Millennial babies know the basic timeline: AIM, Xanga, MySpace, Facebook, and then Twitter. Our generation has experienced social media as a rite of passage. If you are around my age (1992, stand up!) , AIM taught you how to flirt in awkward, middle-school fashion with crushes on the internet. Xanga encouraged creative growth, especially if you anguished over the perfect background picture to match the crucial descriptions of life in eighth grade. MySpace helped form your high school identity with staged bathroom photos and shared music. And now that you are in college, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and the Facebook page you've kept since high school are your primary modes of interaction.
Our generation is connected like never before; we want to know what is going on in Syria, but also what a friend had for breakfast in a five-second Snapchat. Though this phenomenon may seem unique to Generation Y, social media outlets give a digital angle to a basic human instinct: the desire to be in touch.
I was reminded of this instinct when I saw the collection of Tumblrs on a BuzzFeed post titled "Black People Not Amused With White People Is The Meme The World Needs." Indeed, as a sequence of photos in which black people showed varying facial expressions — from boredom, to annoyance, to disgust — as white people embarrassed themselves, the post was pretty amusing.
1. When this happened
5. When these women ran into Amanda Bynes:
24. And when this girl met Hilary Clinton:
3. When this guy did not think before he spoke:
Historically, whites have shaped perceptions of black people in the media. Such images were usually stereotypical and negative: the over-sexualized macho man, the welfare queen, the gangsta, the maid, the finger-snapping diva. The white gaze, or how white people collectively view blacks, Asians, Native-Americans, Latinos, and other people of color, continues to dominate the way those groups are perceived.
However with the arrival of the social media era, where everyone wants to know what everyone else is thinking, perhaps the white gaze is, in fact, minimized.
The series of Tumblr pictures (posted by a black millennial) makes the usual digital inquiry: "What are people thinking?," but more specifically it asks: "What do black people really think about white people?" Experience has led me to believe that this is something some white folks are genuinely curious about — which might not be a bad thing.
One late, post-club Saturday night, a white friend asked me, "So what do black people think of white people when we listen to loud rap music while driving?"
I replied, "You mean when white people often blare Lil Wayne?"
"Oh my God!" he burst out laughing. "I guess black people think we look so stupid listening to generic hip hop!" I laughed along with my friend, but was amazed at how he drew such a strong conclusion from my response, which was hardly more than a question. He was fixated on the black gaze, the collective perception of how black people view people around us, enough to request my personal opinion.
Personally, I don't care what white people listen to in their cars.
I appreciated my friend's ability to at least recognize a different gaze. However, I was left wondering: why ask about a gaze at all?