I've been telling stories and asking questions my whole life. When I was younger, my momma and them whopped me for telling stories; and they let me write, read, and nosey my way towards answering my questions. Why stories and questions fascinated me so, I don't know. Maybe they let me be bigger than I was, travel more than we did, hope for more than what I could see in front of me. Maybe stories and questions were just what I did best. I don't know; but I'm still telling and asking them.
Right now, I ask and tell—or, study and write—about black people and black places. While I rely the most on my formal training in sociology (I got my Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2017), I also blend perspectives from cultural studies, geography, and history (Clyde Woods). Depending on how fancy you want to be, you might call me an "interdisciplinary" or Black Studies scholar; and you might say I study black black community life, black racial epistemologies, and black placemaking. I ain't fancy. I just call it asking and telling —both about black people and black places, here, there, and wherever they may be (Gwendolyn Brooks).
My momma and them would not have believed it then, but now I get paid to tell stories and ask questions—now, as an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.
I am a blues scholar. That means I study and write a lot black community life in the rural South. My book, I Don't Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life (University of North Carolina Press, expected 2020) is based on a five-year ethnographic study in Clarksdale, Mississippi (the Mississippi Delta). The book tells two stories. The first is a story about how black residents of Clarksdale—a place that plays and trades on blues music and heritage tourism—feel about the blues. That story is an easy one. The beginning, middle, and end is in the title of the book. Black Clarksdalians don't like the blues. In different ways and for different reasons, they claim to have moved beyond the blues...even as they maintain that the blues belongs to them. That is where the second story comes in.
The second story that the book tells is about black life in the post-Civil Rights U.S. That story is about the ways that black folks alternate between affirmative and non-affirmative sensibilities, behaviors, and outlooks as a way to explain and navigate daily life. Black identity is about what black people desire and love; and it is also about what black people hate and dislike. Black placemaking is about where black people go (and what they do when they get there); and it is also about where black people leave and stay away from (and why). Black aspiration is about what black people want to see in the future, and what they hope to someday become; and it is also about what
they hope tonever see or experience again. At each turn, black life turns not just on the positive, but on the negative too. I call the negative the "backbeat."
My book is about how black life plays a backbeat.
My work has been recognized and supported by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, the Carolina Population Center, the National Science Foundation (GRFP 2012-15), the American Sociological Association (Minority Fellowship Program Cohort 42), and the Association of Black Sociologists.