Reflecting Black: African American Cultural Criticism
Michael Eric Dyson
Michael Eric Dyson
My reading selection started with James Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation, a cornerstone of contemporary liberation theology. After that, I moved into Cornel West’s Prophetic Fragments, a collection of social, political and theological musings from a contemporary scholar, civil rights leader and theologian. Michael Eric Dyson’s Reflecting Black: African American Cultural Criticism is another step away from strict theology, toward an integration of social concerns with popular culture, religion, politics and everyday life. This integration is at the heart of black theology, and stands at odds with traditional Western Protestantism, with its dualistic separation of “sacred” and “secular.” Black theology asserts a ubiquitous understanding of God’s presence, activity, manifestation and prophetic voice in the life of black people.
It’s with this understanding that Dyson’s Reflecting Black fits into the cannon of my Black Theology reading. The next several books following will be more specifically theological in nature. Dyson’s introduction opens with this affirmation of the diversity and complexity of contemporary African-American culture, and Dyson’s commitment to a constructive criticism “from within,” rather than destructive and vulgar critiques from those outside of black culture. This constructive criticism from within has led to friendly attacks from Dyson’s contemporaries, like Cornel West, but Dyson’s commitment to and affinity for black culture is undeniable. Several of his most popular books are weighty apologetics for hip hop legends Tupac Shakur and Nas, among others. Dyson writes:
Loyalty to race has been historically construed as primary and unquestioning allegiance to the racial quest for freedom and the refusal to betray that quest to personal benefit or the diverting pursuit of lesser goals. Those who detour from the prescribed path are labeled “sellouts,” “traitors,” or “Uncle Toms.” (xviii)
Dyson explains that the intolerance for cultural critique stems from an understandable historical mentality. Black slaves did not “expose their differences to the threat of exploitation by white masters.” (xxiii) And that threat remains real today, referring back to Cornel West’s concerns about the divisiveness and co-opted loyalties of modern black conservatives.
Along with essays on hip hop culture, the postmodern spirituality of Michael Jackson, and the plight of black men in America, Dyson provides a review of West’s Prophetic Fragments and an essay on political correctness on seminary campuses.
More to come…