Listen to Your Ancestors: Black Twitter’s Memetic Communication in Response to Get Out and Interracial Relationships

Spoilers Ahead!! If you haven’t seen Get Out, Get Out of this post.

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Turn around if you don’t know what’s happening in this  movie still.

“We were past race, guys, what happened?

Race caught up.”

            –     Jordan Peele

 Jordan Peele went from being half of a  comedic duo to social horror auteur seemingly effortlessly. While one can trace the dark and biting punch from Key and Peele’s skits in his film, Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele 2017), along with other films such as Loving and Dear White People focus on what Brandon Harris describes as “brazenly inhabit[ing] the anxieties that surround miscegenation in our still racially stratified country” (New York Times, 2017). While there are many scholars who are closely analyzing this film, there is also another, more unlikely source that that is digesting what Get Out has to say and not only analyzing it but sharing it as well.

Analyzing a social media platform may sound like the vapid quest of a millenial and their lust for avocado toast, but I’d argue that the networking that occurs on these social platforms are an excellent barometer of the zeitgeist of a population, specficially the black population, which is what I am focusing this post on. The phenomenon widely known as Black Twitter describes “a collective of active, primarily African-American Twitter users who have created a virtual community that participates in continuous real-time conversations” (Feminista Jones, 2013).

This works because of the community cultivated based on blackness. Blackness that includes not only African Americans, but the African Diaspora along with the continent of Africa. Black Twitter excels at signifying blackness through memes, vernacular, images, etc. For example in  this meme, the signifier being an image of rihanna’s hair being touched, and the signified being the history of black bodies’ agency being ingored.   “Whilst we share concepts, we do so via signifiers.” Many memes found on BT are shorthand for historical or contemporary topics.  For example this meme is also referencing Solange Knowles’ “Don’t Touch My Hair”. This meme like many others is shared and edited amoung members of BT.

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“Whilst the signifier is more stable, the signified varies between people and contexts.
The signified does stabilize with habit, as the signifier cues thoughts and images” (Changing Minds). The context for understanding the image varies from person to person, but the idea that it is referring to  understood by the in group. Because of this, BT has found a way to define blackness as a way to communicate ideas to other black people on the internet via memetic shorthand.

This practice of communicating  memetic devices to the community as a whole spawns back to days of slavery when, as “African-Americans have historically relied on “alternative” communication styles and underground means to connect and build networks”  (Slate). The use of memes are a way to communicate safety, blackness, and belonging in a hostile and white world. “Black people—specifically, young black people—do seem to use Twitter differently from everyone else on the service. They form tighter clusters on the network—they follow one another more readily, they retweet each other more often”  (Farhad Manjoo Slate).

Now that we have that framework in place, let’s move onto Get Out and how BT dissects the film’s paranoia of being a black person in the US and communicates it to others, showing a slice of the zeitgeist of the black population.

Get Out features a black man dating a white woman, a pairing that historically has very poor representation, usually ending up in the black body being fetishized or the black man  is proven to be unfaithful or unstable and they break up.

Unsurprisingly, Peele’s film is full of  signifiers that black people have worried about when dating a white person or  just being surrounded by whiteness. Very specifically Peele takes things that black people do to feel comfort and subverts them. When Chris is at home, he has Rod who tells him things that let a black audience (who are going to tweet about this) feel at ease or at least laugh at his silliness. However, when he goes to visit Rose’s family, the comforts of solidarity and jokes are denied to chris and the audience.

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This subversion of the proper signifiers of blackness/overcompensation for being white creates an unease, something is off, as described in the review done by the New Yorker– “the movie’s sharp scares, gallows humor, and insidious intelligence are informed by the sensibility, and insistent paranoia, that lurks within the hearts of blacks who must navigate white space” (2017)

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BT’s reactions to this film touch on that ‘insistant paranoia’, and while it’s diffused through humor, it’s still there.

sources:

N/A. “Signifier and Signified”.  Changing Minds. http://changingminds.org/explanations/critical_theory/concepts/signifier_signified.htm

Harris, Brandon. “THE GIANT LEAP FORWARD OF JORDAN PEELE’S “GET OUT”. The New York Times. 2017. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/review-the-giant-leap-forward-of-jordan-peeles-get-out

Jones, Feminista. “Is Twitter the underground railroad of activism?” Salon. 2013. http://www.salon.com/2013/07/17/how_twitter_fuels_black_activism/

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One thought on “Listen to Your Ancestors: Black Twitter’s Memetic Communication in Response to Get Out and Interracial Relationships

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  1. First and foremost, this post was really fun to read. Black Twitter should be all Twitter and in this day and age, pretending that social media isn’t a trove of information in how communities understand and relate their experiences to one another is ridiculous. I’ve seen the ways my white side of the family patronizes my father, who is black, and how they code things that they think but don’t want to say around him because he is dark-skinned (I hear it more explicitly because I’m so much lighter and therefore less threatening). Though they love me and they love my father, their preconceptions around race will sneak up in conversations in subverted ways. One cousin boasted how he was able to call out a co-worker who said his family was full of rich, white people. He was very proud of being able to ask why she assumed all of his family was white to cause her embarrassment. At first listen this sounded like an inclusive story—he made his coworker question her assumptions about race and class. However, the way he told the story made it sound like less of one about inclusivity and fighting stereotypes and more of one where he was able to use his black family members for a “win.” He was able to prove that he was not just any white lawyer from a white neighborhood, but one with a trump card to make him more interesting. Further, a lot of times my white family members will use the association between class and race to say things they aren’t comfortable saying explicitly. For example, they’d never say, “black people have a welfare mentality,” but they often say things like “people from that neighborhood are always involved in crime.” These experiences are clearly felt by a mass of people on black Twitter and by those who identified way too hard with Get Out. Thank you for your post!

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