As the nation celebrates Black History Month, the O’Neill School is working to amplify Black voices within our own community. From students to faculty and alumni, the O’Neill IUPUI blog will feature guest posts throughout February discussing the individual’s research, fields of expertise, and/or experiences.
Written by: Dr. Caroline Bailey, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, O’Neill School at IUPUI
Black History Month brings forth a mixture of emotions for me. On the one hand, there is a sense of sorrow when I think about the millions of Black people who were stolen from their homeland and brought to America to work for free under the violent rule of white men and women, destroying generations of Black family lineage, culture, and wealth. During this month it is commonplace to turn on the television and see movies that are meant to document the experiences of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights era. While I appreciate the telling of these dark periods in American history, it is such a terrible reminder of the cruelty and suffering that Black people in America have experienced and continue to experience.
On the other hand, there is a sense of pride as we celebrate the accomplishments of countless African Americans even amid unprecedented oppression and mistreatment. Given all the adversity faced by Black people throughout history, it is even more remarkable to consider all that we have contributed to this country. As a result, African American culture, intellect, and pride are woven throughout the fabric of America. Whether it is Harriet Tubman’s determination to liberate her people, Ruby Bridges’ courage to integrate schools in New Orleans, the invention of the traffic light by Garrett Morgan, or the pioneering of open-heart surgery by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, African American women and men have given tremendously to a country that has taken so much from them.
The celebration of Black History Month also gives me pause for deep reflection. Beginning with the continued injustices that Black people face, I am reminded of the microaggressions directed at Black people every day by people and organizations that do not recognize that Black lives do, in fact, matter. This is only secondary to the more overt actions of injustice, such as inadequate access to health care for Black folks—which has been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic—and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland at the hands of police.
Because of the historical and contemporary mistreatment of Black people in this country, I want to use my platform to draw attention to these injustices and to influence policy that improves the lives of those in the Black community. Broadly, my research explores disparate outcomes for minorities across several settings, including the criminal justice system and school setting. Specifically, one avenue of my research agenda focuses on the ways in which historical practices, such as slavery, continually reproduces the maltreatment of Black people, particularly through anti-Black hate crimes. Although slavery is often characterized as a phenomenon that happened centuries ago and without any current relevance, the truth of the matter is that the effects of slavery are everlasting, and they continue to reverberate loudly throughout this country. As such, my research explores the contemporary consequences of slavery.
My passion for these subjects is also highlighted in the courses that I teach at the O’Neill School. My approach to teaching is anchored in providing foundational context to explain the current practices and policies that are ladened throughout the criminal justice system. In my course American Criminal Justice System, for example, I parallel how contemporary police brutality, fear, and mistrust in the Black community can be traced back to the origins of policing in this country—slave patrols. Moreover, in my course Theoretical Foundations of Criminal Justice, I guide students to think about how theory and research have the ability to influence criminal justice policy. These policies, in turn, can affect the livelihood of others, especially vulnerable populations, in substantial ways. I encourage students to critique, challenge, and confront their preconceived biases and beliefs. I believe this approach fosters an environment where students can develop more comprehensive, worldly, and nuanced perspectives. My hope is that my work—both in and out of the classroom—will highlight the injustices that Black people continue to face, inform change that will lift up Black people, and ultimately, contribute to the next generation of culturally attentive research, researchers, and practitioners.
To my Black brothers and sisters: your skin is not too dark, your hair is not too curly or unprofessional, the passion in your voice is not too intimidating, AND the color of your skin is not a weapon. Your opinions matter and deserve to be heard. You deserve a seat at the table. And you deserve that seat not because you’re Black but because you’ve earned it. Continue to light up the world with your head held high—your ancestors paid for it! Happy Black History Month!