Vine was a place for black teenagers to seize mainstream culture. And now it's gone.


On Thursday, Twitter announced that Vine is officially dying. Over the "coming months," Twitter said that it'll be shuttering the app, leaving the site intact as a mausoleum of some of the world's best art and comedy of the past three years.

Vine was weird, funny, raucous and experimental. It had one of the few recommendation engines that seemed to work, feeding you endless 6 second bites of levity. Where Instagram's overflowing lifestyle performances can be exhausting, and Twitter is thick with political sniping, Vine was always fun.

But the death of Vine wasn't just the loss of a social media outlet, but the elimination of a space championed and developed by young people of color, particularly black teenagers who used Vine to creatively capture the attention of mainstream culture in America. Twitter's failure to keep Vine alive wasn't just a failure to compete with Google and Facebook for ad dollars, but a failure to sustain a space for black genius while the rest of us benefited so much from the unpaid labor of its black youth.

If Vine will be remembered for its impact on pop culture, it owes that legacy to people of color, especially teenagers, whose culture is the font of Vine's best moments — the kids who "did it for the Vine," where "it" was documenting their lives, parodying their cultural icons, dabbing, whipping, roasting each other and toiling to get that sketch just under 6 seconds.

More so than other social media platforms, Vine was a distinctly black space, where the dominant in-jokes and participatory memes owe their roots to black dance, music and vernacular. Vine's top 1% of creators were often pearly white 20-somethings, but they whipped, nae nae'd and shmoney danced their way into world tours and lucrative brand deals.

"While 'Black YouTube' isn't a thing, and 'Black Twitter' exists as a nebulous idea that somehow involves Piers Morgan, Black Vine is simply Vine, inescapable for anyone looking to really, really engage with the platform," Jeff Ihaza wrote for the Awl.

On Vine, cultural memes replicated and mutated, turning into participatory jokes, dances and sketches. Like Facebook's sanctimonious viral "challenges," a funny or absurd Vine was an invitation to participate. Do the wop while cleaning your kitchen, and someone else will wop in their laundry room, and then the living room, until we're all twerking to J Dash while Fabreezing our bedsheets.

What began on Vine sometimes ended up on national news, and became part of our American lexicon and sense of humor. Oakland's Young Busco confronts a police officer about his lame footwear. Hundreds of users ambush people on the street and coax children into shouting, "What are those?" at the lames among us. Weeks later, at a basketball camp in Santa Barbara, a kid tries it on Michael Jordan himself.

And eventually, these bits of black culture make their way onto morning shows, episodes of Ellen and into hokey commercials. Kayla Newman, a black teenager from Atlanta, used Vine to tell the world her eyebrows were "on fleek." Advertisers picked it up and used it to sell eyeliner and pancakes.

This is an Internet Era chapter in a long story of extracting music, dance, humor and style from black culture in America, from the whitewashing of blues in the late 1800's to the more recent anxiety around cultural appropriation of black hair and vernacular. Corporations and business interests profit from the social capital of black coolness, while the creators of that culture go unpaid.

Black genius, interrupted: Vine's managers didn't just fail to turn an app with hundreds of millions of monthly users into a successful business. They failed to support a thriving ecosystem for black genius to seize mainstream space in American culture.

"To all the creators out there — thank you for taking a chance on this app back in the day," Vine said in its statement on Thursday.

But the young black kids who built Vine into a cultural workshop are owed more than thanks, or even an apology. At the very least, given their unpaid labor, they are owed their space, their opportunity to be noticed, their chance to break through to the mainstream.

"I gave the world a word," Kayla Newman, the girl who first said "fleek," told Fader in December. "At the moment I haven't gotten any endorsements or received any payment. I feel that I should be compensated." 

"But I also feel that good things happen to those who wait."