The below excerpt is from writer, comedian, and 2020 Vulture “Comedian You Should Know” Quinta Brunson’s new book of essays, She Memes Well, which will be released on June 15.
“As a Philadelphian and fan of his shows and comedy, I can say that Bill Cosby deserves every ounce of that jail time. #dontdruggirlsmaybe #dontrapeperhaps”
I sent this tweet in the middle of 2017, right after Bill Cosby had been arrested for drugging women. After sending it, I clicked my phone off and tossed it onto the couch next to me. I had about twenty minutes to kill before an appointment with the gynecologist, followed by a trip to the DMV (I like to schedule the worst errands back to back so I can just get them over and done with, like ripping off a Band-Aid), so I turned the TV on and put on an episode of The Office.
Jack began licking his paw and using it to clean his face. It was cute as fuck. “Stay there, Jack, don’t move,” I told him, because he clearly understands English. “I need to put this on Instagram.”
I picked up my phone, clicked it open, and found that it was still on Twitter. My eyes widened at the sight — my tweet had 232 RTs and 123 favorites. It had only been a few minutes. Reader, I don’t know if you know this but to have this type of retweet-to-fave ratio in such a short amount of time usually means you’ve caused some trouble on the app, and that others had something to say about it. My cheeks grew hot and my body filled with dread: I was being called out. The response was so strong and so swift, it was disorienting.
When I first downloaded Twitter in August 2008, the platform was not what it is today. My friend Aden told me to get on because it was where she was posting her status updates, instead of Facebook, and I needed to know everything she was doing because she was one of my best friends. Once I got on, I also realized she and other kids from Temple were just writing their thoughts and talking about music, and that was cool to me. I sent my very first tweet — “FUCK THE POLICE” — after adoring how James Franco yelled the line in Pineapple Express.
From there, things would pop into my head and I’d send them out into the world via Twitter.
But after I joined BuzzFeed and became more recognizable on the internet, I realized I couldn’t just say the first thing that popped into my head. It wasn’t just me and Aden and other friends tweeting our own reviews of Philly block parties, it was me and a bunch of people who liked me from videos where I played “Quinta.” They expected me to say the things that “Quinta” would say. Not me, “Quinta,” internet “Quinta.”
I decided to use Twitter to share broader thoughts and general jokes. The interactions on there were mostly encouraging and exciting. It was awesome to tweet about being short and have 30K other people like it and engage with it! Having something get that type of traction felt similar to telling a joke onstage that really makes the audience laugh. But there was another side of the platform that I hated to experience, and that was: criticism.
My Cosby tweet, which was picked up by The Shade Room (a popular celebrity-gossip blog), had unexpectedly opened up a Pandora’s box of anger on Twitter. There was such an enormous torrent of rage being funneled at my account that you would’ve thought I slapped somebody’s mother! As I scrolled through the comments on the tweet, they began multiplying like some sort of cancerous e-growth. I would try to reply to one, but then ten more would pop up. The fury wasn’t something I could even get a handle on. People were getting mad at all sorts of things: comedy, me, each other, women, Black culture, grammar. It felt impossible to keep up with everything.
“turning on a brotha for this white woman? How could you!”
“this is the problem — you’re giving up on bill, yet call yourself a comedian!”
“How can you be from Philly and do this? Are you really from Philly?”
That last one fucking hurt. I didn’t duck gunshots on Forty-Ninth and Chancellor to be called out as someone who didn’t rep my city.
Trying to grasp at the collective anger of everyone weighing in on my tweet was like trying to hold on to Silly Putty: The tighter I held, the more it dripped out of my hands. In the real world, I would’ve at least been able to speak to the intricacies of the Cosby case and what it meant for Black America, but on Twitter it was impossible to have a nuanced conversation.
I stepped over Jack, who was still washing his face, and headed to the bedroom, where I could get into a better position to handle all the poison coming at me. When you build an existence around making people laugh, and suddenly a large group of people become very angry with you, it’s really destabilizing. All I want in this heinous world is to spread joy, and it felt like Twitter was ruining that for me. Lying in my bed, knees to chest, phone pressed to face, I continued to watch as the comments rolled in, and made a snap decision to delete the tweet. It just wasn’t worth it to have something like misinterpreted intentions throw off my entire day. As I got ready to put my phone down and shake off the experience, I noticed my name was still blowing up. People had turned from criticizing the tweet to criticizing my choice to delete my tweet. You just can’t win, can you?
I held my finger on the Twitter icon until everything jiggled and then I clicked the X, deleting the app from my phone. I was frustrated with Twitter, but mainly I was frustrated with myself. I was mad that I felt the need to delete the tweet, and I was also mad that my statement about something that was happening in the atmosphere of Hollywood was now being taken from me and repurposed to fit other people’s narratives on unrelated subject matters.
From my years of social-media usage, I’ve learned that when massive conversations get limited to a small amount of characters, the communication tools can often become more dangerous than helpful. There are millions of people trying to jam-pack emotions, knowledge, and background information into tiny clips that are just too easy to misinterpret. It becomes an endless cycle of someone tweeting a thing they feel passionate about, then other people coming in and tearing apart their idea because it doesn’t exactly align with their own. That’s not a dialogue; it’s an argument into the void.
Let me give you another example. A little while ago, I was reading story after story about young Black girls getting kidnapped. I was furious, reading about these missing teens who were most likely being sex-trafficked, and wanted to use my platform to draw attention to the issue. I thought maybe if more people knew about what was going on, we could group our minds together to find a solution. Rally our leaders, or communities, or something.
I composed a tweet that addressed the issue, carefully considering my wording. A little part of me worried that posting such heavy content might end up being turned against me — I am a comedian, after all, and one of the most common criticisms we can get is to “stick to the funny stuff.” But the thing is, sometimes I personally can’t stick to the funny stuff. Sometimes the darkness of the world seeps into my soul, and I need to let out my emotions somehow. So, I tweeted:
“I’m seeing more and more posts about missing Black girls … there seems to be a surge. Ladies, let’s protect ourselves until something is done about it.”
Short, simple, and direct. To me, it seemed bulletproof. “No one can pick apart this argument,” I told myself, before pressing send.
Within seconds I got a response from someone saying, “Well, this is reductionist thinking because sex-trafficking of young Black girls actually has been happening a long time.”
WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK. How did I mess this up? But, according to the internet, I did. It wasn’t enough to draw attention to this issue; apparently, there wasn’t enough nuance in my 140 characters to satisfy everyone. Stuff like this happens on Twitter all day. Everyone wants to be the most right, the most nuanced, get the most reactions. But the chances of that happening all the time are impossible. The platform doesn’t always allow you to try out new thoughts, or workshop anything — it’s all reaction, all the time.
I don’t blame the people on Twitter for feeling the need to respond, correct, or argue. It’s the nature of the platform. Twitter was constructed to have people share bite-sized opinions, and it’s evolved to hook our attentions and provide an addictive game-like quality to conversing. And what’s better for engagement than an argument? I’m just saying that even though I know better than to let a platform like Twitter take over my emotions, I still get caught up in it. That’s why I’ve started old-school journaling again when I need to get my thoughts out. It’s not worth it to raise my blood pressure just because of strangers @ing me in the comments.
I go back and forth with having Twitter at my fingertips. No matter how often I delete it off my phone, I’ll inevitably get annoyed at the inconvenience of checking it on my laptop and download it back onto my phone. I’m telling you this because it is the truth that I haven’t really figured out a way to have a healthy relationship with Twitter. Just because I’m good at the internet doesn’t mean I’m always good with the internet.
Ultimately, this isn’t a story about whether or not it was my place to weigh in on the Cosby trial, or about sex-trafficking, or about how to optimize your Twitter usage. This is a story about what I learned — How to Mind My Own Damn Business. The internet has normalized a tendency for those of us on it to always be up in each other’s and strangers’ business, and I’m not sure to what benefit. It might be bad for society and communication to get this riled up about what strangers on the internet are saying.
I honestly believe that Minding Your Own Damn Business is the salvation and pathway to peace that we all need. We, all of us, could stand to chill out and mind the business that minds us. If we spent half as much time concerned about our own villages, maybe the entire town wouldn’t collapse when one house was set on fire. Maybe we all would have the resources to help that house, because we’d been harnessing our own tools for months. I’ve clearly thought a lot about this, and naturally, I have some tips for you.
How to Mind Your Business
Hello and welcome to the Quinta Brunson School of Minding Your Own Business. I’m Quinta Brunson. This multi-page course will teach you how to protect your sanity and learn how to coexist with the internet, and subsequently the world, in a mature and healthy manner. After all, you have your own business to mind; you don’t need to be minding other people’s. You don’t have time for that!
Ten out of ten scientists agree that this approach to minding your own business will lead to a longer and happier life. #science
Step One: Are you about to speak on something that doesn’t concern you? You could do that. But wait! Is your laundry done? Have you paid that bill that’s about to go to collections? Instead of talking about what Cardi should do with Offset, have you ONSET working out your own relationships? Consider taking care of yourself before you start putting your nose into the goings-on of others.
Step Two: Does the word “selfish” carry a negative connotation for you? Well, stop thinking that way. I am here to tell YOU that you need to be selfish! The more you think about yourself and your community, the easier it’ll be to stop caring about what random other people think of you. This will lead to more freedom of expression and better actions on your part, which only work for the good of yourself and the people you know in real life. Which, especially in these times, is the only thing that matters.
Step Three: Unfollow blog sites. Right now.
Step Four: Don’t give your opinion as fact on the internet unless you’re an expert. If you have a Ph.D. in whatever the subject matter is, then go crazy! Otherwise, don’t tweet your opinion presented as fact. I find that opinions are like glasses of wine: best shared with friends, best given some time to air out. If you want to exercise your freedom of expression and you want to talk about something you’re not versed in, then be open and ready for the fact that you might get schooled.
Step Five: Is all of this just a little too hard to do? Then delete the Twitter app off your phone and download an addicting game app instead! Might I suggest Homescapes? It’s this great game where you get to renovate an old home by winning Candy Crush–style games. No one’s going to call you out for being a hypocrite on Homescapes! Plus, it’s free.
Step Six: I already told you to unfollow the damn blog sites. Don’t make me come grab your phone and do it myself.
Step Seven: At the end of each day, put your phone in a drawer. You’re going to break this rule, and that’s okay, but at least try doing it tonight and tomorrow and a couple of days in the upcoming weeks. When you feel yourself getting worked up, just remember — drawer. The drawer is a psychological jail for your phone.
Step Eight: When someone does something that gets your blood pumping, or gives you the urge to gossip, subtweet, or be nasty, just write it down on a piece of paper and then forget about it. And fine, if you want, set the piece of paper on fire because it’s fun and looks cool, you little pyro!
Step Nine: Evaluate why you care so much about what other people are doing on the internet. Is it because there’s something missing in your life? Are you projecting your own insecurities onto someone else’s digital presence? Make it your personal mission to fill the empty space of whatever it is that’s missing in your life, and I guarantee that things will improve.
Step Ten: Hang out with a friend and remember what it’s like to talk in real life. Challenge each other to talk about anything but what you’ve read on social media. It’s a game changer, I’m tellin’ ya.
That’s it for the Quinta Brunson School of Minding Your Own Damn Business. Thank you for taking the time to read. Come back next week for my talk on wearing flower prints, and not letting flower prints wear you!
I know that a lot of the reason I’m successful is because of platforms like Twitter, and I don’t take that for granted. I understand the value of having a platform and using it wisely. But I can be both grateful and tired — and those are usually the two feelings that coexist within me when it comes to my relationship with social media. Sometimes I wonder what this app is doing to my ability to connect with people in the real world. Like, is it possible to be both good at the internet and good at real life — or does one cancel the other out? What a scary thought.
I used to look at conversations on Twitter as if they’re the sole reflection of our society, when the reality is that less than a quarter of the world’s population is on Twitter. Using Twitter as your primary lens for how to view and interpret the world will put you in a bubble, wrongly enforce the thought that your bubble is the best bubble, and make you angry when anything challenges said bubble. It’s one big repetitious cycle, and it’s not a smart way to advance thought or create empathy.
In the future, I’d like to see less social-media engagement; a world where people understand that it’s not the best thing for our mental health or our collective well-being. If I’m being real, I hope social media can go the way of plastic straws. Everyone will know its downfalls and try to limit their interaction, like, “Aw, man, I can use social media if I have to, but I prefer not to.” I am currently starting to create this world for myself by limiting my social media usage and staying put in the present. Conversing with people about things like books and sustainability of life. I’m hearing different types of people out and am forming more nuanced opinions about the world because of that. And less time on social media means more time to do my work, and relax with my family. I am quite literally minding my actual business, and I feel way better about it. Please join me — well, kind of — in minding your own business.
Excerpt from SHE MEMES WELL by Quinta Brunson. Copyright © 2021 by Quinta Brunson. Available June 15, 2021 from HMH Books & Media.