The Faces of Black Twitter: Meet Donovan X. Ramsey
Donovan X. Ramsey photographed by Shayan Asgharnia for Okayplayer
Name: Donovan X. Ramsey
Twitter Handle: @iDXR
“Nobody can give you freedom,” Malcolm X said in a captivating speech. “Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” And if you’re specifically Donovan X. Ramsey, you chronicle the happening and document the developments rigorously. The journalist and creative thinker has been called an “emerging voice on the topics of black identity, politics and patterns of power in America.” As @iDXR on Twitter, this black millennial contributor to publications such as The Atlantic, Ebony Magazine and The New York Times writes about the most salient issues plaguing America in 140 characters or less.
From police brutality to Donald Trump to Twitter’s “white people” problem, Donovan uses his love of the written word to examine his perspectives on race + politics. Yet, it is his familiarity within #BlackTwitter circles that has endeared him to those also fighting for the cause. While it is a major part of his communication cycle, it is not wholly the end-all, be-all to his engagement with those who have a story to share. “Black Twitter, like any other label, is unable to capture the entire phenomenon, but [personally] I find it useful because it helps to give form to something that we all know exists,” he told us in an emailed interview. Believing that he could fly amongst the stars, Donovan has had his words read before news cameras by candidates for local office and retweeted by the likes of Vann R. Newkirk II, Goldie Taylor and Johnetta Elzie.
Created by a community that has otherwise been disenfranchised, #BlackTwitter is a playground of wonders where we can “share, rant, clown and drag.” “Black Twitter isn’t perfect, but it beats ‘Negro Twitter,'” Donovan shared with us. A Morehouse man, Mr. Ramsey was part of an experience that not every black male goes through. For those outside of the fringe of HBCUs, Morehouse has a legacy of producing black men who are full of pride, connected in various and numerous ways and are ultimately cooler than most. Ramsey, a former managing editor with the school’s Maroon Tiger student newspaper, followed in the traditions of Lerone Bennett, Jr. and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by becoming a voice for the voiceless. “I came to Twitter as a journalist and [I] still see it primarily as a tool for that work, so I’m happy.”
“The future…,”as Malcolm X famously said “belongs to those who prepare for it today.” For Donovan, the work started long before he flew amongst the stars in New York City. Admitting that he was “an unusual child,” Mr. Ramsey was captivated by the written word from an early age. Taught by his mother and older sister, he would imagine himself as part of LeVar Burton‘s Reading Rainbow and saw limitless possibility after seeing Virginia Hamilton‘s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales read on the same program. Fast forward some umpteen years and Donovan has pretty much remained consistent with who he was pre-Black Twitter. “I like to think [that] I’m exactly the same on Twitter as I am in real life,” Donovan X. Ramsey told us. “I’ll send you a link on Twitter and give you a book in real life. Ask any of my friends.”
An Ohio native, Ramsey has more tools than ever at his disposal to report the news. And as a member of #BlackTwitter, he is able to access audio, video and opinion in near real-time, disseminate it to his numerous followers and then turn-around his own piece as a rebuttal. By being an emerging new face in the world of journalism, Donovan acknowledges the role that #BlackTwitter has played in exposing him to all of us. “I’ve published some pieces with The New York Times that happened because an editor there liked the way I expressed myself on Twitter…there’s a lot of exposure on there and opportunities to connect with people who want to be in a community and have conversations. I see that as captive readership and chances for reporting, which ultimately leads to somebody saying, ‘Hey, I read your story; here’s XYZ chance.” When it comes to writing work, it’s mostly the voice as the saying goes. And whether they encountered online or in print, Ramsey’s voice is in demand. In addition to his byline appearing on outlets like The New Republic and The Atlantic, Donovan is also currently a Demos Emerging Voices fellow. “Now, I just gotta get my tweets in front of Oprah [Winfrey] and I’m set.”
“I didn’t know I was trusted source for news on Twitter.”
Covering race as a factor in the 2016 presidential race and the ongoing national efforts to reform the criminal legal system are just two beats that Donovan X. Ramsey logs for public record. With President Barack Obama and the coolest First Family ever leaving the White House, millions of Americans are concerned for the future of the nation. “I read about 100 news stories everyday and share many of them on Twitter; just because I think they’re worth reading,” he told us. “I’m a trained, professional journalist — with clips, receipts — who writes about black issues [which] has some positive impact on my trustworthiness.” Out of almost 50K tweets, it must feel good to know that somewhere, somehow there is someone learning the latest and greatest about an issue they care about intensely. A communicator with a healthy rolodex of thinkers, tinkerers, conversationalists and MCs, Donovan’s road to relevancy was fueled by years of hard work and Twitter conversations with the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates and MC Hammer. Prior to being the go-to-guy for public thinking from a black perspective, Donovan put in his 30,000 hours as an editorial assistant for Time Inc., Danyel Smith and Farnoosh Torabi.
Not here for Twitter trolls or antagonists, Donovan hopes to cut through all the chatter that goes on online. “There’s just so much media noise out there and I think people really want interesting, reliable content that appeals to their interests, but also their sense of right and wrong,” he told us. Reading is considered by many as the gateway out of a troubling situation. Through education and opportunity, people on-and-offline are able to enhance themselves and their status. “If somebody is just being a jackass, I have no problem reporting him or her as spam,” Mr. Ramsey asserted while talking about trolls. “[But] if there’s a teachable moment in a negative tweet, I’ll respond and do what I can to clear up misinformation.” Which means that IRL, agitators may find themselves witnessing a dissimilar Donovan. “There is no block button in real life when people cross the line. In real life, you cross a certain line with me and you can catch these hands.”
Like books and black lives, #BlackTwitter matters. The community of activists, savants and creatives are essentially our extended family. Hipping us to the word on the street, while pushing the boundaries of blackness to the world — #BlackTwitter is a place where we kick our gift of gab and cool out. But if you’re looking for Donovan to share with us his inner thoughts about his auntie and them, you’d sorely be mistaken. “I don’t get too personal on Twitter, because I don’t know everybody like that and it is a public forum.” There’s at least one more thing we can share about Mr. Ramsey that you might not know: he was an Okayplayer. “I used to read Okayplayer Community Boards like crazy, but never had a handle of my own,” he admitted to us. “I still remember that time Erykah Badu stepped into the board to get some hater together. That was like the first big digital clapback I remember.”
This Columbia Journalism School graduate’s legacy is not limited to just the digital space, as he is currently researching and writing a non-fiction book. Add to the mix his appearances on podcasts like Am I Allow To Like Anything and shows such as The Lid — and you can’t get mad at the fight shown by this young rising talent. So when you see him firing off those impressive tweets, be sure to put some respeck on those RTs. “My favorite Twitter moment of all time was #hasjustinelandedyet,” Donovan told us when recalling the fiasco started by Justine Sacco. “That was a dragging for the ages, made so much sweeter because karma was catching up with her ass and she ain’t even know.” It was moments like that or one like President Obama’s “pop off” flex that showcases the strength and creativity of the black spirit. If that is a bother then you might want to catch a ride on the next thing smoking out of here. “People of all races, but mostly white folks, get mad about Black Twitter because they hate blackness, black people and black power. Black Twitter is a manifestation of individual and communal black identity, and that’s a powerful thing.”
Recognize ours and Donovan’s place in this society, and no matter what, please say the “X.”
>>>Follow Mr. Donovan X. Ramsey on Twitter @iDXR.