This past February, Colorlines announced Akiba Solomon as its new managing editor. And it’s no surprise. She’s been writing about race and gender for years now. She spent the early part of her years at print magazines like The Source and Essence. She eventually made her way to online journalism (and candidly speaks with me about how this switch sometimes isn’t a choice for journalists of color).
Over the past two years, she’s run the Gender Matters column on the site where she’s discussed SlutWalk and black feminism, the abortion-as-black-genocide lobby, and even Blue Ivy and the alleged ugliness of blackness. She has a brave way of bringing the personal into the political, evident in responses to the casting of the Nina Simone biopic, Lupe Fiasco’s “B@#ch Bad,” and what she learned from Anita Hill at 20. But this list could go on forever. Go ahead and discover (or catch up on) her work yourself.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Akiba Solomon.
Anna Sterling: Now that you’re managing editor, what goals do you have for the online news site?
Akiba Solomon: Our biggest goal is to have a variety of storytelling styles on the site. An example would be the David Floyd video that we did. He’s the lead plaintiff in the huge stop-and-frisk case in New York. Jay Smooth and Seth Wessler caught up with him as he was about to go away to medical school in Cuba. We did a quick video about why he decided to lend his name to the case and why he was so open about it. We covered stop-and-frisk from the perspective of what was happening with Kimani Gray who was the 15-year-old who was killed in Brooklyn by police. There are many different ways to talk about an issue aside from explaining what the issue is and looking at the statistics.
AS: You spent most of your career in print journalism. What drew you to online work and what keeps you here?
Akiba: When you’re talking about journalists of color, and black journalists in particular, sometimes it is not always a decision to enter into an online [platform]. It’s about employment and it’s about how you deal with some of the race dynamics within the environments that you would be working in. There’s always a question of “employability” based on some of the same systems that we question in our work. I didn’t choose online. Online chose me. Magazines were the reason I got involved in journalism in terms of platform, storytelling opportunities, and making sure that people who would be invisible would have a platform to which they could speak for themselves. Online has offered that opportunity so I took it.
AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?
Akiba: The Kimani Gray story did- the one about the teenager who was shot seven times in New York by police and how that whole thing played out. One story that’s excited me though is a piece that Seth Wessler did around the fast food workers walking out in New York. I think it was about 400 employees who were demonstrating because they’re making $7.25. They want $15 an hour, benefits, and a consistent schedule, which is really the bare minimum. They also want to be unionized. That story was exciting and interesting to me because we were able to capture something that a lot of people talk about in abstract. Also, from a pure storytelling perspective [it was interesting] to see the demonstrators wearing signs “I am a man” and “I am a woman.” It speaks to the transportation and garbagemen’s protest in Memphis in 1965 when [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] was murdered.
AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
Akiba: My favorite fictional character is Sula from Toni Morrison’s Sula. I don’t admire Sula. She wasn’t a hero, but she was a complex character and one that I’ve found intriguing since high school. I’ve read the book maybe 3 times.
I know it’s corny, but my real life heroine is my mother. Her intellectual capacity, her creativity, passions, and her unconditional love of everbody around her is something I really aspire to. Being a thinker and a conduit through which ideas that could be abstract actually end up in you doing something comes from her. Another person is my grandmother. She was an anti-gentrification activist in South Philadelphia. She passed away in 2009. There’s a social work center named after her. Everybody on the block knew her. She was the one you went to if you needed help.
AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?
Akiba: The food would be mac and cheese. Baked macaroni and cheese with paprika and a crispy top. The drink would be Orangina. The feminist would be Audre Lorde because we could chat a lot. She was really funny and talked a lot of trash in a good way.
*Note: this interview has been edited for brevity.