This is a slightly different post but I wanted to share it. I wrote this for a class that I was in and I quite like how it turned out! So take a read if you like!
By now, I’m sure you’re aware of Colin Kaepernick and his choice to protest the national anthem. In case you haven’t heard, at the beginning of every game San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the performance of the American national anthem to protest the killing of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers. Some have argued that this is disrespectful to the country and to veterans who have given their lives to protect the freedoms of the country; still others argue that he is within his full rights as a citizen to protest peacefully. Regardless of your preferred stance, it is clear that this is getting attention and people are responding.
However, some of the best responses have come from Black Twitter. With hashtags like #KapSoBlack and various memes being created about what it would be like to date Kaepernick to serious engagement with the issues he’s bringing to attention, the response within this sphere is unique, humorous, and very important to the sports media landscape. As the landscape of sports media and journalism tends to be incredibly white and male, the need for diverse voices becomes apparent — especially when the issues that are being presented directly affect minority communities.
Yet before we can celebrate Black Twitter, it’s important to define what it is, how it’s engaging with sports and exactly why it even matters. Yes the jokes are funny and the memes are hysterical, but it is important to provide a context in which to understand them.
What the Even Heck is Black Twitter?
Unlike what my mother thinks (and probably yours too), Black Twitter is not a separate social network for Black people; nor is it a separate place where all black people get together and talk smack about other people. The challenge is that defining what Black Twitter is to those who aren’t connected to it is really hard. However, some have tried.
One of the first known and documented sources on Black Twitter is an article written for Slate called “How Black People Use Twitter.” In it, the author Farhad Manjoo, focuses on how various Trending Topics and ideas are created and aggregated by black — mostly African-American — users (Manjoo, 2010). One of his main observations focuses around the fact that black people do use Twitter differently from non-black users. Black users create smaller networks and communities of people within the context of the site and more readily interact with each other, whether or not they know them outside of the context of Twitter (Manjoo, 2010). This has been observed and seen repeatedly and continues to be seen as more and more are becoming aware of its existence (Brock, 2012; Graham & Smith, 2016).
To put it simply: Black Twitter is an informal community of black Twitter users who share a similar cultural context and use that context to create their own discussions around popular culture, current events, and shared cultural experiences (Brock, 2012; Graham & Smith, 2016; Pitner, 2015; Sharma, 2013). Hashtags like #ThanksgivingWithBlackFamilies, #IfSantaWasBlack, and #OnlyInTheGhetto are all trending topics that have either begun within Black Twitter or gained trending status as a result of Black Twitter users heavily utilising the tag.
Many of these tags and ideas revolve around connecting over a shared cultural experience which bends itself to a specific type of humour. As an example one of my favourite trending topics was #BlackHairSalon problems. Many people, especially women, were sharing about the struggles of going to get your hair done. As black women, we have a unique relationship with our hair and through Twitter we are able to share our experiences in a unique and humorous way.
More Than Humour
Yet even beyond comedy, Black Twitter plays an important role in creating spaces for black voices to be heard. These marginalized voices are very necessary within the landscape of media because often times their voices are overlooked. This voice can be heard through tags like #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe, which focus on the injustices that are faced by black people every single day (Carney, 2016; Graham & Smith, 2016). These tags have evolved into something even bigger that goes beyond the grounds of Twitter. As an example, activist DeRay McKesson live streamed his arrest at a peaceful protest in Baton Rouge, New Orleans following the unjust killing of #AltonSterling in July 2016 (McKesson, 2016; Periscope, 2016). Twitter and other social networks have been critical in organising protests in various contexts, with Black Twitter helping to lead the charge (Carney, 2016).
Okay but even beyond humour and political protest, Black Twitter is necessary because it demonstrates the importance of having various voices in sport. Journalists like Dave Zirin focus on changing the the contexts of sports journalism to focus more on social issues (King, 2008). This is significant because often times sport is framed as apolitical and separate from the rest of the contexts of society (Szto, 2016). However, sport is actually not apolitical and instead can serve as a place where the state can continue to reproduce itself. With more and more spaces where injustices are being challenged, it makes it all the more important for sports journalists to be challenging the injustices seen within sports contexts (Pedersen, 2014).
This is why it’s so important for Black Twitter to be engaging in these debates. In doing so, they are highlighting how they are experiencing these sporting events, similar to the way that Hockey Night in Canada Fans create their own spaces on Twitter (Norman, 2012). While Black Twitter may also be able to speak to that wider collective while maintaining an ear to the culture, they are also able to maximise the effectiveness of the tools that they’re given.
All of these ideas can be best illustrated through the #KapSoBlackhashtag that trended on September 1, 2016. All eyes were on Colin Kaepernick as he was staging his protests at the beginning of every single game that he was playing. But at this particular game something was different:
Yeah. That huge voluminous ‘fro showed up out of nowhere looking like a halo from the Natural Hair Gods. Thus sparked the hashtag #KapSoBlack which gave us gems like:
(Morrison, 2016; Golding, 2016).
Some of these jokes might be lost on you. Why? Because these frameworks and references are distinctly black and reference African-American cultural products. This is may be intentional because Black Twitter users are wanting to create a distinct cultural space and are trying to keep other voices who may not have the same experiences from overshadowing them within the conversation (Vasilogambros, 2015). In some ways, this is necessary because what these users are speaking to is the fact that Kaepernick — a biracial man who was adopted by a white family from Southern California — is embracing his blackness in a very distinct and political way. This community of people are seeing Kaepernick not only identify within the black community but publicly claim it in a space where issues of race and equality are often overlooked. They are creating moments of joy and celebration in the midst of a protest that deals with very serious and sobering issues.
Even with these moments of humour and brevity, there is still the issue of understanding why these protests are necessary. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who himself is no stranger to the violence that black men face thanks to his childhood in Compton, California, spoke of why these protests are necessary saying:
“The reason these guys are kneeling, the reason we’re locking arms, is to bring people together to make people aware that this is not right. It’s not right for people to get killed in the street…” (Hill & Graham, 2016; Sherman, 2016).
While humor is a way of coping, it is important to not overlook why we even have the content to create these jokes with. Kaepernick is calling attention to systemic violence and injustice perpetrated against black men in a sport where black men make up 68% of players (Tapp, 2014). While some would argue that these protests belong solely in the street outside of the arena, Kaepernick does not allow this and instead brings in front of those who have the luxury of ignoring the very real hurt, pain and fear caused by this injustice.
Where Do We Go?
So after all the memes have finished circulating, the jokes stop, and the 49ers don’t make the playoffs (I mean come on, they’re 1-10 fam.) what happens next? Do we walk away from the issues that have been raised, going back to our comfortable existence? Does Kaepernick shave his ‘fro and go back to rockin’ the short natural? Do the 49ers call the 2016 season a rebuilding year? Or do we take the pay attention to the voices of the marginalised and elevate their cause so that change can be made?
The choice is really up to us.
Until we decide, I’m gonna go hit up Kaepernick to find out what products he uses on his edges.
#Receipts (Works Cited)
Brock, André. (2012). From the Blackhand Side: Twitter as a Cultural Conversation. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 56(4), 529-549. Online.
Carney, Nikita. (2016) All Lives Matter, but so Does Race: Black Lives Matter and the Evolving role of Social Media. Humanity & Society 40(2), 180-199. Online.
Graham, Roderick & Smith, Shawn. (2016). The Content of our #Characters: Black Twitter as Counterpublic. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. 2(4), 433-449. Online.
Golding, Shenequa. (2016). #KapSoBlack Is What Happens When Black Twitter Deems Kaepernick’s Afro Dope AF. Vibe. Retrieved from http://www.vibe.com/2016/09/colin-kaepernick-afro-kapsoblack/
Hill, Tim & Graham, Bryan Armen et. al. (2016) Richard Sherman on anthem protests: ‘People are still missing the point.’ The Guardian.Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/sep/21/nfl-players-reactions-national-anthem-protest-richard-sherman-colin-kaepernick
King, C.R. (2008). Toward a Radical Sport Journalism: An interview with Dave Zirin. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 32(4), 333-344. Online.
Manjoo, Farhad. (2010). How Black People Use Twitter. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2010/08/how_black_people_use_twitter.html
McKesson, Deray [@deray] (2016) #BatonRouge. Protest. [Periscope]. Retrieved from https://www.periscope.tv/w/1DXxyZjvrWVKM
Morrison, Aaron. (2016) Colin Kaepernick’s Afro sparks #KapSoBlack — and Black Twitter reminds us how great it is. .Mic. Retrieved from https://mic.com/articles/153357/colin-kaepernick-s-afro-sparks-kap-so-black-and-black-twitter-reminds-us-how-great-it-is#.RYQeaSILA
Norman, M. (2012). Saturday Night’s Alright for Tweeting: Cultural citizenship, collective discussion, and the new media consumption/production of Hockey Day in Canada. Sociology of Sport Journal, 29, 306-324. Online.
Pedersen, Paul M. (2014). The Changing Role of Sports Media Producers. Routledge Handbook of Sports and New Media. Retrieved from Online Course Readings.
Pitner, Barrett Holmes. (2015) White People Should Read Black Twitter. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/07/18/white-people-are-joining-black-twitter-and-that-s-a-good-thing.html
Sharma, Sanjay. (2013) Black Twitter?: Racial Hashtags, Networks and Contagion. new formations: A journal of culture/theory/politics 78(1), 46-64. Online.
Szto, Courtney. (2016). Week 1. In Person Lecture.
Tapp, Jerry. (2014) NFL Census: Data on Player’s Race, Weight & Height. Heavy. Retrieved from http://heavy.com/sports/2014/09/what-percentage-of-nfl-players-are-black-white/
Vasilogambros, Matt. (2015). Black Twitter in Capital Letters. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/black-twitter-in-capital-letters/433047/
Images Taken from:
Kaepernick Pre-Game Warm Up: Adelson, Eric. (2016). Tupac, Sandra Bland prominent in Colin Kaepernick’s sudden shift in awareness on social media. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved from http://l.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/H84A5WkRrnk4axSBurWNpQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjtzbT0xO3c9NzQ0O2g9NDU5/http://media.zenfs.com/en/homerun/feed_manager_auto_publish_494/3eb9c3a16e62f2ae993c08521e25f80b
Cam Newton & Kaepernick – hobbes. [@pettyflocko] (2016). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/pettyflocko/status/777681021940535296?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
Kaepernick & Braids – Dom Singh [@Love__Domo] (2016). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Love__Domo/status/775891204240203777
The Only Pick He Throws – Antar Ellis [@antarellis] (2016). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/antarellis/status/771544619016269824
Love, Peace and Soul – Bummi N Anderson [@BummiNAnderson] (2016). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/BummiNAnderson/status/771685051549351937?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
Sit on the Stoop and Braid His Hair – Lil Ms. Uppity Negro [@TamikaTlove] (2016). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/TamikaTlove/status/772096097485361157