Because…Twitter: Humorous Hashtags as Tools of Power and Resistance

Who needs letters of complaint when you have Twitter hashtags?

What do you do in the face of both micro and overt racist aggressions committed by some of the brands we all know and love? You can talk about it, or you can Tweet about it. And, that’s exactly what an expansive community of Twitter users – sometimes called “Black Twitter” – does on a consistent basis. Creating viral memes have turned some of the most despicable forms of ignorance and racism into some of the funniest and most incisive repartee. It’s a burgeoning form of resistance and a method to express outrage at White supremacy, allowing those with shared experiences to comment, laugh, and blow off some steam in the face of the pressure that comes with being identified as “the other” constantly.

Of course, resistance in the form of humor is nothing new for marginalized communities. It’s just taken on a different, more public form – for all to see. Since its introduction in 2006, Twitter has changed the face of dialogue, but who knew that it would change the face of contemporary, collective commentary?

Twitter proves again and again that marginalized communities – despite their outsider status – do have power. It’s entirely possible to shift the power and the direction of the conversations being had about the African American community into discussions where we have the last laugh. Every. Single. Time.

Who could forget when Paula Deen was accused of being a racist, N-word using employer? Twitter responded with the #PaulasBestDishes meme, turning the title of Deen’s famed book and television show into a satirical catalogue of racist recipes. In fact, the hashtag became so popular that it was trending on Twitter for days, causing those who weren’t even active Twitter users to erupt into hilarity and get in on the fun. Some gems:

Black Twitter. #PaulasBestDishes
Just a few of Paula’s Best Dishes

But there’s more. Recently, couture label Armani came under fire after incorrectly captioning a photo on Instagram. They mistook actress Alfre Woodard for Idris Elba. Because *all* Black people, irrespective of gender, look alike. Epic fail.

And what did Twitter do? Clapped back, of course! Enter the #ArmaniCaptions meme, where users decided to satirically chime in on Armani’s failure to correctly identify Hollywood celebrities of color, with some hilarious (and purposeful) cases of mistaken identities. Some hilarious examples:

Black Twitter #ArmaniCaptions
Black Twitter #ArmaniCaptions

Those who have their ears to the ground watching (and participating) in the Twitter community have the ability to turn racist (micro)aggressions into comedic gold. Still, said commentary never overshadows the larger, challenging conversations that follow such moments of tone-deafness. Like the time when Twitter users protested and killed juror B37’s book deal following the contentious George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.

What’s more, Twitter’s methods of resistance also heavily impact a brand’s reputation. Twitter not only highlights instances of ignorance and discrimination for other communities to see (and prove that we’re really NOT crazy), these same methods make it harder for brands to ignore their missteps. Social media integration is a double-edged sword. Brands have to be (and should be) careful with how they proceed. When mistakes are made, brands (with good sense) have to try to regain control of or re-direct the conversation, address the mistake more readily, and with recompense. If not, they must be ready to experience the hilarity – and the wrath – that only Twitter can bring. And the world will take notice.

Courtney Written by: