Recently I got in a brief Twitter smackdown in a trending thread on the subject of celebrities who’re #blackfamous. It’s regrettable because Twitter smackdowns always are, and plus the thread was really enjoying itself, going full viral in good spirits, destined for success if only for a single dangling string: celebrities considered “blackfamous” presumes they’re unknown to white people.
And if there’s a thing white people hate, it’s anyone having anything they don’t.
By its very nature, Twitter encourages users to feel entitled to join a conversation, although calling threads “conversations” gives Twitter too much credit. They feel entitled to join because, ultimately, Twitter is like a discourse buffet — take what you want, leave what you don’t, and probably the potato salad has been sitting out for too long. By that I mean, everyone on Twitter thinks every conversation is theirs — and by “theirs,” I obviously mean “ours,” because, hey, let he who is without sin and all that crap…
Of course, calling how users interact with conversations “joining” gives users too much credit also.
So this particular thread, concerning a topic specifically culturally-centric (and perhaps, at least in my opinion, a little culturally-sensitive), seemed like the type of thread that I — and other users like me (read: white people) — should’ve just sat back and enjoyed. And, for a while, we seemed to be! While relevant contributing users (read: black people) dropped into the thread for a joyous game of one-upmanship, the thread simultaneously became a celebration the culturally niche, as well as culture identity in general.
But, like moth to flame, all it took was one white dude who had to flutter in to drop a tweet meant to course-correct the very heart of the conversation —
“Actually, but…,” this white dude goes — “Actually, but…” being the fucking siren song of white people — “I know who all these celebrities are,” reads the tweet. “Everyone knows who [black actor] is,” reads another. Yet another reads: “Some of us can even tell the difference between [black actor] and [black actor].”
In my defense — given my reckoning with white guilt — my POV on these responses may have been a little knee-jerk myopic. All I could read between these tweets was: “Actually, but, there is nothing you can have that I can’t take.”
So at this point, I felt entitled to join as well — which, again, gives myself too much credit — and I basically said I wished all white dudes (such as myself) would just “pipe down.”
Yeah, I see the irony in that.
The tweet experienced a little camaraderie at first, but by then, another white dude felt the need to call me out for being “self-serving,” and I replied indignantly, because, mostly, I felt indignant, and it just seemed to me like another white dude looking to justify other white dudes copping other people’s shit.
But, honestly, what did I expect? I’d called out white dudes for chiming in on this thread by chiming in on this thread, and then I got called out by a white dude for chiming in on this thread —
It was like a fucking ouroboros of white privilege.
Now, in hindsight, I see I hadn’t really shown up to help in the first place. My tweet — or “contribution,” if you can call it that — although maybe well-intentioned was entirely self-serving. It was just another way for me to feel like I’m doing more that I probably am; to feel less a part of the oppressors and more on the side of the oppressed.
To really be that, though, it takes a little more than sub-tweets.
Ultimately, I got called out by a Twitter user — a black woman, who’d probably been enjoying the brief moment where her community could just be, and thus rejoice in being — when she tweeted, “This is a feel-good thread,” she said. “Don’t bring this here.”
The white dude who’d called me out, quickly and appropriately, replied, “Yes ma’am.”
I said that too, but only to me, not able to bring myself to reply in a tweet. The point had come pretty quick where it was smart — albeit cowardly — for me to step back on mute as the sub-thread my little white fracas had caused spiraled into another argument about race, as more and more white dudes began jumping in, calling me out.
Black users jumped on the bandwagon as well — they didn’t hate against me, per se, but were against what I’d done; what I’d brought. They were against the rift that I’d caused.
And they were right to be.
Because, even though I may have gotten the point of the thread, I didn’t really get the point. Like we always do, I’d made something that was not about white people suddenly about white people, and in so doing, perpetrated an act I perceived as pro-ally, but was really just another symptom of my privilege.
That’s not the role I see myself playing, if I have to have a role to play at all. My gut was right to begin with: I thought #blackfamous seemed like a trending thread I should’ve sat back and enjoyed…
And I should’ve done just that.