More presentations by damali ayoVisit damali's website


Making art about race launched my career,
but it came with a price.

Race Girl: Artistically Pigeon-holed is a multi-media presentation using strong visuals and memorable stories. Audience members leave not only knowing damali's story, but knowing themselves and each other in a new way.

The presentation can be paired with a workshop or “tea time” where participants can ask in-depth questions and get specific insight and help with their personal challenges.

Bring damali's story to your community.

More presentations by damali ayo


"Our experiences as women of color in this world can be ridiculously bizarre and painful, and we endure and keep it mostly to ourselves. damali validated each and every one of us on a very vulnerable and visceral level.
- Staycee Pearl, Artistic/Executive Director, Staycee Pearl dance project


"damali took the time to really talk and listen
to our students...Having damali here helped empower students
in a very different way." - Sarah Lawrence College


We will be transformed by this experience."
- Colby College



"Nearly life-changing."

"One young woman turned to me and began to cry. She related so much to damali's story."

“Candor and courage”

“Shockingly cathartic”

“Like fresh air”

“I appreciated the language damali used—ideas presented in an accessible way to an audience of folks with varying degrees of knowledge on the topic.”

“I believe that the lessons she has distilled from her experience have truly transformative potential. Also she is hilarious and charming

- Participants at the
Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Annual Meeting

Bring this presentation to you

We ask artists to create from their experiences. Then we limit the breadth of the experience of certain artists (artists of color, women artists, artists with HIV, LGBTQ artists, etc) to timely or identity-based topics. Institutions give restricted funding and attention which feigns support, but ultimately becomes stifling. When artists make this kind of art, they are labeled “activists” and placed outside of the artistic mainstream. When they try to change course they are criticized as “selling out.” What happens when we tell artists of color that the only thing we care about is their race? Is this really advancing our progress or re-enforcing racism?

I tell my own story about how making art about race launched my career but then left me feeling trapped in a world of redundant art-- making art only about one topic that people wanted to me to make art about—race and racism. This lead to neither fortune nor fame, but created the appearance of both. Meanwhile, stuck in artistic isolation, I received a stream of hate email and my health deteriorated.

This also happens at colleges. Students of color often focus their studies on their demographic identities and drop out of broader pursuits.

This talk gives a fresh and personal look at how institutions and culture create the conditions that enhance or inhibit artistic freedom, and may even perpetuate the oppression they seek to alleviate. It tells the story of one artist's desire to create from her experience, but also to let her experience--and her art-- evolve.

The talk explores:

"damali is the most real person I have ever met."
"I had so many epiphanies during her visit."
- Holy Cross College

"Having damali here really inspired our students
to take to heart the power of their voices.”
- Ripon College

damali ayo is the author of two books, several essays for National Public Radio and contributor to four anthologies. She has delivered keynote presentations to thousands of people across North America. damali and her work have been featured in over 100 publications world-wide including Harpers, the Village Voice,, the Washington Post, Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, Redbook Magazine, and Book TV. She even held her own across the table from Bill O’Reilly on his television show.

An expert story-teller, damali’s books and presentations offer humor, insight, and creativity and make our culture's toughest topics manageable and fun. How to Rent a Negro was acclaimed as "one of the most trenchant and amusing commentaries on contemporary race relations." It was granted a 2005 Honorable Mention in the Outstanding Book Awards from the Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. Obamistan! Land without Racism: Your Guide to the New America debunks the myth of a post-race world. She is a member of "The Black Panel" in Baratunde Thurston's How To Be Black, has a chapter in the book Reality Radio and was interviewed by Davy Rothbart in Found II. Her monthly diary to her readers, The Blessings, shares personal stories about creativity, healing, and faith. damali is a dynamic personality who brings energy, inspiration, and positivity wherever she goes.

"damali is Engaging, warm and amazingly energetic." -Portland State University