream media.  So the ability that social media gives to be heard is particularly important for people of color, who have been usually spoken for and represented in mainstream media in narrower ways than what is actually being said within those communities. Mainstream media has long been criticized for the lack of diversity in the faces and figures that it displays to the public audience. Therefore, Black Twitter is a valuable and alternative tool in giving marginalized groups to make their truths and minds heard.

Recognizing and, more importantly, directly addressing race is something that diverges from an optimistic perspective of digital media. This view is one in which users from different backgrounds would be able to come together to engage in conversation, within a new democratized and accessible “color-blind”  space. We see this type of narrative dismantled, however, because of  systematic inequalities that manifest in already existing social structure outside of the digital sphere. Black Twitter lends itself to a larger dialogue that propels forward the black voice, one that does not get as much recognition within a mass-mediated culture that is preoccupied with political correctness. This is not to say that communication did not exist within minority communities – but now this exchange of ideas gets placed into a sphere in which it gets shared with the rest of the world. Black Twitter is a step in putting the voice of a marginalized community on the same level as hegemonic groups in the cultural exchange.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Scott Beale

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