Salamishah Tillet, Henry Rutgers Professor of African American Studies and Creative Writing and the associate director of the Price Institute at Rutgers University-Newark, has joined the class of 2021 Andrew Carnegie Fellows. She will be using the time and resources awarded to work on a new Cultural History of the ‘Me Too’ movement, exploring what sparked the mass movement and how it continues to create impact.
I hope to reveal how a cultural phenomenon like Me Too continues to have real-world ramifications for the safety, dignity, and mobility of everyday people.
In Lieu of the Law: ‘Me Too’ and the Politics of Justice is a cultural history about how the United State’s largest social media movement took hold and largely thrived outside of the country’s most powerful instrument of democracy, the law. By telling the story of the founding paradox of the Me Too movement as well as its unfolding, influence, and backlash against it, Tillet’s book seeks to examine what the true nature of its impact has been, particularly on the lives of those most vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment—cisgender and transgender girls and women. “My study is inspired by my desire to better understand how the relationship between social media and mass movements might upend and expand conventional definitions of democracy and political engagement beyond legislation and electoral politics. Through this examination, I hope to reveal how a cultural phenomenon like Me Too continues to have real-world ramifications for the safety, dignity, and mobility of everyday people in the United States and beyond,” says Tillet.
Tillet, who is the founding director of New Arts Justice, an incubator within Rutgers University-Newark that is committed to black feminist approaches to art’s relationship to place, social justice, and civic engagement, is one of 26 Carnegie Fellows selected this year. The Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program provides a $200,000 stipend, making it possible for recipients to devote up to two years to significant research and writing. The most generous stipend of its kind, the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program has funded a total of 216 scholars, journalists, and authors, representing an investment of $43.2 million. It focuses on subjects such as U.S. democracy, the environment, technological and cultural evolution, and international relations. The criteria prioritize the originality and promise of the research, its potential impact on the field, and the scholar’s plans for communicating the findings to a broad audience.
“Salamishah’s breathtaking grasp of fields from literature, history, African American studies, women’s and gender studies to the arts—including film, television, music, dance, photography, and sculpture—politics, and law, as well as the voraciousness with which she consumes information from these fields and more, is matched only by her uncanny ability to synthesize information to make coherent and convincing sense of complex contemporary issues in historical perspective. She may very well be one of the most important cultural observers and critics of our time,” said Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “We’re deeply grateful to the Carnegie Corporation of New York for recognizing her with this award.”
These themes are not new to Tillet, who has long held up a critical lens to violence against women. In 2003 Tillet co-founded A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based non-profit, with her sister, Scheherazade Tillet. The organization’s mission is to empower young artists and activists to end violence against all girls and women, and advocate for racial and gender equity in schools, communities, and the country-at-large.
Tillet also recently published In Search of The Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece, a book that combines cultural criticism, history, and memoir to explore Alice Walker’s epistolary novel and shows how it has influenced and been informed by the zeitgeist. Reading The Color Purple at age 15 was a groundbreaking experience for Tillet, and continues to resonate with her—as a sexual violence survivor, as a teacher of the novel, and as an accomplished academic. Through archival research and interviews with Walker, Oprah Winfrey, and Quincy Jones (among others), Tillet studies Walker’s life and how themes of violence emerged in her earlier work.
"I really would like to understand how and if a social movement can take root and spread without the democratizing force of the legislation,” said Tillet. "In Lieu of the Law takes that idea one step further, and asks 'How did a movement that upended longstanding myths and shifted public narratives about sexual assault and harassment, actually help millions of survivors heal, while also strengthening democracy for generations to come?'"