Social Justice

Cuban Hip Hop and Anti-Racist Activism

I was sitting with the Afrocentric rapstress Magia López Cabrera in her modest Havana walk-up in June when Cuba’s prominent black-history scholar Tomás Fernández Robaina showed up for a café con leche. It felt like the Cuban equivalent of Cornel West dropping in on Queen Latifah.

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Building a Poem on the Border, Not a Wall

When the discussion warms up in Andrea Cote-Botero’s graduate seminar, English and Spanish flow freely, just as they do amid the afternoon foot traffic across the nearby Ciudad Juárez border.

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The College-Town Racial Achievement Gap

I studied high schools in Berkeley, Chapel Hill and Ann Arbor (where I graduated a generation ago) to learn why school racial inequality, as measured by achievement test scores, is so disproportionately large in socially progressive college towns. 

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Challenging the Stigma of an All-Black School: The Selma High Story

Spending a month at Selma High in Alabama offered me a research opportunity to question the prevailing assumption that an all-black public school is a failure because it embodies the shameful collapse of the post-1954 integration promise. My investigative question was whether such a school can leverage its racially unified character to help students develop their identities and strengthen their learning.

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A Curriculum of Love

Where is the schoolhouse door that opens to the divine realm of dreams, the contours of grief, the light of intuition, the sense of connection to the rivers? Perhaps love and the inner life do not seem like subjects students could possibly explore at a desk, on a computer, or in a lab.

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When the NFL’s Gay Teammate Comes Out

Inside the locker room of a professional sports team somewhere in America, a player may well be struggling to decide whether he is ready to come out publicly as a gay man. No professional male athlete active in the country’s four prime-time team sports–football, baseball, basketball and hockey–ever has.

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Mending a Torn Psychic Fabric: Torture and Tikkun Olam

Supporting the emerging work of the torture treatment movement challenges the belief that individual citizens have no power to address the grave injury of torture inflicted beyond our borders.

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Students Can Share in the MLK-Marcus Garvey Legacy

Virtually no U.S. student could tell you that King visited Jamaica in 1965 and publicly extolled your great national hero, Marcus Garvey. Laying a wreath on the leader’s grave, King declared, “Garvey was the first man of colour in the history of the United States to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny.” 

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Language Justice and Jamaican Patois (podcast)

Patois is the Jamaican language of everyday life and has global cachet through dancehall music. But it suffers the stigma of being inferior to English. Is the government’s unwillingness to recognize it as an official national language a form of discrimination?

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Culture

Why I Love Alicia Keys Without Mascara

I love Alicia’s uninhibited sexuality, but I love more this new, subtly intimate expression, like we might be standing together in the same room reflecting on our lives.

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The Olympic Sprint Sensations of Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago, a twin island nation of 1.3 million people off the coast of Venezuela, is known more for high-intensity soca music and blowout Carnivals. But it is slowly building its Olympic brand to emerge from the leggy shadows of its higher-profile rivals, Jamaica and the U.S.

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New Orleans Musical Recovery After Katrina: The Story of the Soul Rebels Brass Band

In the days after Hurricane Katrina, the band members from the Soul Rebels Brass Band, who were dispersed from Texas to South Carolina and beyond, made a pledge over their cell phones to keep their weekly Thursday night gigs at Le Bon Temps Roulé.

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Detroit Still Has Its Vibe

On a front lawn off Detroit’s Jefferson Avenue, 11-year-old Tania displays dolls dressed in colorful, hand-designed African fashions. “My grandmother buys them and gets fabric to make the outfits,” Tania says, reporting that on this day, sales are up with spillover traffic from the free Jazzin’ on Jefferson festival. 

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A Harlem Heritage Tour

If you drop in to New York for a weekend, here’s how to tap into Harlem’s rich black heritage, which begins at the mecca of African American music, the Apollo Theater.

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Literary Criticism

On Interracial Love: Why Baldwin’s Another Country Still Matters

Another Country does not celebrate interracial love; it suggests only its fragile possibility, showing a racial America stripped bare, often literally. But the essential and enduring promise for these wounded characters is that, despite their defenses and denials, they speak and they witness each other’s wrenching racial truths. Their tense dialogues on race, layered with explorations of gay sexuality, remain radical nearly 60 years later.

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The Art of Death: A Conversation With Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat writes about death, even the most brutal, with a lyricism that reminds us of a primal paradox—within the deepest violence and loss, the life-force reasserts itself. 

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An Army of Spiritual Teachers: A Conversation With Alice Walker

I’m sure it wasn’t coincidental, when I phoned Alice Walker at her northern California home in August, to find her gardening. Flowers are perhaps the most common motif in her fifty-year catalog of poetry.

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The Craft of the Bilingual Writer

Eight prominent bilingual US writers discuss how they approach their dual-language craft as they navigate identity between a childhood lived in one tongue and adulthood lived in another.

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A debut novel examines gentrification.
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Memoir

Smoothing the Serpent’s Tooth (Best American Essays 2017 Notable Selection)

One day in the last few weeks of his life, when he was having frequent coughing spasms, my father and I explicated Shakespeare’s Sonnet 71.

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The Return of Marvin Gaye

“What, you’re wondering if I’ll keep this up for my second half century?” I said, scanning the circle. I had no words to answer the question truthfully. There was too much love in the room. At that point I was considering killing myself before I reached 51, maybe with a vial of Phenobarbital.

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The Enumerated Catalog of Joy

Stitching these lists together convinces me I can capture the full fabric of my life, a testament of my essence. I want to believe that joy can be enumerated, grief segmented, and love classified. I want a life that is lyrical, and also measurable.

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Poetry

“From the Soil”

On the prison rooftop Mandela /

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“Neruda’s Last Question”

Tea leaves patient in a samovar, coconut milk /

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“Balloon”

Rainbow-striped above the neighborhood /

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“Sleeveless in the Subway”

Bless a steam hot concrete day /

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“Einstein’s Third Equation”

A finger pressed against my eye /

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“Falluja”

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