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Publisher's Summary

This program is read by the author.

What Truth Sounds Like is a timely exploration of America's tortured racial politics that continues the conversation from Michael Eric Dyson's New York Times best seller Tears We Cannot Stop. 

President Barack Obama: "Everybody who speaks after Michael Eric Dyson pales in comparison." 

In 2015, BLM activist Julius Jones confronted presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with an urgent query: "What in your heart has changed that's going to change the direction of this country?" "I don't believe you just change hearts", she protested. "I believe you change laws." 

The fraught conflict between conscience and politics - between morality and power - in addressing race hardly began with Clinton. An electrifying and traumatic encounter in the '60s crystallized these furious disputes. 

In 1963, Attorney General Robert Kennedy sought out James Baldwin to explain the rage that threatened to engulf black America. Baldwin brought along some friends, including playwright Lorraine Hansberry, psychologist Kenneth Clark, and a valiant activist, Jerome Smith. It was Smith's relentless, unfiltered fury that set Kennedy on his heels, reducing him to sullen silence. 

Kennedy walked away from the nearly three-hour meeting angry - that the black folk assembled didn't understand politics, and that they weren't as easy to talk to as Martin Luther King. But especially that they were more interested in witness than policy. But Kennedy's anger quickly gave way to empathy, especially for Smith. "I guess if I were in his shoes...I might feel differently about this country." Kennedy set about changing policy - the meeting having transformed his thinking in fundamental ways. 

There was more: every big argument about race that persists to this day got a hearing in that room. Smith declaring that he'd never fight for his country given its racist tendencies, and Kennedy being appalled at such lack of patriotism, tracks the disdain for black dissent in our own time. His belief that black folk were ungrateful for the Kennedys' efforts to make things better shows up in our day as the charge that black folk wallow in the politics of ingratitude and victimhood. The contributions of black queer folk to racial progress still cause a stir. BLM has been accused of harboring a covert queer agenda. The immigrant experience, like that of Kennedy - versus the racial experience of Baldwin - is a cudgel to excoriate black folk for lacking hustle and ingenuity. The questioning of whether folk who are interracially partnered can authentically communicate black interests persists. 

This audiobook exists at the tense intersection of the conflict between politics and prophecy - of whether we embrace political resolution or moral redemption to fix our fractured racial landscape.  

©2018 Michael Eric Dyson (P)2018 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

“Dyson has finally written the book I always wanted to read. I had the privilege of attending the meeting he has insightfully written about, and it’s as if he were a fly on the wall. What Truth Sounds Like is a tour de force of intellectual history and cultural analysis, a poetically written work that calls on all of us to get back in that room and to resolve the racial crises we confronted more than fifty years ago.” (Harry Belafonte)

"Dyson's passion for the rich African-American cultural tapestry reverberates in this audiobook." (AudioFile Magazine)

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Riffing on a meeting with RFK and James Baldwin

This is the fourth book I have read by Michael Eric Dyson in just over a year. Dyson is a cultural critic, essayist, theologian, and professor. What Truth Sounds Like is a follow up from his earlier Tears We Cannot Stop. That earlier book was a direct theological argument toward White Christians about the importance of racial justice.

What Truth Sounds Like is a different approach roughly based on an actual meeting with Robert Kennedy in 1963 that was arranged by James Baldwin. James Baldwin was asked to pull together a group of African Americans, not political leaders, but others that would truthfully talk to Kennedy about the Black experience. Kennedy wanted to share his urban political program, but Kennedy was unprepared for the truth telling that went on in that room. He initially left frustrated but later understood, at least in part, that the frustration shared that day was honest and necessary for Kennedy to hear.

Dyson uses the meeting as a jumping off point to express how politicians, artists, intellectuals, celebrities, and activists have historically, and today, shared the truths of the world. Dyson is not making an explicitly Christian claim here as he does in some of his other books. But the claim is no less honest or important.

One note that is important to the reading of What Truth Sounds Like. Dyson, as is common among many minorities that write and speak about race, uses the word Whiteness or White in two broad ways. Occasionally Dyson is merely being descriptive about the skin color of a person. But more often Dyson is using the words White or Whiteness as a descriptor of the cultural understanding of Whites as superior to people of other racial groups, not completely unlike the concept of White Supremacy. White readers often hear minority writers and speakers complaining about Whiteness and understand them to be complaining about White people as individuals or a group. But what people that use White or Whiteness in this way are actually decrying, is a cultural understanding that physically or psychologically or socially harms non-White people because they are valued as either less than or ‘other’.

There are lots of places that both White and Black readers (and others) will want to argue with Dyson. Dyson makes a clear tie between racial discrimination and discrimination around gender and sexual orientation. The Black community is relatively conservative around sexual orientation and Dyson has been clear in his call toward change in that area. (Christians as a whole are also conservative on that point and in other places he has made a more explicitly religious argument around sexual orientation. But here he make the argument culturally.)

Dyson is never really writing about just one thing or to just one audience. Part of what he is trying to get across to the liberal White reader like myself, if how liberal whites miss their own acceptance of the basic ideas of white supremacy even as they want to apply a liberal political policy that may or may not actually empower the people it is meant to help.

In What Truth Sounds Like, Dyson is also narrating a discussion about the different ways that different parts of the Black cultural, political, or intellectual elite are attempting to empower the race. There is a fairly long section about Cornell West and the way that he has attacked Ta’Nehisi Coates and Obama and a number of other Black leaders throughout the years. That type of discussion was part of Dyson’s earlier book The Black Presidency. I am less interested in the particulars of who is attacking whom and why, than I am in Dyson’s explication of the concept of prophet within both the Christian tradition and the Black church tradition. Dyson in some ways seems to be defending himself through this defense of Coates. But part of what Dyson is defending is the black author against the black speaker. I have heard Dyson speak and he isn’t a bad speaker, but like Coates, he is a very good writer and takes the craft of writing seriously.

The epilogue of the What Truth Sounds Like is about Robert Kennedy and how this 1963 meeting impacted Kennedy’s 1968 run for the presidency. Kennedy eventually came around to an understanding of the racial issues of the US that was much closer to those in his 1963 meeting. One that saw racial division as one of the essential problems of the country and one that must be given much higher priority than what Kennedy had previously understood. Dyson, while mostly talking about how Black artists or entertainers or sports figures or intellectuals can use their voice to be prophetic and/or empowering, is also focused on the ability of Whites to actually come to understand the message, repentant and change.

I frequently get frustrated with mostly White readers of Ta’Nehisi Coates that complain about his hopelessness. Coates keeps saying that he is not hopeless he is realistic, in a somewhat similar way to the way that Reinhold Niebuhr use the term realist. But Coates is also an atheist, so it seems unfair to me to require a Christian theology that is rooted in eschatology. Dyson, as a pastor before he was a professor, is part of the Christian tradition, even if it is a somewhat liberal strain of Christianity, that see the possibility of repentance and change as part of the Christian message. The end result for White readers of Dyson is that Dyson believes that White Christians can repent and work toward anti-racism.

41 of 50 people found this review helpful

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  • mo
  • 07-16-18

Not the whole book

I paid $24 just for 2 chapters being read to me. WASTE OF MONEY!
Not happy

12 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Excellent

Great narration by the author. He provides an excellent historical perspective. Enjoyed it from the first to the last word.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Wakanda!

This book was excellent. I learned a lot. The meeting will always remain in my spirit.

6 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Jed B
  • Columbus, Georgia
  • 11-12-18

a small moment crystallized

the central scene of Bobby Kennedy's confrontation with Baldwin's Posse of black writers, artists, and intellectuals takes up only a small portion of the book, but it's branches and roots stretch out behind and before it across the years. because of that, the organization seems almost stream of consciousness. but it does hold together.

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A must read for the young and old alike

This book provides some much needed context surrounding black plight in America. The author use of words and flow almost like

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Outstanding presentation of our journey

This was interesting and brought back feeling and memories of my personal experience. Must READ

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Excellent Reference of Race in America

This book stands as a reference on race relations in America from a Black point of view. It does a fantastic job of juxtaposing lessons learned in the 60's by RFK about the Black condition in America to the Black condition in America currently.

Dyson does an excellent job as narrator, reading his own words. My only criticism is that the book is a bit scholarly and dry. I wish it was a bit more fun. This was education, but not as much edutainment.

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Brilliant Work

Long been an admirer of the author based on his televised appearances. This was my first venture into the written word and I was thoroughly impressed. May he continue onward in exposing the truth about the incivility of race relations of the African American experience in the United States of America.
I would also like to extend my condolences to the authors family for the passing of his brother. Salute to you sir!

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Dyson Does it With Dignity! A Must Read!

Finally found a book that would hold my interest. I certainly found it here. Whoop!