Clubhouse is the audio-only app that is taking over the world. As an auditory learner, I was so intrigued by a platform where I could connect with people by voice in real-time. I am so intellectually stimulated by the discussions and I look forward to learning new insights and developing my skills. Facebook and Twitter have quickly identified how this new app can threaten their social media oligarchy and have started to work on their own competing platforms respectively. While these platforms are definitely very popular, there are some issues that separate them from Clubhouse. For instance: cliques and groups in Facebook and Twitter are already stratified, there are huge amounts of censorship on traditional platforms, which can be a blessing and a curse, and big movers and shakers are on the application.
As a social media junkie and freelance worker for the past decade, I could talk about this for ages. However, many of you are probably wondering why I am babbling about this on a blog that focuses on black women’s lifestyle and self-improvement, as well as a space for black women who date interracially, and the rainbeaus who love us. Well, despite my best efforts to stay in positive and uplifting Clubhouse spaces, I recently stumbled into a blackity black black room, and my work with Beyond Black and White was called into question. (Quick note: based on how long-winded I was in the piece below, I will discuss the Beyond Black and White connection in part two.) I will give some context for the situation, what went down, my general issues with Black Clubhouse (and other black congregations on social media), and some solutions for anyone interested in improving their Clubhouse Algorithm.
I really cannot go further into this article without giving Ms. Kendall St. Charles her flowers. I have watched probably a dozen of her Facebook lives talking about the power and impact of Clubhouse, the insidiousness of their algorithm, and how to approach the platform. I honestly have to say that I probably wouldn’t have downloaded the app without her analyses. A big thank you as well goes to Chenoa for nominating me to join the app. Christelyn has been offering us amazing content on the app as well, so I hope you all are following her and engaging in these critical discussions. I will share KSC and CK’s handles either later in this piece or in part two of this article.
The Black Side of Clubhouse
Despite my best efforts to best approach the app, I’ve noticed that my feed keeps going in a specific direction. You know what I am talking about. In fact, everyone knows what we are talking about. There are Reddit conversations and Clubhouse rooms being opened to discuss a particular demographic’s entry onto the app, and how the quality of conversations and connections has gone down over time. As people are not fond of my indirectness when I speak, allow me to be a bit blunt as I write: they are talking about black people.
I have seen it too. When I joined the app, I noticed that despite putting a group picture on my profile picture, and not identifying as black within the algorithm, I am still getting pulled into the black algorithm on Clubhouse. Before anyone reading this article accuses me of anti-blackness, let me be clear that I am in no way saying that I do not like black people. Despite our challenges as a collective, I do find us to be a funny, insightful and resilient group of people. I also love to connect with like-minded black men and women, who are looking to improve their lives, increase their knowledge and exchange valuable insights through conversation.
That said, I have noticed a trend on social media that when many black people join an app or social media platform, they bring, well, a particular flavour to the app. We see more fights, as well as discussions including colorism, misogynoir, drama, inappropriate ways of campaigning for social justice and other general chaos. However, when you leave the stereotypical content and areas where black people congregate, you enter into a whole new world of content, connections and discussions. I was planning to make this article more positive, but I recently had a really negative experience with some skin-folk on the app. While I stated to the people in the room that I would not create a room discussing the situation, I never said that I would not write a blog post about it. This post is going to be a long one, so grab a snack. Let us, as they say, dig in.
As I remembered all of the negative content from other black spaces on other social media websites, I took pains to avoid it, as I mentioned above. However, I noticed that I could find one of my interests on the platform: debates. Particularly, many of these debates took on the format that Steven Crowder, a conservative news commentator and YouTube personality, does on his platform. Now, I am no fan of Steven or the majority of his content, but I will run faster than Usain Bolt to watch one of his Change My Mind debates. The premise is that he will share a thought-provoking (or triggering) slogan on a sign at a table, and invite people to debate him and change his mind.
I truly don’t believe that the goal of these discussions is to change Steven’s mind but to change the audience’s mind. Each side has to present their case, offer relevant statistics and information, and use persuasive arguments. I love to hear what both sides of the aisle have to say and enjoy a good civil debate. That said, some people have adapted Steven’s format to Clubhouse. So far, I have sat in on and participated in three of these rooms: “Hate Speech Isn’t Real: Change My Mind,” “Taxation is Theft: Change My Mind,” “Not All White People Are Racist: Change My Mind.” Yes, I get that these titles are a bit spicy, but we all have our vices.
The first room went well for the first five hours, discussing the history, legality, limits, punishments and future surrounding hate speech… until a large number of black people decided to join the discussion. They started screaming about the title, accusing moderators of supporting white supremacy, and monologuing about the plight of black people in North America. I think that a lot of them could have had amazing things to say, but all of the screaming, interruptions and accusations really put a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. That said, at least you could still follow the conversation somewhat. The second group went on without an issue. I literally fell asleep listening to the room and woke up to them continuing the discussion with new people.
The third room is where things went completely left. In the first group I mentioned, I met a lady in the room. We had not spoken to each other during the discussion, but we listened to what the other had to say, and mutually established a connection. She pinged me into another group after that, and then into the “Not All White People Are Racist” room. I gave my take, which I will share here. No, I do not believe that all white people are racist. I believe that power structures evolve over time, with different societies getting their turn in power. We have seen the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Roman Empire, the Kush Empire, the British Empire and more. That does not excuse any atrocities of the past. Slavery, segregation and other past historical events were definitely harmful, and black Americans are still affected by the remnants.
Racism has many forms and manifests on an individual, structural and systemic level. While things in America are much improved, there are still things that need to be done to ensure equal opportunity for all. Reparations are long overdue, previously overturned by President Johnson (40 acres and a mule), and are a gesture of goodwill to black Americans for economic and societal segregation, slavery, and other forms of racism. I also mentioned the disturbing fact that the Klu Klux Klan is still NOT considered an official hate group or a terrorist organization and still has factions all across the United States of America. Lastly, I mentioned that the instances of police brutality served as bad optics for racial tensions. Despite my personal views on protesting, I do believe that people being arrested, guilty or innocent, deserve to make it to jail safely and to have their day in court. I then yielded the space and listened to other people’s thoughts. While I was giving my perspective, I was prompted to moderator status.
About thirty or forty minutes after I spoke, a bunch of black people came into the room and started screaming. It got to the point where we literally could not get a word in edgewise. Firstly, they were angry about the title and claimed that it was a form of racism and violence. Secondly, they were angry that a lot of people commenting in the room were not black, and of the black moderators, none were ADOS. Then, some of them claimed that white people just using the “white” to describe themselves was racist and that of course, all white people were racist. Next, claims came forward that black people could not be racist as they had no forms of power.
We did have some moderators in the room who were completely against reparations and even the idea that they could be racist or benefit from white privilege. Once those opinions were expressed to this group, both sides exploded into chaos. There was screaming, shouting and emotions until that specific moderator (the same one who invited me) left the room. When that lady left, the mob’s assertion was that as we were all moderators, we were aligned with her opinions and, as such, allies and agents of white supremacy. The Clubhouse room then turned into the new black people not respecting the queue previously established. The chaos in the room continued until about the two-hour mark of the session when the room suddenly closed down. Now, I genuinely don’t know if I closed the room by accident or if someone else did it on purpose. (It was my first time moderating, and I was trying to mute people so we could have some order.)
Just Some Thoughts
Anyway, let me pause right here. I have more that I want to say, particularly when I engaged with a group of black people head-on, regarding my engagement in this group, my work with Beyond Black and White, and how I will be navigating my Clubhouse algorithm moving forward. At the end of the day, let me say this. It never ceases to astound me how this community behaves when other people are watching. People are taking note of how conversations are shifting and evolving on Clubhouse, and they are reacting accordingly. I find that, randomly, people are pinging me into rooms, inviting me to clubs, and letting me know about things on Clubhouse. That said, like Kendall, I see the gates closing on this application.
While it has been in beta for some time, Clubhouse is not going to stay that way. It has already been valued at $1 billion dollars, and there are talks of monetizing rooms. I was discussing this in another room called “Does the Government Control Everything?” We were discussing the power, influence and reach of national governments versus Big Tech. I am convinced that Clubhouse has to be recording conversations or finding some way to monitor the content of these exchanges, in order to demonstrate the value of their app. There are talks about subscription models for rooms, and other methods to make money. Make no mistake – the privatization of rooms and paid access to spaces will be a means to obstruct those who position themselves as disruptors on the app, or who bring low vibrational content onto the timeline.