Twitter, Gene, and Plain Old Mean

In 2005, I was directing a Student Support Services program at the Southwestern Penn State campus in the city of McKeesport. That year a Black student came to my office and told me that she was having trouble with a fellow Black woman on campus because of something she put on Facebook. My next question to her now reverberates through my mind on a regular basis. “What is Facebook?”

I remember thinking of it as a better GUI version of MySpace. Less messy. Less weird. I am still sad for my former self at just how wrong I was.

I have participated in some platforms I thoroughly enjoy and others I didn’t. I usually walk away from the ones that sweep clouds over people. There will always be suspicion on Snapchat, intimidation on Instagram, pandering on Pinterest, and of course, toxicity on Twitter. But when those elements’ algorithmic power become more pervasive than any sunshine, I take a break.

Yesterday I had another moment that pushed me there. I was enjoying a back and forth with a woman I truly admire. Her name is Minda Harts and her book, The Memo, is a staple of my professional life. When The Memo came across my desk, I was frustrated with feeling simultaneously invisible and conspicuous at work. I would often find myself, as my dear friend Jay Mal says, the only chip in what was purported to be a chocolate chip and M&M cookie of an organization or institution, the bakers’ version of diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, when I read Harts’ very first chapter and found that she had studied and spent time with the everyday micro-aggressions and occupational hierarchy of being a woman of color in the workforce, I had a very hefty dose of relaxing, relating, and releasing that helped me reframe my notions of professional identity and what I had to accept.

There were many other outlets that lifted me as well. Elaine Welteroth, Brittany Cooper, Jenna Wortham, Wesley Morris, Nikole Hannah Jones, Malkia Devich Cyril, and dope queens Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams. I created an island of books, podcasts, art, and more books where I was free to affirm and see my experiences as valid. I decided that it was perfectly fine for me to miss the latest superhero installment (not Black Panther or Luke Cage though) to get content I could see myself and my loved ones in…Black content, femme content, queer content, disabled content, bilingual content (mezanmi woy), spiritually free content, and code-switched content. NPR’s Codeswitch was one of my favorites.

Minda Harts tweeted that she was shooting her shot for the Codeswitch host gig and I was excited for her. I did something I like to do on Twitter. I told people how wonderful I think she is. This is hard for me. I am not an easy audience at all. My manner is tough. My life has been rough. If I thought something was dope, I felt cautious about saying so because I have been wrong and I have been hurt. I am now in a season of having the courage to admire and love and feel and laugh and allow joy an expansive space. I recognized the roughness and loss in my life as forces that would steal that joy if I couldn’t be brave enough to express adoration. I tweeted to the NPR Codeswitch account that I wanted to nominate her for the position. I like poking fun of professionalisms and professional coding on Twitter. I welcome enlightening disagreement and I love deep dives. I probably tweet more threads than I should. I am probably more passionate about things I like than many can handle. I can accept that. I’m ok with feedback. I had a Black mom from Newark, New Jersey and I have a PhD from a PWI. Critique away! I’m good. But, after a lifetime of allowing people in real life aggress me and others around me, disrespect and making people feel small or unimportant or stupid or unworthy feels like the most loathsome of acts. I feel like that younger version of myself getting beat up for not being cool. That person did not defend herself well. But, as Mary J. Blige puts it, that is my baby. And I try to live my life today in gratitude to her for all she endured. I also try to live in a way that makes the future version of me less traumatized, less bullied, and less regretful for not having stood up for myself when I should have.

The Codeswitch co-host, Gene Demby, quoted my mock nomination tweet in a display of dismissal and belittling that, frankly, took my breath away. It had been there for hours before I saw it. I had been planning a workshop on intergroup dialogue with a Latina friend who I adore. I had been doing a presentation on sexism, racism, and Black women’s body memory with another dear friend. I had spent the day in solidarity with womxn of color working for justice at educational institutions and other organizations. I was working and living. I hadn’t seen that at 10 am, Gene Demby started a drag of me and my “nominee” complete with bluecheck arrogance and pickme cosigners. I dropped my end systemic racism tiny purse on the floor, looked out the window at the driveway where my Jetta used to sit, and my daughter’s voice telling me about her school’s soft lockdown earlier in the week started to fade. I felt small. And I felt betrayed by an outlet that was supposed to care about my voice. I made my points. I told him how I had donated that Jetta that used to sit in my driveway to my local NPR station to support shows like Codeswitch and I pushed the big bluecheck dude to have an actual conversation with me on the show. He blocked me from his own account and the NPR Codeswitch one.

And then that purple taste filled my mouth. You know the one that is more dye than grape and somehow gets under your tastebuds? Disgusted. Sad. Not for me but for Minda Harts who didn’t deserve to have such a happy fun moment of Twitter banter get turned into a roll call of the very treatment she describes in her books. Minda Harts, I am so sorry this turned out this way. I would unring the bell if I could. But maybe that was never the plan. Maybe ancestors blew this whole situation here as a kiss of love and care. Maybe Gene needs a whole different kind of colleague. Maybe you do, too. And maybe I need new Twitter protocols.

After all this, I asked myself what a scale back could look like? Students I work with suggested I should not have responded to Gene’s tweets. Family say I must remember that none of that is real. Others say get off Twitter. I’m going to think carefully about it. I could refrain from mentioning people or orgs I don’t personally know. I could be a read-only account. I could be a positive-vibes-only account (well I was trying to be positive when this all went down) but anyway, I could change absolutely nothing and let it go. You know why that might be best? You know why none of this matters to me? Because…

BRIAN BROOME WON A KIRKUS PRIZE LAST NIGHT (I would use exclamation points but he’s not super fond of those). And Punch Me Up To The Gods being recognized for its brilliance is exactly what the (anti)social media doctor ordered for me. One love.