TWC Talk: Michael Eric Dyson Shares His Sermon to White America
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, discussed race and the 2016 election at The Washington Center. His latest book is Tears that Cannot Stop; A Sermon to White America (St. Martin’s Press).
Race is a social construction that has real weight, like a building. No one is born understanding what race is. People are socialized through cultural understandings. Whiteness, as a racial conception is not new, it has long been implied, unlike blackness. Similarly, gender analysis has focused on women, but men have gender too.
Trump’s Victory and White Working Class
This has been portrayed as a populist election, but Trump lost the popular vote, so it can’t be. Language matters. The white-working class was heard and they have been hurting for a long time.
At the same time, the social response to Black Lives Matters is similar to how the jailers of Martin Luther King in Birmingham sought to convince him segregation was right. They believed his movement was bad for democracy by destroying social order. For some time wealthy white Americans justified white poverty by saying “at least you’re not a negro.” President Obama hasn’t really talked about poverty. The next president doesn’t know a damn thing about it. He is proudly unmolested by enlightenment.
What is going on in the name of democracy is emphasis of the white working class and insufficient attention to the black working class and the brown working class. It ain’t lemonade but it is an Arnold Palmer.
The black and brown working class were not addressed under President Obama. Whiteness is just as strong in Bernie Sanders as in Donald Trump. It just manifests itself differently. Millennials are no different than previous generations in terms of distributive politics and racial identity even though they’re more liberal on marriage.
The larger problem is a unanimity of whiteness that serves as a source of social solidarity. Raising questions about this creates discomfort. President Obama didn’t meet with the Congressional Black Caucus for over a year. If Trump were smart, he would meet with them soon after taking office, but the country now faces a baronocracy with unprecedented incompetence.
Political correctness is used to justify bigotry and old style racism toward women, children, and vulnerable populations. Donald Trump has employed charisma in the service of evil, including racial dominance and the mistreatment of women. Nice discourse and calm rhetoric cannot cover over malevolence. This is on display with Trump's Cabinet nominees, such as Jeff Sessions.
The president draws false equivalencies in talking about race. He knows that going back to King black and brown people have been empathetic toward whites. White people have not been asked to sacrifice in the same way as black and brown people. There are limits on President Obama given his position, yet his approach is a disservice. It’s like suggesting cowboys should give up their guns because the Indians gave up their arrows or women should respect men more.
We should all be more empathetic to others and try to understand what it’s like to be them. Power matters. Michael Jordan said he would talk about race after he retired. Nobody cares. President Obama may do the same, but his disservice was not pursing relevant policies while in power. He will be missed. You can push him. You can only push Donald Trump's buttons.
Standing Up Against Racial Injustice
White people, in particular, need to weigh in. It was mostly white folk acting crazy at the Sessions hearing. The surplus of whiteness means we don’t understand representational politics in the same way. If you don’t kiss ass, people think you’re mad. It’s not about being mad, just serious. A mosquito doesn’t mean to harm you but it can give you malaria.
There needs to be centers of moral persuasion and political persuasion. It always the right time to do the right thing and never the right time to do the wrong thing. You can go to the ocean and fill up your cup and it would be full of ocean, but not the entire ocean. You can have some truth, but will never have all the truth.