By Glenn Townes
As someone who has read and written dozens of books and book reviews over the years, seldom am I so enthralled, riveted, and ingratiated with a non-fiction book that I read it in just one or two sittings. It is such a rare occurrence that it has only happened twice. The first was more than 25 years ago when I read, re-read, and reviewed the book Volunteer Slavery by Jill Nelson. A few weeks ago, the infrequent event occurred when I read, re-read, and reviewed a new book by a fellow male journalist of color entitled, Why Didn’t We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland, by Issac J. Bailey.
As Nelson wrote about her experiences as the first African American woman to write for the Washington Post’s esteemed Sunday magazine in 1986, Bailey shares his stories about being an African American male journalist for a major daily newspaper in South Carolina. He chronicles his ride during the tumultuous tenure of President Donald Trump. Throughout the 170-page read, Bailey discloses personal details about his life and journalistic rise to prominence. He shares some of the things I can also relate to as both a man and journalist of color. Bailey is a decade or so younger than me. Some of his experiences are similar to my own. He writes, “I had recently graduated from a prestigious, nearly all-white private Southern liberal arts college—one I chose in part because I was unsure about black excellence and thought competing against top-level white students would erase that doubt. I would either prove black students like me were good enough or that we weren’t.” Bailey is on point with this revelation. Some of us of color opted to attend a majority university instead of an HBCU because we mistakenly thought a degree from a mostly majority school trumped a degree from an HBCU. Wrong!!!
He shares stories about receiving hate mail and nasty messages from readers that disagreed with his writings. Me too! He writes, “As a black lead columnist for a newspaper in Trumpland, I knew I had to pick my battles wisely. I eventually threw away a large stack of hate mail that had been growing by the week.” Bailey, an award-winning journalist, crafts the book with a series of poignant essays that directly address many of the issues at the center of the beleaguered, chaotic, and failed Trump presidency. For example, in a chapter entitled, The Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Bailey tackles head-on how the sorry state of race relations and racism and bigotry in America catapulted the most incompetent and unqualified man to lead the country. Bailey writes, “Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency exposed an ugly truth that there has never been a period in America’s history during which white Christians unequivocally rejected racism. White Christians have not, en masse and without contradiction, made it an absolute priority to rid the country of racism…..”
A masterful storyteller, Why Didn’t We Riot, is a follow up to Bailey’s book in 2018, My Brother Moochie. That book tells the sad story of his older brother being convicted of murder and sent to prison for 30 years. However, this most recent offering from Bailey is his best work. Perhaps I’m
biased in my review since Bailey and I share the same love for our journalism profession. We both
relish and regale in the power of the pen—not to mention our mutual disdain for the outgoing president. Perhaps, the most crucial revelation in the book—and there are many—is the final paragraph. The author writes, “I say that not all Trump’s supporters are racist, but that they decided to make a racist man president of a rapidly diversifying nation anyway is the greater threat.” I echo his sentiments.
Lastly, while my autographed copy of Nelson’s book Volunteer Slavery is a fixture on my bookcase, Bailey’s book—while not autographed—yet, will also have a permanent spot on my bookcase—right next to Nelson’s!