Fun food fact that you might not have known: In the late 1700s, the then French colony of Haiti had become one of the biggest exporters of sugar in the world and was wealthier than the 13 colonies of the United States at the time. I’m going to say that again so you hear me: Haiti used to be wealthier than America (as opposed to a “shithole country,” right, Don?). Y’all, I am Haitian-American, heavily invested in my culture, and didn’t know that. I learned this and a lot more from a little TikTok channel that’s gotten a lot of buzz lately — Black Food Fridays is giving us the Black history we don’t learn in school.
The channel, devoted solely to Black food history, is comprised of little known Black food facts presented by its creator and Charleston resident, K.J. Kearney. And why is the page getting so much love, in the form of millions of views? Because most of us are clueless about the significant and nuanced information about Black history that he’s dropping. Know earney told Mic that he dedicated himself to the page, creating qualitative goals after seeing the positive response in fourth quarter of 2020, when he launched the account; he was inspired about the engagement. “I want people to watch my videos, and then I want them to say, ‘I didn't know this,’” Kearney tells Mic.
Well, he’s winning. Kearney’s TikTok now boasts more than 56,000 followers and nearly every other comment is a ”I had no idea” or an “I didn’t know this.” One particularly prescient comment on his short factoid about Uncle Nearest, the man who taught Jack Daniels how to make whiskey, is from a Canadian woman saying, “Every day I learn about something new that was invented by or popularized by uncredited Black folks,” followed by a slew of emotional emojis. A small step for the Canadian lady, but a huge one for Kearny, who knows how crucial it is to educate everyone on Black Americans’ huge and unrecognized contributions to the food world.
Kearney, who works in public education in South Carolina, has a theory about why we didn’t learn much about Black food history in school — and it involves an ugly American tradition of manipulating the narrative. Kearney says that much of the more empowering Black history is often glossed over in school. These are the factoids that give Black folk credit where credit is due, hence awarding us the respect we deserve. And that’s a relatively new and uncomfortable concept for White America.
All I learned about Haiti in high school, for instance, is that it was blamed for the AIDS crisis — which is untrue by the way — and that it was currently the poorest country in the western hemisphere. I didn’t learn the part where Haiti was Oprah-level wealthy, or the fact that they were also the first country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery. Even a child can make the connection as to why America then occupied it to allegedly “restore order” (by driving families like mine into destitution? Okay, U.S. government).
“Using food as a medium to then teach empowerment throughout the diaspora, I think is a valuable tool, especially for those who are not Black,” Kearney says. “From my page, they can learn something that they could bring to a conversation when they are trying to form a hopefully non-performative relationship with someone. And if you’re a Black person, or part of the diaspora, it gives us that power to know, my people have done some wild shit, bro, like, positively. And I'm a part of that lineage.”
That’s why Black Food Fridays on TikTok and on Instagram is so valuable. Kearney and channels like his are bridging the information gap for us — like, I’ll never look at a bottle of Hennessy with derision ever again thanks to this channel. So maybe give his page a click or a visit (or a donation to his Patreon) so this Black history enlightenment can continue unabated.