My work leverages multiple methods to broadly examine a) the social structure of lynching in the United States, b) how historical racial violence has shaped contemporary social inequities in American cities, c) structural catalysts of fatal police violence, and d) to understand how Black Americans’ safety priorities influence their visions for community safety. In my work on U.S. lynching, I strive to connect diverse histories and insights about 19th and 20th Century U.S. lynchings in an effort to expand how we understand lynching as a national cultural object.
The work I do on community safety is substantially different. Typically research and policy conversations about community safety in the 21st Century focus almost exclusively on perceptions of police and their ability to respond to/prevent crime and violence. While these discussions are important, my dissertation project strives to reveal the extent to which Black people think beyond these domains when identifying the primary concerns that are materially affecting the health and vibrancy of their communities. Although these conversations have gained a lot of attention in 2020 following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other victims of fatal police violence, there are other cities in the United States who have been grappling with the issues underlying this movement and the consequences of proposed 21st Century remedies for structural police reform for more than two decades. Thus, my dissertation selects one of these cities as a field site where I interview and survey a diverse constituency of Black residents to see how they make sense of these issues and envision what it will take to address the needs and inequities in their city and neighborhoods (whether or not those visions include the police).
How does your work theoretically, analytically, or methodologically engage the public? And relatedly, what is your vision for a public sociology?
My vision for public sociology is similar to the central ethos of the Du Boisian Scholars Network: to be an academic discipline that “seeks to enact emancipatory change both within and beyond the academy, advance a critical intellectual agenda, collaborate with communities and movements”, and leverage institutional resources to build sustainable support for this work. I believe that our discipline has the ability to advance academic knowledge in ways which does not come at the expense of the communities and populations that we research, and that our research can lend itself to supporting community-led organizations, initiatives, and movements. I believe that sociology as a discipline must perpetually reconcile with the harms that members of our community have historically produced, in addition to interrogating the ways that the discipline still perpetuates white supremacist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, paternalistic, and colonial logics. To do this work, we have to engage audiences beyond academic peer-review circles and embody a commitment to reflexivity and perpetual process-improvement which currently does not exist in American society writ large. Additionally, my vision for public sociology leaves ample room for participating in progressive policy advocacy to improve the material conditions facing people in racially-minoritized and resource-deprived communities that many of us live, work, or play in.
The ASA Theory section is engaged in a rigorous debate about the sociological theory canon, and how to teach social theory. How has this debate shaped your work, and how you approach public sociology?
The ongoing debates about who should be included in the sociological canon have been extremely influential to my development as a sociologist and intradisciplinary scholar. After first being exposed to discussions surrounding Aldon Morris’ The Scholar Denied in 2016 while a master’s student at U-Michigan, I came to my PhD program at Yale in 2017 looking to engage with the work of other sociologists who had been “denied”, effectively, due to a) their controversial views—in some cases—or b) their unapologetic commitment to practicing a sociology that was accessible and useful for addressing the material concerns of Black communities. W.E.B. Du Bois certainly makes this list, as do pioneering sociologists like Ida B. Wells, Monroe Work, Anna Julia Cooper, and Oliver Cox (among others). I am drawn to this specific tradition of sociology and entities like the Du Boisian Scholars Network because the material concerns of Black communities that I am a part of—and have encountered—across the U.S. galvanized me to become an academic. While I am still learning how to embody my diverse commitments to the academy and community stakeholders, I am committed to being a sociologist that tends to praxis as I think through the epistemological framing and practical implications of my academic work.
Your work engages in community partnerships as a methodological strategy. Can you tell us about these partnerships?
I’m not going to name all of my partners, specifically, but I can certainly tell you about different approaches I’ve used to develop community partnerships and the outcomes of some of those processes. In New Haven, for instance, many of the community partners I have are people that I have connected with in organizing spaces over the past few years. About a year ago I had an opportunity to co-produce a research report for a task force in CT that identified ways municipalities could reallocate financial resources to more effectively meet the needs of residents in CT’s 169 municipalities. Here, the relationships that I had with organizers and community leaders were central to generating the policy recommendations that our research team ultimately made to CT legislators—they were verbatim what my partners asked for. Likewise, some of the community partnerships I have for my dissertation have been developed through organic conversations about our values and opportunities for knowledge sharing once I’ve completed my data collection and (preliminary) analysis. One thing I’ve learned about doing this work is that reciprocity is everything—if you cannot articulate how the work you’re doing can create value for your prospective community partner, do not expect them to go out of their way to help you. But if you find that there is value alignment and you can do something that’s mutually-beneficial, you’ve got a shot to make something happen.