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A People’s History of Black Twitter, Part III

Elzie: I miss the hood days on Twitter, the good days. It’s not that fun to me anymore.

Wesley Lowery, 60 Minutes+ correspondent: The heartbeat of Black Twitter was just, insert random Black user who got something funny off that day or who did a thread or who talked about $200 dates. It was this democratic process. It was a Black open mic night. Once Black Twitter started being talked about as this tangible thing you could study or hold or quantify, some of that magic melted away.

Browne: Originally, it felt like folks were at least getting into it for the right reasons. Since Black Lives Matter and lots of things have become profitable, I think we are now in a second wave where I do think some folks get into this game for the wrong reason.

Lawson: Twitter is just a mirror reflection of our real world. I don’t think that it’s always a healthy space and I don’t think it’s always a toxic space. There’s definitely always an in-between.

But it’s important to remember that certain users—particularly women and queer folks—have never felt comfortable on the platform.

C. Thompson: I get heated. I hate to see the way Black women are treated. I get abused on here by Black men all the time. 

Meredith Clark, author of a forthcoming book on Black Twitter: Black Twitter is not a very safe and welcoming space when it comes to discussions of gender or when it comes to discussions of nonnormative identity or being queer.

Raquel Willis, trans rights activist: I never felt comfortable in the early days. Transphobia and trans misogyny was so common­place that even some of the people we consider to be the wokest now, or the most down, were shitty to trans people online.

C. Thompson: Some people are brazenly ignorant and antagonistic to anybody that’s different from them.

Brock: Hotep, which is an Egyptian word, has come to represent a certain type of toxic masculinity. These men believe that women should know their place. A lot of it is Black incel culture. Tariq Nasheed got big in that period.

Willis: Tariq Nasheed has terrorized Black women and Black queer and trans folks for years. It is almost impossible for a white institution, which all these social media companies are, to hold the intra-communal harm accountable. It’s not possible for Twitter, as a corporation, to hold Black figures accountable in the same way they can hold alt-right white figures accountable—and they still don’t do a good job of that.

Brock: All these constituencies have just as active a presence on Twitter as young queer folks, as the educated Black bourgeoisie, the Blavity Blacks. So there’s this constant undercurrent of commentary on things they think Black people should and should not do.

Mayard: Now, we’re learning lessons—and being like, “Oh, no. You don’t get to run and hide in the community if you are being an abuser or an oppressor.” We hold each other accountable.

Willis: And Twitter is a great space for political education. People understanding the sheer amount of violence that Black trans ­people face—and, of course, enjoying the beauty of our experiences—that came, in large part, from Black Twitter. I can only imagine how many people first learned about Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera through a tweet. 

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