Anyone who has ever heard Michael Eric Dyson speak knows that the only way to properly convey the experience is to let his words do the talking. Because only Michael Eric Dyson can make words dance and sing like he can. Trying to interpret, or blandly report on a Dyson speech is pretty much like trying to draw a copy of the Michelangelo painting inside the Sistine Chapel using a couple of crayons. Something tends to get lost in translation.
On Thursday night, Dyson was in town to deliver the Wayne State University FOCIS (Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society) lecture series 10th anniversary season finale, focusing on race in America. The overarching theme for the entire series was, appropriately, “What in the world is going on?” The first lecture, delivered on September 18, was delivered by former Mexico President Vicente Fox.
At the conclusion of Dyson’s address, delivered over more than an hour to a packed hometown audience that later waited in extremely long lines to have him sign their books, he received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Here’s why, in Dyson’s own words:
On race relations
“Race, indeed, is not only the great unresolved conflict of America, it continues to be the driving and even motivating force; sometimes explicitly, sometimes subtly, sometimes consciously and often unconsciously, for many of the developments that shape American identity.”
“We are living in one of the most unusual curves in the graph of race in the history of this nation”
“Here’s one of the greatest consequences of white privilege; you can walk down the street, meet a police person and live to tell about it.”
“We’re all in the same ship. We’re all in the same boat. And unless we realize that we will not make progress.”
“Part of the problem is some folk just mad that a black man was in charge. …black men with swag just tend to irritate people.”
“When black people were on drugs, we got sent to jail. Now they get sent to the hospital. Black people got criminalized. Latino people got criminalized. White people got medicalized and hospitalized. When we got addicted we got evicted. …This is race in America.”
“White working-class people have more in common with black and brown people than anybody else. Those rich people ain’t your friend.”
“Affirmative action was a white thing. The G.I. Bill was affirmative action” for white soldiers returning from WWII. Better loans, more money to buy a new home.
“White people need to talk about race too. And when white people talk about race they need to talk about white privilege.”
“I believe in individual reparations accounts. You ain’t got 40 acres and a mule? That’s cool. Give me one acre on Wall Street. You ain’t got a mule? Give me a Jaguar. Call it a day.”
“White folks mad at me. Say nasty things. Wonder why black folks can say ‘nigguh’ and they can’t say ‘nigger’. You’re a racist (they say). No sir! You invented the term, we hijacked it. …There’s a sensual diversity to that term, but you got to be inside to understand that. That ain’t your term outside. White privilege makes you believe you should control every word. You can’t! That’s part of what it means to be a person of color in this culture is that we have highjacked that term, took it from you, ain’t giving it back.”
“When you a person of color it’s hard to live in Idaho.”
“When white folks have an honest conversation about race is when Malia shows up pregnant, she’s a ho. Sarah Palin’s daughter can do it twice and she’s just a young person making a mistake. When we have honest conversations about race, we begin to engage in some serious scrutiny of the institutional mechanisms that perpetuate inequality in this country.”
“I’m not saying all white folks don’t want us to protest. Some of the greatest symbols of alliance, allyship and solidarity have been with young white brothers and sisters out on the front lines and marching. Heather Heyer died in Charlottesville. So we knoe that it’s not merely a color-coordinated thing. But what I’m arguing is when white folks say ‘Hey, there’s a right way to protest,’ Pharoah can’t tell the slave how to rebel. …If it don’t piss you off it ain’t successful.”
“That’s a bipartisan affair, sexism. Just like racism is too. We like to think on the progressive side that we are more enlightened, that we treat women differently; we just deny them salary with better words. We just extend to black and brown, and other poor people our denial of their humanity with gentler phrases.”
“Rape culture didn’t begin recently; sexual harassment was inscribed into the very nature of democratic process in America. The very notion of white manhood rests upon rape culture.”
“Most of these guys running around killing people in church killed their wives first. The relationship between domestic violence and terror … and who’s doing it? It ain’t Muhammad. It’s Billy Bob. Oh I know you don’t wanna hear that, but Billy Bob done tore some [stuff] up in here!”
“We have a head of state who gets up every morning to excrete the feces of moral depravity in a nation that he has turned into his psychic commode.”
On homophobia in the black community:
“It is now common to beat up on gay lesbian transgender bisexual and trans people. Transphobia, homophobia, hatred of the queer. And what we now must understand when we deal with difference is that everybody in the same boat. Your black Christianity can no longer be tolerated to denounce the legitimacy of a gay person in the name of your religion and you don’t look like the very bigots that you hate.”
“I ain’t never been to a church that turned down gay tithes. Not a-one.”
“How can you justify, and legitimate your sexism, or your homophobia, and you black in a culture that has demonized you?”
On other stuff:
“America for the last year has been in the throes of a democratic experiment the likes of which it has not seen in quite some time”
Referring to HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s ridiculous assertion that slaves were immigrants, “stick to separating twins, homie.”
As for the criticism of young black men whose pants are sagging, “Maybe if you lifted their dreams their drawers would follow.”