Before there was a Go In Radio, before Twitter, before there was a Brokey McPoverty to speak of, I go back some time with Tracy from Kentucky. She’s always been as smart, funny, and quirky as many now know her to be, but it wasn’t until social media that I knew her passion for taking charge in the midst of public scandals. Using her quick wit and likability to her benefit (traits I may never wind up mastering), she’s been found starting up trending topics that make bigger headlines, boldly confronting society’s ills with both humor and a sincerely outspoken demand for change.
Brokey McPoverty recently granted me a few minutes where we spoke on topics including her inspirational story of creative ingenuity leading to a job she enjoys, her history of fighting for our race (and her gender) to be heard on and offline, and thoughts on people to recently make the news for all of the wrong reasons. With any hope, her voice will continue to be recognized as the internet is now ripe for opportunities to create history with each passing day.
It’s been cool to watch your development as somewhat of a freedom fighter online, but I want you to take me back to when you initially found yourself confronting racism in college. A lot of people may not know that part of your story.
I went to a really small and very white liberal arts school in Kentucky, I was one of about 20 black kids there. It’s crazy, because it’s not like I had never met or seen white people before but the environment there really sucked. There’s a huge confederate presence in the city where the school is. It’s run by a lot of old money, with all of these monuments of and statues of confederate heroes. On my particular campus there was a huge bust of Jefferson Davis in the library and a residence hall named after him and there were confederate flags everywhere. It was kind of like stepping back into a movie set in the ‘60s with all of these very smothering visual emblems of racism.
On top of that, many of the kids I went to school with were from itty bitty teeny tiny country towns. I was the first black person a lot of those people met and there was a lot of ignorance there partly because when you don’t know any black people it’s kind of hard to know that there are certain things you shouldn’t say to a black person. I didn’t really know how to deal with it because whenever there were problems like someone writing the n word on a friends’ door, I would go to my professors and talk about it and they were always really sympathetic but unfortunately their hands were tied because the people on the executive board were old racist white men pretty much. So my professors didn’t have room to do anything about it, I didn’t really know how else to combat it but I didn’t really want to just sit around doing nothing and staying silent and I didn’t want to just transfer. I actually considered it a couple of times because it was that bad and alienating, but I just started to write about it. (I figured) if you’re not going to change anything on this campus you’ll at least know that I don’t appreciate it and how we feel about it.
One of your first big projects was Little Known Black History Facts. That caught on like wildfire and you’ve nearly had to issue cease & desist threats to multiple plagiarists. What has that been like to see a vision of yours become popular in the online space?
It’s been kind of crazy because I never saw, expected or even wanted it to blow up really. It was just something that came out of me being silly on Twitter and it’s weird to see people make a big deal of it, to see people possibly plagiarizing it and to get cease & desist letters from other people’s lawyers because they think I’m infringing on something else because it was just a little blog. But at the same time it’s really cool because it’s just neat to know a piece of your voice can reach so many people and that people think highly enough of it to want to steal it. They always say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but stealing is something else. It’s been confusing but really neat and kind of cool.
You’ve begun living your dream writing for The Root and it happened at a time when you were pessimistic about having a day job. How did this all come to be?
I have a horrible work ethic when it comes to working for somebody else, especially when I’m doing something I don’t like. My dream has always been to be a writer since I was 16 or 17 years old, the kind of writing I’ve wanted to do has changed as I’ve gotten older but I didn’t know what steps to take to get there. Of course in the mean time you’ve gotta eat, so I had office jobs and jobs working in restaurants when I was younger. It was fine but it sort of felt like selling my soul every day because I wasn’t doing anything I really wanted to do.
I was absolutely horrible at the last office job I had a couple of years ago, not because I it was a hard job but I just didn’t want to do it. I knew that I was getting older and I wasn’t spending my time doing what I wanted to do. So I became resentful and I went to work every day with an attitude like I hated everybody even though they didn’t do a single thing to me, which was ridiculous. It started to feel toxic, I didn’t feel good waking up in the morning, so much time and energy was taken up doing something that I didn’t like to do that I didn’t have anything left when it came to me trying do what I actually wanted to do.
It just so happened that I got laid off from that job and I was thinking it was perfect because now I could get unemployment while I pursued my writing and the things I wanted to do. I wasn’t happy with the writing I was doing then, I think in the back of my mind I was freaked out because it’s so crazy making the transition from the 9 to 5 life that you’re told you have to have to survive to then not having it. Even though I was in the position to do things I wanted to do, there was still that fear that if this doesn’t work and I fall, there will be nothing to catch me because I don’t have a job. That zapped my creative energy and while I was still writing here and there, I was worried about writing and eating at the same time.
I had a very dramatic breakdown (laughs), worrying like “What if this writing thing doesn’t work? What if I’m not good at it anymore and I’m always stuck here? What else do I do? I have nothing else and no other ideas”. Literally a few days after that I got a call from a friend and he told me some people from The Root had been trying to contact me via email and I hadn’t gotten anything. I reached out to them and they said “We’ve got this position and we think you’d be perfect for it because you’re always on Twitter” and that’s sort of how that happened. It was so crazy because it almost felt like God or whoever is up in the sky pulling all of the puppet strings had everything planned out. All the stars just happened to align as I’m on the cusp of a breakdown, he was like “I’m just playing, here’s the job you’ve always wanted to do”. It always helps to know somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody when you’re trying to get into a creative field like writing. I feel like it was partially luck, partially the universe and somebody’s plan and maybe 10% me being visible enough for somebody to know that I exist and that I write sometimes.
There has been heavy discussion of Black Twitter, what it is and how it’s used. How would you explain its power to someone who had no clue what the term means?
Discussions of Black Twitter make me nervous now that they’re happening more often, because I don’t want it to turn into something scientific that needs dissection and too much thought. To me, Black Twitter is just black people talking to black people about things on Twitter. I always describe it as the online version of the table full of black kids in the cafeteria. In social situations, more often than not you gravitate towards people who have similar interests and experiences. One of the things that divides people up purposely or unconsciously is race, so that’s all Black Twitter is.
It’s really neat because as a group that’s been silent so long especially when it comes to the media, I think social media now gives greater amplification of our voices. We don’t have to worry about going through a middleman or hoping somebody reports on stories and things that are important to us. I think that having that access to both each other and to American society is where Black Twitter’s power lies. There have always been people that care very deeply about social issues, people who are deftly creative and this awesomeness in the black community. I think now we have a platform to display that or to unfortunately have it siphoned by other outside news forces from time to time (sighs).
The power lies in having that access to take control over how we’re represented with the things we talk about and read, as well as the news and the media that gets produced about and by us.
Instead of one word association, I’m going to throw names, phrases and ideas that you’re familiar with at you, and I want you to give me your thoughts. Let’s start with Riley Cooper.
(Laughs) I think Riley Cooper got caught being Riley Cooper on camera, so now Riley Cooper is sorry for it. People think that (blacks) should be sorry for it even though we didn’t do what Riley Cooper did.
Paula Deen also got caught being Paula Deen (laughs), once she got caught she was sorry for it but a lot of people still think we’re the ones that should be sorry.
(Sighs) I don’t want to rant and rave too much (laughs). Don Lemon is the person that thinks we should be sorry for Paula Deen being Paula Deen and Riley Cooper being Riley Cooper.
Barack Obama and his two terms in office so far.
Beautiful! (Note: She’s an avid fan of the man’s finesse). I’m trying to not just talk about how handsome I think he is (laughs), I’d say he’s done a good, decent job. It’s hard trying to be what everyone wants you to be and he’s doing the best he can. He’s also very, very handsome.
Chey B and other (black male) relationship experts on Twitter.
Ugh, I think that they are generally lazy experts on nothing who are working for a quick buck at the expense of human decency (laughs).
Roland S. Martin.
Roland Martin is perhaps a well meaning social troll of sorts. He once threatened physical violence against some women on Twitter and that’s always been what’s jumped out at me. I forget the particulars but it was a mess.
George Zimmerman is lucky that America is still afraid of black men, even when they’re only holding Skittles and tea.
I think feminism needs better PR and more diversity, but otherwise it’s very powerful and well meaning.
Now that you’ve found your voice and you’re beginning to achieve some level of recognition, what would you say is your ultimate goal?
Believe it or not, my ultimate goal is to still be a novelist. It’s crazy because while I love everything that’s happening with my current job at The Root and working in social media, at heart I’m still trying to write the next great American novel. I kind of consider all of this to be really awesome things that have happened on my way to that. That’s one of my goals and as more unfolds and the environment around me changes, it makes me want different things out of where I’m going. Overall, I just want to be heard and I want to make it easier for people like me who have to shout a little louder than others to be heard as well.