This past Saturday night, I received a link to the site For Harriet that carried a post about AOL Black Voices’ gossip blogger Jawn Murray’s tweets directed at presumed critics of Tyler Perry. Apparently, Murray had seen a preview of Perry’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls” and in his support of Perry decided to call the naysayers “nappy-headed” and “militants.” If that were not enough, in a second tweet he further insults black women by telling them to have their hair permed as a remedy, I suppose, for their criticism of Perry’s film.
Shange’s work is a part of black literary canon. It continues to be required reading in many literature, African American studies and women’s studies classes. I would venture to say that it has been performed and adapted for stage far more times than the Vagina Monologues. Black actresses such as Lynn Whitfield and Alfre Woodard (both have appeared in Perry films) have cut their teeth on “for colored girls.” Like it or not, it is that important of a literary work for concern to be expressed about how Perry or anyone would adapt it for the big screen. Perry, himself, has stated his personal fear of doing an injustice to Shange’s choreo-poem. But he has yet to publicly attack his critics, which leaves me puzzled as to why Murray would need to do so publicly.
In a video on YouTube.com, which has since been made private, Jawn Murray says that the tweets were only a joke that fell flat. He made nice, stating that this was a “learning experience” for him, and that he’s a “black brother who loves black women.”
However, here is another *tweet from Murray’s account and dated October 20:
There’s only a couple of ways to take a Twitter rant that includes the words “nappy-headed,” “militant,” and “angry” references to women. “Joke” and “out of context” are not two of them. For Harriet has done an amazing job of placing Mr. Murray’s tweets within a context of offensive and off-color, I’d like to place them within a context of social media recklessness.
How do you sing the praises of a movie in the name of its filmmaker without regard for the empowering message of the original choreo-poem? The book and the movie build black women up. To insult a faction of women who’ve expressed disdain for Tyler Perry or who have questioned whether he can pull off a credible adaption is to insult the intentions of the work and its author.
One would hope that Murray has used Twitter long enough to know that 140 characters is all you get to answer one question, “What’s happening?”
- People follow you and you don’t have to follow them in return.
- Followers are not privileged to any context outside of a Twitter stream and the tweets on your profile. Unlike Facebook, tweets are not threaded or connected in any way that allows for a narrative context.
- What you tweet is what we get, and if economy and caution of words are not demonstrated, then we have to believe that what has been tweeted is meaningful.
- Someone would have to follow you and all of the people you follow and/or tweet to parse together any semblance of a conversation.
That’s only part of the context.
Here’s the other part: Public figures, personalities, notables and celebrities are not allowed the privilege of using social media to speak out of context in any way that offends the people who support you. The worst-case scenario is that those who follow you and are not offended will support your carelessness with re-tweets and platitudes that can do just as much damage as the original tweets.
Mr. Murray’s counsel should advise him that social mediums such as Twitter are stages. The same rules for public, flesh-to-flesh decorum apply. Everyone missteps using social media but the application of a few rules of engagement can limit the repercussions and backlash.
Privatizing the video on YouTube.com (another social medium) only appears to be a retraction, a virtual retreat from having to deal constructively with critics.
Lastly, maybe Mr. Murray needs to consider changing his Twitter profile’s statement,
Was once a fun-loving nice guy, who made a joke that made some people mad. Now I get hate mail from natural hair lovers & people who think I’m a self-hater.
It sounds a little too self-centered , unaccountable and juvenile. It’s a continuation of the same rant with a veiled “blame the victim” context. That space is best served by sharing who you are and what you do and not what you think.
*I took a screen shot of the above tweet before Jawn Murray locked his Twitter profile.