In the wake of yet another set of police killings of black men, Michael Eric Dyson wrote a tell-it-straight, no-holds-barred piece for the NYT on Sunday, July 7: "Death in Black and White" (it was updated within a day to acknowledge the killing of police officers in Dallas). The response has been overwhelming. Beyoncé and Isabel Wilkerson tweeted it; JJ Abrams, among many other prominent people, wrote him a long fan letter. The NYT closed the comments section after 2,500 responses, and Dyson has been on NPR, BBC, and CNN nonstop since then.
Fifty years ago Malcolm X told a white woman who asked what she could do for the cause, "Nothing." Dyson believes he was wrong. In Tears We Cannot Stop, he responds to that question. If we are to make real racial progress, we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. As Dyson writes, "At birth you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead.... The problem is you do not want to know anything different from what you think you know.... You think we have been handed everything because we fought your selfish insistence that the world, all of it - all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace - should be yours first and foremost, and if there's anything left, why then we can have some, but only if we ask politely and behave gratefully."
In the tradition of The Fire Next Time (Baldwin), short, emotional, literary, powerful, this is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations need to hear.
©2017 Michael Eric Dyson (P)2017 Macmillan Audio
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I loved spending time with Michael Eric Dyson - in my car and in my kitchen. Hearing him read his own words felt very intimate to me.
He subtitles this book a sermon but I felt it was a conversation. I was not being lectured or preached at. He refers to the listener often as "beloved" and that moniker felt genuine to me. His purpose in reaching out to us is to draw us into to see a world we may not understand.
My first thought after finishing this book is that ignorance is a choice. People walk among us harboring prejudice and biases because they have chosen not to know the world - not because anyone is preventing them from knowing the world.
I would highly recommend this audiobook. The fact that "sermon" is in the title might put a lot of people off, but don't be put off.
The thought of spending what precious years I have on this earth living an unexamined life is anathema to me. It also perpetuates beyond my lifetime the institutional racism and sexism that plagues our country. That is not the legacy I want to leave behind for my children and grandchildren.
Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing to see this book chosen by bookclubs across America as a work they want to read and discuss? It's necessary to change people's hearts before you change their minds. Michael Eric Dyson approaches his subject that way and his words are very compelling.
I struggled through this book. not because it was not interesting. The performance was gripping. As a 30 year old white man this book was challenging on many levels. if I were to call this book thought provoking, it would announce a great failure, for thoughts of change have been all I've ever had, so I will call it a call to action, because that would be it's greatest victory in my heart.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
After reading James Baldwin’s Notes on a Native Son I decided to look for a modern author’s take and found Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. I was so impressed that I immediately picked up The Black Presidency (which I think may be even better than this one.)
Dyson rose to prominence as a cultural critic when I was in grad school. He was friends with my Systematic Theology Professor, Dwight Hopkins, so I had a positive impression of him. But in the 20 years of being aware of him, I have not actually read anything that he has written. Part of that was that Dyson became well known for his cultural criticism of hip hop and rap music. Something that I have only recently started to listen to.
Over the past year or so, I have been a regular listener to the podcast, Pass the Mic, from the Reformed African American Network and more recently their second podcast, Truth’s Table, that highlights three African American Women. Those two podcasts, and the private Facebook groups associated with RAAN, has been helpful places to hear perspectives about the world from theologically conservative (more theologically conservative than I am most of the time) African Americans. I already lean socially fairly liberal. However, their voices help me to see how much my theology and politics is informed by the lack of diverse voices in my life. (And my own racist attitudes and sin.)
Dyson structures this Tears We Cannot Stop as an extended sermon. The structure is fine, but probably makes more sense in audiobook form (with Dyson narrating) than in print. Initially, this felt like a Christian version of Ta’Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me. It had a similar critique of White America and had some of Dyson’s personal history as well.
But after the initial sections, Dyson moved away from personal narrative and spent much more time talking about culture and sociological understanding of how race impacts our experience of the world.
I am not going to underplay the fact that I was at times quite uncomfortable while reading Tears We Cannot Stop. There were some things that were uncomfortable because they hit too close to home. But other times when I thought that Dyson was just wrong in his analysis. But I think it is important to remember that the ‘rightness’ of the analysis, while not unimportant, can be a distraction from the honest assessment of an African American Christian that is trying to present his view of how the sins of White Christian America harms not just African Americans but Whites as well.
My initial impression was that Dyson was not as gifted a writer as Coates, who I tied this book to in my mind. But after reading two of Dyson’s books back to back. I have re-assessed his writing. He is not writing the same style of book that Coates wrote. I don’t want to minimize Coates’ analysis, which I think is good. But Dyson’s background is philosophy and theology and I think that he brings a different type of analysis to the task and the quality of his writing is just as good.
a must read in these times of blind faith and purported understanding. an education and roadmap, not only for white Americans, but for all Americans.
This book is painful and honest. I believe it is necessary. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from this book and I hope many others will challenge themselves to listen and learn too.
This is a book designed to grab your attention, and it kept mine throughout. I have a fairly high level of education, and I think the intended audience of the book is well educated whites. Frankly, this is appropriate, as educated whites are in the best position to act to support an inclusive society. I also think educated whites should all know better. The author narrates the book, which is full of elegant and flowing language. Sometimes, I think he read too quickly, not allowing the reader to absorb some of the key concepts. This is really my only criticism. Put in some pauses, Mr Dyson!
The book spans a great deal of contemporary issues related to the racial divide, and does a nice job of brining in the historical context when needed. His book list near the end of the book is truly essential reading. Use this book as your introduction to the racial divide and the suffering of black Americans. Then, DO keep reading.
As Dyson points out at the end of the book, the current election of Donald Trump should be considered a call to action. This book is the resource to use.
Thank you for helping me understand the pain and suffering that carries forward from a history of abuse and why there should be reparation to accelerate the healing.
Wonderful! Brilliantly read by author. Hard to stop listening. Compelling. Beginning felt too basic, but quickly became engrossing.
Iam not a fan of books that don't entertain me . The reality of daily living is enough. But this new government and our country pretending that this regime is okay. I need to acknowledge and here what we feel as African Americans from other African Americans. This book does it and opens my eyes to others. thank you Rev Dyson. Thank you.
Wasn't particularly fond of the start for some odd reason, but as the book advanced, presentation took off. I particularly liked the ending, where other resources and people were presented as great sources of further research and understanding. I may not be of the noted target audience, but having read or listened to some of those resources previously, I'd imagine that collectively they are worth it to all to follow up on the suggestion.
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