I felt like Justin Timberlake last week. I hear people talking all the time about him being an artist now making music for a black audience, as evidenced in a snippet from The Root article by Jocelyn A. Wilson, Miley, JT, and the Politics of Appropriation(August 30, 2103):
…What I know to be true is that JT has developed a natural and unforced authenticity that fosters endorsement from the black community when he sings and dances. Cyrus’ style of appropriation looks forced, natural and disrespectful.
JT has figured it out partly because of his artistic development under the direction of super-producer Timothy Mosley, aka “Timbaland.” And Timbaland, being the musical genius that he is, saw a real sense of soul in a young Timberlake. JT doesn’t try to “act black.” He’s simply a white guy from Memphis, Tenn., who has been successful in crossing over from a majority only-white audience when he was with NSYNC to a substantial black audience post-NSYNC.
My big crossover moment came when… my most recent blog post, I Was On Black Twitter and U.O.E.N.O. got picked up by The Root’s Opinion Roundup section last Thursday. The Root, as the on-line website states, is the premier news, opinion and culture site for African-American influencers, and was founded in 2008, under the leadership of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. I have Jenee Desmond-Harris, staff contributor to The Root, and writer of their Race Manners section, to thank for publishing my piece. I guess you could say she and I have developed a Twitter friendship after I reached out to her to share my post, Wendy Jane’s Primer For White People On How To Talk About Race, which she so warmly received. I sent her a link to my piece on Black Twitter, and right away she said she’d post it on The Root.
I was elated! If I could have jumped up and down right there in the break room at the hospital where I work I would have–I guess I could have, no one was even in there, but instead I silently gloated while frantically looking on my phone to send Jenee a photo to accompany my article.
My excitement, and the fact that I am devoting an entire blog post to getting picked up by a national blog, might sound amateurish, but I was truly thrilled, since it was the first time this has happened, and it has been a dream of mine to engage a wider, more diverse audience. The readership that has grown for WJSS over the past year-and-a-half since I first began, has been slow and steady, and I am grateful for all of you who follow along, show support, and challenge me with your comments. I know there has always been some diversity in my audience from the start, but I have also longed to mix it up even more–to hear more from, and be able to engage in conversations with people of color and white folks that don’t know me personally–to hear what they think and feel about the work I’m putting out on the site. It’s not been this way, but I’ve always felt if I’m trying to focus on race relations, and the places where people of color and white people come together, then I can’t be just talking to white folks. As important and as engaging as these talks are, conversations about race with just one race of people all the time can start to seem fruitless, or even boring to me. Thankfully, crossing over last week was anything but boring.
When the post hit the following morning after sending the link to Jenee, I immediately checked my Twitter feed and its Connect page. I was floored by the supportive comments and new followers from all over the country, even one from a book reviewer in South Africa. Jenee had warned me to not read the comments on The Root website’s unmoderated comments section, which I felt I could abide by, but when you are scrolling your Twitter feed, it can’t be avoided. And, after scrolling through a pleasant stream of congratulatory tweets, I came upon a few that weren’t too happy with my “crossover” hit.
One woman didn’t like me mentioning how a Twitter friend gave me the title of Honorary Black Person. Another few echoed her sentiments, and then another woman questioned me about wearing my Honorary Black Person badge–something, she said, that I had the luxury to put on and take off whenever I wanted, a luxury not afforded to black people. She further challenged me on whether I thought I was being hip, that being on Black Twitter was a fad for me, and why couldn’t I admit that I was white and different instead of trying to be black.
I responded as openly and honestly as I could, sharing that it wasn’t my intention to offend, that I sometimes use lightness and humor to approach a subject that can be difficult to talk about, and that I was sorry if it didn’t come across, that yes, I am coming at these thoughts and feelings from the place of being white, and different, and not trying to “be black.” I thanked her for her thoughts. I am not sure what her final feelings about my responses were because I didn’t hear back from her after her first tweet reply which seemed to say when white people are trying to be honest they’re always offensive along with it. Yet, I have to hear all thoughts that come my way, be able to take them in, and consider them, and just try and respond so that we can have the conversation, regardless of how difficult that may be. This was just one black woman’s thoughts, which, of course, as I often point out here, don’t represent anyone else’s thoughts and feelings but hers.
Still, I got an unsettling feeling in my stomach at the thought that I was the white woman who thinks she “gets it”, but is sadly out of touch. I thought of my writer friend, Susan’s remarks, when she heard of the article being posted on The Root, “…you are swimming in deeper waters…” . She was right. And I think it was salt water, because it stung. But not for long. I can’t believe that as thin-skinned as I am, and as much as I want to please everyone, I realize I am always grateful for all the feedback that I receive here–the positive, and, the challenging. That’s what it’s all about. That’s how I learn and grow.
I even got to get a little starstruck too though, when I tweeted the link to my blog post to Issa Rae, the actress, and director/producer of the Awkward Black Girl, among other web series, and whose two videos I posted with my article on Black Twitter–one that parodies Black Twitter, and one from her Ratchetpiece Theater series that provides the reasoning behind my blog piece title.
Within minutes she favorited and re-tweeted my piece, and tweeted me that she was glad to be a small piece of what inspired me to write I Was On Black Twitter and U.O.E.N.O. Twitter is cool like that. Making connections with people you might not ever meet face-to-face in your entire lifetime, but who can give you a little shout out, and you feel noticed; you feel heard.
Black Twitter, White Twitter, Asian Twitter, Latino Twitter, Sports Twitter, Politics Twitter, Celebrity Twitter–all these mini-universes colliding with one another. I am still finding my way through this place, but am grateful for having the opportunity to make greater connections across colorlines with my latest post. I only hope, like my crush, JT, that I’ve done so with authenticity and respect.
Photo Credit: www.mtv.com