Hacktivists and activists, black twitter and black lives matter hashtags are all over social media but what do they mean to black millennials? A recent report by The Black Youth Project entitled “Black Millennials in America” delves into these questions. The ongoing 10 year study shows how and why black millennials are becoming more politically engaged on the net and in the streets.
The Black Youth Project is a wide ranging study conducted by the University of Chicago. It started as a depository of information about black millennials. It now has three main areas of focus: research, articles and action. Millennials are loosely categorized as people being born between 1980 and 2000. University of Chicago PhD student and managing editor the project, Jenn Jackson, said this study reflects opinions you don’t see anywhere else.
“Typically those surveys are going to be comprised of mostly white Americans. And it’s typically middle-aged and older white Americans. So what this survey is focusing doing is focusing on younger Latino, and Black and Asian millennials. And getting their perspective across a broad number of political issues.”
The mainstream press has reported frequently on the prevalence of social media usage among black millennials. This was also an unsurprising find of the Black Millennials in America study. According to the study 75% of black millennials get their news primarily from social media through things like black twitter. Jackson said black twitter is a reaction to systematic alienation across generation in the media.
“They are voices that are articulating sometimes unpopular, sometimes invisible; often non mainstream perspective about Black American lived experiences at this point of history.”
Eric Deggans, NPR TV critic and author of the book, Race Baiter, points out that different types of media play different roles. Take for instance, the media coverage of the Trevon Martin case, saw print tackling the who, what, where and why. Television focused on the emotion. And social media was about activism. Deggans warns social media can have its drawbacks.
“The unfortunate thing sometimes is that social media is quick to react; which means it can sometimes be quick to overreact or it can be quick to react to misinformation or incorrect facts. You do have to be careful about that sometimes.”
Nonetheless, said Deggans, without black twitter some stories might not even make it to the mainstream media.
“You often find that with Black Twitter. Where black folk will be taking to each other about something there long before it reaches the mainstream awareness. And sometimes it reaches the mainstream awareness because Black Twitter is on it first.”
Black millennials and black twitter seem to be inextricably tied together for the foreseeable future. But Jenn Jackson of the University of Chicago’s Black Youth Project, said black twitter is more than just a passive hashtag retweet.
“The goal of activism in the work is that the hashtag just brings us together. The hashtag just raises the awareness. It tells us; ‘hey, this is the information you need to know.’ And after that, we are supposed to go out into the world and do work. The hashtag’s not work. But the hashtag does help; it does seed that work. I think in a lot of cases we won’t necessarily be able to do the work without the origins of the hashtag. Telling us; ‘hey, this is what’s going on in Baltimore. This is what’s going on at Mizzou (University of Missouri). This is what’s going on in Texas. These are important things for us to know and that’s what the hashtag does for us.”