The Odd Habits and Foibles of Sexy Black Women on the Internet.

Joel Johnson at Gizmodo decides to “stalk” a black girl on Twitter:

I realized most of my Twitter friends are like me: white dorks. So I picked out my new friend and started to pay attention.

She’s a Christian, but isn’t afraid of sex. She seems to have some problems trusting men, but she’s not afraid of them, either. She’s very proud of her fiscal responsibility. She looks lovely in her faux modeling shots, although I am surprised how much her style aligns with what I consider mall fashion when she’s a grown woman in her twenties. Her home is Detroit and she’s finding the process of buying a new car totally frustrating. She spends an embarrassing amount of time tweeting responses to the Kardashian family.

Sometimes I find her faith charming; other times it is frustratingly childish. “Thanks Lord for letting me see another day!” can be followed by a retweeted “God is THE MAN!” All that can be followed by jokes about someone being a “squirter” in bed. I try not to extrapolate about her culture from just one person’s Twitter stream, but that’s also sort of exactly what makes following a random person so interesting. Are black Christians more open about their sexuality? Young people? Northern people? I’ve just got this single data point, but it’s more than I had before.

If you’ve been reading PostBourgie for a while, perhaps you’ll be familiar with a really important part of our ethos: “Blackness is a fuzzy, complicated thing, and we’d really like to discourage essentializing it, policing it, legislating it, or lambasting folks for showing insufficient fealty to some goofy, arbitrary Negro ideal.” On the flip side, this necessarily means that we don’t support the notion that there is an observable, universal “black culture.”

The fact that Johnson says he tries “not to extrapolate about her culture” based on her tweets suggests that his first inclination is to do so. Let me explain why this is racially problematic, even if that’s not the intention: you don’t learn about “black culture” by following a “sexy black woman” on Twitter. You learn a little about that particular woman. And even though Johnson suggests this is about making friends, what he’s really doing is this. Or, as my tall, white internet friend Ann Friedman writes (in a totally baller post) for Feministing:

She’s not his friend. She’s just someone he creeps on the Internet, in the name of diversity. And his description of this woman is kinda, well, creepy. It’s not an invasion of privacy per se — presumably her tweets are all public, or she approved him as a follower. But he describes her — on a very highly trafficked blog, I might add — as if she’s a rare creature.

After reading Johnson’s post, I couldn’t stop shuddering. My reaction was basically: “ew, ew, ew! needashowernow!” I was creeped out by the post because it read as though Johnson thought he was in a room of white dudes who don’t know any black women, and he was holding court while describing The Odd Habits and Foibles of Sexy Black Women on the Internet. But instead of doing this in a private space, he did it on a well-read blog, a blog that I — not a white dude — read semi-regularly (though less so after all the bowing and scraping to Apple).

Calling her tweets about God “charming” and “childish” is creepy. Talking about how he enjoys looking at the pictures she sends to other guys is creepy. Focusing in on how sexy she is, when we have a history in Western culture of black women being treated as hypersexual creatures is creepy and sexist. And the exotification of this woman is creepy and racist. It’s not lynchmob racist, or job-discrimination racist, or even “black people suck” racist. It’s the kind of racism that’s casual and common and doesn’t technically ‘hurt’ anyone, so its defenders would have us believe it isn’t racism. But it is. And it matters.

You see, Johnson isn’t interested in getting to know this woman. He’s interested in picking up “data points” about her and figuring out how he can use those to make blanket statements about sexy women, black women, black church-going women, northerners, whatever.

We can play that game, too. Ann, again:

After reading this enlightening blog post I realized that white tech dudes are underrepresented in my social network. So I picked out my new friend (Joel Johnson, naturally!) and started paying attention.

He’s a single white tech writer, but has taken pains to make clear that he’s! had! sex! He seems to have some problems seeing women as three-dimensional people, but he’s not a total misogynist, either. He’s very proud of his writing ability. He has a lovely shock of blond hair, although I am surprised how much his style is still predictable-hipster-douche when he’s older than 30. His home is Eugene, Oregon but he’s in the process of moving to Portland. He spends an embarrassing amount of time tweeting about Apple products.

So. I’m a single, sexy black woman on the internet. I’m currently reading a book of science fiction short stories from the 1970s while I take the bus to and from work. I think Kim Kardashian is beautiful and boring. I don’t know anything about religion. I sometimes say “innanet” and use black vernacular. I’m also a bunch of other things that you may or may not discover through my tweets. None of these things makes me more or less special than any other woman, of any color, online. They’re mostly just markers of my particular version of a middle-class black background and they make me, me. If someone is following me to discover things about black people because they don’t know any black people in real life, then they’re probably not getting their money’s worth. They’ll learn a lot about me, something about Howard alumni and AKAs, a little bit about the black folks that I share a background with, and nothing about any overarching “black culture.” If they followed me and five of my closest black female friends on Twitter, they’d find this out even more quickly.

I’m willing to bet that Johnson had good intentions while composing his post. Diversity, yay! But the execution is where it falls apart. That woman he follows is not a person to him, she’s a creature in the internet zoo, and it makes me shudder to think that there are more people out there like him. But then again, to borrow from Ta-Nehisi’s post yesterday — I’ve no desire to “petition motherfuckers for my humanity.” The people who enter into new relationships online in good faith reveal themselves over time, and those who don’t write posts like Johnson’s.

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17 comments to The Odd Habits and Foibles of Sexy Black Women on the Internet.

  • Val

    There’s nothing new about this. It used to be that clueless Whites would use Black people on television as their entree into Blackness. Now some are using Twitter. The result is the same.

    And it’s interesting that he picked a Black woman who he didn’t get rather than finding one that say was a nerd and into writing about Apple products. I think that shows that he was looking for differences rather than similarities to begin with.

  • zac

    Because this is a Gawker blog, you need to read a fair amount of sarcasm and irony into that post. I’m fairly certain he’s using that stereotype to talk about some other issue, not actually performing cultural assessments based on this one person. He mentions that statement that most people on Twitter are black and then links to that important-looking person’s Twitter, so it probably has something to do with that. I don’t understand what he’s trying to say in this post, and don’t have enough interest in Gizmodo to go back and chart it through previous posts. I will say, though, that it’s not worth employing a stereotype that is obviously hurtful to some to make his point. I still think it’s racist, just not in the way you describe.

  • Darth Paul

    “He has a lovely shock of blond hair, although I am surprised how much his style is still predictable-hipster-douche when he’s older than 30.”

    I’m cryin!

    I would like to know why techietwerps really believe your twitter/FB/whatnot content is the sum of your personality (and in this case, your ethnic identity). It may well be the sum of THEIR personality, but it definitely doesn’t apply to all.

    • Rainne

      Probably because for a lot of them, Twitter really IS the sum of their existence. There is a certain type of person for whom Internet interaction is the be-all and end-all of existence because it’s the only place where they can really be their true selves. These people, btw, are mostly a$$holes.

  • Russ

    I find it interesting that it is an extremely creepy post that basically follows the default “Women are made for men’s viewing” format. I find it surprising that there are so few comments on how sexist his post is.

  • Russ

    By comments I meant on the gawker site, not here.

  • Mimi

    On a less creepy note, I was watching Top Chef last night and both of the Black women were the objects of attraction from non-Black, male cast members. This was discussed so matter of fact, without a hint of race being part of the discussion. I marveled at this because of the normal way this all played out. Other non-white cast members refereed to the ladies as cute and attractive at various times. So far these ladies have behaved normally, like people we would know in real life.

    I was happy to see this and sad because I couldn’t really come up with another example of this on a show not aimed only at a Black audience.

    • Darth Paul

      I’m seeing more of that off-screen, actually- zero fetishization and minimal creep factor (for some guys, there’s always a creep index).

  • Cosign, in full. I think the point about good intentions is really crucial—I’d be willing to bet that Johnson was completely bewildered by the reaction his piece got. Many people like him, people who spend the vast majority of their social time in completely or almost-completely white environments, probably have no idea how to diversify their networks gracefully. This is part of why I’m a bit hesitant to pile on the snark, even though dude clearly invites it with his cluelessness: I believe the originating impulse can be rechanneled in a constructive direction. Of course that requires a great deal of forbearance from those of us for whom these things are second nature, but that’s the price we have to pay to change minds.

  • I think Joel was trying to be ironic and adapt the role of “Hipster Cultural Anthropologist” in trying to break down “A Black Girl” and her Tweets. Since he’s going for yucks with his fellow White, male, nerds – there wasn’t going to be much room for sensitivity on this subject.

    I get the off-putting vibe when I read Vice Magazine – so called sophisticated humor with POC being the butt of most of the “irony…”

  • JMS

    Friendship is a two-way street. Announcing that someone else is your friend is creepy. Announcing it to your readership is extra-creepy. Sharing your opinion of their personal appearance in gruelling detail just adds the cherry to the top of the creepy sundae.

  • “baller”? Ew. You kids and your disgusting slang.

  • Patrick

    Oh, man I just flashed on the fun that could be made of my weak-assed, ignorant shit. Ouch.

    But I read “not going to petition motherfuckers for my humanity.” I’ll try to carry that with me.

  • Tania

    If this girl was to walk down the street and pass this white guy or a young black male, which would accept her rebuff or spit at her and call her a bitch. This is 2010. White guys are NOT the enemy.

  • [...] Everytime I read this blog, I am struck by how much I have to learn about race relations in America. This post is no exception. [The Odd Habits and Foibles of Sexy Black Women on the Internet] [...]

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