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My #BlackTwitter Study Results

Maya Richard-Craven |
September 6, 2014 | 10:00 p.m. PDT



“In life, there are times to be quiet, to shut the fuck up. This is one of those times.”

- Giancarlo Esposito (Julian, “School Daze”)

Like the protagonist in Spike Lee’s “School Daze,” I have decided that this is not, in fact, “one of those times to be quiet.” Because in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Not from feeling the pressure to represent my entire race, while simultaneously conforming to certain (black) cultural and social standards. The irritation I feel is beyond dealing with every day instances of racism and segregation. 

In mid-July, I expressed interest in the USC Annenberg Black Twitter Project (DSAIL) in an email to one of its faculty advisers. I thought that exploring the diverse groups that make up the growing Black Twitter phenomenon would be a  great way to encourage USC students to engage with (black and non-black) members of Black Twitter. While reading the description of the study, I was not offended by the phrasing because I expect a description of a social study to include language that refers to academic discourse, data and, in this case, black cultural references

READ MORE: No 'N-Word Pass' For Justin Bieber

Two days ago, I scrolled down my newsfeed to find several headlines that referred to the Black Twitter Study, commissioned by USC's Annenberg Innovation Lab, as “questionable” and “racist.” And I am really sick of black Americans expressing anger and resentment toward non-black academics who take interest in exploring  elements of black culture. 

Some black USC students have expressed outrage against the study, noting that it sounds like “three white males will be dissecting black people.” Others want to know “why white people are so fascinated with studying black people?” In defense of the study, one student stated, “well at least they are interested in talking about us.”

Despite accusations of racism, no one has expressed discomfort with getting involved with the study, because many students understand that looking into a digitally based, cultural phenomena isn’t really racist. 

In fact, what people don't understand is how necessary a study like this is, especially since writers from national media outlets like the Washington Post don't even know or publicize that there are non-black users on Black Twitter. Post writer Soraya Nadia McDonald describes Black Twitter as:

...a society within Twitter, replete with inside jokes, slang and rules [we have to all follow the same rules?], centered on the interests of young blacks [did she just say blacks?] online.

As a (black) student journalist, USC Annenberg’s willingness to allow me to speak (without restraint) about issues surrounding identity formation, the plantation mentality, interracial dating and racial preferences, has changed the course of my personal life and writing career

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One of my series that was published through an Annenberg publication received an award for best college column in the nation. Specifically for its willingness to address such heavy issues surrounding color-blind racism in the private university setting.

So I couldn’t help but laugh at the articles that referred to the USC Annenberg Black Twitter Study as “questionable” and “racist,” because Annenberg is one of the few places in my life where I feel fully comfortable discussing my own race and identity. 

Annenberg faculty and staff have also created an entire program called “The Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative” (DSAIL) that is devoted to “addressing issues of inequality in entertainment.” And for the readers who accuse Annenberg staff of intentionally focusing on black Americans, please note that Larry Gross, the former Vice Dean of Annenberg, was one of the founders of gay and lesbian studies. In 2008, he won the Leroy F. Aarons Award “for his contribution to education and research on issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities.”  

Which is why it is so shocking that The Root would actually publish a piece with information that was so inaccurate, just to make a good story (for black America). The staff at the Root never attempted to verify the story, and merely based their findings off of a list of researchers (that did not include all of the members working on the DSAIL project.)

I was pretty offended that a magazine (that strives to represent “Black News, Opinion, Politics and Culture”) did not take the time to find out that the leader of the DSAIL project (who hadn’t yet added her name to project's new website) is Dayna Chatman, a black, female PhD student at USC. Or, that other (non-white) students would be joining the study in the fall. Chatman has shared her response to the backlash against the study on her blog.

The rash decisions made by staff, editors and writers at The Root could have been based off of what they thought was sound evidence, or certain cultural biases black Americans still hold toward white men. Publishing the article about the USC Black Twitter Study with little no evidence of what they were talking about, however, made it clear that editors had caved into the pressure (that I often feel) to be “the spokesperson for the black community.” And it's dissapointing because a chance to unite black and white students around gaining an understanding and interest in a growing cultural phenomenon like Black Twitter may have been potentially ruined. 

So to those of you who were upset by news of the USC Black Twitter Study, I ask you to wake up. Like Spike Lee asks viewers in “School Daze."

WAKE UP from the plantation mentality.

WAKE UP from this bitterness.

WAKE UP from the need to remain segregated. 

WAKE UP from the need to lay claim to Black Twitter (hate to break it to you, but it’s not ours, it’s a public domain).  

WAKE UP and realize that if we ever want to fully be represented in professional America, then we will have to trust the majority. 

You may think of me as a race traitor, or a modern mammy figure. You may think my words are just “catering to the white man.” 

But I have risked my safety and my livelihood to speak up for the rights of (black) men and women across the country. I have received threats, lost friendships and even had to board up my back door, because another piece I am working on has scared the sons and daughters of some very powerful (white) people.  

My future participation in this study will only be a continuation of what many academics, researchers and journalists are currently doing to make conditions better for black people who are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  

Contact Contributor Maya Richard-Craven here.



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