Friday, November 20, 2009

White Thoughts/ Black Thoughts

Hashtag games are a very popular feature on twitter.  What makes them interesting, is that they occur spontaneously; with people from various class, race and sexual identities playing along.  The anonymity of the internet means that people more often display a truer side of their nature.  There are certain thoughts or ideas, that we censure because we know that an open discussion may lead to a negative feedback.  This can readily be seen by the hostility that regularly appears in the comment section of many social justice blogs.

image

image 

image

image

image

 image

image 

image image

image image

image image

image image

There can be no doubt that certain language or behaviours are indeed cultural.  Who can forget the consternation on the part of White political pundits, when Obama answered “yeah we good,”  in response to a question regarding whether or not he wanted change back after paying a bill.  Prominent POC like Colin Powell, have commented on the phenomenon known as shifting, depending upon who you are in conversation with.  Language that would be understood as improper or even grammatically incorrect, is not deemed problematic by many members of the Black community. It instead infers a form of shared experience.

Language in many ways denotes not only race but class position.  It serves as a barrier to access.  When we consider that the point of language is communication, the fact that we have so disciplined its usage is highly problematic and reflective of the fractures within our society.  When Obama said “yeah we good”, his meaning was clearly understood by the person he was addressing and therefore; the need for further conversation on this issue is reflective of the ways in which language is used to denote an individuals place in our hierarchal society.

Behind this twitter game, the trueism of difference was clearly illustrated.  Because of varying frames of reference, Blacks and Whites do not often see an issue from the same perspective.  What made this little game problematic, was the obvious negativity associated with Blackness.  Blackness was associated with poverty, sexism and violence and  this is a manifestation of internalized racism.  Even as POC  cling to their difference to form identity, they have taken on the negative stereotypes assigned to us by Whiteness.  Had these same stereotypes been tweeted by a White person, charges of racism would have quickly followed.  There is this idea that because one is Black, the participation in such self depreciating behaviour is not necessarily harmful. 

What this little twitter game reveals, are the ways in which the phenomenon known as shifting, can in some ways promote negative ideas associated with Blackness.  There is a large distance between Obama’s yeah we good and an entire online game that reveals that in the minds of these tweeps, that Black cultural expression necessarily means the participation in the baser human instincts.  In this case, it was not the language that was problematic but the meaning inferred. That these tweeps could not see the ways in which their behaviour was participating in the cultural and social devaluation of Blackness is further problematic. If we take these ideas upon ourselves, we make them true.  Whiteness rules in part because of our participation in its hegemony. 

Culturally, this shift in language is important because it maintains our diversity.  It is a form of a rebellion and such failure to concede to the cultural demands of Whiteness can be libratory. If  we take on the affects of Whiteness, then the process is meaningless;  we have only created a new format from which Blackness can once again be demeaned.  If we are going to go to the trouble to change language, then we need to follow through and create ideas that promote Black pride and unity.   Just as the slaves spoke in code to discuss following the North Star, so to can this form of communication be employed to symbolize our refusal to take on the master’s tools.