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Self-accountability takes a backseat to victimhood in Dyson’s latest trope


On a muggy Thursday evening, renowned intellectual Micheal Eric Dyson waltzed into Leimert Park’s Eso Wan bookstore and sparked a thunderous round of applause from his admirers, many of whom appeared to be well advanced in age and familiar with one another.

The excitement may not have been completely one sided—every man in the room swooned at the sight of Dyson’s sensationally beautiful and much younger “assistant.”  Dyson arrived—albeit 30 minutes past the appointed starting time—to promote his latest narrative “Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America” (St. Martin’s Press New York, 2017). As he would explain, the occasion was planned spontaneously, justifying it being labeled a “pop up” book signing.

Seating was limited, forcing latecomers to jockey for standing room in Eso Wan’s quaint, yet annoyingly cramped venue. Gleeful cheers and admiring eyes summoned up a self-satisfied grin on Dyson’s face, replacing his usual intense gaze. The show had begun.

He spent the next half-hour sermonizing with great panache, covering a variety of subjects other than, ironically, his book. Someone asked: “Mr. Dyson, what inspired you to write this one?” His reply: “Because White folk need to be held accountable for their role in our suffering.”

A second round of applause ensued as the Dyson “pep rally” was in full swing. He departed that evening with a sharp increase in book sales.

At nearly 220 pages, I purchased the book on a Saturday afternoon and completed it in about 48 hours. The pace of my reading had nothing to do with Dyson’s signature flair for dramatic alliteration (more on that later). The book falls short of being a page-turner. It read more like a hodgepoge of stale colloquialisms and self-pitying lamentations of racial injustice aimed at Black America. At the midpoint of his book, Dyson recounts his school days when he was first called a “n*er.”

“It was a tidal wave of foul water crashing down on me, staining me, choking me, and pulling me out to the point of no return. In that moment, my mouth filled with the taste of hate beyond anything my parents or any adult in my life could fix.”

Dyson comes across as the runt on campus who cowers in the presence of his much larger school nemisis. Instead of searching for ways to clear this proverbial hurdle, he evidentially prefers wallowing in literary sorrow. That’s not to excuse or belittle the presence of chronic racism looming over modern America, which threatens to get worse as Trump’s presidency continues to divide key segments of our nation’s citizenry.

In the closing chapter of the book, Dyson seems to stumble through an attempt to justify, in simple terms, rewarding African Americans with free money to compensate for the atrocities (and lasting impact) of slavery, otherwise known as reparations.

“It may be best to think of reparation as a secular tithe…there are all sorts of ways to make reparation work at the local and individual level. You can hire Black folk at your office and pay them slightly better than you would ordinarily pay them. You can pay the Black person who cuts your grass double what you might ordinarily pay. Or you can give a deserving Black student in your neighborhood, or one you run across in the course of your work, scholarship help. In fact, your religious or civic institution can commit a tenth of it’s resources to educating Black youth.”

This passage of Dyson’s exhausting Negro soliloquy brought about memory of my grandmother who, like Dyson, is a minister. However, there is an inherent sincerity to her evangelism that appears absent whenever Dyson pens his Ivy League-educated words to paper. Dyson specializes in using heavy-handed verse to impress everyday people, especially his Black supporters.

He’s that guy at the cocktail party who purports to be introspective, but can’t refrain from monopolizing discussions with longwinded anecdotes and rehearsed attempts at comedy. Yes, Dyson is an intellectual of the highest order. But at what point does intellect become tiresome or condescending?

Dyson goes the extra mile to exploit so-called “White guilt” while reminding the reader of his extraordinary proclivity for wordplay.

If you’re prepared to soldier through a windstorm of nebulous prose and didacticism, this “Black apology sermon” offers an unapologetic survey of White privilege and Black suffering, which Dyson describes as being mutually related. His musings in regard to these subjects ultimately fail to push the boundaries of progressive thinking.

For example, Dyson spends an entire chapter wagging his finger at law enforcement.

“The police car is a mobile plantation, and the siren is the sound of dogs hunting us down in the dark woods,” he writes. “That metaphor of a few bad apples doesn’t begin to get at the root of the problem. Police violence may be more like a poisoned water stream that polluted the entire system.”

Dumping on police has been a pastime within the Black community for decades, and Dyson willfully indulges this practice in his book, but he tends to ignore the role that  some African Americans may play in the familiar tragic encounters with law enforcement. Instead of analyzing both sides of the issue with objectivity, Dyson promotes a biased world view of policing, thereby perpetuating a narrative of hostility between “Black and Blue.”

Dyson hurls himself from the edge of logic when he conjures up an explanation for the ill-advised wardrobe choices of today’s Black males in writing: “Our children cloak their bodies in oversize clothing to smother the hate that might one day suffocate them. Our jewelry is a talisman to ward off the evil that might roll up on us when we aren’t looking.”

Such diatribes decorate each page of his disturbingly trite manifesto.

Dyson may have served the reader better by using his insight to explore the depths of Black victimhood apart from laying blame at the doorstep of White America. But rather than deliver a complete analysis, Dyson probes White supremacy with the relentless hunger of a lion stalking its prey.

With eloquence and strategically placed punchlines befitting a rap album, Dyson manages to demonstrate superior linguistic ability while setting his people back hundreds of years. That’s what excuse-making accomplishes—retroactive thinking.

In my opinion,  Dyson’s book deserves a new title, possibly taken from his familiar phraseology: “N*alosophy: 101.”