Featuring Robtel Neajai Pailey

For someone like me, with chronic wanderlust, the ability to travel unencumbered is almost as necessary as oxygen itself.
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About Robtel

Robtel Neajai Pailey is a Liberian academic, activist and author with fifteen years of combined professional experience in Africa, Europe and North America. Her scholarly research and popular writing have been published in academic journals, edited book volumes, newspapers and magazines. Robtel is the author of Gbagba, an anti-corruption children’s book published in 2013 to critical acclaim and subsequently placed on the list of supplemental readers for third- to fifth-graders in Liberia and for Primary 3 in Ghana. A sequel of the book is forthcoming in 2018.

We had the opportunity to interview author Robtel Neajai Pailey, whose essay “In a World Obsessed with Passport Tiers” appears in All the Women in My Family Sing. This is what we learned…

What inspired you to write your essay for this anthology?

In a world obsessed with citizenship tiers, international travel can be harrowing for people of color with or without Euro-American passports. My essay explores how our experiences of the world are ultimately shaped by colonial boundaries that continue to reproduce racist and restrictive migration regulations that make certain nationalities more “desirable” than others.

What is one of the most memorable challenges you have experienced as a woman of color in the twenty-first century?

Being a black African woman is a triple burden amidst increasing hostility towards my race, continent and gender. It means that I have to be 10 times more astute—in mind, body and spirit—and this can be exhilarating, exhausting or both simultaneously, depending on what side of the bed I wake up on.

Give an example of women’s roles in today's social justice movement.

From #BringBackOurGirls to #BlackLivesMatter, women of color have initiated and shaped the contours of social justice movements across the globe that expose militarism, neo-liberalism, racism and patriarchy as the greatest enemies of the twenty-first century.

What have your experiences been in leadership as a woman of color? 

During a 15-year career that includes work as an academic, activist and author, I have realized how alienating it can be at the top if you do not surround yourself with people who will tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear.

What do you most hope readers will take away from reading this book?

This book is a beautiful mosaic of the heterogeneity of women of color. Narratives of trials and tribulations are juxtaposed with stories of triumph and transcendence, reminding us that women of color survive and thrive all in the same breath.