Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog

Posts tagged neo-griot

Choose another tag?


6 July 2017


New Book Highlights

Women’s Role in the

Colombian Peace Process

FARC’s women fighters. | Photo: AFP


“The commitment of Colombian women made it possible to build the gender perspective within the Peace Agreements,” said FARC member Victoria Sandino.

The more than 140 women that participated in the Havana peace process met Wednesday to present their new book which highlights women’s contributions to Colombia’s peace deal.

Titled, “Experiences, Contributions and Recognition: Women in the Havana Peace Process,” the book explores how women’s activism has shaped the peace deal’s path.

A collaboration between the Corporation of Research, Social and Economic Action and the Humanas Corporation, the book brings to life the voices of the women involved in the years-long negotiations.

The authors’ note that they conducted the research because “even today, many women who significantly contributed to the progress of the peace talks and the achievement of the final peace agreement remain anonymous.”

Victoria Sandino, a representative of women in the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, who was present during the peace talks, commented, “The commitment of Colombian women made it possible to build the gender perspective within the Peace Agreements, where we managed to keep the agreements (after the opposition to the gender approach presented by conservative political sectors) and today we continue fighting for this gender perspective to be maintained.”

The FARC, the largest leftist guerrilla army in the country, handed in the last of its weapons to the United Nations at the end of June. The disarmament marks a major milestone, with the FARC now transitioning into a political entity after over 52 years of armed conflict against the government.

Helena Ambrosi, one woman who was interviewed from the government negotiating team, who helped create the Gender Subcommittee in 2014, told the researchers that her involvement was “an enriching and learning experience.”

The path to peace, however, has not been seamless. Murders of activists have been on the rise as right-wing paramilitaries continue to be a strong presence in the country, moving into areas abandoned by the FARC, while some policies have been stalled by the government of President Manual Santos, leading to concern at various points from the FARC leadership that the full promises of the peace deal will not be actualized.







More Black Women Are

Carrying Guns Than Ever

Before. But Could I?


After we were both shaken
by the killing of Philando Castile,
I promised my father I’d learn to shoot.



Two days before Philando Castile was killed while informing a police officer of his concealed carry permit, I learned my father had one, too. I was home for the Fourth of July weekend, happy to be in the wide expanse of Ohio when my mother informed me that my father carried a gun. She told me there had been a problem at the Elks club where he was a member and she’d only learned of my father’s weapons after he had to brandish a pistol for protection. My first concern wasn’t whether he always carried a gun. My fear was what would happen once people knew, specifically a police force in a small town slowly dying.

I could only think about my father coming out of the club after closing, the silver of his Jaguar glinting under a small strip of streetlights, a train blaring in the distance. Thought of a cruiser slowly making its way under the MLK Memorial Viaduct, taking the small bumps of gravel beneath its tires and casting them into the darkness before the brakes screeched to a halt. I thought about my father reaching into the glovebox for identification and the sparkle of a barrel in the darkness. Then a muzzle flash cutting off any explanation.

I remembered my father carries the muscle memory of blackness and American violence. He knows what careful movements must be made and how his skin itself may be a weapon. But I know that knowledge may not save him.

It didn’t save Philando.

Philando had been stopped 49 times before that night. I can imagine his hands on the steering wheel, the respectful movement of his eyes, and the tone of his voice. He’d been so careful, and still perished.

As we had over the previous years with so many others, my parents and I watched the news of Philando’s death. We voiced our anger, our resignation at the growing number of black citizens killed. My father questioned what else Philando could have done. None of us had an answer.

My father admitted that he’d carried a gun as a young man because the power was intoxicating. He’d carried it to Detroit and was caught, spent a night in jail, travelled back and forth between Ohio and Michigan for court dates. He was spared real jail time due to the illegal search and seizure that started the ball rolling. He didn’t own another weapon for 25 years, saying he wouldn’t own another until he knew how to handle both the weapon and the power. But then he felt he needed one to protect himself at his social club. Then he said I should get one, too.

I balked at the idea of such a dangerous thing in my possession. My father insisted I needed the protection.

He never understood my decision to live in Philadelphia, far from my small hometown. I accepted his gift of pepper spray shortly before my departure, always promised to be safe when out in the city. Learning to shoot was another way to temporarily put his concern to rest. My father understood I work in North Philadelphia, in the heart of a section called Nicetown. When people think of urban blight the neighborhood is what they imagine. My office is sandwiched between Temple University and its affiliated hospital, but that is where the connection ends. Rows of abandoned houses dot the block across the street; panhandlers stalk the gas station and beg for change at streetlights. There are near-nightly news reports of bodies found shot, stabbed, or maimed. I work in an office with two armed guards and there are emergency call buttons beneath the desks, a barbed wire fence around the employee parking lot. My co-workers and I walk the block in pairs, wary of getting lunch alone, always flipping our ID lanyards backwards or stuffing them into pockets. Despite this daily navigation, my father’s fear is that my muscle memory is weak, that I am too far removed from being on guard.

My father knew that when he suggested I learn to shoot and get myself a permit, that I’d go home, obsessively research, and try it. I am my father’s daughter. I didn’t relent because I actually considered owning a gun. I relented just to say I’d picked up another skill, conquered something I didn’t think I could master. I’m sure my father knew this is what would happen, figured curiosity would get the best of me and I’d eventually call with the news I was a legal gun owner with a permit to conceal. Before I crossed the turnpike that Sunday, I told my father I was willing to learn, but that the idea of owning a gun still made me feel uncomfortable and afraid.

* * *

The following week, after I returned to Philadelphia, my friend Jameel taught me to shoot. He was familiar with guns and, like my father, wanted to make sure I knew how to protect myself. There’s been a surge in the number of black women learning to handle firearms since the 2016 election cycle began. I searched for black gun clubs in an effort to find common ground. I found women are filling classes and waiting lists, anxious to learn the ins and outs of self-protection. Gun dealers have reported spikes of black women purchasing guns and the National African-American Gun Association has gained 9,000 new members since Election Day, the bulk of which is made up of women just like me. Considering the organization was just founded in 2015, and was now 18,000 members strong, I had to at least consider the possibility of joining rank. Jameel agreed I should come into the fold.

We purchased a GroupOn for a range in Northeast Philadelphia and I spent the drive over wiping my hands across my thighs, my body so tense I trembled and cramped. Jameel rubbed my arm, promising my predictions of killing someone after dropping the gun would never happen. He reminded me that he was there to teach me everything I needed to know. I couldn’t help thinking that wasn’t enough. Shooting takes confidence, a steady hand. Driving across Philadelphia toward that range was like a death march. What if I accidentally pulled the trigger? Caused a bullet to ricochet and hurt someone? What would happen if I ended up carrying a gun and became a threat in ways I’d yet to experience? There were too many questions and not enough answers.

Still, I found myself clutching a pair of ear protectors to my chest while men, young and old, fired long guns around me. We’d arrived at the club, set at the rear of a dead-end block, in the middle of a weekday. The gravel lot was nearly empty, dotted with only a few pickup trucks and sedans. The club looked like a convenience store stripped of all its neon. There was nothing gaudy, or particularly dangerous, about its looks. When we entered, I wanted to run. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but the room was brimming with weapons of every kind. It seemed that from every surface, walls to floor, a gun was displayed.

Jameel, adept at building his own weapons and owner of several, launched into a conversation with the owner soon after I presented the printed discount voucher. Instead of talking, I stuffed my hands into my pockets, terrified to come near any of the Glocks at waist level. When I came back to the conversation, Jameel and the owner were discussing the weapon I should use. I wanted a revolver, something small, easy to load, and with as little kickback as possible. I was handed a sectioned bucket with a Glock, a box of bullets, and a pair of ear protectors before we entered the shooting gallery.

When we passed through the door, the room was near its capacity. A handful of men held rifles to their shoulders and aimed before firing. A sign on the wall cautioned rapid fire was not allowed. There was a pause required between each shot. With each boom of a bullet exploding I jumped. After I struggled to hear the safety briefing of the range instructor, Jameel guided me to our assigned shooting alley and spent the following half hour naming the parts of the gun, showing me the proper way to load the clip, and how to position my hands. He shot 15 bullets as an example and left 35 for me, now shaking, palms drenched in sweat. He told me, taking a seat, that the rest was up to me.

I pleaded with him to take turns firing with me, but he looked at me over the black frame of his half-rim glasses and refused. Jameel, dressed in black and bearded, looked the part of a shooter. He fit into the roomful of men who knew what they were doing. I’d watched his forearms flex as his pressed bullets into the clip; watched the ease with which he racked the gun; watched as he aimed and pulled the trigger without tensing his whole body and jerking to a finish.

On my first try, I caught the skin of my thumb in the slide. Ripped and bleeding, I backed away, terrified to shoot again. Jameel, never one to let me give up, helped me staunch the blood and gave me a moment before nodding toward the gun. There was no easy out. I knew what was expected. Move forward. Second bullet, the casing bounced back onto my arm, leaving a half moon etched into my skin. I tucked the shell into my pocket, my souvenir of conquering a fear.

Between the alternate booms of long guns, I fired each bullet into a silhouette down range, pausing only to allow Jameel to reload the clip. At the end, five headshots stood out among the misses and the shots pulling left. I was shaking, sweating, and a bit high.

The following day at work, my co-workershe federal agency where I’ve been employed for nearly nine years – told me my body would remember its position, and each time I went shooting the easier it would be. Muscle memory. I couldn’t be quite sure this was a good thing.

* * *

When I was 18, on my way to take my driving exam with my best friend, I was mistaken for a robbery suspect, just like Philando was. Pulled from the car, spread eagle on the hood in the rain, I learned being female is no protection. I held my tongue, my anger, because I was no match for four officers with guns. I knew to kowtow, to say “sir,” to move slowly, to not move at all. I knew not to protest. It was necessary for survival. It still is.

After we were escorted to the edge of town, told never to come back, I never did. I looked straight ahead, occasionally wiping away tears and the remnants of rain falling from my hair. I made Lisa, the petite white girl I’d been friends with since the second grade, promise to never tell my parents. She did and continued to drive. I failed the exam and it would be weeks before I tried again. It’s been 20 years since I’ve entered that town. I don’t know how it would have gone if I’d had a gun on me.

Back in high school, a man I dated was a member of a local gang. Louis, who smoked cheap cigarettes and whose body was littered with even cheaper homegrown tattoos, never seemed dangerous to me. He paged me daily, waiting on a return call that included details of how my homework was done and how my day had gone. When I visited him, in a town slightly bigger than mine, he made sure I was off the block by dark.

The same summer I was a robbery suspect, I found myself at the home of a friend by proxy, alone with a member of a rival gang. When he learned Louis was my boyfriend, he produced a bright silver revolver, massive and pointed directly into my face. He taunted me, waving the long gun snout in the still air, until I cried and he took pity on me. I never told Louis because I knew the wave of violence that would crest over the neighborhood and I didn’t want that blood on my hands.

Silence became the easy way out for me. I never raised my voice in protest, never told when violence touched me in some way. I justified these omissions because there was never the noise of a gun. I never had to flinch, contract, or flee.

As we waited for news of a conviction for Philando’s killer, we also awaited some defense of his legally owned and carried firearm from our nation’s reigning gun leadership. We waited for them to remind the courts of the second amendment. Instead, there was nothing. The NRA called his shooting “troublesome” and promised to say more “once all the facts are known.” Facts, just like muscles, can atrophy, wither, and die when neglected.

Black people in the U.S. know the weariness of the failures of grand juries and prosecutors. It’s something we’ve become accustomed to for generations, black bodies dying both on camera and away from prying eyes. And we’ve grown used to running headlong into systems of racism, classism, and limited protection under the law. So, I worry for my father, for Jameel, because I’ve seen time and again how little compliance can do to stop this cycle.

I keep turning over the words of Ty Shaw, the black woman who launched an Atlanta-area group called Armed Empress: “Violence is deeply connected to the black experience.” I keep thinking this connection is like sinew, tendon, or bone. It is a part of us in ways we never asked for, requires exercise and adjustments that are oftentimes painful.

It’s been a year since I held that Glock in my hand, surprised at the weight of it, unable to press the bullets into the clip. I’m hard pressed to know if I will ever hold one again. I’m certain my one-off shooting will not appease the men in my life, so sitting in my GroupOn queue is another range pass.

But I’m not convinced arming myself is the solution. Jameel once told me, “never pull a gun unless you are ready to use it.” I don’t think I’d ever be ready. I’ve stared down too many gun barrels to ever feel comfortable with the idea of needing to turn one on someone else.

For me, there is no way to recognize the possibility of good when it comes to owning a weapon. I can only see the bad, what makes me fearful. And just like my father, until I can control both the weapon and the power, I’ll refrain from trying to harness either of them, willing to master the skill without actually using it.








September 15, 2017



The Mastery and Magic

of Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

Toni Morrison dancing at a disco party in New York City in 1974. “She wasn’t born Toni Morrison. She had to become that person,” writes Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah in her 2015 New York Times Magazine cover story on the author. (Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)


Cashawn Thompson created the hashtag #BlackGirlsAreMagic on Twitter in 2013 to draw attention to the accomplishments and resilience of black women in the public eye like Michelle Obama. With T-shirts, tote bags, videos, and news headlines, #BlackGirlMagic soon went viral. Like “(To Be) Young, Gifted, and Black,” a song written by Nina Simone, and “Black Lives Matter,” the affirmation “Black Girls Are Magic” creates positive associations with blackness and reconstitutes its possibilities. “Say it loud!” James Brown sang in his 1968 song “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In other words, let us not cower — let us like ourselves.

Affirmations like #BlackGirlMagic are important corrective tools, especially now, with a president in office who weaponizes language to stir up policies that are hurtful for communities of color. Still, I worry that a focus on black women’s extraordinariness obscures the unfairness of what we overcome. I wonder if, along with a litany of archetypes that have lingered in the public imagination, #BlackGirlMagic fortifies an idea that black women can endure anything, that we don’t need protecting.

This kind of thinking has dangerous repercussions. I’d consider my own black, southern family a matriarchy by default, because the women are the ones who stayed. But I’d also say that the men among us are afforded so much more  — more second chances, more space to stretch and fly, more space to be flawed and yet loved.

R. Kelly continues to have a career, despite years of on the record predatory behavior towards young black women, because of a difficult calculus that makes it hard to imagine black women as worthy of being rescued or avenged. It’s a cliché, but representation matters. If there were more fleshed out images of us, more of us with control of our own narratives, how language and images of us are constructed in general, maybe the consequences of focusing on the extraordinary would be less dire. Then, of course, we wouldn’t need any affirmations at all.

And yet, when I read the work of essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, my mind stretches beyond the logic of my own skepticism, into the space of the ineffable, where affirmations have free reign. Ghansah is an unparalleled architect of the profile. She can strike an ideal balance between scene and exposition, lyricism and plot. She can bring a subject to life with fresh insight, and keep herself in the narrative in a way that is unobtrusive and necessary. Because she is obsessed with beginnings and origin stories, she never fails to account for a sense of place  — the sights and smells and sounds of the space her subjects take up — giving her work an exciting viscerality. The subjects she has often chosen — among them Dave Chappelle, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Beyoncé — have been arbiters of black excellence, geniuses who, in Ghansah’s work, exist not in a vacuum, not as exceptions, but in a community that has incubated the genius.

Ghansah, for me, is a wonderful writer, perhaps the best American essayist working today. Great art should give you goosebumps, raise hairs, feel transcendent; I think Ghansah channels an ancient knowing, conjuring, as she does, black dignity on the page. Her work is the embodiment of every affirmation that black lives have value. She is excellence as resistance, but because she is so skilled, because of her mastery of language and form, she doesn’t need to forgo vulnerability. She brings it into the story, wresting it to do her bidding.

This reading list includes some of Ghansah’s most popular pieces, including the National Magazine Award-nominated profile of Dave Chappelle from The Believer, and also a few deep cuts that draw out her style and the essence of what makes her great.  Perhaps the temerity to tell stories, in Ghansah’s words, “about black people”— long, complicated stories with many ideas and layers and points of entry — is what it will take to turn every stereotype inside out.

1. “When The Lights Shut Off: Kendrick Lamar and the
Decline of the Black Blues Narrative,”

(Los Angeles Review of Books, January 2013)

Before the Grammys in 2014, when Kendrick Lamar lost the Best Rap Album award to Macklemore and a wave of think pieces and conversations about appropriation began circling the internet, Ghansah profiled Lamar, situating his work in the lineage of black memoirists like Richard Wright. 

Kendrick Lamar is close enough to Watts in proximity to understand its despair, close enough to the civil disobedience of the 1992 riots to understand their rage, to understand that there is no exit. He is young enough to idolize the golden age of hip-hop, innocent enough to engage in shameless hero worship, a fan enough to put Mary J. Blige and MC Eiht on his album. But he is also old enough to know that nobody followed Tupac’s body to the morgue. That a bullet fractured one of Tupac’s fingers, fingers often used to so brazenly flip off the world. Lamar is wise enough to know that, in hip-hop, the jig is up on a lot of things (overstated capitalism, the battering of women), and he isn’t flashy — he calls himself the black hippie. His abundance is his talent. And yet, because of his murdered uncle, his fretful grandmother, and the gang-raped girl whose voice he occupies in the same way De La Soul did Millie’s, Lamar is not just a wandering preacher in town to be angry at the locals and their chaos. Nor is he salaciously telling their stories, hoping to give people an angry crime fantasy so that he can bait and hook anyone who is susceptible. It is not that Lamar’s album is perfect, either. At times it is uneven: the song with Drake is annoyingly schmaltzy. But Kendrick Lamar has made a third way, and by the end of his album, one cannot help but feel excited for him.

2. “How Sweet it is To Be Loved By You: The Beyhive”
(NPR, March 2014)

The next year, Ghansah wrote about what Beyoncé means to black women.

Not everyone at the concert was a woman, and not everyone was bedazzled, but it was pretty remarkable how many of them were. At a Beyoncé concert are swarms, literally swarms, of women. There are some men there too, of course, but the women, and by this I mean every kind of woman you can imagine, they come invincible. They stride four abreast. They henpeck and flirt with the guards. They twerk in front of food kiosks while they wait in line to order snacks. They wear their best outfits — baggy vests and baseball caps, to dresses tight enough to look like bondage. They feel it. A Beyoncé concert is like one epic Beyoncé video. One can’t help but get into the fantasy. It is about the community. And even though it was a hot night in the city, inside Barclays the women were being nothing short of congenial. In the elevator going down to another level, I danced with two supersassy Delta sorors to “Blurred Lines” as it played over the loudspeaker. They high-fived me when we exited. In another concourse, I watched a rambunctious group of blonde women in six-inch heels buy shots and eat huge hamburgers under unforgiving stadium lighting, totally not giving a f- – – about their appetites or their table manners because at a Beyoncé concert absolutely none of that matters. If you wanted to evade security and crash a section that was closer to the stage, it was all good. If you couldn’t make up your mind about whether you wanted that really expensive T-shirt with a half-naked, bent-over Beyoncé emblazoned on its front, you could take your time because chances were the person behind you was giddy with the same excitement and indecision too. There was no judgment, because a Beyoncé concert is a world run totally by girls, and by that I mean women.

3. “We a Baddd People.”
(Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 2014)

In this deep cut, Ghansah tells the story of her grandmother’s love for her grandfather, a live wire of a man who left Louisiana for Los Angeles. 

4. “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You:
The Roots are One of the Most Respected
Hip Hop Acts In the World;
Why Can’t They Leave the Sad Stuff Alone?”

(Politico, December 2011)

Ghansah wrote The Roots’ origin story upon the release of their album Undun in 2011. It’s an insider’s view; she’d worked for the band while taking off time between high school and college.

5. “The Weight of James Arthur Baldwin.”
(Buzzfeed Reader, February 2016)

In this piece from Buzzfeed that was also anthologized in the volume The Fire This Time, Ghansah manages to tie together threads on imposter syndrome, James Baldwin’s literary career and love for his family, and the strivings of her grandfather.

In the 21st century, black history must shirk any oversimplification. What I unfortunately realized late in the game was that I had allowed myself to understand Baldwin through a series of abstractions, one that was principally based upon how strangers, outsiders, and gatekeepers had interpreted his life. In their telling, I had never heard how Baldwin had felt like he could make peace with his old friend Richard Wright, but it would take a big bottle of booze and a whole night of talking in that garden in Saint-Paul. They never told me just how much Baldwin loved his records — spirituals and Bessie Smith. Or how he had met with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to press the government about its callous response to the civil rights movement. No one had ever told me to study with care the Harlem in the way that he could keep a cigarette dangling from his lips, just so, balanced between a Blood’s deep blues and a 125th Street cool.

They never told me just how much Baldwin loved his records — spirituals and Bessie Smith.

“The American triumph—in which the American tragedy has always been implicit—was to make Black people despise themselves,” Baldwin wrote in a forward to Angela Davis’s book If They Come in the Morning. He signed the letter Brother Jimmy and addressed Angela Davis as Sister Angela. When I was younger, the way Baldwin explained the conditions of “Negroes” to others made me question his devotion, but as I held his copy of Davis’s book in my hands and re-read those words, it was evident that America had never triumphed over James Baldwin.

6. “The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison.”
(New York Times Magazine, April 2015)

On the eve of the publication of Morrison’s latest novel God Help the Child, Ghansah profiled the author, reckoning with her legacy as the only African American Nobel laureate for literature, and the work Morrison did in the literary world before the publication of her first novel, The Bluest Eye. 

Often, in black literature, it seems as though the author is performing two roles: that of the explorer and the explainer. Morrison does not do this. Morrison writes stories that are more aesthetic than overtly political, better expressed in accurate Tolstoyan detail than in generalizing sentiments blunted with anger. Most important, she is an author who writes to tease and complicate her world, not to convince others it is valid.

“What I’m interested in is writing without the gaze, without the white gaze,” she told me. “In so many earlier books by African-American writers, particularly the men, I felt that they were not writing to me. But what interested me was the African-American experience throughout whichever time I spoke of. It was always about African-American culture and people — good, bad, indifferent, whatever — but that was, for me, the universe.”

7. “If He Hollers, Let Him Go:
Searching For Dave Chapelle Ten Years After
He Left His Own Show.”

(The Believer, October 2013)

Ghansah places Chappelle in context, on the shoulders of Dick Gregory and Bill Cosby, as she tries to understand why he left Comedy Central at the height of his fame. It’s a profile written without an interview from the subject.

Before Dick Gregory, there were no elegant black men in comedy. The generation before Dick Gregory’s grew up on Stepin Fetchit, the stage name of a black actor named Lincoln Perry and one of America’s most famous black personalities for more than twenty years. These days it is difficult to find clips of Stepin Fetchit and the existing films are rarely shown. Stepin Fetchit acts like a shuffling, befuddled fool, and because of this many of Perry’s films have been deemed offensive. Little remains to show his enormous influence on- and off-camera: he was the first black A-list actor, a millionaire during the Great Depression; he owned a fleet of limos and sports cars and he employed a retinue of Asian maids and butlers. He carried guns, he wrote essays for black newspapers, he was handsome, he was a Hollywood outlaw—but none of that mattered on-screen. On-screen he stooped his neck, and dropped his bottom lip, and acted as shiftless and stupid as possible. Stepin Fetchit is the id figure, in characterization only, that sits on Chappelle’s shoulder in one of his skits and demands that Chappelle make himself happy and order chicken during a flight. It is not the chicken that is the problem, it is the familiarity of the characterization. That whether Chappelle liked it or not, whether Dick Gregory liked it or not, this was the precedent.

8. “Their Eyes Were Watching the Stars:
How Missy Elliot Became an Icon.”
(Elle, May 2017)

When Missy Elliott dropped her debut album exactly 20 years ago, she altered the spectrum and the range of hip-hop. She made it wild and hyperdimensional. Suddenly, we could all see and hear more. The first rap album I ever purchased was Supa Dupa Fly. And the most important video in the story of my life is “The Rain.” On “The Rain,” she raps about what still sounds like a perfect day: some light precipitation that clears, smoking some weed, driving to the beach, and dumping an undeserving man. It’s a simple enough narrative, but she made it sound strange and wonderful. This was what hip-hop would sound like if it were conceived inside of the calyx of an African violet, unfurling and wet.

I remember seeing that video for the first time in Atlanta at my cousin’s one summer in 1997. I was 16. We didn’t have cable at our house, so my sister and I stood in his basement and stared at the screen as a woman in a bubble suit that seemed to be filled with equal parts helium and black cool wobbled and bopped. These were lyrics we got intuitively even though we usually didn’t understand a word. The vertiginous beats, the cacophony of thunderclaps, and her movements—both fluid and staccato—put me on the floor. I lay there, sweating in that Southern humidity, wondering what I had just seen.

9. “A Most American Terrorist:
The Making of Dylann Roof”

(GQ, August 2017)

Ghansah says that for her latest piece, she planned to write about the victims and families of the Charleston church shooting of June 2015. Instead she turned her lens on the assailant, Dylann Roof. Ghansah refuses to ignore or understate the racism of the community that made Roof. The story came out less than a week after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, and it is prescient work.

The last time I saw Mother Emanuel was a week before Christmas. I’d been in town for weeks for the trial and was walking back to my hotel from the dry cleaners. It was raining, I was overdressed in a wool sweater, and the combination of the dank air and the heat and the wool was making me feel sick. The church, though, shone in the evening light and the shadows. The large white cross out front and the blooming camellia bush were set against the church like a cameo silhouette. Near the gate, a man I hadn’t at first seen yelled out to me. “Why are you out there in this rain, staring? Come on in, girl,” he said. In any other situation, I would have declined, but the sickness, both for home and the feeling of coming fever, made me want to go in. I felt vulnerable and alone in a new city. I wanted to be around the familiar, my people, so when the smiling man pointed to the doors, the same doors that had let the murderer in, but also ones that were still flung open to the world, I walked in. “Tonight,” an old woman inside patted my hand and told me, “you are Rachel, but you are also our special Elijah. The stranger who is always welcome.”


What Roof didn’t understand when he walked into that church was the genius of black America’s survival and the nature of our overcoming. Nothing in his fucked-up study of black history had ever hipped him to this: The long life of a people can use their fugitivity, their grief, their history for good. This isn’t magic, this is how it was, and how it will always be. This is how we keep our doors open.





September 17, 2017



Nell Irvin Painter is the author of The History of White People. (Penguin Random House Canada)

There is no such thing

as the ‘white race’

— or any other race,

says historian


The murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville in 2017 — and that of Viola Liuzzo on an Alabama highway in 1965 —showed that even white people can be at mortal risk from the violent factions of the white supremacist movement.

But even without their more militant extremes, the fact that white nationalists celebrate leaders who fought to preserve slavery, and that they cling to Nazi-influenced theories of racial superiority, would be proof for most people that they are anything but superior.

Science has indeed debunked claims that white people are superior to other races. More than that, there’s really no such thing as the white race — or any other race — in the first place.

People have been able to see differences in skin colour from as long as we know, but the meaning of those differences has changed over time, and the meaning that we assign, which we call race, is an invention of the 18th Century.– Nell Irvin Painter

At least, there’s no scientific basis for race. Human DNA is about 99.9 percent the same across the full spectrum of skin colour and ethnicity.

Yet, race has been one of the most powerful narratives in the world for hundreds of years, in enlightened Western democracies and despotic regimes alike. Ideas about race have structured societies and politics, created national myths, and led to enslavement, war and genocide.

And a belief in the supremacy of white people remains persistent and pernicious in some quarters — an invention, just as race (including the white race) was an invention.

Nell Irvin Painter is an eminent American historian who made the story of the white race the subject of her landmark book The History of White People.

She’s the Edwards Professor of American History Emerita at Princeton University.

(Ta-Nehisi) Coates and (Michael Eric) Dyson have said that if you’re a white American, you don’t have to think about (your) race — you’re an individual. I think that has changed now because of the electoral campaign and because of the way, on the federal level, the administration is governing.– Nell Irvin Painter






Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

OluTimehin Adegbeye

Underneath every shiny new megacity, there’s often a story of communities displaced. In this moving, poetic talk, OluTimehin Adegbeye details how government land grabs are destroying the lives of thousands who live in the coastal communities of Lagos, Nigeria, to make way for a “new Dubai.” She compels us to hold our governments and ourselves accountable for keeping our cities safe for everyone. “The only cities worth building, indeed the only futures worth dreaming of, are those that include all of us, no matter who we are or how we make homes for ourselves,” she says.

Writing on urban development, sexual and reproductive rights, gender and queerness, OluTimehin Adegbeye resists marginalization by reminding her audiences of the validity of every human experience.







We’re excited to host our Poetry Award for New Poets!

Tyehimba Jess will guest judge the contest. Jess’s beautiful collection, Olio, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Frontier Poetry staff will select the top fifteen submissions, and the winning poem and honorable mentions will be selected by Jess, to be announced in the fall. The winning poet will be awarded $2000 and publication on Frontier Poetry. Second and third place will win $300 & $200 respectively, as well as publication. The top fifteen finalists will also be recognized.

We do not hold preference for any particular style or topic—we simply seek the best poem we can find. Send us work that is blister, that is color, that strikes hot the urge to live and be. For a sense of what we are looking for, read through our previously published poems.

We strongly invite poets from traditionally under represented or marginalized communities. You, & your words, are welcome here.


  • Submissions are open to new and emerging writers (poets with no more than two full-length published works forthcoming at the time of submission).
  • Send us only your best, polished work.
  • Unpublished poems only.
  • We accept simultaneous submissions but please notify us if your work is picked up elsewhere.
  • No more than 3 poems (5 pages) per submission. Please submit all your poems in ONE document.
  • Multiple submissions are allowed.
  • Please include a brief cover letter with your publication history.
  • International submissions are welcome.
  • Submission fee of $20.
  • Deadline is September 30th.

If you have any questions about submissions of any kind or would like to query a current submission, please send an email to: contact (at) frontierpoetry (dot) com





Superstition Review is the online literary magazine published by Arizona State University twice yearly in May and December. 

We welcome submissions of art, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry during our two reading periods in fall (September and October) and spring (January and February). 

For written submissions, please make the first page of the document a cover letter including a bio limited to 100 words highlighting professional achievements. Do not send previously published work (either online or print). Upon submission to Superstition Review you agree that your work is original, unpublished, and that you are the author. If accepted, Superstition Review acquires First North American Serial Rights and First Electronic Rights. All rights revert to the writer after publication. Contributors agree to credit Superstition Review (with no “The” in the title) if the work is subsequently reproduced online or in print. We require a high quality, professional headshot. 

For art submissions, please put your bio in the cover letter field. Previously published work is okay. 

For all submissions, simultaneous submissions are permitted, but please alert Superstition Reviewto a piece’s potential publication elsewhere. To withdraw one part of a submission please add a note in Submittable so that the information is instantly available to all editors. We will not process emailed withdrawal requests. 

We do not accept submissions from ASU undergrads.











“Contemporary Pilgrim,

Prophet, or Unsung S/Hero.”



November 1, 2017


1st PRIZE: $1,000

(Poem or Essay)



2nd PRIZE: $500 

(Poem or Essay)



Click “SUBMIT” below to enter Contest.



Or mail your entry to:



Attention: 2017 Essay Contest

28 Arroyo Calabasas

Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87506


• 2000 words or fewer.

• 8.5 x 11 page size. Double spaced throughout. Pages clearly numbered.

• Arial, Courier or Times font. 12 point font size.

• Submissions accepted online, or via regular mail.

• Acceptable file types for online submission: doc, docx, rtf, pdf


What to Submit: An original, unpublished essay or epic poem about a “Contemporary Pilgrim, Prophet, or Unsung S/Hero.” You may submit more than one entry. Each entry must be accompanied by a contest fee of $20. Please make checks payable to: The Wonder Institute if submitting by mail.


When to Submit: Contest deadline is November 1, 2017. Entries must be postmarked by this deadline or submitted online by midnight.


Prizes and Publication: First Prize is a check for $1,000 dollars and publication on The Wonder Institute website. Second Prize is a check for $500 dollars and publication on The Wonder Institute website. Honorable mention(s) will be selected at the discretion of the final judge, Linda Durham. Honorable Mention entries may also be published on the Wonder Institute website.


Results: Contest results will be announced by December 1, 2017 on the Wonder Institute Website. First and Second Prize winners will be contacted by phone or email. Honorable mention(s) will be listed on the Wonder Institute Website.


Anonymous Judging: Entries are judged anonymously. Include a cover sheet containing essay title, author’s full name, address, phone, and email. Your name must not appear on the essay itself.


Privacy: Your privacy is assured. We will not sell your information to third parties.


Copyright: By submitting your essay, you give The Wonder Institute a non-exclusive license to publish your work online.


Final Judge: Linda Durham.