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As Southerners, this is our moment. We have an opportunity to rethink our communities' foodways and reliance on the corporate agriculture structure, interrogate our response to the climate crisis on the Gulf Coast, and build better, safer cities for everyone. It's our chance to tear down the prison industrial complex, brick by brick, to demand the right to vote for all. It's our shot to build a better future—one that designates that our current system is out of step with our values.
In step with this moment is Ko Bragg, Scalawag's new Race & Place editor. She's based in New Orleans, where she is always on the hunt for oysters, but will always consider Mississippi home.
I know a lot of y'all out there are writers or hope to contribute to Scalawag one of these days, so I wanted to take the time in this week's Salt, Soil, & Supper installment to give you the opportunity to get to know Ko now that she's on staff. Ko is also a contributing editor with our kinfolk over at Southerly. Most recently, she was also a reporter for The 19th News.
I think Ko joining us at Scalawag says something big about our little magazine, but I'll let her do the talking from here.
Xander Peters: You're new to Scalawag but you're not 'new' to Scalawag. You published some of your first work at Scalawag, right? Is there a favorite piece of yours?
Ko Bragg: The first story that I ever pitched to an outlet that got picked up was this story that I did about a man named Ike Brown out in rural Mississippi, actually not too far where my parents lived. He was at the center of this civil rights case, where he was the first person sued using the Voting Rights Act to protect the white vote. Basically, they were saying that his efforts successfully overturned Noxubee County, a majority-Black county that had zero Black representation in county-wide leadership. He essentially was able to mobilize people and flip that, and he got sued for it for basically "reverse discrimination," or reverse racism, for lack of a better term. I got to spend some time with him and go out with a photographer and kind of contextualize that case, as some of those attorneys in the Justice Department were doing similar things in other states. I was really excited to have the space to get into that narrative. I'd seen some things written about it, but I think, because it's so close to where I live, it was really nice to have that space. It's still a story that I reference and that I think about often, and I think is just one of those evergreen stories, like most Scalawag stories, that are just like: Huh, I was thinking about that and wasn't getting the room [to pursue that story] in other [outlets].
XP: Do you have any particular goals for the Race & Place editor position?
KB: Yeah. Actually, yesterday, I wrote out a list of things that I'm thinking about expanding to cover, like migration, incarceration, foodways still—a lot of the things that Danielle built. I'm excited to continue her work and also kind of meld some of my interests—a lot of justice reporting. Migration reporting and immigration reporting is race reporting and is rooted in place. I'm really excited to kind of test the boundaries of what the Race & Place beat could be and contextualizing some of these political and social movements and moments we're going through. I think it'll be great to have overlap with some of the other existing beats, like the arts and culture and politics beats. I'm really excited about both that overlap and pushing the boundaries of what this could mean for Scalawag.
XP: I know there are a few writers out there who read Salt, Soil, & Supper. How would you describe the Race & Place vertical's story wheelhouse for those who are hoping to pitch you?
KB: I'm big on making time to work with writers through ideas that may not be a fully fleshed pitch, or maybe it's an idea in the works—I love those. This country thrives on and has been built on white supremacist doctrine, which bleeds into the way we live in terms of housing stories, and in terms of school stories, which are race stories because a lot of schools are so deeply segregated. Stories about incarceration and written by incarcerated people are race stories, because of the way that system was built, specifically, with race in mind. Basically, any story like that. I'm really big on history, too. In light of the Biden administration, in light of the transportation department, we're rethinking the way highways were built through a lot of thriving Black communities that were being [incorrectly] depicted as blighted and that actually was the end result: [blight]. Things like that, where there's a direct through-line in history that can educate our readers, and remind them of why we're in the moment that we're in.
XP: You bring up the moment. Where do you think Scalawag fits into it?
KB: I'm excited to be in a place that has a really clear voice on both the moment that we're in and the way that these social waves tend to blow over in some communities. I'm thinking about in 2020, where a lot of people's verbiage around it was that we had a racial reckoning and in a lot of spaces—in corporate America, in the news business, obviously in the streets, with policing, and all these things that we can see in 2021. And also, accidentally, in terms of the way we think about the relationships between landlords and banks, and mortgages and rent, and paying to live and all that stuff. I think that there's a lot of people who are leaning into the fact that we reckoned with so much. I love that Scalawag's tagline is "Reckoning with the South." The reality is, a lot of things have not changed. That's been true in the South, where a lot of these issues still persist. I think we're very honest about the things that we have to work on. But [we're also honest that] the progress is being made, and serious about how else we can push people to think through things with a framework of liberation and abolition. We're able to speak with a clear voice about those issues in themselves which has always pushed this country forward—whether people want to admit it or not. I'm really excited to crystallize where we are, and where we're going, and why the South has to lead us.
XP: I hope this didn't feel too much like a victory lap job interview. [LAUGHS]
XP: To keep it casual and close things out, do you cook?
KB: I do. I'm always trying to get better, but I do cook.
XP: Anything you're looking forward to cooking in the near future?
KB: I really was sad these holidays because I couldn't make the dishes that I have come to be known for in my family. I'm really looking forward to the next family gathering, even though mac and cheese and hot weather is—I don't know… But I think the next time I get to get around my family, I'm going to make my big seafood mac and cheese. That's my favorite thing to make. Some crab, and I might get real fancy and put some scallops in there.
XP: Sounds delicious.