At the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, I decided to check out what this Chewbacca Mom video was all about. It was hilarious. Candace Payne did a Facebook video of her buying a Chewbacca mask from Kohl’s. The mask has an adjustable jaw that moves with your mouth movements, causing it to roar like Han Solo’s trusted co-pilot and friend in the acclaimed sci-fi franchise. The video has been seen over 150 million times. And Payne has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from her hilarious video. The most recent was Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida agreeing to cover her children’s tuition at the school. Oh, the things you shall receive on social media. Yet, this is very problematic because it shows that only white people get rewarded for viral videos, says The Daily Dot.
One could argue that maybe a tuition-free ride to college is a tad much for a viral video, but, alas, the racial commentary has to take a front-and-center role in ruining everyone’s fun because that’s what liberals do. Remind everyone to stop having a good time because we’re all racists, sexists, and misogynists whether we know it or not. Oh, and they will try to make a race commentary over everything. The latest victim seems to be a Chewbacca Star Wars mask:
It’s true, free tuition is an oversized prize for such easily begotten fame. It’s also true that the real rewards typically reaped for online success tend to heavily favor insta-celebrities who are white. Content derived from black users of Twitter, Vine, or Snapchat is often sidelined as part of a monolithic Black Twitter. Black users of social media often have a comparable—if not larger—effect on the digital conversation and create moments, pictures, jokes, and movements that deeply root themselves into the mass culture. Yet, as Payne’s success highlights, that's often ignored when it comes to big payouts for fleeting social media fame.
The most famous example of this is likely the story of Kayla Newman, aka Peaches Monroee. In 2014, Newman uploaded a Vine to show off her new eyebrow threading and famously uttered the phrase “eyebrows on fleek.”
The appropriation of black slang and culture by corporate marketers has a lengthy history, but the surge in notability surrounding Black Twitter means companies are hungrier than ever to seem hip and young by adopting its vernacular, art, and humor.
Black social media use is not inherently different than that of white or Hispanic or Asian or other social media use—it generates content that benefits marketers and the platforms themselves. What is different, however, is the degree to which these users get credit for their creations. Black Twitter as a term itself is harmful to this process—it homogenizes a vast and active user base and condenses it for mass consumption, essentially dehumanizing the real people behind the content. Dexter Thomas, the “Black Twitter reporter” for the Los Angeles Times, stresses this fact. “There’s no understanding of it,” Thomas warned in Poynter. “As far as mainstream media are concerned, it's mostly police brutality activism and tweets about Beyonce.”
Black people use Twitter at a higher rate than white people and are far more active, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Yet it’s far more often Black Twitter is treated as a separate entity from the rest of Twitter, even when trends, jokes, and hashtags that start mainly among black users expand to include a variety of demographics. The genesis of these viral moments are not, as there were with the Chewbacca Mom, typically examined down to the individual who generated them. They are signed off as Black Twitter and the everyone else moves on.
The demand for content from black creators online is unchallenged, but the inequality apparent in the rewards companies and the media heap on black users is clearly one-sided. It might seem ridiculous to receive such praise and material gain for donning a Chewbacca mask at all, but platforms and marketers spend billions every year attempting to recreate the kind of spontaneity that can sell anything from Star Wars memorabilia to white Vans.
Users of all races can and do generate these moments for them, but it seems that only when the subject is white that they see any of the credit.
Okay—first of all let’s not get out of hand with this because making a living off the Internet is incredibly hard. It’s better if we all focus on getting educated and finding steady jobs, instead of sitting around all day waiting for video ideas that could go viral to seep into our heads. That being said, Facebook, YouTube, and Vine are very, very different animals. According to NewMediaRockstars, a magazine that covers these platforms, Vine doesn’t share ad revenue with its users, even the ones with millions of followers and revines, nor do they have a partner program. They list the top three ways to make money on Vine, which are brand deals, using your millions of followers to be paid for appearances, or selling customized merchandise. In fact, brand deals seem to be the most popular way for Viners to make thousands of dollars. So, while Kayla Newman may have popularized the phrase “on fleek,” it was on a platform that doesn’t share ad revenue, it wasn’t branded, and it’s hard to copyright a phrase. There’s also a lot more people of Facebook than Vine. Maybe it was just the wrong platform. And maybe race had nothing to do with the fact that she has yet to make any money for saying “on fleek” because legally companies don’t need to.
Frankly, this whole idea of saying how a mom laughing at herself for buying a Chewbacca mask is somehow a window to the issue of race in America is ridiculous. She’s a mom who got goofy with a Star War mask. Good for her that she was lucky to amass over 100 million views, but to say that this is somehow a front in America’s race problem is quite frankly ridiculous. A Chewbacca mask was viewed as a pawn in the race discussion, folks. It’s really come to this.