This evening when I logged on to Twitter, I found two very disturbing national trending topics. Much to my dismay, “#WhitePeopleActivities” and “#BlackPeopleActivities” were both sitting atop the United States’ most talked about issues. On further investigation, I found almost all the relevant tweets- by users of both races- to be incredibly offensive in nature. Common “#WhitePeopleActivities” included the KKK, racially profiling Hispanics, complaining about their middle class lives, making materialistic parenting decisions, and going to Penn State. Common “#BlackPeopleActivities,” on the other hand, included going to the State Penitentiary (this was said in conjunction with Penn State tweet), eating fried chicken, receiving unemployment benefits, dominating in all sports, and running from local law enforcement. The lists went on and on, but I found these both the most frequented and the most telling.
Interestingly, the more offensive tweets regarding class status and racism were just as often made by individuals of both races, about their own respective heritages. The trending topics seemed to create an immediate divide, where all involved fell to a definitive side of the virtual color line. I was incredibly disheartened that so many users not only participated in the trend, but also played into the stereotypes being so blatantly attacked. White users joked about excessive Starbucks consumption and staying far, far away from the “ghetto,” while Black users, in turn joked about teen pregnancy and improper grammar. All was not lost in this trend, however. Several users found it as upsetting as I’m sure many of you will. These tweets included the questions “is this how we combat racism?” “what did Dr. King fight and die for if we’re gonna act like this?” and the powerful “why can’t we all accept that we’re the same in God’s eyes?”
What does this say about the way we declare ourselves when our racial identities are called into question? The Twitter users who helped popularize this trend, on the whole, found their racial identities within the given stereotypes. Even 40 years out from the traditional Civil Rights Movement, we are still limiting each other to certain rigid social norms. These skewed expectations have essentially lowered the bar for the furthering of positive race relations in the country.
Our generation is quick to reinforce the societal standards our parents experienced as a legal reality, even though we have the most access to each other ever experienced in human history. Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the blog world, we have a chance at communicating with our peers- of all races- in a way our predecessors would have never dreamed. Rather than using these social media outlets to demean and demoralize each other, we should consider how we can employ these sites as tools to engage in real, meaningful conversations and together move toward a society lacking hate speech, racial violence, and upsetting stereotypes. At the very least, we should not reinforce prejudices in a space where consequences loom few to none.
What do you think this trend says about the way we identify and present ourselves to the world?