Interview: Isaac J. Bailey, Author Of 'Why Didn't We Riot?' Journalist Issac J. Bailey had a hard time writing the essays in his new collection Why Didn't We Riot? because it was painful to confront his suppressed anger about being a Black man in America.
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Anger And A Sense Of Betrayal Drive 'Why Didn't We Riot?'

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Anger And A Sense Of Betrayal Drive 'Why Didn't We Riot?'

Anger And A Sense Of Betrayal Drive 'Why Didn't We Riot?'

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Issac J. Bailey became a columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, he knew he'd get racist emails. After all, he was a Black man in South Carolina writing about race. What surprised him were the comments from his well-intentioned white colleagues. They would ask whether he really had to focus on race so much. So he actually wrote about other things for a few weeks.

ISSAC J BAILEY: As soon as I sort of actually wrote about race, like, once in two weeks, I would, like, get those questions from them asking me why was I actually spending so much time on race.

SHAPIRO: Bailey says he tried to ignore these kinds of experiences. He suppressed his anger, worked to bridge racial divides, took his family to a mostly white church for almost two decades. Now he's confronting these emotions in a new collection of essays called "Why Didn't We Riot? A Black Man In Trumpland."

BAILEY: It is a combination of sort of my anger and a deep sense of betrayal, frankly, because it actually hurts so much, like, in order to actually deal with these issues, especially with the people whom I actually loved for such a long time.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about one of the truths that you explore in the book that people don't often talk about.

BAILEY: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: You say we often discuss white guilt. We don't discuss Black guilt.

BAILEY: Yes.

SHAPIRO: What do you want people to understand about Black guilt?

BAILEY: At least, like, I know, like, for me, I have spent so much of my time and energy, like, over, like, so many years, like, essentially sort of actually trying to defend white people at least, like, against sort of charges of, like, racism, et cetera, because we have sort of - like, sort of prayed together, laughed together, which is all great and wonderful. But, though, you see folks like that openly embrace, like, bigotry, like, and sort of, like, racism which is coming from the White House.

And also that - going back, at least, like, actually through my own family's history, we've actually had prisoners in our family. That sort of, like, actually made us shameful. And so, like, therefore, I've sort of actually turned that shame into, like, this sort of need to try to cleanse ourselves by sort of, like, going the extra mile in order to, like, actually defend, like, our - sort of my white friends and associates.

SHAPIRO: OK, so the title of the book is "Why Didn't We Riot?"

BAILEY: Right.

SHAPIRO: How do you define riot...

BAILEY: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...In this context?

BAILEY: Yes. I don't mean looting. Like, I don't mean, like, actually breaking out windows - like, all those sort of things. What I'm actually talking about - like, it is, like, this kind of a communal scream, like, in which we, like, actually don't let things go back to normal, at least until we have, like, fully gotten real change. And so, like, what I mean by that for me - like, it is about actually making things too sort of, like, uncomfortable to, like, actually hold onto the status quo.

SHAPIRO: Is that relentless, communal scream that you're looking for what we've seen this summer? I imagine you wrote most of this book before these protests...

BAILEY: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Began.

BAILEY: Yes. Yes. And, I mean, at least for me, like, the sort of heartening thing about it, like, is that this has not gone away yet. That sort of, like, is, like, the kind of action that we need and also that, like, it actually needs to continue. And, like, honestly, I mean, like, it has, like, almost felt, like, trippy almost, especially when, like, you've actually been sort of, like, actually beating your head at least, like, against a brick wall for such a long time. And then you finally see cracks. That actually can be energizing.

And also, like, it was almost scary as well. Even when I saw, like, positive change, like, there is stress simply because, like, it is something new. Yeah, so it's like, therefore, that - like, it feels strange. Like, I am not saying that that is something that should stop us. Like, I am saying that that is evidence of a real change finally, like, possibly being here, like, which is a good thing.

SHAPIRO: Finally, can you just tell us what it's like for you to talk about these issues right now? I mean, you're very honest in the book about the PTSD and other experiences that you have struggled with largely as a result of being a Black man in America. And you've now laid it all out there, and you're talking...

BAILEY: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...About it publicly. What does it feel like right now?

BAILEY: I feel naked (laughter). Yeah, it's like I feel exposed. And also, I am really exhausted, but, like, I am not worn out. I am also very honest in the book about my own brokenness and also that I sort of, like, actually tell those kind of stories simply because I sort of, like, actually need other people to know that sort of in our brokenness, there is still greatness there if we are willing to, like, actually push forward harder together. At least until we actually own up to truths and not look away, then I think there sort of really is a better day for us.

SHAPIRO: Well, Issac J. Bailey, thank you for talking with us about it.

BAILEY: Yes, sir. Thank you very much for having me, Ari.

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