Michael Eric Dyson is the University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. One website listed the average tenured professor’s 2012 salary at Georgetown at $167,000, three times the median US income. No doubt a professor occupying an elevated position such as Dyson’s, in 2017, earns more. Dyson received his PhD from Princeton, ranked by US News as the best American university, beating out Harvard. Dyson is the author of five bestselling books and the recipient of numerous awards. His three children have six degrees including from Ivy League schools. His son is an anesthesiologist.
Dyson’s 2017 book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America has received over-the-top praise from Stephen King, Toni Morrison, and Michael Medved. Reviews call the book “frank,” “searing,” “urgent,” “eloquent, righteous, and inspired … lyrical.” “Anguish and hurt throb in every word,” along with “brilliance and rectitude.”
Dyson’s main point is that America is a hellhole that dooms black people to failure, silencing, and death, while whites uniformly bask in unearned wealth and good fortune. “You know that white skin is magic.”
Blacks are analogous to captured birds. Whites will decide whether they want, finally, to open their hands and liberate blacks, or just, out of spite, strangle them to death. “It’s in your hands.”
As reparation, whites must hire blacks instead of whites. Whites must pay blacks more money than is appropriate. Whites must give blacks money for school tuition and zoo, museum, and movie admission, and pay for massages and textbooks. White people must also tell every white person they meet that he enjoys white privilege. Dyson provides the script: “Whites must understand that they benefit from white privilege in order to realize how white privilege creates the space for black oppression.”
Tears We Cannot Stop opens and closes with quotes from Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. The first quote, by Morrison, “We flesh. Flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh … they’d as soon pick out your eyes … break your mouth … What you scream from it they do not hear.” The closing quote from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple: “Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved.”
One can’t debate with an enslaved fictional character; to do so would be unseemly and irrational. Dyson doesn’t open or close with statistics or peer-reviewed scholarship; he opens and closes with works of art that imprison African Americans in stereotypical images of helplessness and suffering, images created by college-educated, professional women who wrote in faux-Ebonics. Walker and Morrison have been embraced and feted by a majority-white academic and literary elite. Between them, they have won every possible prize, including two Pulitzers and a Nobel. In these opening and closing quotes, African Americans sound like the roadshow of Porgy and Bess.
Dyson does not include quotes by actual slaves. Such quotes often include an insistence on human dignity, no matter the circumstances, and an awareness of how complex life can be. Frederick Douglass wrote, “A smile or a tear has not nationality … they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man,” “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” “People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get,” “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future,” and “The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”
Booker T. Washington is a treasure-trove of quotes for Dyson to ponder. “Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition … than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe … This I say, not to justify slavery … but to call attention to a fact.” Note that Douglass and Washington chose to make their points in Standard English.
Another of Dyson’s rhetorical ploys: he prostitutes religion to forfend rational thought. Dyson opens his “Invocation” with the words “Almighty, hear our prayer. Oh God how we suffer.” He closes the book, “Oh, Lord, black folk are everything … we are going nowhere.” In the same way that one can’t debate a fictional character, especially one who merely wants to dance and be loved, and whose eyes evil white people want to poke out, one can’t debate something as sacred as a prayer.
The Old Testament prophets were brazenly courageous. Jeremiah told his fellow Jews exactly where and how they were disobeying God and tempting catastrophe. Dyson cannot breathe a single word of criticism of his fellow African Americans. Dyson never so much as brushes against the New Testament’s love and forgiveness. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and “Love does not keep account of injuries” are words that do not appear in Dyson’s Bible.
Dyson mentions having once lead a Bible study. “I hammered away at the parallels between sexism and racism” because sexism is bad for “black Christianity.” His emphasis on sexism and racism is truer to identity politics than to the Bible’s larger message. The very concept of “black Christianity” contradicts Galatians 3:28, “In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek … you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Whites’ only path to acceptance is to acknowledge how debased they are. “I’m a rich, white guy, and I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it,” reports basketball coach Gregg Popovich, as quoted by Dyson. Dyson mentions Christian publisher Jim Wallis who prescribed “repentance for white people as dying to whiteness.” No concordance would turn up any Biblical verses that support “dying to whiteness” as a form of repentance.
Dyson’s prostitution of religion as cover reaches its nadir in blasphemy. He equates the spit of a black girl on a white girl’s body with Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament. The black girl’s spit “may as well have been holy water … Holy Communion … the biggest miracle since you turned water to wine.”
The book is so repetitious one gets a sense of its entire message from two pages of its “Invocation”: Blacks are not free; they are “ensnared.” Whites are “tormentors” and nothing blacks can do will “stop their evil.” Blacks cannot convince whites that “we are your children and don’t deserve this punishment.” Whites are “slaughtering us in the streets” because they want “to remove us from the face of the earth.” Whites “are lying through their teeth.” Whites “are invested in their own privilege” so “they cannot afford to see how much we suffer.” “White folk act like the devil is all in them.” Dyson watches helplessly as racism threatens to snuff the life out of his grandchildren.
What the hell is Dyson doing in the US? Genocide, he insists, is inescapable. The borders are open. He has money. Why isn’t he on a plane?
Black people never do anything unpleasant, but, on those rare occasions when they do, it is white people’s fault. OJ was guilty but “The hurts and traumas against black folk had piled so high … and the refusal of whiteness to open its eyes had become so abhorrent that black folk sent a message to white America.” Please note: “whiteness” has “eyes” that “whiteness” can “refuse to open.” Suck it up, Ron and Nicole. Dyson grudgingly acknowledges the existence of black-on-black crime, only to blame white people for it. In any case, white people only mention black-on-black crime to torment blacks. “You do not bring this up because you’re genuinely concerned,” he says.
Trayvon Martin, Dyson reports, “lost his life to a bigoted zealot.” Black people die because white society “hates black folks in its guts.” Dyson avoids facts: according to sworn testimony and forensic evidence, The Retreat at Twin Lakes, the scene of the Martin shooting, is 50% white, 20% Hispanic, and 20% black. It is not wealthy, and at the time of the Martin shooting, it had a history of break-ins by young black men. Martin was lingering behind homes on a rainy night. George Zimmerman was a volunteer in a watch that had started up in response to burglaries. According to Zimmerman, whose testimony was supported by his injuries, Martin punched Zimmerman in the face and was pounding Zimmerman’s head into a concrete sidewalk. After a struggle over his gun, Zimmerman shot Martin. Zimmerman is about as white as Dyson – he has one white parent and one Afro-Peruvian parent.
Police are uniformly demonic entities in Dyson’s book. A “pig” will kill a black in order to “thrill himself to the slow letting of blood … while he blithely ignores their suffering” so he can “high five” his fellow police officers. Police are afflicted with “a terminal degree of black revulsion.” Intelligent blacks must suffer the indignation of mistreatment at the hands of stupid white police officers whose only IQ is their “Intimidation Quotient.” Dyson believes that “some son of a bitch with a badge” “the white folk in blue” one of the “enraged white male cops” who “murder us like animals” will murder his grandchildren. “I want to kill dead” these police, he confesses. Blacks must “sacrifice our hides to feed America.” That’s why it is okay to refer to police officers as “pigs.” Because America requires that blacks “surrender life to fill the bellies of a nation that eats our souls and culture while excreting us as so much waste.” “We think of police” he writes, “as ISIS.”
Dyson recounts an anecdote about an encounter between his son Mwata, and a cop. Dyson baptizes his account with the words, “as I chant this prayer. ” An intelligent, integral person would ignore Dyson’s attempt to shield his anecdote from analysis by disguising it as prayer. We recognize that anecdotes are one-sided, subjective, self-serving, and subject to the vagaries of memory. Never does Dyson acknowledge, “I may be remembering this wrong, and the other person may remember it differently.”
In his 1977, Academy-Award-winning film Annie Hall, Woody Allen managed to accomplish, in a scene less than one minute long, what Dyson never does in 228 pages. Allen depicts his main character insisting that he overhears people referring to him as a Jew, for example, by asking him, “Jew eat?” rather than “Did you eat?” The two phrases sound identical when spoken quickly. Maybe people are expressing anti-Semitism to Woody Allen, or maybe, as the script says, he is “paranoid.”
I recently heard an anecdote on NPR meant to seal America as a racist nation: a cashier was slow to serve a black customer. I had to ask: was the cashier rude to the black customer, or was the cashier merely distracted? Has the cashier ever been rude to a white customer? Had the black customer been rude to the cashier first, and was the cashier using the weapons of the weak, passive aggression, to avenge herself? What is our standard for rudeness? NPR did not ask these questions.
Such questions can have historic consequences. Did Michael Brown raise his hands in surrender and say, “Don’t shoot,” only to be murdered by a racist cop? Witnesses report that Brown attempted to gain access to a police officer’s gun, fled, and later charged. The officer in question was pursuing Brown because Brown matched the description of a suspect in a recent robbery. Video and eyewitness accounts reduce to nothingness the “Hands up; don’t shoot” anecdote, and yet Black Lives Matter activists insist on clinging to it. Ferguson, Missouri, was torn apart for an anecdote.
Dyson does not have to acknowledge that anecdotes alone are not adequate evidence because Dyson does not acknowledge that there is any point of view other than his own. Merely to suggest that there is, is to exercise racism. The better part of the book consists of Dyson telling white people what white people think and what white people feel. When he appeared on Michael Medved’s radio show, Dyson claimed that black people understand black people and also understand white people. White people understand neither. White people require black people to speak the truth to them, the truth they, as whites, are incapable of seeing or articulating. On Planet Dyson, Michael Eric Dyson sees all, knows all, tells all.
Dyson transparently attempts preemptively to silence any disagreement. He repeatedly says some variation of this – and this is my paraphrase – “I know you disagree with me. You disagree with me because you are a racist. I will speak for you.” If whites decline to agree with his prescription to hand their money over to blacks, Dyson preemptively argues – and this is an actual quote – “Please don’t say that your ancestors didn’t own slaves … Black sweat built the country you now reside in, and you continue to enjoy the fruits of that labor.”
When telling white people what they think and feel, Dyson adopts the provocative habit of addressing whites as “Beloved.” A sampling: “Beloved, white racial grief erupts when you fear losing your dominance,” “It is being proved wrong that leaves you distressed,” and “You are emotionally immature about race.” Ironically, Dyson diagnoses all whites as suffering from “L.I.E.: lacking introspection entirely.” His lack of self-awareness is not surprising; reading the book, one rapidly discovers that he is full of himself, and that he suffers from a frustrated Messiah complex. Again and again, those with whom he interacts fail to recognize his genius. For example, his African American parishioners eventually locked, and voted him out of the church in which he emphasized racism and sexism. Between his inflated ego, his seething rage that the white people who have advanced his career haven’t yet crowned him absolute monarch of the known universe, his conviction that he alone can save humanity, and his gift for blindness to any fact with which he might disagree, Dyson is just a few Kool-Aid shots away from being another Jim Jones.
In 1978, Reverend Jim Jones brainwashed his followers to believe that racist white Americans would subject their children to “terrible things” and “bring them up … to be slaves and subhuman.” “The kindest thing to do … to spare them from what’s coming” at the hands of white Americans, Jones told his followers, was to force three hundred children to drink cyanide-poisoned punch. Jones’ majority-black followers believed this narrative of white evil and black helplessness. Of the 909 suicides and homicides at Jonestown, 300 were children killed by their own parents.
Dyson insists, “Nothing about us without us.” In other words, if you are going to talk about black people, you must allow black people to speak. Dyson insists this while silencing, and speaking for, whites. Dyson reserves special condescension and absolute silencing for his mockery of poor and ethnic whites, including Irish people, Italians, Jews, and Poles. No doubt he knows that his rich, white liberal funders join him in their shared contempt for poor and ethnic whites. Dyson spits on white ethnics’ “polkas and pizzas.” Poor and ethnic whites have no right to pride in their accomplishments and no right to complain about their pain. Poor and ethnic whites enjoy “dominance” over other cultures.
He says that his words may “frighten” or “anger” white ethnics or reduce them to attempts to “deny” him. “I know this is a lot for you to take in,” he condescends, italics in the original. The Irish, Poles, Italians, Jews and poor whites are not smart enough or strong enough to understand Dyson. His intellectual brilliance “must make you woozy and weak at the knees.” With the exactitude of Stalin’s photo archiver, Dyson erases epic suffering and resilience: the Potato Famine, the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Poland, the Holocaust, and, in this country, restrictive covenants, early deaths and maimings among coal miners and steel workers – ugly stories of men “roasted alive by molten slag that spilled from a giant ladle” of coalminers whose “spit you could use as ink.” Dyson erases ”No Irish Need Apply,” and lynchings of Italians such as occurred in New Orleans on March 14, 1891, and massacres of Poles, Slovaks, and Lithuanians such as occurred in Lattimer, Pennsylvania on September 10, 1897. Dyson renders taboo mention of how current college admissions and immigration policies disproportionately push back poor whites. And Dyson disguises his own reduction of the word “white” to a smear that conflates vastly diverse peoples, from Lapps to Jews, into a single, hateful, entity that is responsible for all the world’s problems and has no right to compassion for grief or pride in accomplishment.
Dyson saves special venom for poor and ethnic whites because he knows that poor and ethnic whites’ true narratives are one of the worst enemies to his favored narrative. They are not the worst enemies of his favored narrative, though. Dyson never mentions the ethnic group that poses the greatest threat to his worldview: recent immigrants from Africa. This cohort, undeniably black, is among the most successful in America, so much so that recent African immigrants constitute a “model minority.” Elite schools allegedly “pad” their diversity numbers by favoring recent African immigrants in Affirmative Action programs. If Dyson really wanted to help black Americans, he ought to do what columnists like Nicholas Kristof have done, and examine what skills and behaviors help some ethnic groups to advance.
Any poor and ethnic white upset by Dyson’s words is not upset because a powerful man who has the media by the short hairs is promulgating propaganda about their own history – lies about their own grandmothers, mothers, and themselves. No, Irish, Italian, Polish, and Jewish readers are upset because “so much has been invested in whitenesss that it is hard to let it go. It is defensive, resentful, full of denial and amnesia.” Dyson’s racist bullying of poor and ethnic whites has the full support of squadrons of rich white liberals and a near-Ivy League university, Georgetown. “No matter how poor you are,” he rants from his comfortable Georgetown office, from his position as an author of five bestselling books, from his microphone, from The New York Times, “No matter how poor you are … you know white skin is magic.” Of himself, he insists, “What you scream they do not hear.” He is unheard. In a bestselling book. That silences poor and ethnic whites and police officers. Clear?
The book’s structure is grab-bag. Dyson rants against that evil song, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He declares that “the election of Donald Trump was all about whiteness … You will deny it of course.” He mentions that America elected Barack Obama, a black man, president twice, mostly because it just goes to show you how racist America really is. “There is no denying that Obama is one of the most profound, impressive, gifted, and inspiring Americans this nation has seen” Disagree? Racist. Dyson is mad at the movie Mississippi Burning because it dared to mention that not all whites were KKK. Dyson flaunts his messianic power: his student breaks down and confesses, “For the first time in my life, I feel guilty about being white.” “Savvier” students had concluded the shame of whiteness earlier than this boy. Dyson still has work to do: “I wanted the other white students to share his shame.”
There are almost no references to peer-reviewed studies. Dyson crucifies police officers as uniformly subhuman scum, but Dyson never goes near the work of Heather MacDonald and merely dismisses Roland Fryer for not gathering more data. This is the cheapest of criticisms: tobacco executives levelled it against early studies linking smoking with lung cancer. “We need more data,” they insisted.
Dyson mentions the Moynihan Report very briefly, only to disparage it as yet more evidence of evil whitie’s attempt to “keep blackness in place.”
There is no air in this room – the windows are nailed shut. The few references to real facts in a real world outside of Dyson’s ego are references to lowbrow pop culture and those enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame: the Rachel Dolezals and Colin Kaepernicks. Dyson has the priorities and aesthetics of a preparer of the front page of a supermarket tabloid. This appetite is evident in the book’s dedication to “Beyonce Knowles Carter” – boldface in the original – “Lover of Black People Genius and Greatest Living Entertainer Feminist and Global Humanitarian.” There are subsequent dedications to Solange Knowles and Tina Knowles-Lawson, also boldface.
Page after repetitious, lightless, airless, predictable, self-parodying, unspeakably, thuddingly boring page: after all this, one begins to conclude that the world is a frighteningly small place to Michael Eric Dyson. You want to kidnap and deprogram him. Like those blind people who receive miracle-working operations that give them sight at an advanced age, Dyson would be overwhelmed to encounter anything that isn’t a direct support for his grievance-ego complex. Has Dyson ever been able to enjoy an ice cream cone for all it is, and not tried to make it something it is not?
Who would read this and enjoy it? This dominatrix-inflected iteration of “Naughty, naughty, naughty, naughty”? Masochists, that’s who. It’s not just the white shaming that makes this such anti-literary godawful tripe. It’s the anaerobic divorced-from-reality but true-to-genre predictability of it. Some rich white liberal out there craves, publicly, to be spanked. And this craving is so deep-seated that it obliterates the mind’s curiosity and integrity. Rich, white liberals and blacks who prefer grievance to living life to the full will cling to this book as if it were a sex toy. Both fulfill the same function: they allow the user to live out rigidly choreographed fantasies.
On Planet Dyson, skin color transcends any other reality. Whites who claim to admire Martin Luther King Jr are wrong. White people could never understand a man as black as the “real” Dr. King. “You don’t really know him … he sprang from a black moral womb.” “King’s soul was indeed black … beautifully black” “He understood the white psyche” so he didn’t tell the truth to whites because whites can’t handle the truth. In fact, Martin Luther King was a universal hero, inspired by a Jew – Jesus – white men – Thoreau and Tolstoy – and a Hindu – Mahatma Gandhi.
King’s successes were earned through the cooperation and sacrifice of whites from the Oval Office to Viola Liuzzo, a white housewife and mother who was martyred by the KKK for her Civil Rights work. Those who insist on implacable white evil use King’s assassination to erase this narrative of black-white cooperation. The assassination allegedly proves that no matter how nice whites may seem, ultimately, America will always betray blacks.
The decade that took Dr. King was bookended with the culling of Kennedys, Jack and Bobby. If, as they sometimes do, sons of the Auld Sod cited their deaths as seal of implacable Protestant anti-Catholicism, Dyson would mock their grief and insist that “white skin is magic.” Ronald Reagan, George Wallace, Larry Flynt and Andy Warhol were, alas, all shot. These shootings do not prove that America hates conservative icons, segregationist governors, pornographers or wig-wearing, Bohunk boho pop stars.
In dividing the world into unreconcilable blacks and whites, whose skin color is their only salient feature, Dyson confers authority on himself. I am black; my blackness is my authority; you are white; you are genocidal, morally degenerate, and blind. Interestingly, whites in general, and poor whites and ethnic whites in particular are not the only people Dyson works hard to silence. Dyson silences blacks.
Dyson paints America as a killing field where a genocide of blacks is imminent, if not actually occurring. Do most blacks agree? In a 2016 Associated Press poll, African Americans were more optimistic about America’s future than whites. One African American, 72-year-old Ethel Tuggle, told a pollster that “she’s amazed at the progress she’s witnessed since her childhood in rural Missouri, when she was barred from entering shoe stores and had to trace her foot on a sheet of paper so a salesman inside could fit her for shoes. Her grandchildren live under the nation’s first black president.” Multiple surveys point to higher self-esteem among African Americans than among whites. Recent “deaths of despair” among whites have no parallel among blacks.
Other than a brief diss of Clarence Thomas – his “decisions on the Supreme Court mock our humanity” – I found no reference to leading black conservatives Shelby Steele, Larry Elder, Allen West, Walter E. Williams, Thomas Sowell, Orlando Patterson, Jason Riley, Mia Love, or Deneen Borelli in Dyson’s screed.
Dyson insists that whites tell blacks to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Alas, no. As Dyson’s race-mongering career proves, rich white liberals reward blacks for displaying real or feigned wounds.
Rather, contra Dyson, it is blacks themselves who urge other blacks to exercise self-reliance. Not just prominent black conservative intellectuals like Steele, but blacks whose only soap box is YouTube do this. Thanks to YouTube, a black woman can voice her rejection of the concept of “white privilege” here. Another woman insists that Michael Brown made decisions that sealed his own fate here. The self-described “Doctor of Common Sense” rejects Dyson’s major premises in a video entitled “Ghetto Folks Who Blame Whites.”
I can’t endorse every syllable of the above-cited YouTubers. I agree on this: people like Dyson are spreading an unholy scripture that emasculates, paralyzes, and poisons black people. This scripture insists to blacks: you are doomed. You should not even attempt to improve your lot. Only white people have power. Your only hope is to perform before whites as a combination of victim to be pitied and menace to be feared. Then they will give you their money. Begging and theft are your only professions.
Dyson wants my money. He can have it – the day I can buy a ticket to Dyson debating the producers of the above videos.