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Black Twitter is significant portion of 40% African Americans internet users between the age of 18-29 use Twitter (Smith, 2014).[1] Black Twitter is credited for spurring the #blacklivesmatter movement and creating trending topics on social media sites centered around police brutality, hate crimes, acts of discrimination and many other aspects of social justice. One recent example being the protests and attention garnered online directing media attention and public activism in regards to the 2014 death of Michael Brown after he was shot and killed by Fergusson Police Officer Darren Wilson. While this movement has had a great deal of impact, and is active in very serious matters, the online community labeled as Black Twitter is not always focused on serious matters. 

August 17th, 2014 a report from The Guardian surfaced online covering a pro Darren Wilson, the police officer accused of killing Michael Brown, the killing associated with riots in Ferguson MI, rally and reported that Martin Baker, a former Republican congressional primary candidate, was the only black member of the crowd (Swaine, 2014).[2] Black Twitter picked up on this and when an image of Baker talking on his phone at the event surfaced the same day, they began to publically criticize him and mock him through social media sites. (Internet Meme Database | Know Your Meme, 2015)[3]

Phone 1

Black Guy on Phone Meme, Credit @kingbeef812

In the image Baker is holding a cellphone up to his ear, with his opposite arm across his chest. His facial expression, looking off, with tight pursed lips and a slightly furrowed brow, suggests that he could be concerned, irritated or embarrassed. His back is to the crowd to hide his identity. Also his dress, a green striped Polo shirt, thin framed glasses can suggest that he is a middle-upper class professional. He is balding and his hair is cut short in a very professional manner and resembles a style that is just likely to be sported by a white middle class male of the same age.In the original uncropped image, he is wearing khakis and has a belt clip for his phone. Although this dress it suitable and common to all races in professional fields, to some it might connote “whiteness”. It might be interpreted that he has put aside African American culture and adopted or assimilated into the dominant white culture. This is utilized in many the different iterations of the memes centered around this image. This meme relies on being embarrassed and called out by “your momma” in public which is a common motif in Black Twitter humor. But what happens often with internet memes is they evolve and mutate.



Phone 2

Black Guy on Phone meme, credit :@RealRaymondJ

In the post above, twitter user @RealRaymondJ is not commenting on any of the issues centered around Darren Wilson or Michael Brown, but utilizes the image more as a comment on stereotypes and assumptions about African Americans. The use of an image representing an embarrassed African American professional, paired with stereotyped content suggesting that most African Americans come from lower socio-econmic classes and use food stamps serves as an unexpected visual dissonance and creates the humorous effect. Utilizing language and stereotypes centered and around black culture, is a form of “signifyin’”and coding in  what might be labeled as African American slang. Using this type of language aids allows the author to perform their cultural identities online (Pruitt, 2015). [4] This type of performance might at first seem to be reinforcing stereotypes, in actuality it creates another level of coding and is commonly utilized in social critique and satire of issues facing young black American in this day and age. This doesn’t mean all users are utilizing these stereotypes to critique cultural norms, but should one’s misuse prevent another from utilizing that coding as an effective tool in cultural criticism?

  1. Smith, A. (2014, January 6). African Americans and Technology Use A Demographic Portrait. Retrieved September 23, 2015, from Pew Research Center: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/01/06/african-americans-and-technology-use/
  2. Swaine, J. (2014, August 17). Ferguson Police Officer was 'doing his job', say supporters. Retrieved September 23, 2015, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/18/ferguson-supporters-police-killed-teenager-protest
  3. Internet Meme Database | Know Your Meme. (2015, May 7). Black Guy on the Phone. Retrieved September 23, 2015, from Know Your Meme: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/black-guy-on-the-phone
  4. Pruitt, R. (2015). #blackhumor: Cultural Exchange and Critique on Black Twitter. St. Louis University. Ann Arbor: ProQuest LLC.
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