Long before social media mobilization and the Age of Trump, Black millennials and their allies have used blogging to mobilize and protest the issues that galvanized Civil Rights icons. Although outright segregation is a thing of the past, police brutality and inequality continue. Media outlets like The Root have therefore created a safe haven for scrutiny, and for humor, as forms of endurance against racial prejudice.
The Root is a blog centered on the Black community that features various think pieces and news items about politics, and pop culture. Sections on the site include The Grapevine, Journal-isms, The Root TV, History, and Lists. At first glance, it is difficult to identify the primary writers of the site as there appear to be multiple contributors and few writers dedicated to The Root alone. Editors like Yesha Callahan. whose work appears throughout the blog, is a key player and a sustaining presence on the site. In terms of its content, The Root is not so much focused on elevating specific writers or ideas as It is in curating stories that speak to the vast experiences of Blackness for the sake of unifying and promoting community.
Since the inception of The Root in 2008, a vibrant user generated community has emerged in the comments section of posts. Contrary to the overt community promotion that structures newer social media settings, most bloggers on The Root refrain from instructing readers to comment on what they’ve read. Instead the content itself encourages thoughtful responses, especially on the more provocative pieces. Trolls are almost non-existent because comments must be approved by The Root administrators. Still, in order to eliminate the appearance of biased gatekeeping, approved comments range from constructive to overt criticism.
Similar to most blogs, engagement on The Root largely correlates to the perceived reliability of each cited story. Most writers are commentators, reposting content from other news outlets as and addressing the issues it raises. The first-hand experiences recorded by contributing writers for The Root, are of questionable reliability: one cannot determine whether or not an experience is true or whether it is formulated for clicks (welcome to new media!) Yet some would say the point of such posts are to generate dialogue and thinking rather than record the facts of Black lives. The Root TV, an audio-visual section of the blog, and The Root 100 (Think Forbes 30 under 30), stand out as the most reliable sections due to their original content and the showcasing of interviews and reviews of popular Black popular culture. Despite the many popular Root TV segments, the History section founded by creator, editor, and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. remains a favorite. Gates provides facts and commentary on the history of slavery, the African-American experience, and the African diaspora. The History section carries the spirit of the site’s overall agenda to present issues pertaining to the Black community as intertwined yet deserving of individual scrutiny beyond the notion of “minority” news.
“The term minority is ‘media’ language that is mired in euphemisms…that betray the United States of America’s pathological avoidance of straight talk about racial (construct) relations,” Washington activist Desiree Venn Frederic has argued. Championing the cause of Black history and culture pushes back at this dynamic, allowing The Root to maintain its status as a primary source among more recent blog contemporaries like Blavity or For Harriet. The Root should be read by anyone who is interested in exploring the Black American experience through the lens of the African diaspora.
Sofia Thompson is a graduate student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism Program at The New School for Social Research.