A Letter to My Twitter Followers: 28-Years Silent, As A Black Man
I hated social media, but in August of 2010 I signed up for Twitter.
I was writing for a start-up website by the name of Sports Haze.* The young businessman had asked me to start a Twitter account to promote the site. Reluctantly, I did. At the time, I didn’t even have a Facebook account. But, in order to promote the site, and my work, I set up a Facebook and a Twitter account.
My first followers were others who wrote for the site, followed by an influx of Philadelphia sports fans. At Sports Haze, there were writers from every part of the country — and even overseas. We tried to cover the entire spectrum of sports. A good chunk of those writers still follow me, today. At the time, I tweeted about NBA and MLB, mostly. After accumulating about 125 followers, I started getting the hang of these weird post-stuff-for-nobody-to-read sites. That’s how I viewed it at the time, anyway. A year later, after a stroke of luck, I had been posting Eagles and Sixers articles on Yahoo! Sports, too. My social media following increased exponentially in that small period. After 300 followers, my Twitter experience changed drastically. When I reached 1,500, it changed drastically, again.
From 2010 until about 2014, if you followed me, I’d mostly tweeted about sports — Philly sports — and other random things. I’d say by 2013, I had learned to engage with followers, reach out to others, and make the most of my experiences. It was fun. I got to use it as an experimental ground, of sorts; a place to people-watch. I met people of similar interests, found endless sources of laughter and (other people’s) drama. I had even found a few new job opportunities.
But, in 2014, my Twitter-tone changed quite a bit.
Before 2014, you’d be pressed to find any tweets about race or white people. I’ve seen followers send subtweets asking what caused such a drastic change in my tweets.
Well, here’s the story.
The change in my tone on Twitter from 2014–2016 was a calculated decision.
Many may not know, but I grew up in a relatively conservative Christian family. It’s sometimes weird to be Black and very religious. I grew up with many views that align with the right. My mother used to get along with the police in the neighborhood. But, growing up Black also came with knowing that I had more of an opportunity to be shot by police. So, it was this wonky amalgamation of left and right views. At the same token, I was taught that if I stayed out of the police’s crosshairs, I’d be okay. Or, if I found myself a subject of their authority, follow their orders to stay safe. (Which I’d learn first hand wasn’t necessarily true.)
I had grown up knowing friends from the projects who always had encounters with the police, and due to my conservative(ish) background, my thoughts would be “follow the law, and you won’t have that problem.”
This was my basic approach. The contrary reality of this belief was everywhere for me to see, but, I guess, belief is belief. Although it had always bothered me that I was more susceptible to police violence, I felt that the belief had been working for me. It kept me alive, right? And it didn’t seem to hurt anything. Sure, you are more likely to be viewed as a threat, but c’est la vie.
Racial injustices, like this, were just a fact of life — a fact that I had grown to accept.
When I moved out of the house to New York City, in 2005, and experienced being on my own, I felt the first shockwave of extreme fear. I was out with my friends in Queens, one night. Nothing crazy, just bowling and billiards. We had stayed out late, and my trip back to Brooklyn made my night, in particular, even later. When I woke up the next morning, I caught wind of a terrifying story on the news. Not too far from where I was hanging out the night before, a young unarmed Black man, just a few years older than me, was shot at about fifty times. He was set to be married the next day.
His name was Sean Bell, and he was killed by NYPD in 2006. The thought of that shooting kept me up at night for a couple weeks. People I cared about in his community and throughout the city were very distraught. It was distressing. I had actually stopped going out with my friends for a couple months. Unreasonable? Maybe. But, I needed the time.
Despite that traumatic realization, I kept a passive approach to this issue. I honestly didn’t know what to think. ‘It’s in god’s hands’ I thought to myself. Nothing I could do. There was no reason to do anything other than ‘not fan the flames.’
Of course, since that time, more less-than-famous accounts of unarmed Black men being shot popped up. It’s commonplace. But, in 2012, when Trayvon Martin was killed, I just knew there’d be justice on that. I was sure.
I had no idea how wrong I’d be. The acquittal of George Zimmerman sent a shockwave through the Black community like I had never seen in my lifetime. People I knew personally shed tears over the verdict. It was a new low in how unjust things were, in America. Right there, my pre-2006 to 2012 government (including the police) fear had turned into a bit of anger. How could this wanna-be-cop get away with this?
During the Zimmerman case, I had been on social media for two years. The racism on Twitter and Facebook embedded deep impressions on me. I had no clue this many vile people still existed. Honestly.
Still, I stuck to the passive don’t-hurt-anybody’s-feelings approach. To 26-year-old me, that’s what a forgiving Christian was.
After Trayvon, things settled back down, again. My sports tweets abounded. The Phillies were on a decline, the mediocre Andre Igoudala-led Sixers had reached their amazing apex, beating the Chicago Bulls first round, and then taking the Celtics a full seven games to only narrowly miss the Eastern Conference Finals. (Which lead to the subsequent Trust The Process era.)It was a less-than-stellar sports year in Philly, to say the least.
As per the usual, it took no time for a new state-sponsored problem to hit the Black community.
In 2014 Mike Brown was killed by Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, on Canfield Dr.— and four months later Brandon Tate-Brown was killed by Philadelphia police officer Nicholas Carelli on Frankford Ave.
My community — the Black community — was upset, once again. And the response, or lack thereof, from mostly-apathetic Whites around the country, became too much to internalize, anymore. Even the responses of personal friends became unbearable; people I considered decent folks who would care about, at least, my concerns and feelings. None of them empathized, or they barely did.
It was around then a random thought caught me off guard: Vince, how could your friends and those who interact with you know how you feel? You certainly didn’t say shit. That’s when I determined that my life-long silence did no one any good.
As someone who had never said much about race or oppression before 2014, they probably just figured I was jumping onto a ‘race-baiting’ bandwagon movement. But, to hell with a movement, they hadn’t seen the progression of my sadness, fear, long-suffering and anger. I was too busy looking out for their comfort; too focused on a false-representation of ‘forgiveness’.
While the idea of forgiving and not causing trouble, I believe, was a noble idea, and something that’s admittedly etched into the fiber of who I am, my overall internalizing all of those emotions served no one any good.
Around August 11, 2014, on Twitter, that shit was all over with. And like the ash plume of a volcano, the mincing of words exploded into the atmosphere.
Suddenly, the Phillies/Sixers sports writing tweeter turned into a scathing voice of my community.
This took place for about a solid two years. It was calculated, and it had a purpose. (If you’re curious as to the things I’ve said, you can probably just search “@HeckPhilly White People” on Twitter. lol)
The intention wasn’t to oppose White people, or even police. The idea of it was to say what I felt needed to be said without the burden of offending the fragility of White Privilege. These two years have afforded me time to get used to speaking up for myself and my community, and re-calibrating how I deal with these very real problems in ways other than being a damn wallflower.
In 2017, I’ve made an extra effort to balance my tweets out with a bit more tact, and only administer the scathing truth on an as-needed basis.
There’s enough learning to go around for all of us, and I appreciate everyone who’s been around for the entire seven years of my social media presence.
Here’s to another seven evolving years of Sixers tweets, science tweets, and other random things, including unadulterated Donald Trump hate. (Barring Trump doesn’t kill us.)
*The Sports Haze domain is still used, but I’m almost certain it’s not the same website I wrote for.