Salamishah Tillet

Wolf Humanities Center Penn Faculty Fellow

20172018 Forum on Afterlives

Salamishah Tillet

Robert S. Blank Presidential Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies
University of Pennsylvania

Salamishah Tillet is an associate professor of English and Africana Studies and faculty member of the Alice Paul Center for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at the University of Pennsylvania.  She has published articles with The,The Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, The Nation, The Root, and regularly contributes to Elle magazine and the New York Times.  She is the author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination (Duke, 2012) and is currently working on a book on the civil rights icon, Nina Simone.  In 2003, Salamishah and her sister, Scheherazade Tillet, co-founded A Long Walk Home, Inc., a Chicago-based nonprofit that uses art to empower young people and end violence against girls and women.  

All The Rage: “Mississippi Goddamn” and the World Nina Simone Made

On September 15, 1963, Nina Simone rushed to make a gun after learning that four little girls, none of them older than fourteen, had been killed by a bomb during Sunday school in Birmingham, Alabama. When she failed to build a gun, she produced something far more potent: her most famous protest song, “Mississippi Goddam.” Using her debut of this song at Carnegie Hall as my site of departure, All The Rage: “Mississippi Goddamn” and the World Nina Simone Made tells the unlikely story of how Simone rescued, and redeemed, black rage, a political emotion that African Americans performers had until that moment mainly hid from white America for fear of being demonized, reduced to stereotype, or victimized by violence. Once Nina unleashed her song to the world, her rage gained new currency and urgency its afterlife, giving successive generations of African Americans -- from the Black Power Movement to Black Lives Matter – the permission to express their own anger more boldly and confidently than the group before. But, this book simultaneously tells another story: the segregation of anger in American life -- why certain groups are politically rewarded for expressing it, others are punished for it, and our steadfast resistance to considering black rage as a legitimate and righteous response to trauma and the ultimate antidote to the racist terror. By time traveling with Nina Simone’s most powerful song and pulling on theories by Martha Nussbaum, Aristotle, and Audre Lorde, All The Rage tells a dueling history of America, of the upside -- and downside -- of anger; the price paid by and potential of black artists who at their height of their popularity out their rage, not as a rejection of America, but in fact is its deepest reclamation; not a turning inward, but a facing outward, giving the nation’s yet another chance to get democracy right.