It seems like it only took a few seconds for “World War 3” to start trending on Twitter after news broke that Donald Trump authorized a military strike on Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani. And as usual, Twitter — namely the Black users on Twitter (I generally try to avoid the phrase “Black Twitter”) — was inundated with jokes and memes about what many felt was the end of the world. There were tweets about moving to Canada, avoiding the draft, nuclear Armageddon and everything in between.
Then the backlash started.
Other Twitter users didn’t see the comedy. They mentioned the fact that the Americans tweeting about death and their own fears were self-centered considering they most likely won’t be the people experiencing the violence. They won’t be the people whose families are in constant fear of bombings and drone strikes. These may be jokes to us but people will be losing their lives and those people are going to be the most vulnerable members of the world.
I know it’s my job to have definitive stances and positions, but I honestly see both sides of the argument in what is an opportunity to show intercontinental unity with our oppressed brothers and sisters.
The reason I don’t feel compelled to come down too hard on the people making the jokes is that I understood where their fears came from. Those fears came from a lack of awareness about the realities of a war with Iran. I don’t think the users on Twitter were joking about drone strikes. They were joking because they were afraid we were heading to a war that would kill us all. Remember, “World War 3” was trending, not “Iran War.” Those fears are grounded in the reality that there is an unhinged president in office who once asked why we couldn’t use more nuclear warheads — which in itself is a terrifying prospect because we’ve been taught that one nuke sent out means lots of nukes sent out, which means global annihilation. I don’t think most of the jokers were trying to make light of drone strikes and the all-too-real violence we continue to inflict on the Middle East.
This was the train of thought that happened on Twitter. That’s how fear manifests and Black people’s natural reaction to fear is to use humor to cope. That’s been how we’ve operated since the beginning of time. That’s how we process trauma, and let’s not forget: this is trauma. Also, Twitter is a place where people go to joke regardless of their own personal feelings. Twitter is a place for serious rumination on the impacts of war but it’s also a place for jokes. And there’s always a conflict between those who joke on social media and those who use it for seriousness.
That’s why it’s always important to note just exactly what happens on Twitter. There were a lot of people who were just hopping in on the joke train without having any clue what the hell was going on or the stakes at hand. Also, we have to also acknowledge that there were probably thousands of tweets from bots and racists pretending to be Black Twitter users.
So what are we actually looking at here? Social media users who got whipped into a frenzy of fear and responded by trying to laugh while others just wanted to join in for whatever compels people to join trends on social media. Then you had others with a fuller grasp of the real issues pleading to everyone else to use more thoughtfulness and empathy.
While I understand both sides, I do think that the most important thing to do is find the most productive next steps possible. People are going to die as a result of Donald Trump’s actions. Well, more people because people in the Middle East are already dying as a result of American imperialism and racism. American troops are going to die as a result of one man’s bloodthirst. The next step for all of us, regardless of where we fall in the argument over the memes, is figuring out the best way for us to do the most good and offer the most support to those who are going to be ravaged by America’s warmongering. We all represent oppressed people across the world and we need to show them the compassion that we would hope they show (and have shown) in our efforts for racial equality in America. We let fear rule for a night. Now, let’s move on and get everybody free.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.