If you’re having a good day and would instead like to feel like climbing into a one-woman spaceship and hurling yourself far away from this stupid planet, gather round and read yet another confused Slate think piece where someone tries to understand what the black people are up to.
Today the headquarters for Killing Cool Things With Banal Analysis published a piece titled “Stop Emphasizing Your Point by Putting Clap Emojis After Every Word.”
What has our friend Katy Waldman so perturbed is the internet translation of a real life occurrence that every black man, woman, and child knows well.
But this time, we’re talking about when white people do it—or, at least, this is the subtext of the article, though it’s never clearly stated.
One day, my friends, a think piece is going to kill me. My core will be so deeply shaken by the stupidity of it all that my body will say, “Fuck you Kara!” and stop functioning out of spite. Is today that day? Let’s see.
Sometimes I click over to Twitter and feel great because everyone seems to be clapping for me. I haven’t even done anything! But there’s all this applause. So many of my friends in virtual reality can hardly squeeze a single word out before the urgent desire to thwack their hands together overwhelms them.
Hey, sounds like you follow a bunch of annoying people on Twitter. I’m thinking that’s the only real issue here.
Of course, any deep dive into black or brown people just living their goddamn lives would not be complete without an Urban Dictionary citation.
The emphasis clap (Urban Dictionary has dubbed it the “ratchet clap”) belongs to the toolbox comedian Robin Thede introduced to the world as “Black Lady Sign Language.” It is when you clap on every syllable of a statement you are making in order to underscore the very important content of that statement.
I don’t know who Robin Thede is and I’m sure she’s great, but absolutely the fuck not. She did not introduce something to the world simply because someone just saw her do a bit about it last week on The Nightly Show.
This—this clapping on every word for emphasis—is something that I have done since I was a cantankerous youth. To this day, if you catch me at a bar trying to explain to some man [insert the exhausting laundry list of topics here] I will almost certainly be doing the black girl clap. BECAUSE THIS IS A THING MANY OF US DO AND HAVE BEEN DOING LONG BEFORE THE INTERNET TRIED TO MURDER ME WITH ITS SELF-IMPORTANCE.
The emojis are just a way of exhibiting this action on the internet. And if this isn’t something you would do in your normal life, I’m not sure why you’re taking up the black girl clap on the internet—doing it, or writing about it, or either, or both.
Do you still need more, dear reader? Do ya still not quite get it? Fear not, here they come with the paddle and the horse carcass. We will now witness the writer arguing that this very obvious emoji depiction of a real life occurrence does not, in fact, translate on the internet.
While IRL emphasis clapping stresses certain syllables, the interpolated emoji seem to arrive after the words, not at the same time. They disrupt the flow of the statement, creating a stuttering and uncertain effect. It’s a rare instance when the multimodality of online expression—its blend of text and image—actually degrades the message being communicated.
Question: How do white people not get tired of explaining things that have nothing to do with them to each other?
This peculiar culture of people—usually white and usually straight—feeling so compelled to dissect things that exist in black spaces or queer spaces or any space they don’t occupy is almost pathological in its desperate need to feel included. It feels like the dark karmic result of giving children participation trophies. You know a good way to figure out what “fleek” and “shade” mean without reading one of these dumb explainers? Hang out with people who actually use those words organically!
Perhaps these articles would be less obnoxious if they weren’t presented with an air of grandstanding, cutesy ignorance, as well as condescension. Every instance is an unnecessary intellectualization of another culture. The author and readers who believe this crap want to feel good about not just knowing what “bae” means, but also understanding how it fits into the zeitgeist—presumably in a way that the people participating in the trend or using the slang do not. Which is impossible.
The result feels less like social anthropology or an embrace of other cultures and more like staring into the fishbowl and tapping the glass. I could do without it.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.