I first logged on to Twitter in 2009. I was (and still am) a Black man, the first in his family to attend and graduate college. By proxy, my pursuit of post-bachelor education was also a family milestone. This is more or less an elongated way to say whatever privilege people think Black men have, I was likely in possession of it. And if I had to personify the care I wielded the privilege, it’d look a lot like a shirtless JR Smith in Las Vegas.
I thought I was the “last of the mohicans” when it came to “good Black men.” I was a single, childless, and ambitious. I was broke, but the illusion of a six figure salary to follow after my law degree made for an intoxicating boost of hubris. In short, I was kind of a dick. I thought I knew everything and I thought I was smarter than everybody.
Until I got to Twitter.
Twitter, for all of its faults, has done a masterful job of grabbing people from all over the world and putting them within arms reach. While it can occasionally get bogged down in politics, pettiness, and Michael Jordan memes, Twitter may very well possess more information within it than all of the encyclopedias in the world’s largest libraries combined. With so many thoughts and ideas in one easily readable space, one’s worldview can expand. That expansion has an intimate relationship with the person’s willingness to be receptive. And after a while, that’s exactly what I started to be.
I’ve been through enough unfortunate events on Twitter to give Lemony Snicket a run for his money, but one of the best examples I can provide about my growth is my stance on rape. My opinions on rape were, at best, wholly ignorant.
I threw my lot in with the “women can avoid being raped by not doing this” coalition. My tweet rant on that particular day was a series of “warnings” to women on how NOT to be sexually assaulted. I’d long held the belief that rapists were men secretly hiding in the bushes to jump out on unsuspecting women as opposed to the brothers, fathers, friends, and roommates — men the victims know quite well — they mostly are. I thought I was helping. I was wrong.
The women responded to my erroneous thought process with words and phrases that would make even the darkest among us blush bright red. It was a brilliant lesson on how male privilege rendered me ignorant on the struggles and survival tactics women employed on a daily basis. In hindsight, I should’ve spent more time reading and obtaining information than throwing out any form of preventative maintenance, but, I foolishly thought I knew everything. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the first time I’d get my “jaw tapped” for having the wrong opinion.
Growing up in my neighborhood, words like “gay” and“faggot” would drop randomly in conversations like Acme anvils from the sky. “Gay” somehow became synonymous with “disapproving,” so anytime something happened we didn’t like, it’d be “gay.” If we wanted to go to the movies and we didn’t have any money? Gay. If we wanted to hoop and there was nobody to hoop with? Gay. If we got into a fight and wanted to incite the other person to violence, calling them a “faggot ass nigga” was a sure-fired method to expedite any delayed ass-whoopings.
I didn’t have any friends from the LGBTQ community prior to Twitter and if I did, they weren’t “out” yet. Social media put me in direct contact with people gay/bisexual people. I never considered myself homophobic, but I most certainly made use of homophobic language. When I was younger, there were no checks and balances so I wasn’t fully aware of how those words affected them.
As my social circle has expanded, I’m aware of how my previous predilection for that sort of speech would be at odds with those relationships. I don’t know that I would’ve ever had that revelation had I not made friends who happen to be gay and I’m not sure I would’ve ever made those friends if it had not been for Twitter.
The biggest leap I’ve made within the last seven years though, has been my thoughts and feelings on Black women. To say that the relationship between Black men and Black women on there can be tenuous is akin to saying the Game of Thrones book series is “pretty long.” I perceived there was a canyon-sized chasm between Black men and Black women. However, it turns out it was mostly between smart and sane people vs fuckboys and faux intellectuals. Still, there's something to be said about the way Black women generally have our backs and how many of them feel that loyalty isn't reciprocated. And, more than any other medium, Twitter helped educate and enlighten me. Particularly in regards to feminism — which is ultimately just the concept that men and women are…equals. It’s what introduced me to people like Feminista Jones, @Awkward_Duck, Netta, Jamilah Lemieux, and countless other women who introduced me to ideas I’d have never considered.
Twitter has vastly improved other aspects of my life, too. I read an average of 7-10 articles a day because they’re on the timeline. And the improvements haven't all been all serious and/or political. @ChefResha’s mac and cheese recipe was with me the first time I ever made it.
In effect, Twitter has not only made me more self-aware but it’s also made me self-critical. It’s really opened my eyes up to a world beyond the one I inhabit in "real" life.
Garfield Hylton is a Florida based freelance writer and editor. He spends most of his days writing articles for The Smoking Section at Uproxx while contributing long-form articles to Abernathy Magazine and Seven Scribes. When he's not arguing with people on Twitter he's thinking of all the ways he can become a New York Times bestseller.