A note on Black Twitter

In March this year the Christian Science Monitor wrote that Twitter use is booming in South Africa and that a loose, outspoken community of black tweeters are using the platform to bypass traditional media and add their own voices to social debates. They write about an incident in 2011 where the Western Cape premier Helen Zille responded to an accusation by singer Simphiwe Dana that Cape Town was a racist city. Zille tweeted: “You’re a highly respected black professional. Don’t try to be a professional black. It demeans you.” Soon, #professionalblack was a trending topic on Twitter and Zille had to fend off attacks and explain herself. Dana tweeted: “Helen Zille has managed to piss off black Twitter. She can’t blame me for this one.” According to the article the debate eventually died down, but the “black Twitter” reference remained. “19 years after the end of apartheid in South Africa, the country’s formerly white-dominated media outlets have become significantly more diverse. But in a country renowned for its social inequality, many feel they still represent a particular and narrow version of the new South Africa. Enter the so-called black Twitter, a loose community of black tweeters using the short-form platform to add their own voices to the fray.”

According to Unathi Kondile, a journalism lecturer at the University of Cape Town, Black Twitter eventually became more fun, gossipy, and featured indigenous languages at times. He says Black Twitter doesn’t take itself too seriously – one could say it is the tabloid version of Twitter.” The hashtags #blacktwitter and #whitetwitter have since often been seen on Twitter in South Africa.

Journalist Sarah Britten wrote that one of the things that she values most about Twitter, is the insight that it gives her into the lives of her fellow human beings – especially into the lingo used on the so called Black Twitter. “I get to eavesdrop on conversations I’d never normally have the opportunity to hear, and because they’re between people who know each other, they’re more natural — even if they are visible to others, who watch with their express permission.” (Memeburn, 2013)

Britten, who follows more than 4,000 people, also wrote a column for the Mail&Guardian entitled ‘Why white South Africans should learn the grammar of blackness’ in which she says that black South Africans know the grammar of whiteness because they have to if they want to get ahead, but white South Africans are amazingly ignorant of contemporary black culture. “This is why Twitter has such power as a tool of social cohesion: it allows us to talk to each other. It gives us a glimpse of other conversations, and gives us an in into other people’s jokes.”

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