Point Loma Writers: An Evening with Michael Eric Dyson

Point Loma Writers: An Evening with Michael Eric Dyson



this ucsd-tv program is a presentation of university of california television for educational and non-commercial use only welcome to our writers symposium by the sea at Point Loma Nazarene University I'm Dean Nelson on the journalism faculty at the University this is the 15th year for the symposium and this evening we have the privilege of having Michael Eric Dyson with us author of 16 books on topics that cover race hip-hop music icons Martin Luther King jr. you name it this guy's written about it he's currently a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and it's a real privilege and an honor to have you with us I'm so glad you're here and and I didn't want to forget that you're also a Southern Baptist minister mm-hm okay so that that may come out yet tonight hmm so people call you one of the most influential black Americans I would say one of the most influential Americans just even based on the fact that you're you're quoted in all these hip-hop lyrics people actually put your name in hip-hop lyrics I want to know how you did that and if maybe I could get in on that but but you grew up in the streets of Detroit did you ever in your wildest imagination while you were growing up in Detroit think to yourself but I'm gonna be somebody famous now I grew up in Detroit and on the streets of Detroit and it's so great to be here with you by the way I never in my wildest imagination could conjure the fact that I would be sitting here with you Dean Nelson one day Point Loma we don't represent the peeps and the 2k what's interesting is uh could I get back to owning this interview right but it is amazing to think that all of us travel a path blazed a particular route to our own self understanding and our own vocations and our own lives and our own destinies and it's rather meandering pathway it's not a straight to path between ideal and conception and then the realization of that dream so when I was a young boy growing up on the streets of Detroit of course I didn't know any writers I didn't know anybody who had especially made a significant contribution in society in terms of world recognition I had my tremendous parents who were there as I got older I went to Sunday School and then I went to church of course and then those teachers were quite influential in my life my fifth grade teacher I want to I want to I want you to talk about your fifth grade she was she was an amazing person and so when I you know came up and then later on a lawyer named Kenneth cockrel who was a revolutionary Marxist lawyer who was really also an anti-racist of the first order would have become I think the mayor of Detroit had he lived he died at 51 so I you know was deeply influenced by my pastor Frederic Sampson and a tradition of social rebellion that was sparked by Martin Luther King jr. and Malcolm X so no I didn't have any idea that I'd have the opportunities I enjoy in life now to be able to contribute to the education of young people to try to engage America around issues of social justice and economic and racial inequality and to speak about the ways in which this nation has to reform itself in order to more notably live up to the noble ideals that animated its beginnings and its foundations well in some of your intellectual fire as I read came from this fifth-grade teacher what what did she do that that kind of turned on some lights for you well I mean she gave us a sense of who we are were as a people I mean this is 1967 68 the year that dr. King would die and be murdered in Memphis and mrs. James was teaching us about things we'd never heard of and she was teaching mind you in a predominantly black school in fact it was all black and not predominantly some of the teachers were white but all of the students were black we were in the inner city in the ghetto and it was against the curriculum to even teach black history I mean nobody was really doing this is not a formal restriction but other teachers were asking her why are you teaching these kids black history my mother reminded me of this why are you teaching them about you know Jan Matt zelicah and the shoe lasting machine nor you know Deadwood dick the great cowboy or Bill Perkins why are you teaching them about Grandville T Woods and Robert smalls why are you teaching them about Langston Hughes and the like so she really gave me a pathway in so learning into erudition about both the black experience but more broadly about what it meant to be a literate human being and convinced us that we could contribute to the shaping and reshaping of black history if we were willing to apply ourselves and be as intelligent as we could be about those ideas that she was introducing us to I mean Martin Luther King jr. Paul Robeson Ella Baker and she gave us the Hall of Fame of black leaders and artists and scientists and thinkers that really provided for me an understanding that black people can do a lot more than play basketball and even then back in that day before most of you were conceived you know when there weren't you know the Michael Jordan's right as there are now no well general it was a scandal well I mean my god Wilt Chamberlain Bill Russell and the like and basketball was not nearly as dominated by black men as it is now so or entertainers that we could be more than than basketball players or entertainers we could actually be lawyers and doctors and philosophers and theoreticians of physics and we could actually make a contribution with our minds how important was that speech contest that you won when you were 11 years old did that sort of set your course and say hey I can command an audience well you know it is true that being involved in the Spelling Bee in the fifth and sixth grades which I won and then went on to yes you just sort of slid that in yeah high wom but uh but yeah I mean you know and then went on to to participate in the and win at many levels in the oratorical contest it was very important but I'll tell you I was 11 years old seventh grade and I heard over the loudspeaker at school I don't know if they do that anymore we we talk text you text each other yes so I've heard so over the loudspeaker at school had said if you're interested in an oratorical contest then come to so-and-so room well I didn't know what oratorical meant so I went up and said what is oratorical me say giving speeches I said oh no that's all right yeah that's it he says come on mr. Burdett my seventh grade teacher very important so come on in young man me and my friend Greg right white went up there and I said no I'm Anderson giving speeches he said come on think about it so before I knew it I'm writing speeches and delivering them and winning the school contests and the local contests and more in the regional and so on so that really did introduce me formally to declamation in public and speaking in public and getting a chance to receive kudos for shaping words that might have an impact but at nine years old when Martin Luther King jr. was murdered that was the great conversion for me because when he was murdered or the night it was announced I was sitting in front of the television and the newsmen interrupted the regular programming my father sitting in his favorite chair behind me when that regular program wasn't interrupted and the newsmen announced that Martin Luther King jr. had been shot in Memphis Tennessee and I said well who's Martin Luther King jr. and why would they shoot him and I remember that television showed Martin Luther King Junior's last speech I may not get there with you but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land so I'm not worried about anything I'm not fearing any man mine eyes have seen the glory that he turns on his heels and falls back into the arms of Ralph Abernathy on one side and Jesse Jackson on the other I was I was immediately stunned and converted how a man pecks such passionate intensity and pathos and intelligence into sentences like that that made the hair on my neck stand up and I wanted to immediately to know as much about him as I could so I sent off in the in the mail for little 45 records of Martin Luther King Jr's greatest speeches and I learnt them by heart you know I could hear him and you know you learn the cadence it's like listen to her I guess if you first heard Snoop Dogg you know follow me follow me follow me follow me but don't lose your grip because here for me to mess up right so just like y'all you know I Spit Noor jay-z or he for tea or whoever you're listening to I was I was really rapping the Martin Luther King jr. huh and so when King would you know I remembered when he was in Chicago I'm tired of marching I'd listen I'm tired of marching tired of marching for something that should have been mine at first if you want to put it in two demonstrations put it in tomorrow torrent put a moratorium on injustice and so I would listen to this and learn it and hear those words and the cadence and the flow and the power and the intelligence read the dictionary figure out what it meant go back and get my own words figure it out and so you know my book arrives as nas what say-so Martin Luther King jr. was an important rhetorical paradigm and example for me and but made me know that you could use words to move human beings to action that would ultimately redeem human community even if at first one had to suffer is that what you meant then when you said that you were born into language and and you were nurtured in a rhetorical womb yes sir were you referring to I was referring in part to that and also my mother who was a highly intelligent is a highly intelligent woman and was quite you know literate even though she didn't get a chance to go to college but she was very smart you know born in 38 so you know her father and people didn't necessarily believe that a woman should go to college she got a scholarship but she wasn't able to attend and you know the patriarchal culture that really restricted the roles of women and didn't see them as learners and people who could transmit knowledge so but she was still very literate read widely reads widely to this day and I felt that her linguistic facility was kind of transmitted to me in the womb and I imbibed it through the placenta put that in your neck trap zone great I told you cats I'm dealing with the placenta you said that like that I say I'll send you you can't have it you just have to rent up one for yourself later on you know I can do something like don't get me started but anyway yeah it sounds good so far all right part of what I love about what reading your stuff is that you seem to either lock on to certain words and then you tweak the words or you just invent new ones hmm but you it seems like one of the recurring themes in in a lot of your books is the word amnesia mm-hmm and you talk about cultural amnesia and you talk about historical amnesia and you talk about Ephram nisha mm-hmm what why the big deal about amnesia what who cares I forgot all right you set me up on that you know I had to go there well I think that uh amnesia has been an important concept psychologically in the win which we repress certain memories in order to survive collectively as a culture we avoid certain places and spaces and spirits and ideas because we don't want to confront our complicity in the very erosion of society that we lament we tend to forget things that are too painful I mean think about Barbra Streisand singing Paul Williams words memories like the corners of my mind right what's too painful to remember we simply choose to forget so we do that as a culture not as individuals alone I mean neo Freudian analysis would certainly deliver to us the psychic necessity of certain forms of structured repression so that amnesia is the critical agent of survival but at the same time it also allows us to avoid our complicity in the hurt and pain of others and so especially when it comes to race or gender a class a sexual orientation we just end up forgetting stuff and I talk about amnesia after amnesia a kind of black forgetfulness that wills us into dis memory collective political amnesia that Michael Rogan the late great political philosopher at the University of California Berkeley spoke about especially in the age of Reagan the huge dis memory to which this culture was subject forgetting it's morning in America yeah but it's midnight for both a bunch of people and it's the stark break of day for others who are struggling against the very celebration you put forth in America so you know I've been playing with that idea of trying to trace that idea track that idea keep that idea in focus because I think it's very important to talk about what we've forgotten and what we refuse to remember and how that this memory has led to some political chicanery and I think political opportunism that is unfortunate and I think a lot of mean-spiritedness is built upon politically forgetting where we came from and what stuff we did I mean I think Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck they're just cultural amnesia they they forget a lot it not just to pick on them but let's pick on yeah you might might as well you know they say things and invent things out of whole cloth and just say stuff because people tend not to think and we don't think too much about the past and if we do we try to reinvent narratives that will reinvent the past and all of us are constantly negotiating between the facticity the empirically verifiable structures of awareness and processes and things that actually happened but at the same time you know we're constantly reinterpreting what happened back then so we're constantly thinking anew and afresh about what did happen so all of us are doing that and all of us have to guard against the kind of nostalgia which is another form of memory that is colored that operates against amnesia but maybe as complicated because then we begin to reify the pass or just make it more rosy than it was or forget our part in it like oh boy I I remember back in the day when father knew best well yeah okay but you know weren't any black people on TV then mm-hmm it didn't work out so well for women back you know not at all and then even though father knew best and they were presenting a great family that was nuclear you know daddy's beaten mama at home too you know and I think about the fact that Nat King Cole couldn't even have a show that lasted on TV six months and lassie had one that lasted 20 years maybe why black people not too deep into the animal rights movement I'm not sure peel that back a little further because some of the things that you've written about and you've made very very strong statements about the strengths and the flaws of some American heroes not just our eras or our history but but some very specific American heroes Martin Luther King jr. who you say is the greatest American in our history Malcolm X Michael Jordan Bill Cosby why is it important for you to say some things about them that are really hard for us to hear I mean did you really have to in your book about Martin Luther King jr. did you really have to talk about his adultery and his plagiarism and his racism his depression I mean people called you a traitor for that yeah they did and I didn't just talk about that let me put it in context what I was trying to do but you're absolutely right what I was trying to do is to humanize Martin Luther King jr. a lot of young people think I could never be king well maybe that's true but not the effort that should never be discounted not the intent that should never be marginalized that young people can like Martin Luther King jr. seek to change the world in which they live and they don't have to be perfect to do so you don't have to be perfect to be useful and the reason I wanted to deconstruct some of the perfection of King is because it was being used against his own moral complexity and his putative perfection which was not true was used to freeze him and then to use him against young people to knock them down because you're not like Martin's King jr. well he did some stuff too so if he did some stuff too and you did some stuff too Bovie y'all together we can do stuff together or both of y'all like Martin Luther King jr. you can overcome some of that stuff now it's hard because I can't pretend that I understand why black people were mad at me for talking about some of the unsavory aspects of Martin Luther King Junior's life because right-wing conservative figures would want to use that to say see even left-wing professors like Dyson and progressives like Dyson say the king was messed up well y'all messed up too I mean so you know Rush Limbaugh beating on people and you're taking your popping pills I mean really I mean you know yours conservatives senator and your toe tapping in the bathroom now I know most of y'all did not know what that meant cuz I was like really you mean when I went to the bathroom and I was hoping the guy said give me your your toilet paper because I run out of it I was actually hitting on him I did not know that so but the reality is is that all people have flaws we should talk about those flaws including me but I'll let my biographers dig those up I'm not gonna violence here sure you do so it wasn't it was not a condescension I don't need to look any further than the mirror to see sin I don't need to look any further than my own soul to understand what failure is about but the reason I talked about Martin Luther King's June Martin Luther King Junior's struggle is because there are many young people who are struggling there are many societies who are struggling there many people who think oh my god I could never be that do that think that become that well here's a guy who overcame it and I think he's even greater because all of us are gonna fail all of us are gonna be flawed all of us have chinks in the armor so what we have to do is to overcome those insufficiencies to lean on grace if you believe in that to lean on your own self recreation the kind of Emersonian cell-free beginning if you believe that or to lean on your own ingenuity if you believe that i happen to believe in a higher power with a deeper purpose and a broader understanding and that pushes me forward but you've got to understand that nobody is perfect on this earth and I think that in talking about Martin Luther King jr. I was able to say to young people hey you can you can figure out a way to overcome some of your own sins flaws imperfections and older people were using King to beat up on younger people and they were not acknowledging the King and you know done some things too so I was just tired of younger people getting beat up on historically and not armed with the knowledge that Kings plagiarism or you know his own promiscuity and the like and and many of us suffer from the same sins about which we write and to which we point but my point simply was to grasp that to grasp hold of it because I knew first of all that when some of those tapes come out in 20 years and papers are released and so on if we discover some things that we don't like about Martin Luther King do I've already acknowledged that they're real but I say even despite those things he's still the greatest American that we've ever produced and he's a remarkable man nonetheless and so let's forgive ourselves but let's also not demand perfection be the predicate for wrestling with serious issues and ideas in America as far as for Bill Cosby I think the reality is look here's a guy who had a sense of amnesia too I mean we know his great partner Robert Koch just recently died and we send our condolences to the family was a great man a great actor 79 years old and he and Bill Cosby made history the first african-american mr. Cosby was to appear on television in a serious role and but I think Bill Cosby had a sense of amnesia too and I think that we have to you know I felt it was necessary to call him to account I mean it's nothing more ugly than to see a guy who's really rich using his bully pulpit to beat up on poor people not to hold us accountable not to hold poor people accountable not to say hey you can't just go around making excuses for your lack of desire to succeed or your failure to participate in the in the circle of American privilege that the civil rights movement made possible but if you're doing that in such a nasty and vicious way and you're not accounting for your own flaws and you're acting as if your stuff don't stink and on top of that you know you're you're you're dealing with people who can't respond to you pick on somebody your own size me I'm your size I'm coming at you with both barrels blazing so and I don't mean his size in terms I mean you know what little Fame I have this guy is you know globally famous he's what you know Hager would call a world historical figure but the point is that I could tell oh yeah yeah well and the jello and the puddin pop you know those horse hooves or is it pig hooves that are turned into jello but anyway the reality is is that I felt that he was being unfair he was saying some nasty stuff and a lot of white Americans and other black Americans up about time yep I believe that it let them off the hook because if you believe people are not succeeding because they're just lazy or stupider than McCain's Shaniqua or too as opposed to your own bigotry or structural injustice I just think that's not the right kind of message if Mike Tyson goes to the third grade and beats up somebody he can't brag I beat up a third grader it's ludicrous it's amazing and Mike is in the third grade homey Bill Cosby by beating up on poor people you are world famous entertainer these people can't talk back to you can't speak back you can't say but wait a minute mr. Cosby maybe you're not being as nuanced as you might be maybe you're not being as complicated as you might be and you should see the reams of paper and then cyberspace the the banned whip that is being taken up by you know people who say yeah I'm glad he said that because it allows them to say I believe this too and it lets him off the hook and it gives a point and poignancy to some prejudices against our poor people so I think it's necessary to use our fame and our to leverage our cultural Authority in ways that defend those who are vulnerable you give Oprah kind of a free pass though well any free you know she paid for it but you know I can't jump on everybody good I can't jump on Phil Donahue either no I think Oprah is a fascinating figure I think Oprah has done look Oprah has done a whole bunch of stuff to help people it's not that I'm not critical of certain things as that would be critical to anybody but I think Oprah Winfrey has been a force for good in this country and in South Africa and in the world you know using her billions you know 2.5 billion dollars worth to really make a difference in the lives of poor girls in South Africa before that people here in America and has been an exemplary entrepreneur and philanthropist so I just think that what she's done is pretty remarkable and amazing and she's never been as vicious or vituperative or just outright nasty as mr. Cosby was and trying to beat up on poor people we can all have a civil conversation about the responsibility that needs to be exercised among poor people but my Bible tells me to whom much given much is required so don't be starting with the poor people don't start with the people who ain't got nothin in the cupboard start with the folk whose covers are running over and then speak about what their responsibility is and then we can talk about distributing some of that responsibility to those who don't have as much as well let's talk about hip-hop for a minute because you've you've said that at it's at its best mm-hmm it's about politics yeah this bestest about politics and its bestest about having a good time at its bestest about partying at its best it's about the cultural creativity of black and Latino people and you know I think sometimes hip-hop is unfairly asked to do what other forms of music have never done I mean nobody's saying R&B are you being politically sophisticated no we just want to hear maxwell wings you know nobody's asking you know trey songz for the young people i know y'all love him to be politically sophisticated he's just you don't think you gonna think you gonna think I reinvented sex no you didn't by the way Marvin Gaye did that way before and for the people going what the hell is he talking about I'll get to Mitch Miller later hold on but but the point is that he's a young black artist who bares his chest and young girls like it any contain but but the thing is that nobody asks country music to be responsible in a way now part of this is because hip-hop has claimed so much for itself to be redemptive and socially edifying and uplifting and world-changing so people go okay we'll take you seriously so what are you doing but they sold us the idea that they were more influential they have been influential but I think music's litmus test is can it make you move your behind out the seat you know I mean that's one of the litmus tests of great music you know you want to bop yeah you know you want to listen to a patch of feeds snap your fingers move your tush whatever you do or sit in your chair and just listen sorry believe hey now don't be knockin white people I'm not knocking white people at all because white people buy 70% of hip-hop keep doing what you're doing well but white people support blues more than anybody out in America BB King loves you all right I ain't knocking no white people but I think that we all have different styles but I think music has to be moving at some level there's the you know eternally cerebral consumption of music in a passive state when you're just listening to Mahler but even with listening to modeler you got to be moved me listening to you know you're listening to you know the the stormy drama that is vogner so you know you were gonna at least be existentially invested in a certain way but I think hip-hop music moves the entire body I mean if disco moves the torso in a certain way R&B moved it differently you know disco was using a certain certain kind of centripetal force to really distribute through the body whereas R&B music was something different still so it depends upon how it impacts the nervous system and I think that that hip-hop is asked a lot but I think at the end of the day if music is great because it's great that is because you like it you respond to it the problem is of course with those words there are a lot of other things that are unsavory the politics of hip-hop at its best are not simply about explicit politics but it's also about the politics of arguing for space for young black and brown people who otherwise might be dismissed I mean I went to see jay-z in concert the other day I mean here's a guy who started in the Marcy projects cuff up along from where I'm from cuff up along some from where I'm from Marcy son that's where I'm from I'm from the place where the I'm from the place where the churches of the flickies Negro has been playing to God so long they're atheists mm-hmm really that's an interesting point I'm you know and here's a guy God forgive me for my brash delivery but I remember vividly what these streets did to me now all my teachers couldn't beat me and my momma couldn't all my teachers couldn't reach me and my momma couldn't beat me hard enough to match the pain of my pop not seeing me so with that disdain I'm a membrane cat I'm a pimp game the world my defense came him or NAS it's only right that I was born to use mics and the stuff that I write it's even tougher than dice I'm taking rappers to a new plateau through rap slow my rhyming is a vitamin hell without a capsule so at its best the rhetorical word played the the the cynic doped the the the incredible complexity of the metaphor the simile the analogies the enjambment a long sentences are made to fit Stan about a speaker suddenly I had a fever was it me or either summer madness because I just can't stand around so I get closer and the closer I get the better it sounds my mind starts to activate rhymes collaborate because when I heard the beat I just had to make something from the top of my head so I fell into the groove of the wax and I said how can I move the crowd first of all ain't no mistakes allowed but that's all great stuff but then you got a lot of the B word the H word the skis are the hood rat the the denigration of women the assault upon gay and lesbian people the vicious forms of materialism that lead people to be you know rapacious not only in their individualistic ethos but in their denial of opportunity to live or exist to others so there's a lot of great stuff and there's a lot of horrible stuff going on in hip-hop and I think we have to be complicated in our analysis of why that music appeals to so many young people and what kind of values it mediates at the same time well and you've you've even said that why would we hold hip hop lyrics to this standard when nobody's questioning the violence of a Bruce Willis movie or or even to the individualism of a John Wayne movie even right and right and you've said that hey they get off they got a free pass I think so I mean and they can be conservatives I mean you know Clint Eastwood my man you know epic Carmel the mayor conservative I love cleaners would to no end no doubt as an artist I mean even if I argue with a lot of what he does I mean just the fact that a one person could be so intelligent and artistically inclined making such a variety of movies you can argue about you know what they might mean but as an artist I admire him a lot of his politics are problematic to me but you know Clint Eastwood can make Dirty Harry you know Bruce Willis can make you know a lot of violent movies he's a very conservative man and I'm saying like well if that's the case let's hold everybody equally accountable look at the fact that a lot of this stuff is seen as art nobody thinks Bruce Willis is gonna go home and beat up his girlfriend or Clint Eastwood and there are higher incidents of that kind of violence in majority populations just because they are a greater number of people in the majority culture disproportionate numbers concentrated in poor communities because those numbers are highlighted and spoken about crime is concentrated in these poor communities because they're poor not because they're black or Latino but also a lot of white people who commit crime or never even you know looked at they're not even investigated that's what happens when you have racial profiling you assume only the black people got the weed and the white guys going cool yes dude I got some you know when you get out of prison come holla so you know if you're only looking at a certain amount of people I think more white people would beaten potentially arrested if they were stopped you know and checked and their cars were checked for weed bits the self-reporting of what young white people say that they do many more drugs than black and Latino people do but again if a policeman is stopping or going to a visible place like a crack house as opposed to a corporate sweep the people who are going to get caught happen to be those who are vulnerable because they don't have the privacy to engage in their form of recreational drug but my point simply is that yeah we don't hold a lot of people accountable in this culture churches that you know perpetuate legacies of violence through their narratives you know subordination of women there are all forms of sexism I'm not suggesting that they're not especially virulent in hip-hop because they are hip-hop did invented but it did glorified in a vicious way but there are other sites and spaces where we might equitably investigate how this stuff happens in negative fashion as well tell us about the airport security guy who was who was patting you down but also kind of whispering to you about how much he loved your work all right yeah well you know it's like that commercial on TV you know when you when they say Oh aren't you so and so yes can I see your ID please so yeah the guy you know one of the TSA agents young person they say young people don't read and he's you know dr. Dyson you went off cuz you got suspended may I Pat you down yes he said really loved that book on Tupac man I mean on page 75 when you were talking about X Y Z Wow you you read more than I wrote let me see what did I say and had dot and said by the way can you sign a copy of holler if you hear me that's the name of my book on Tupac when you get past security and I said sure and I went there and a man had the book marked up better than my students ever did and very high praise yeah I mean the guy had really read it thoroughly and had imbibed it and had read it and critically ready didn't disagreed with me and agreed with me and wanted to know more so I think that's a stereotype that's rebutted a lot of young people are not given the credit for the literacy they have and possess you know they're not seen to be literate in a traditional sense and therefore they're not seen to be literate or intelligent and yet we don't talk about lack of opportunity to explore certain traditional forms of literacy or that there are many avenues into literacy if you're reading comic books or the newspaper or if you're reading rap lyrics for that matter I mean you know you could teach literacy off of jay-z's lyrics off of some masterpiece stuff maybe you can teach you know thank you you've called you called Tupac the the Dickens of the ghetto I mean I mean somebody wake me I'm dreaming I started as a seed to semen swimming upstream planted in the womb while screaming on the top was my pops my momma hollering stopped from a single drop this is what they got not to disrespect my people but my popper was a loser only planty half a momma was the blinker and abuser and even as a seed I could see his plan for me stranded on welfare another broken family I mean a Dickens in the sense the best of times the worst of times the Dickens in the sense of trying to interrogate the the the incredible concentration of poverty and to talk about what it means to be poor and what it means to be bereft and yet in a powerful society with Mendes opportunities for other people and how the contrast between they have got some that have nots plays out so yeah a kind of novelistic interrogation of the forms of suffering the paralyze the lives of the poor so in that sense dickens like i mean and i love traditional poetry of you know I love Tennyson tho much is taken much abides and tho we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven that which we are we are one equal temper of heroic heart's made weak by time and fate but strong in will to strive to seek to find and not to yield that's great to but so is most depth you can laugh and criticize Michael Jackson if you wanna Woody Allen molested it married his stepdaughter same press kicking dirt Oh Michael's name show woody and soon-yi at the playoff game so the thing is that you've got to tap into the incredible poetic intensity of young people whose backs are against the wall to see what they created and I think Dickens like in the sense that he's trying to take measure of the incredible concentration of hope and hopelessness and the combat between those two competing forces and how in the midst of such devastating denial of legitimacy and humanity there is the reassertion and reaffirmation of the fundamental principle of love and justice that beats in the human heart so I think young people like Tupac and others are our tremendous force for good even if they're complicated even if they they they have some of the worst traits that we might lament they still offer great art Roman Polanski's was trying to make it back to America he still makes great films you know it's a complicated you know it's a complicated it's a complicated thing you know people do stuff we don't like them doing and yet they still make great art yeah what do we do you know I mean it's a very difficult thing but we are all flawed I mean Frank Sinatra wasn't perfect fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars but Frank was a problematic character too I won't sit anymore about that but you know chairman of the board need i say more so you know all of us are flawed all of us have limitations artists have limitations but they can do good for us at the same time your PhD dissertation story is legendary mm-hmm let's hear it mm-hmm what had happened was well you know I had actually cannot believe you did it neither can my advisors but I had you know I'd gone to Princeton from 85 to 88 left in 88 to run a poverty project at Hartford seminary and my brother was imprisoned in 88 he's been there now what 89 it's been in now 20 years and I began you know I was writing articles I was giving speeches even as a graduate student because I had an interest plus I wanted free CDs and their CDs were new then so I started writing a free music column at Hartford in the Hartford Advocate so they could send me the music so I could review it that's how I did it now in the age of digital download it's pretty tough so I you know I was writing as a second year graduate student professionally by which I mean I wrote something they paid me for $50 but hey $50 was $50 and I was able to really begin to accumulate a body of work so before I knew it in 1993 I'd finished my master's degree in 91 I was by then teaching at heart had taught it hard for something every year then what's a Chicago Theological Seminary in 89 91 I finished my master's at Princeton and then in 93 my book was about to come out my first book reflecting blank and I said you know I haven't finished my PhD yet though it's gonna look kind of weird to have my first book out before I've written my dissertation so I need to finish that PhD so I went in wrote a prospectus and you know how it is you write a perspectives then you have to defend it for a couple hours or whatever two or three hours they rake you over the coals is this good enough okay we'll accept your perspectives now go out and write your dissertation take a couple more years three more years four more years whatever it takes and the perspectives is like the extended out as you know telling into each chapter what you gonna do what you're gonna deal wasn't so on and so forth because I'm thinking this is only a three months before my book comes out I got to get this done so I give my prospectus and I go through it they asked me sit by the room I come back in congratulations Michael Eric guys and you know your perspectives has been accepted I was like okay good so I reach onto the table and pull out the dissertation yeah I took a chance on that one you know because that they turned me down it could have gotten ugly I could have gone postal but it was you know it was it was a daring move I suppose ignorant and crazy I wouldn't recommend anybody else do that but they you know they took the dissertation I went back and forth from a couple months later I had my PhD with with with a black president now there's this sense that or at least a hope that we live in a and I think this is your term a post racist society mm-hmm and yeah we're just hold on and and yet in our town in the great city of San Diego one of our institutions of higher learning we have a fraternity throwing a Compton cookout party yeah and we have a noose put in the library and we have of all people dr. Seuss put put a white hood over his statue on this campus have we learned nothing mm-hmm you know you just wonder sometimes what folks thinking and the kind of even if they don't mean to be hostile and officious they end up still being hi some bitches oh just a prank and I'm sure all the brothers and sisters in this room are outraged by that I'm sure that no one here thinks that was cool and yet sometimes it's hard to understand just how insulting and devastating that can be if you're a young person of color and you have to see this you're on the campus and this is what your you know your your fellow students are doing it's 2010 I mean is 2010 you know if you know mm I'm up in this piece and people are still people are still expressing ideas and sentiments and passions that most of us think are rather you know and ephemeral they're passing they're not necessarily deeply rooted only in certain quarters and that for the most part they're gone and Wow that may be true on the surface there's a lot of stuff that's rumbling beneath the surface and the worst form of discrimination is not that kind of stuff it's the systemic institutional lack of opportunity that prevails as well even though that ain't a walk through the park it's not good I mean imagine if white people had to look at somebody was you know having we're gonna have a cracker barrel featuring the holy hunkies you know I mean even me saying that I'm sure is kind of making you just a little bit upset you know I mean imagine what that might mean and that's not even as offensive because cracker has never been assaulted systematically by the state to lynch and castrate white men so even though I'm saying cracker and gray boy and ol Fay and a lot of other words that could be put in the place of it doesn't carry the weight of nigga and it doesn't carry the iconography of bigotry that was evoked on this San Diego campus in in sensitive fashion some people think oh my god you're overreacting get a grip it's just a joke in fact the student the student was quoted as saying I didn't I didn't think it was that simple anymore I mean right and and and you know wow really though so the thing is we got to say we're doing a poor job of educating these young people you know or the bigotry is so persistent when I mentioned people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh Rush Limbaugh you know I was on CNN last night and Rush Limbaugh is going after me on the show I said cool that lets me know I'm doing the right thing you know have me on in person don't just talk about me homing Holly at me let me come on that show you're a bully but I'm a bully with these words I'm gonna get up in your imagination yeah shall we say you're pathetic imagination and but but but the thing is but the thing is is that you would think that a lot more white brothers and sisters would be upset by it too don't just let the black people or Latino people a minute people of good conscience who are white who lament it in their homes might also limit it in public square and say this is not cool this is not right we don't accept this this is not who we are as a community and so that's why it's hard for me to say we live in a post-racial era as many people wanted to say when Obama became president I mean I'm glad my man is in the White House I'm glad that mr. Obama is the president but we got a lot of work to do and one black man in public housing and you know it's some good public housing don't get it wrong but that's on that's the government dime he living on and it's it's it's great for him to be there I'd love to see him every day you know health care passed thank God the Senate just now got the fixes so it's in law the man has got a signal piece of legislation passed that's beautiful but the reality is I don't think his approach to race is gonna be very helpful he tries to avoid it he doesn't challenge white Americans I think he's felling white America quite frankly in a fashion because he refuses to challenge them I mean you know my pastor you told me before I started pastoring past three different churches he says don't shout your people every Sunday in other words don't don't don't preach and you just hold Lord hallelujah speak in tongues and whatever else we do you know the Nazarene point and go yes right on chunk the deuces that's right whatever you do uh he said don't do that every Sunday challenge him sometimes you know make him think make him reflect and I know mr. Obama you know has to take his time and do to do his things the way he thinks he should do it but do them but the thing is you got the challenge white brothers and sisters too I ain't saying lose a job don't be crazy but you gotta say yeah well you know it's different now the reason he can't challenge white people too much is because he tried with the skip gates thing and he got beat down he's like I ain't going that route no more no I'm not saying anything with the word stupid in it he's never used the word stupid since he said acting stupidly right but the reality is is that mr. Obama's approach to race converges with the amnesia around race in America that really doesn't result in much of a bully pulpit for the first black president of the United States of America now black Pope come out all kind of tees look man you know these white folks don't him which they are you know these people this is what black people say I'm sure what am i speaking out of turn but I'm letting you in on what black people say behind your vests you know these white people crazy you know not all white people not even most white people just the glenn beck's and you know the Tea Party movement no disrespect to conservative San Diego Tea Party get a new symptom sign and symbol you ain't the Tea Party this is like my man said I knew Thomas J I knew Benjamin Franklin you're no Benjamin Franklin okay I didn't really know him but I read about him you know so the thing is is that black people say you know these white folk crazy on the man behind he lookin at him through the microscope all of which is true but that still doesn't mean he ain't the most powerful man in the world and he's got to challenge white brothers and sisters by challenging himself Obama has struck a bargain I won't remind you that you're white if you won't remind me that I'm black and it's been difficult it's great for him but as high as hell for us it's it's it's horrible and then when the black congressional the Congressional Black Caucus says why don't you do some stuff this ain't our black people man in terms of a jobs bill well I'm the president of the entire United States now don't be insulting us like we didn't know that damn really my god when did that happen he's the president of white people to Jesus jiminy Christmas next he'll be over Latinos too what the hell and next the Lithuanian Tsar coming like we didn't know that like really don't insult us like that we know that but the point is every president before you would dealt with race how come you're exempt Lincoln Washington Johnson I mean the civil rights bill wasn't passed under a black president last time I checked I don't think LBJ was black the the civil rights bill the Voting Rights Act the Fair Housing that's not black presidents so how you gonna be a black president and think you ain't got to talk about race what every other president before you who was white had to do it rate I know the first forty three and a half presidents have been white but I'm just saying you know reason I say that is because every time I say a black president white people come to me and say you know he's half US I say I know some half white people in jail to claim them too so so if I could bring this back to writing just for amateur yeah yeah here's my final question we have a lot of people in the audience and who will be viewing this who who are writers they watch this they they participate in that's this because it's a writer's symposium give me some advice for young writers write as much as you can every day about anything that interests you you know I would start you know people say well how do I start start right sit down you know sit before your computer when my day was sitting before your pad now pads are extinct now they have notepads or iPads but whatever you have computer sit down and as dr. Johnson said a few centuries ago I don't even know what I think until I started writing writing is an act of creation it's not an act of memory alone it's an act of inventing the present through the prism of concentrated memory but also creative expansion of opportunity to think and reflect and open up possibility sometimes I don't know what I think until I start writing and then I'm surprised at myself really I didn't know I thought that you know and you wouldn't have come to that discovery and do not start writing but I think the greatest writer is a rewriter I mean you know revision is critical now some of us like to do it historically you know those historical revisionists they have no problem rewriting history but rewrite the page first and I think that that you know to try to get it right know that word didn't do it it's too heavy on adjectives now let's let the verbs do more to work well the nouns carry some of the weight the sentence is a train where's the caboose so you begin to think about what it means to write and to write in rhythm and to write with passion and to write with and to write with intelligence and I think that that you've got to write a lot and to think a lot and to think and write a lot and to revise and think and write a lot there's no substitute for doing it I mean even you know think about I mentioned Kobe Bryant he's in the gym three hours before I mean he's at the height of his game he's considered the greatest basketball player on the globe today and he's there practicing I mean you've got to practice writing short essays 500 word essay is 250 word essays thousand word essays 1500 word essays 2500 words then 10,000 then 35,000 and 2 books and so on and so forth you build up but you got to keep at it and then when you fall back you've got to get back into it I find for myself that I got to warm up to it I do a lot of thinking in my head let me reflect on it I might think 3 or 4 weeks and then I sit back down and I'm going at it again and I then I'm trying to process it and reflect critically what I met I absorb some information I do my research I learn what I need to learn in order to say what I want to say so I can discover what I don't know so I can say intelligently what I don't know as part of the process of writing I mean that's writing is a risk it's a risk of exposure of ignorance on the page and the joy of self-discovery of knowledge as the process of writing takes place I mean knowledge at its best is transmitted through writing and writing at its best is a gift of ignorance to the learn it so that they can relearn some lessons they should have unlearned anyway and so that they can transmit some information that they just have come into some new experience some wisdom some sense of self-discovery or discovery of the other I mean it's a vast universe of possibility writing and I think that we should conquer it as much as possible but know we should live in writing we should inhabit our writing we should create universes that we live in not just fiction writers I mean nonfiction all those too much of our nonfiction is certainly fictional but I think we should create universes of possibility through our words words are immensely important avenues and vehicles of tremendous self-discovery and discovery of knowledge and wealth of information and testing the limits of our capacities to be human and so writing is a measure of our humanity and the attempt to get it right in life as we do on the page do you want to finish us off with a lyric about something and that'll be how we end a lyric about something you can invent it or you can just quote evented or quilted well life has earned his life is real in the grave is not as go to dust thou art to dust our returnest was not spoken of the soul let us then be up and doing with her heart for any fate still pursuing still achieving learn to labor and to wait you know and then I'll join that with with I think words from Christopher Wallace one of the great philosophers of the 20th century and he said back in the days our parents used to take care of us look at him now they're even scared of us calling the city for help because they can't maintain damn things then change if I wasn't in the rap game I'd probably have a key knee-deep in the crack game a kilo because the streets is a shortstop either you're slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot damn is hard being young from the slums eatin five-cent gums that no one where your meals coming from what happened to the summertime cookouts every time I turn around our brothers being took out that to me is a sociological analysis of Ave Barry and proportion where he's trying to talk about shrinking spaces for recreation have been gutted and as a result of that have created a mismatch between older and younger people and the shift in power from older to younger means that there's a juvenile see where in which the terrors and possibilities of life are concentrated and as a result of that we've lost a sense of connection intergenerationally and our parents who help have helped to create us are now afraid of us and we must reconnect in order to dismiss the Menace that is for some inherent in youth culture today so that's why I study it think about it and reflect on it and that's why those figures who spit those lyrics whether Tennyson or Wordsworth or Keats or NAS or biggie or Lauryn Hill are equally important in pointing us to the necessity of introspection and at the same time the recreation of the world that we inhabit Michael Eric Dyson thank you so much you

27 Comments

  • Pat Hymes says:

    i could listen to him ALL DAY or all afternoon, as I have today.

  • Mike Murray says:

    Extremely intelligent individual 🙏🏾

  • Jimmy James says:

    This racist came to San Diego. So glad I missed this guy, using a lot of big words strung together, "Not to impress upon us but to impress us. See what I did there?

  • Don Brock says:

    If you've been victimized by hard circumstances? Watch this.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvWB7B8tXK8&t=46s

  • Noneya Beeysnass says:

    Brilliant!!

  • Jai Law says:

    this is an awesome interview….love Michael Eric Dyson!!!White people in general have amnesia.  In my opinion…because they would like the 'daddy knows all' era to continue and the oppression of blacks to continue.  period.

  • henry murray says:

    He's like a Wynton Marseilles who can play classical and jazz.  Doc D can be as erudite in conservative rhetoric as well as a creative rhythmic  rap interpreter.

  • M Wilson says:

    The question I always have for white people is this, what are you gonna lose if you stop oppressing, hating, being bigoted and pure dismissive when it comes to race?You know that what is talked about from several different people who may or may not know one another explaining their own personal experiences, cant be a collective lie.

    The same story has been told from too many people to have the untrue lie test be applied, the only thing that one can do is realize that only you can stop hate for you.

  • SFC.Michael Fox Williams says:

    White people give me a pain ,where a pill want reach!!!!

  • William Anderson says:

    White folks don't want to hear the Truth about race.Unless they listening to uncle tom Allen West.

  • Raa Piano says:

    This man bridges the gap from the hip hop generation to the elite sophisticates. He brings a respectful perspective to urban America. We don't need to agree with everything he says. But young people applaud his effort to bridge the generational gap.  HATS OFF TO YOU Dr, Michael Eric Dyson.

  • Raa Piano says:

    WOW  I just read some of these comments by robotic conservative racist. They had their opinion before they heard him speak.  But EVERY ONE get a clue !!!   The real battle is not White vs Blacks. The real battle  should be with  a group of people who are controlling most of the worlds wealth and have us distracted while most people in the world are fighting over the scraps.  Get a real CLUE and learn who your real enemy is. . Dyson is a genius orator his ideas are his thoughts. They may not change the world but they may give you insight if you listen with an open heart. 

  • Taja H says:

    Not angry, just very emotional.

  • Civille7 says:

    This guy is always angry

  • The stepping stone experiment. says:

    To "one american dude" if i ask u for your useless opinion, I'll give it to you, untill then, stay under my feet where u r meant to be!!

  • Malcolm glzier says:

    Billy Bob! How nice of you to take time out of your busy schedule of Tea Party rallies, cross burnings, and all the other wonderful cultural activities of American Red-neckness to join us! And thank you so so much for your correction! You would give excellent advice, seeing as how all you do all day is brood over the fact that the Confederacy lost, so well done mate! Keep up the good work! I look forward to the next shutdown!

  • Earthwalker40 says:

    Gosh, this dyson fellow must be the smartest person in the world. Smarter than all us other Americans anyway. And all his "race talk" is in no way designed to benefit his economic situation, while at the same time advancing a black supremacist agenda, I can see that fer sure, uhuh.
    Such a awesome, awesome fellow, I love you eric dyson.

  • Ronier Smith says:

    What drama?

  • antoine blackmon says:

    His mind could only be described as low IQ (<110 IQ).
    Michael Eric Dyson is an Affirmative Blacktion loser.
    Handsome? What in the hell are you looking at? The guy is hideous.

  • Tahra-isms inmymind says:

    My sentiments, exactly! I just makes sense, COMMON sense, when you think about it…kudos!

  • The stepping stone experiment. says:

    I just have say this, whites, do u all have fucking common sense! Do u all actually think its easy to trust a race that has consistently downed the black race for years, its no secret that blacks still are angry, and rightfully so, u all have been undeserving, of 90 percent of the things u all have, "I can steal one candy bar from a the store, and u will call me a thief forever, but u can oppress us sense the beginning if the US, but I'm the one who's wrong for dispising u!!

  • montroclq says:

    exactly the kind og ignorance nobody needs!

  • Malcolm glzier says:

    Please tell us more about ur classiness and superior cerebral powers!

  • Malcolm glzier says:

    Please tell us more about how we're dorks, since u seem to think ur 1 of the cool kids. Please tell us more about how u say we're acting offended when ur the 1 writing in caps talking about our mamas. Please, humor us with ur social acumen. We're just hanging on every word of ur precious comments. Ur just so important here in the comments section of YouTube. Please inform us, teach us oh high class, intellectual YouTube Yoda

  • Malcolm glzier says:

    Tell us more about ur valuable thoughts. We're just on the edge of our seats. Get all ur thoughts out cause one day ur pointless life will come to an end.

  • Malcolm glzier says:

    Wow what an astute cultural observer u r! Congrats Mr high class intelligencia

  • Malcolm glzier says:

    Maybe he meant maturbator. U know, since that summarizes your sex life. All that pent up sexual frustration isn't serving u well. U have to get off the couch and get some exercise pet, and go out and pay for some nookie. Hopefully there's some amount of money some cheap truck stop ho will be willing to service u, and will be strong enough to lift ur overhang to get to ur milkshake

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