Karen Grigsby Bates

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson taught at an elementary school for two decades before becoming, as she jokes, "a 50-year-old debutante" author. She's been writing since grade school, but Johnson says her debut story collection, My Monticello, which came out this month, might not have been able to come much sooner: "I think the world has to be in a place to accept and be interested in what you have to say," she muses, "Some...things are within your control and some...are just not.

Bethany C. Morrow already had several books in different genres published when she was asked to consider another: a re-envisioning of the beloved classic Little Women. She agreed, on one condition — her book would not reimagine anything. "I know that as soon as I make the March sisters Black girls, I am not reimagining Little Women," she said, "I'm telling a completely different story."

There is a saying a friend with Louisiana roots has about people who keep doing the same thing, even while that keeps yielding less-than-felicitous results. Those people, my friend says, are "stuck on stupid."

I have a confession: I am not a fan of the passing trope.

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In the early 1900s, Greenwood — a Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla. — was a thriving, successful, independent town. But on May 31, 1921, a mob of white people stormed the town, killing an estimated 300 people, burning down homes and businesses, and leaving thousands homeless. There are competing theories as to what ultimately incited what came to be known as the Tulsa Race Massacre — but author Jewell Parker Rhodes says it was likely related to the perception that Black people "shouldn't be educated, shouldn't be uppity, shouldn't be, enjoying this kind of success."

Writer Paula Yoo was 13 years old and finishing up seventh grade when Vincent Chin was killed. Chin was a 27-year-old draftsman who was celebrating his impending wedding at a strip club in Detroit, when he was bludgeoned to death by a pair of white men. Those men were apparently upset by their perception that American auto jobs were disappearing as a result of Japanese success in the auto industry. (Chin was Chinese.)

The Smithsonian museums, like so many public spaces, have been closed down for more than a year now. Buildings that were once overflowing with admirers of art, history and science are now largely empty. Before the pandemic hit the U.S., the National Museum of African American History and Culture was one of D.C.'s most sought after destinations. So we decided to ask for a private (virtual) tour from Lonnie G. Bunch III, the creator of the Blacksonian and the current Secretary of the Smithsonian (translation: he runs the place — all 19 museums, 21 libraries and the National Zoo).

After the Capitol was cleared of insurrectionists on Jan. 6, there was work to be done. You may have seen the video of a group of Capitol workers cleaning up the great halls, trying to restore order and dignity to rooms that had been trashed and defaced.

When Kamala Harris stepped to the podium in Delaware on Saturday night to speak to supporters as vice president-elect, she made all kinds of history: She'll become the first woman to serve as vice president. The first woman of African descent (on her father's side) and also the first Asian American (on her late mother's side). The first graduate of a historically Black college or university (Howard)—and the first member of a Black sorority to sit a heartbeat away from the presidency.

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There was already a lot embedded in the name Karen. But it really caught on after this incident in New York.

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As the protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis began to mount over the past several days, my inbox and Facebook page began to fill with observations from my contemporaries. Many of them said variations of the same thing:

This is just like 1968.

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The world is less generous and less welcoming because B. Smith, former model, entertainer and lifestyle doyenne, has left it.

At age 70, Smith succumbed to early onset Alzheimer's, which she had been battling for years. She died Saturday at her Long Island home with family nearby.

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Finally today, got snacks? The Academy Awards are today, the capstone event to the awards season in Hollywood that began with the Golden Globes.

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SCARLETT JOHANSSON: And the Golden Globe goes to Awkwafina.

This week, the Code Switch team is sharing conversations with some of our favorite authors about the books we're starting the decade with. Today, senior correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates talks to Susan Straight about her new memoir, In The Country of Women.

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The singer and actress Diahann Carroll was as famous for her elegance as she was for her acting and her voice. She died today at her home in Los Angeles from complications of breast cancer. She was 84. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this appreciation.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


Gloria Gaynor has said she's pretty sure her signature song, the 1978 disco smash "I Will Survive," was created just for her. But the singer had to go through a lot before she and the song found each other.

Updated at 10:05 a.m. ET

When Toni Morrison received her Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, her remarks began with a reflection on the phrase once upon a time. In her signature, measured cadence, Morrison told the Swedish Academy she believed these were some of the first words we remember from our childhoods.

Exactly 100 years ago today, Chicago was in the throes of a brutal heat wave. Thousands flocked to the beaches lining Lake Michigan for some relief. Among them: a group of black boys that included 17-year-old Eugene Williams. Eugene, who was on a raft, inadvertently drifted over the invisible line that separated the black and white sections of the 29th St Beach. One white beachgoer, insulted, began throwing rocks at the black kids. Eugene Williams slipped off his raft and drowned.

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Because of her food journalism, the food world has been well aware of Samin Nosrat for several years. But she became a household name when two things happened: First, her book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, became a runaway bestseller. The book explores the mysteries of cooking for the home chef and garnered just about every award a cookbook could get.

Poet Kevin Young says there are so many different kinds of poetry, even people who think they hate it should reassess. "I think of [poetry] more like music," Young told me last year. "Like, if someone said, 'I don't like any music,' I would be like 'Who are you? I don't understand.' They haven't found the right music to me, then."

Same with poetry, he says: "I think we have to help people find the right poem for them."

Ebony magazine was more than a publication — to black America, it was a public trust. It held a place of prominence in millions of African-American households whose members did not otherwise see themselves in the mainstream media. So back in 2015, when Johnson Publishing Company announced it was spinning off its flagship magazine, Ebony, and also its news magazine sibling, Jet, people knew something was up.

Today, ethnic studies is an accepted part of academia. Many if not most college students have taken a course or two. But 50 years ago, studying the history and culture of any people who were not white and Western was considered radical. Then came the longest student strike in U.S. history, at San Francisco State College, which changed everything.

The groundwork was laid for the strike a couple of years before, when black students organized to press for a black studies department and the admission of more black students.

The value of civility is one of the few things Americans can all agree on — right? That's the common assumption. And yet it's an assumption that depends on everyone thinking they're a full member of the community.

But what about when they aren't?

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