Reflecting Black - Michael Eric Dyson (Post 3)


The remainder of my texts finally arrived in the mail after a 1-month delay - very exciting!

As I wrap up my reading of Michael Eric Dyson, there are all sorts of things I want to share with you.

In The Liberal Theory of Race, Dyson critics the contemporary failure to effectively articulate present-day oppression.  In Dyson’s estimation, modern liberals remain baffled by stories of black Americans – particularly young black men who play by society’s rules, pursue higher education, dress well, and avoid brushes with the law – who find themselves in prison, or shot by police or civilians. 

The liberal understanding of race in the United States is modeled on the white European immigrant experience.  In making this experience paradigmatic, liberal theorists have lumped race together with other variables – religion, language, and nationality, for example – and taken them all to constitute a larger ethnic identity that is more crucial than race in explaining the condition of black people. (136)

Not to mention that the implication of "playing by society's rules" is inherently racist, because black Americans are consistently held to a standard white Americans are not.  A white teenager with Skittles and a hoodie doesn't get tracked and harassed by neighborhood watch.

The white European immigrant experience does not parallel the reality of black Americans brought here by force amid torture and genocide, and forced for two centuries to labor as human property.  White Europeans did not experience the “hunting” of the Jim Crow South.  Where European immigrants were able to largely assimilate into mainstream American culture, black Americans could not “hide” in the crowd.  “Because it conceives of race as merely a part of one’s broader ethnic identity, liberal race theory is unable to make sense of the particular forms of oppression generated primarily by racial identity.” (137)

In 2008 I watched liberal whites around me recoil at the sound-byte from Rev. Jeremiah Wright: “God damn America.”  I did not recoil when I heard that.  By 2008, I had enough introduction to liberation theology to understand the tradition of Wright’s words. 

But I confess it is deeply uncomfortable to hear those words.  I should be.  Those words imply that I bear ownership for the sins of the past.  And I believe I do.  If society is to move forward, to grow, to redeem its past sins, then we must OWN the sins we did not commit with our own hands.  Our African American sisters and brothers are still suffering from those sins. 


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