Twitter Is the New Black Church

“Your eyebrows are on fleek, grandma!”

My eight year old cousin twirled around the house, with a pack of bubblegum in one hand and a Barbie doll in another. My grandmother raised her eyebrows and shifted her gaze to meet mine.

“Fleek?” she asked. “What on earth is that? Where did that come from?”

I shrugged, and thought back to the first time I’d ever heard that strange new word. Twitter. The first time I’d seen the word “fleek” had been years before, while I scrolled my Twitter timeline during one of my lecture halls in college. Struggling to make eye contact with my professor, I would often hop from tweet to tweet, and leave class with a detailed dose of the daily news, trends, slang, and viral videos. I would occasionally have to muffle my laughter when I stumbled across a hilarious thread, or trending topic.

Twitter felt less like a website, and more like a realm. A realm that you could enter, kick up your feet, and stay a while in the good company of like-minded people. There was a built in community, a place to discover the newest trends, fresh music, and dive into serious topics that impacted marginalized communities. Twitter was a sanctuary; a church built from the ground up with walls made of gifs, pulpits carved from trending topics and a bible made up of scriptures that were 140 characters or less.

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The traits of Twitter remind me of the descriptors my grandparents would use to describe their experience with the black church. It was a safe place for black people to gather, after enduring a week of surviving in a country that rejected them in the racially charged ’60s. Women would walk up and down the isles, modeling their boisterous church hats and Sunday best. People would giggle and guffaw outside the church, sharing the latest gossip and catching up on the news. Church members lived their own lives, but always has a safe space to return to. That’s what Twitter became for me. When something outlandish happened on reality TV, when police brutality was on the news, when Moonlight won Best Picture at the Oscars, I couldn’t wait to return to the Twitter timeline to see what the community had to say about it.

In addition to a sense of community for the marginalized, the black church and Twitter have two major things in common. Firstly, they both assist in the creation of American culture. Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and John Legend are just a few examples of powerhouse singers who got their start on the stage of a black church. These individuals have since gone on to impact their respective genres and shift music culture as a whole. Similarly, Twitter has provided America with pop-culture gems including “fleek” by Peaches Monroee, the “Damn Daniel” trend, #OscarsSoWhite trending topic that was instrumental in starting conversation around lack of diversity at the Oscars, #IfIDieInPoliceCustody, and #DabOnThemFolks that had everyone from Cam Newton to Paul Ryan dabbing in photographs.

Secondly, Twitter and the black church have both played a conducive role in propelling forth social justice movements. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke, brainstormed, and organized much of the civil rights movement within the walls of Ebenezer Baptist Church. The black church became the meeting ground for local resistance efforts, and a safe place to process the terrors of the fight for equality. That was for my grandparents, in the 1960s.

For millennials, Twitter became the source for firsthand information regarding modern racial injustice. When Michael Brown was shot dead 10 minutes from my childhood home in North County St. Louis, I rushed to Twitter to find out details of upcoming protests, first hand accounts from my friends, and for trustworthy information. Twitter is where I found out that Darren Wilson was legally vindicated in the killing of Michael Brown. Twitter is where I rushed to in order to mourn the fact that Donald Trump would indeed be the 45th president of the United States. Twitter is the place I’ve learned and processed life changing events in real time. It’s the much needed sanctuary I’ve needed as a queer woman of color living in a tense racial and political climate. The Twitter community has been the congregation that offers prayers and bible study groups in the form of supportive tweets and educational threads.

I never quite found my home within the physical walls of a black church like my parents or grandparents did. I don’t own any loud church hats (though if you find any, feel free to send them my way). Gospel music that shakes the earth with the stomping and praising of a congregation, has not been my life for quite sometime. Being queer, my place in the black church has always been a difficult topic to tackle. As long as my phone is charged though, all I have to do is click on a little blue bird, and I’m welcomed into a digital space that provides the sense of culture, community, and support that any church could.

Whether it’s talking with college students around the country through the #blackoncampus thread, live tweeting the entirety of #thewizlive, or even reviewing Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, Twitter is a sanctuary like no other. It may as well be called Mt. Zion Church of Digital Fellowship or St. Twitter Missionary. Something, anything to signify how important the social network has become for marginalized groups everywhere. My grandparents had their pastor, shouting on stage and invigorating the crowd with hope and a sense of community. For Twitter users such as myself, we have digital sermons of pop culture and social justice lead by Twitter favorites like Ijeoma Oluo, Khaled Beydoun, Samuel Sinyangwe, and Roxane Gay.

I look forward to the day that my kids open their history book, point to a little blue cartoon bird and ask “Mom, what’s a Twitter?” Hopefully, they’ll ask what “fleek” means too.

Cami Thomas is a blogger, marketer, and big sister based in St. Louis Missouri. A Loyola New Orleans graduate, Cami now resides in the midwest with a full time job as a Field Marketing Specialist by day, and blogger/Batman in training by night. Read articles and watch webisodes by Cami Thomas at Forthecultureblog.com & follow on Instagram and Twitter.

Cami has written 2 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! As a young Black and gay college grad, I can certainly relate to how you feel. I’ve participated in lots of discussions about why the Black Church isn’t what it used to be, but I never thought about where the new church could be for us.

    • Kenzie, so glad you can relate! I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while. It goes to show that black LGBT people NEED a safe space, but will create our own if the ones we have are not inclusive (ex, many churches). I wonder how different my life would have been, had it not been for Twitter.

  2. This has been my exact experience with Twitter, and the main reason I haven’t been able to leave it despite the fact that it’s become a such a source of stress lately. This is where the culture lives. Black Twitter (and, let’s be real, Black Twitter IS Twitter) gives me a sense of solidarity in these troubled times, and it’s just as often an escape from them.

    Something else that occurred to me reading this. Just as black churches were (and are — look at Charleston) remorselessly targeted by white supremacists, Twitter has become overrun with racist trolls who dox activists, spam hateful slurs and images, and threaten violence. It doesn’t always feel like a safe space anymore.

    Plenty’s been said about Twitter’s bizarre indifference to their abuse problem, but honestly it doesn’t surprise me. Whatever Twitter’s (white) creators envisioned when they built this platform, I’m sure it wasn’t a giant cookout for young black people. Rampant hate must be more palatable for them than an online space they feel excluded from.

  3. Couldn’t agree more! Honestly, lately Twitter has stressed me out a bit (Trump tweets, more black lives lost, international turmoil is a lot to handle on a daily basis), but I know it’s still a “place” I need to check into on a regular basis to help balance me out. It most certainly does give me a sense of solidarity. Plus a humor break lol the trending topics that go viral on black twitter legitimately have me cracking up laughing on a regular basis.

    That’s an interesting observation. In regards to Twitter trolls, I remember when #MartinLutherKingAlsoSaid was filled with informative and uplifting tweets from MLK, showing that he wasn’t the passive, kumbya dude that history has whitewashed. Soon though, it was taken over, and it was hard to sift through the racists tweets.

    Dorsey and the Twitter crew are probably in a rough position balancing free speech rights with straight up abuse. I do hope something’s figured out soon though, before the most loyal community decides to make camp elsewhere.

    Find me on Twitter though! @camicruzthomas, we can tweet some lighthearted #blackgirlmagic/#blackboyjoy to combat all this craziness in the news.

  4. The United Methodist Church has been having a rough time lately after the Rocky Mountain region elected an out lesbian as their bishop last year. Last week, a hearing determined that Bishop Karen Oliveto could not be a bishop. Immediately following this hearing she spoke at a seminary in Denver as she had previously been scheduled to preach there.

    Many local people involved in the UMC and students at the Iliff School of Theology prepared something in honor of the occasion. One such ‘something’ was a spoken word piece performed by a black gay woman. It’s absolutely stunning. I could not find her name but here is a direct link to the performance that pours from her soul:

    One part stood out to me so much that I can remember it clearly a day later. “You want to be more like Jesus/but instead of walking on water/you walk on our backs”

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