The satirical blog Little Known Black History Facts has developed a large following since it first launched in 2012. This year, controversy surrounded the blog—some claimed it disrespected Black History Month. We sat down with the blog’s creator, Tracy Clayton (a former writer for The Root), to get her take on the controversy.
The Root: What prompted you to start LKBHF?
Tracy Clayton: I started the blog after starting a [Twitter] trending topic of the same name back in 2008. I don't remember exactly how the topic started, but it went on for a good two hours, and it was so much fun. Trending topics are so short-lived, and I thought it would be cool to have it linger for awhile, so I started a Tumblr for it and the rest is history. Since then, it's become an official meme, with people making their own each February, and it has also become a battleground for respectability.
TR: There's been some controversy surrounding the blog. What do you have to say to critics?
TC: I actually wrote a response to the waves of criticism the blog and meme have gotten this year. Firstly, it's important to me that folks know that there is a difference between the blog and the meme that it spawned. There are some memes that feature notable figures, sensitive and traumatic scenes/content like drug addiction, homophobia and misogyny. You won't find any of that on the blog; it definitely detracts from the effectiveness of the satire, which defeats the purpose.
And secondly, I understand why the idea of handling black history with anything less than velvet gloves alarms people and strikes them as disrespectful, but I don't agree at all. An overarching criticism is that these jokes encourage those outside the culture to view black folks in an unfavorable light, that no one will respect our history unless we do. Anyone who would take any of this material and use it as a reason to disparage black people will do it anyway, with or without our permission. And the idea that other people treat us poorly because of the things we laugh at, the jokes we tell, whether or not we sag our jeans or cuss in the music that we make, is ridiculous and not how racism works.
Racists aren't racist because minorities encourage them to be; they're racist because they were indoctrinated to be, because we live in a society that was founded on the belief that we are subhuman. This kind of thinking leaves room to blame the oppressed for the actions of the oppressors, which is unfair and inaccurate. It isn't fair to be expected to live your life because white folks may be watching. Being pressured to represent your whole race is a huge burden, whether that pressure is coming from white folks or black ones. I'll laugh when and where I darn well please.
TR: What are your plans for the blog? Do you plan on continuing it?
TC: I'm actually not sure where to go from here. This year, updates were sparse because I'm working a job that requires much of my attention, unlike previous years, and also because I just have a lot on my plate that has demanded a big chunk of my attention. I'll continue it as long as I can, but lately I've been playing with the idea of turning it into a larger published project, one that continues to do what I've tried to do with the website: highlights the absurdity of reducing black history to a collection of flashcard facts shoved down our throats in February, challenges the idea that any and all laughter is disrespectful and dares to publicly celebrate those parts of a collective cultural memory that many think should only be acknowledged behind closed doors.
TR: Just for fun, what is your favorite real black history fact?
TC: This is a super-tough question! The first story that came to my mind, though, was that of Claudette Colvin, the young girl who did what Rosa Parks did before she did it, but was ultimately abandoned by the NAACP because of her status of a young unwed mother. This story shows, firstly, the courageousness of a young girl who was bold enough to stand up to an institution created to keep her down, and it also shows the struggle that black women and their bodies faced and still face within their own communities—sex-based shame, punishment and stigma. Hers is an important story that I hope never, ever dies. It's my favorite piece of trivia to share.
Diamond Sharp is an editorial fellow at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.