Instead, the ones that seem to hit big are those that comment on race, love, sex, and stereotypes about black culture. Many read like Jeff Foxworthy's "You might be a redneck …" routine applied to black people—for instance, last December's #ifsantawasblack (among the tamer contributions: "#ifsantawasblack he wouldnt say ho ho ho, he would say yo yo yo") or July's #ghettobabynames (e.g., "#ghettobabynames Weavequisha.") The bigger reason why the Dozens theory isn't a silver bullet is that a lot of people of all races insult one another online generally, and on Twitter specifically. We don't usually see those trends hit the top spot. Why do only black people's tweets get popular? ...
Now for the caveats. There is an obvious problem with talking about how black people use Twitter, as many of the black Twitter users I spoke to took pains to point out: Not all black people on the service are participating in these hashtags, and there are probably a great many who are indifferent to or actively dislike the tags. "It's the same issue I have with certain black comedy shows," says Elon James White, a comedian who runs the site This Week in Blackness. "They put out these ideas of blackness that—if it were someone of another race saying them—you'd go, 'Whoa, that's racist!'" ...
Given that these hashtags are occurring in a subgroup of black people online, it is probably a mistake to take them as representative of anything larger about black culture. "For people who aren't on the inside, it's sort of an inside look at a slice of the black American modes of thought," says Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, also a former writer at The Root. "I want to be particular about that—it's just a slice of it. Unfortunately, it may be a slice that confirms what many people already think they know about black culture."
For one thing, how much do blacks want to act white?
They not only like being black, they like to talk about being black with other blacks. They have one of the more homogeneous cultures in the world, in part because they are constantly discussing being black with each other.
The assumption that black students will look at their workaholic white Teach for America teacher and say, "Man, that's the life for me!" seems a tad naive.
The reigning theory is that white culture will rub off on blacks by osmosis, but there is precious little evidence to back it up. Indeed, exposure to white people just makes blacks focus more on their blackness.
I've had this discussion with New Zealand professor James Flynn (of The Flynn Effect), who provides the conventional wisdom with whatever social science heft it has. If, like Flynn, you really want to change the environment for blacks enough to raise their IQ scores, well, then, you would have to make them embarrassed about acting black. You would have to make them want to compete for the regard of white people by acting white, the way Berry Gordy had his Motown stars, like The Supremes, take lessons in proper decorum.
And, these days, which whites, exactly, are volunteering for the job of making blacks feel ashamed that they aren't acting white? How much prestige and social approval would you receive for taking on that onerous task?
Instead of blacks competing for white approval, whites today compete with each other over how much they approve of blacks.
Not surprisingly, that doesn't do much to improve black behavior.