I wonder if in 2015, those of Jewish descent, or religion, would ever participate–let alone initiat– a hashtag such as #HolocaustTwitter. Let’s picture it. A social media collective accompanied by memes of slain emaciated bodies on top of each other, as they were in real life concentration camps, with sassy captions like: “I don’t see how you can hate from outside of the club? You can’t even get in. Ha ha ha, Leggo.” (Yes, that’s the intro from Chris Brown‘s “Look At Me Now.”)
Too bad the (attempting to trend big) hashtag of #CivilRightsTwitter didn’t have as similar of a mindful afterthought. During the daytime of December 15, the tag appeared on both Twitter and Instagram. I first noticed it on the IG page of the “theveryblackproject” (it’s since been taken down and replaced with a retraction letter). Instantly, after I viewed the image below, I felt peeved about the “joke” included.
Yeah, it’s funny on the surface. But is it now, actually okay to use Civil Rights ICONS in these kinds of manners? And this was clearly being promoted by a majority of the members of the Black community online. What gives?
I know I may be coming across as extremely sensitive to an otherwise banal and momentary blip in the Black popular culture of 2015. But I will defend my uneasy reaction because I obtain a very high regard for people like Coretta and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their legacies. And to use them and any figures of this era in satirical settings could easily tread on the disrespectful.
The hashtag of #CivilRightsTwitter was no different than when Cedric the Entertainer‘s character in Barbershop mouthed off in a scene in which his apparent superannuated wisdom took a turn for the Borat as he downplayed Rosa Parks as a “did nothing but sit her Black ass down” nobody and that Rodney King should’ve “got his ass beat for driving drunk and grown in a Hyundai.” I’m sure the racists of 2001 loved that scene, which was written by Black screenwriters the way the racists of 1996 just adored Chris Rock’s “Black People v. Niggas” skit. (I will admit. Rock was genius there. But even he has disclosed that racists have used his material far too often to their advantage). The aforementioned scene from Barbershop is so known, it’s one of the chosen clips on the official MovieClips YouTube channel. Why do we find it acceptable to use our past freedom fighters for comedic bait?
In referring back to the IG post, in the comments section, I saw that a Black woman commented that the meme made light of misogyny in the Black community. I tagged her and wrote that in general, I agreed that the post wasn’t cool. Another person in minutes (I couldn’t quite tell if they were male or female as their avatar wasn’t a selfie-type) specifically challenged me on why it was disrespectful because it was common knowledge MLK cheated. I was dumbfounded. So that makes it okay? Do you how many racists under the guise of historians or politicians have tried to discredit King because of cheating allegations? Last year, the New York Times, published an essay focused on an unearthed and uncensored letter that White, male employees of the FBI directly sent MLK, threatening to expose him of his “sexual orgies” and “immoral conduct.” They also labeled him a total fraud. Here are two other choice descriptions the FBI bullied King with: “What incredible evilness” and “evil, abnormal beast.” I’m not defending King as a cheater in any form and I can guarantee that Coretta experienced days that he pissed her the hell off. I know that like any other human being that’s lived, he had some un-saintly ways.
I’m not defending King as a cheater in any form and I can guarantee that Coretta experienced days that he pissed her the hell off. I know that like any other human being that’s lived, he had some un-saintly ways. Ava DuVernay, in her brilliant film Selma, did the right thing in briefly touching upon the cheating accusations. But if we as Americans are going to reference the alleged extramartial affairs of Dr. King, does it have to be from Black Twitter?
I am not so rigid that I can’t take a joke, don’t understand sly or black humor, or creativity intermixed with history. I do and to a fault. Some of the memes under #CivilRightsTwitter were great. I’m also grown enough to admit on paper that maybe I was a bit riled up. But I felt what I felt and it was visceral. Am I flirting with the disaster of coming across too “new Black”? And what about the darker aspect of these jokes? As a woman of color, I pondered how Coretta felt if this really happened. Coretta Scott King, after her husband was assassinated in 1968, maintained his legacy up into her passing in 2006. It is because of her we celebrate MLK’s birthday as a national holiday.
To that same IG commentator that engaged in a tit-for-tat with me, I asked them if #CivilRightsTwitter was productive in the era of #BlackLivesMatter then they claimed I was taking it too deep. That’s when I really got fired up.
The thing is…In the black community, and I’m a part of it as an Afro-Latina woman, we scream and shout for people to hear our cries but sometimes we’re the first ones to perpetuate the negativity. Like, why would anyone think it would be funny or cool to post memes of Malcolm X holding cash with a verse from Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up?” Then we wonder why they love Black culture but not Black people. There’s not even the decency to keep certain subjects and icons off limits. But let Leonardo DiCaprio play MLK, as was rumored to have almost happened if it were up to director Oliver Stone and then people wanna get mad.
What if a GOP candidate used #CivilRightsTwitter against us? Lawd, I can just picture one of them saying this in a debate: “They’re willing to make fun of one of America’s greatest heroes, the great Civil Rights leader Dr. King.”
Social media has shown that it has no limits. Feel free to give me a “duh” here. And yesterday’s hashtag was the rare occasion in which Black Twitter’s usual wit flipped and flopped. Y’all got me fucked up.