By Jared Herr ’22 (he/him), Staff Writer
“You cannot feel betrayed by someone you hated, you can only be betrayed by people you love,” Prof. Issac J. Bailey ‘95 said. He was feeling betrayed.
Bailey never wanted to write his latest book Why Didn’t We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland, which was released on October 6th, 2020 from Other Press, but he felt his voice needed to be heard. Bailey’s inspiration for his most recent work stemmed from the “disappointment and betrayal” he felt following the 2016 presidential election. His frustration stemmed less from the final results of the election and more from the dialogue that followed, especially from the people that he had been close to for a considerable time. “[People I had] gone to church with, broken bread with, and actually dealt with all these issues with for a very long time. At least for them, none of that seemed to matter,” he said.
Bailey, a journalist and James K. Batten Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College, used that disappointment and betrayal to fuel both his writing and the courses he teaches at Davidson.
In his previous book, My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South, Bailey recounted how he tried to grapple with his oldest brother’s criminal conviction. The book was the common summer reading for the Class of 2023. Following the release of My Brother Moochie in 2018, Bailey met with his publisher to discuss ideas for his next book. While he began writing the book in late 2018, Why Didn’t We Riot? includes Bailey’s perspective on issues as recent as the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 and the subsequent nationwide calls for racial justice.
Though Bailey remains uncertain on the role his book will play in broader political conversations, he affirmed, “It is urgent to speak frankly about what it is we’re facing, and I think that needs to happen right now; it cannot wait.” Bailey continued, “I hope that it gives people this model of how to have that frank conversation and still see everybody in their fullness, and be able to express anger when necessary and warranted, without going that extra step of bitterness and hatred.”
Bailey, who currently resides near Myrtle Beach, S.C., but is teaching his courses half in-person, half over Zoom this semester, grew up in a small town outside of Charleston, S.C.. He attended schools that remained segregated over forty years after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, before attending Davidson College in the 1990s, where his passion for journalism grew. After working as a professional journalist for many years at The Sun Times, receiving a Harvard Nieman Fellowship in 2014, and contributing to outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post, Prof. Bailey returned to his alma mater to impart his journalistic expertise on students at Davidson.
As referenced in the title of his book, Bailey’s most recent work does not shy away from discussing the current President of the United States and his supporters, and neither do the classes he teaches. Bailey designed each class with a common goal in mind.
“I want to be able to challenge myself and students, even at a difficult moment like this, to see the full story, to do it ethically, and to do it without hating anybody else, not Trump, not his supporters, not anyone,” he said. Bailey’s courses have a strong focus on current events, drawing on the news from the days prior to each class.
“To have the opportunity to examine what’s going on in the world not from a layperson’s perspective, but from an academic professor, an expert in the field, guiding me through that process, I just think you can get so much more perspective looking at it from that way,” said Kelly Garrett ‘22, a student in Bailey’s COM 207: “Trump, Race, and the Media” course. “I really think for the rest of my life I probably will think about journalism in at least a little bit of a different way.”
Tommy Cromie ‘22 took Bailey’s course COM 273: “Reporting Politics and Elections” last spring, a class that began in person and moved online after Davidson College’s campus closed. Cromie reflected on his course experience, stating, “Professor Bailey teaches his students the importance of seeking the truth, no matter the consequences. He pushes students to acknowledge their own biases so that they can distinguish fact from fiction and hate from politics.” Cromie added he has already ordered his copy of Why Didn’t We Riot? and is eager to begin reading.
Teaching a course with such a polarizing and complex topic, Bailey discussed his preparation for each class. “Every time I do class prep, I need to take a deep breath and I have to pray. If I don’t center myself first, it would be really easy to tip into bitterness and hatred, and that’s not something that I want, and it is not something that I want to teach,” he said.
While Bailey admitted that the easier route for any person would be to take a more cynical outlook on current events and those involved, he emphasized the importance of resisting that temptation.
“If Trump leaves office in January or in 2025, after that or during that, I need to be who I have been put on this earth to be. If I lose that, then I have lost too much,” he said.