- Professor at Vanderbilt University
- Expert in “gangsta rap” and hip-hop music
- Condemned Bill Cosby's assertion that black Americans should embrace education, be more law-abiding, and learn to speak proper English
- Member of the Democratic Socialists of America
- Believes that the 9/11 attacks were “predictable to a degree due to America’s past imperialistic practices, and how it is viewed by other countries”
Born in Detroit, Michigan on October 23, 1958, Michael Eric Dyson is an ordained Baptist minister and a professor in the College of Arts and Science and in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University, whose faculty he joined in January 2021. He has also taught at Brown University, Chicago Theological Seminary, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Columbia University, DePaul University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown University.
Dyson earned a BA degree in Philosophy from Carson-Newman College in 1985; an MA degree in Religious Studies from Princeton University in 1991; and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Princeton University in 1993.
Praising the Virtues of Gangsta Rap Music
In much of his teaching, Dyson incorporates his expertise in hip-hop music and “gangsta rap.” “Gangsta rap often reaches higher than its ugliest, lowest common denominator,” he explains. “Misogyny, violence, materialism, and sexual transgression are not its exclusive domain. At its best, this music draws attention to complex dimensions of ghetto life ignored by most Americans. . . . Indeed, gangsta rap’s in-your-face style may do more to force America to confront crucial social problems than a million sermons or political speeches.”
In 1996 Dyson published Between God and Gangsta Rap, which lamented the “miserable plight of black men in America,” and called “[t]he demonization of gangsta rappers” merely “a convenient excuse for cultural and political elites to pounce on a group of artists who are easy prey.”
In 2001 Dyson published Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, about the life of the late rapper who he lauded as a black Jesus figure. In the book, Dyson wrote that Shakur’s “stirring raps”: (a) “made many people see suffering they had never before acknowledged,” and (b) “helped many desperately unhappy young people reclaim a sense of hope and humanity.”
Dyson’s Visit to, and Affection for, Communist Cuba
In a 1998 interview, Dyson described American policy toward Cuba as “simply obscene” and as “white supremacy in its reckless, destructive mode.”
Dyson & the Black Radical Congress
Member of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Church in Chicago
Member of the Democratic Socialists of America
A member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Dyson joined such notables as Noam Chomsky and Barbara Ehrenreich in speaking at the organization’s 17th Annual Socialist Scholars Conference in 1999.
Supporter of Cop-Killer Mumia Abu Jamal
At a 1999 forum organized by the organization Academics For Mumia Abu Jamal, Dyson said that “the Mumia Abu Jamal case is about the person who is able to articulate the interests of minority people not only in terms of color, but in terms of ideology.” “It is about the repression,” he added, “of left-wing, progressive, insightful cultural criticism and political and moral critique aimed at the dominant hegemonic processes of American capitalism and the American state as evidenced in its racist, imperialist and now we might add homophobic and certainly its patriarchal practices.”
Dyson’s Opposition to the War on Drugs
In August 2000, Dyson was a featured speaker at the Los Angeles Shadow Convention’s Drug Policy Reform Day, a gathering of anti-War-on-Drugs activists, Congressional Progressive Caucus members, and leftist celebrities who condemned existing drug laws as discriminatory and racist. Among those in attendance were Jesse Jackson, Al Franken, Maxine Waters, John Conyers, Bill Maher, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and Tom Hayden.
Claiming That the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks Were a “Predictable” Response to American Transgressions
According to Dyson, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were “predictable to a degree, due to America’s past imperialistic practices and how it is viewed by other countries.” “What I am against,” he elaborated, “is the hypocrisy of a nation [the U.S.] that would help train bin Laden by funneling millions from the CIA to Afghan rebels to put down the Soviets, and now switching sides to funnel money to the Soviets to stop the spread of fundamentalism.”
When asked how Tupac Shakur, were he still alive, would have viewed the 9/11 attacks, Dyson replied: “I think that Tupac would say, ‘What business do we have being in Arab nations when the tentacles of colonialism and capitalism suck the lifeblood of native or indigenous people?’ . . . He would have had questions about who really was the thug. He would have said that America has ignored the vicious consequences of its imperialistic practices across the world. America ignores how millions of people suffer on a daily basis throughout the world, except in isolated spots that involve so-called national interests. Thirdly, that America has forfeited its duty as global policeman, by virtue of its own mistreatment of black people.”
Condemning Bill Cosby’s Call for Black Parents to Raise Their Children to Be Well-Educated & Law-Abiding
In April 2005 Dyson published Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost its Mind? This book was a rebuttal to statements made by the comedian, who in 2004 had publicly lamented the failure of many African American parents to raise their children to be well-educated, law-abiding citizens. Dyson viewed Cosby’s assertions as the unjustified charges of an upper-class member of the black “Afristocracy” against the underprivileged members of the “Ghettocracy.”
In May 2005 Dyson was interviewed by newsman Al Roker, who asked whether whether Cosby’s statements had any validity. The professor replied, “Oh sure . . . there’s validity always. Tim McVeigh [mastermind of the April 1995 terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City] had a point: The state is over-reaching. But the way you do it, dropping bombs and castigating of human beings, that’s terrible. . . . Let’s hold the larger society accountable for creating the conditions that lead to some of the downfalls of the poor people.”
Asserting That Blacks Have Always Felt Victimized, Much Like White Americans Felt on 9/11
Dyson reacted passionately to a February 26, 2012 incident in Sanford, Florida, in which a “white Hispanic” neighborhood-watch captain named George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old African American named Trayvon Martin. When Zimmerman was subsequently acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in a July 2013 trial, Dyson said: “So, you know how you felt on 9/11? Yeah, that’s how we [blacks] feel when it comes to race… Not until, and unless, the number of white kids die that approximate the numbers of black and other kids who die, will America see.”
Dyson’s Contempt for Black Conservatives
In June 2013, Dyson likened Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to “a symbolic Jew [who] has invited a metaphoric Hitler to commit Holocaust and genocide upon his own people,” after Thomas had voted to strike down a Voting Rights Act provision that had required mainly Southern states to undergo—based on the presumption of their continuing racist tendencies—special federal scrutiny before being permitted to change their election laws in any way.
In October 2018, Dyson criticized hip-hop artist Kanye West for his decision to meet in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump, for whom West expressed admiration. “This is white supremacy by ventriloquism,” said Dyson. “A black mouth is moving, but white racist ideals are flowing from Kanye’s mouth.”
During the November 4, 2021 broadcast of Joy Reid‘s MSNBC program The Reidout, Dyson and Reid agreed that Republican Winsome Sears — a conservative, openly patriotic black woman who had been elected lieutenant governor of Virginia two days earlier, was being exploited by the Republican Party as a mascot and a token black. Reid said to Dyson: “What Republicans are now doing is they basically demand credit any time any of them ever voted for anybody black or if there’s a black guy on the Supreme Court that’s conservative. Any black conservative is supposedly or the black president having ever been elected, right? The fact that he was elected, period, means there’s no racism.” Dyson replied:
“They want credit for having hair in the morning or getting up and brushing their teeth. ‘Look, I’ve made an achievement that should be noteworthy.’ No. You are doing what all political figures what must do, make choices. The problem is here they want — they want white supremacy by ventriloquist effect. There is a black mouth moving but a white idea through the — running on the runway of the tongue of a figure who justifies and legitimates the white supremacist practices. We know that we can internalize in our own minds, in our own subconscious, in our own bodies the very principles that are undoing us. So to have a black face speaking on behalf of a white supremacist legacy is nothing new. And it is to the chagrin of those of us who study race that the white folk on the other side and the right-wingers on the other side don’t understand. If you tell black people, ‘Look, I support a negro. Look! There is a person of color that I am in favor of,’ and that person of color happens to undermine and undercut and subvert the very principles about which we are concerned. You do yourself no service by pointing to them as an example of your racial progressivism.”
High Praise for Al Sharpton
On August 24, 2013, after Al Sharpton had delivered the keynote speech at the 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington, Dyson declared: “What Reverend Sharpton did today was magnificent. Today Reverend Sharpton emerged as the preeminent leader of his generation, bar none!”
Condemning America’s Allegedly Racist Criminal-Justice System
The Michael Brown Case (2014)
Dyson was incensed by an August 2014 incident where Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed an 18-year-old black male named Michael Brown in an altercation that occurred just minutes after Brown had perpetrated a strong-armed robbery of a local convenience store. When a grand jury ultimately decided (in November 2014) not to prosecute Officer Wilson, Professor Dyson lamented that “our American culture’s fearful dehumanizing of black men” had caused Wilson to perceive Michael Brown “as a demonic force who had to be vanquished in a hail of bullets.”
The George Floyd Case (2020)
In a March 30, 2021 appearance on CNN, Dyson said that the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd — a black man who had died during a physical confrontation with a white police officer in Minneapolis — was evidence of America’s “toxic racial atmosphere.” At the time of the interview, that officer, Derek Chauvin, was on trial for Floyd’s killing. “In the larger world, black people are on trial with George Floyd,” said Dyson. “This is our father, our brother, our son, our cousin. It’s us. We look at him and say, what more do you have to do in order to prove that you were murdered unfairly?” Lamenting “the toxic racial atmosphere we [blacks] are being choked by,” Dyson spoke about the urgent need for police reform: “We don’t have to agree on the specificities and the particularities of police reform, but we need teeth in these oversight committees that are charged with looking at the police. If you don’t want to defund the police, fine, if that’s your position to reform them, then have real reform, put teeth in those committees, are subpoena power assigned to them, look at ways to distribute more equitably what we consider to be public safety. Finally, use your bully pulpit to identify with the victims of misconduct and deep and profound injustice in this country.” He concluded, “We’re caught between toxicology and the toxic racial atmosphere we are being choked by. That’s the choice we have in this country.”
Supporting Barack Obama’s Use of the “N-Word”
In a June 22, 2015 podcast interview, President Barack Obama used the n-word during a podcast interview in order to make the point that there was still a great deal of racism in America. “Racism, we are not cured of it,” said Obama. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.” Later that night, MSNBC asked Dyson: “Do you think that the use of the word by President Obama distracts from the point he was trying to make, or do you think because he actually went there, he went there with the n-word, that that underscores it?” Dyson replied:
“The latter interpretation, I think, is correct. Look, those of us who have been pressing President Obama to speak more explicitly and more articulately about race, this is part of the payoff. This is a man who knows so much more than he’s been willing to, or allowed to speak about in public spaces. He chooses his words carefully, he chooses his points of entry carefully, but I think this was an incredibly important moment in intervention on behalf of the American public by our president, the entire — the president of the entire United States of America to talk specifically and particularly about using that n-word. And black people didn’t die when white people said the n-word, those who were racist, who lynched and castrated and murdered them, they didn’t use the n-word, they used the word itself. What he was doing was shocking us, a shock to the system, a jarring reminder of the intemperate use of that word, and how it’s been connected to legacies of white supremacy that he has brilliantly and forthrightly has addressed, and certainly in this case did again. It was effective because he made an intervention by calling the very name that polite society refuses to acknowledge, and what Obama did was unveil the rough underbelly of racial rancor that continues to roil this nation, and I think it’s to his credit that he spoke articulately and explicitly and went there in a very powerful way.”
Supporting Black Lives Matter & Hillary Clinton
During a February 26, 2016 appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Dyson praised both the Black Lives Matter movement and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “[T]he Black Lives Matter [movement] implicitly are proving the humanity of the Democrats, because at least they’re humane enough to respond in kind to them,” he said. “The Republicans don’t give a flying damn about what’s going on there, and therefore, they prove their inhumanity.” “[A]t the end of the day,” he added, “I think that Hillary Clinton is not only the smartest person, the most prepared person, but the person who has given the most credible empirical analysis of race in the last 20 years by a major American politician. I’ll stand by that.”
Dyson’s Contempt for Donald Trump
In a June 26, 2016 appearance on ABC’s This Week, Dyson accused presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of racism: “Donald Trump’s nation doesn’t represent all of us. … He wants to ban Muslims. He wants to keep immigrants out. He wants to build a wall. And look at his rallies, when black people are pushed around, he then says, ‘I will pay for the legal fees of this.’ I’m telling you, Donald Trump amplifies the worst instincts. And his nationalism is really a white racist supremacist nationalism that wreaks terror on the American Democratic experiment.” Added Dyson: “I think the American people will reject him. I believe, I’m betting on the American people to reject that kind of vicious, narrow nationalism and racism.”
In a discussion of inner-city violence on ESPN2’s First Take on August 26, 2016, Dyson portrayed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as a vile racist: “The message that so many of these [poor and nonwhite] communities get is that you are disposable, you are not worthy, you do not count. We see it on television, we hear it on radio, we hear it on the right-wing media; by God, we have a man running for president that has amplified the worst bigotry imaginable in the American scene for the last 50 years.”
In a February 1, 2017 television appearance on The View, Dyson characterized Barack Obama as “one of the greatest presidents that ever lived,” and depicted the new president, Donald Trump, as a product of white racism: “[Y]ou see when we look at Donald Trump, Donald Trump is the rose. What is the ground, or another flower, what is the ground from which he emerged? Whiteness produced him. A certain sense of selfishness, a certain sense of self-importance, a certain sense of innocence, a certain sense of privilege that he fails to acknowledge. And the best of white culture has to war against the worst of white culture for us to embrace it. Because remember, Frankenstein is the name of the doctor, not the monster…”
On January 18, 2017, Dyson told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that Donald Trump had “ginned up the racial animus” in America in order to win the 2020 election. “I think he appealed to the worst instincts in our nature,” he continued. “Unlike Lincoln — the better angels of our nature — he appealed to the worst demons on our collective enterprise of thinking about American citizenship and democracy. And as a result of that, got elected.”
At the August 2017 “Ministers March for Justice” rally at Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network, Dyson excoriated President Trump, saying: “Take the ‘T’ away [from his surname], you got ‘rump.’ And we see the excreting from the bowels of unimaginable depravity every morning on a tweet at about 5:30 in the morning.”
In a November 22, 2017 appearance on MSNBC, Dyson again invoked a feces reference when speaking about President Trump: “This is a president who rises every morning to excrete the moral — to excrete the feces of his moral depravity into a nation into — that he’s turned into his psychic commode. Here’s a guy who doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong fundamentally, and who doesn’t care. So for him, race trumps everything. And in this case, sending these dog whistles out there, suggesting that the statues are part of our heritage, and it’s a false argument. When people say, ‘These are part of our — these statues are part of our heritage.’ Yes, but your heritage is bigotry. ‘The Civil War was not fought in regard to race and slavery. It was fought for states’ rights.’ the states’ right to do what? Own slaves.”
On April 4, 2018 — the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. — Dyson used the occasion to once again make a feces reference to describe President Trump: “Now we stand today in the midst of a culture where a man gets up every morning at 5:30 a.m. to tweet. He talks about shit hole countries, but we know where the shit hole is, beneath his nose and above his chin. Every morning, he stands up to excrete the feces of his moral depravity into a nation he has turned into his psychic commode.”
During a May 30, 2018 appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball, Dyson accused President Trump of having made racism fashionable again: “We’ve got a bigot-in-chief and racist in residence. That is what it is. He has unleashed some of the most horrendous viewpoints in this country. He said ‘look, it’s okay, come out of the closet, stand up and speak and tell the world what you believe and you will be defended by political bluster.’ […] He wants to have it both ways. He wants to certify and validate the quiet bigots afraid to stand up and speak out, and at the same time, he wants to get at the other side for its bigotry and for its dumping on him.”
In June 2018, Dyson condemned President Trump for criticizing the professional athletes who, led by former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick, had been kneeling during the pre-game national anthem as a gesture of protest against America’s alleged epidemics of racism and police brutality. Said Dyson: “These are real actions of intelligent athletes who have consciences who do what we always say we want athletes do — don’t just make a bunch of money, don’t go out there and hot dog it — be about something serious. And they’re facing blowback from a man at the top of the political chain who is one of the most narrow-minded, incoherent, incomprehensibly ill-informed figures we have ever elected to be president of the United States of America.”
In a July 5, 2018 appearance on CNN, Dyson characterized President Trump as a confirmed racist: “The reality is … Donald Trump talks like a racist, thinks like a racist, makes statements like a racist, conjures emotions that give support to white nationalists. Yeah, he’s a racist. Racism is as racism does.” He then told conservative commentator Scott Jennings, a Trump supporter who was also a guest on the CNN program: “So here’s the problem, Martin Luther King Jr. said it’s not the white supremacists who are the problem it’s white moderates and conservatives who are complicit by trying to dismiss it. Brother Jennings, much respect for you but what you’re doing is egregious because you’re attempting to make valid what are essentially naked raw statements of racism. […] You should repudiate [Trump’s remarks] and find cause to distance yourself from a man who can call all Mexicans rapists, Muslims who should be banned, black people who should be discriminated against, women who should be treated in a sexually predatory manner. […] Until white folk like you can stand up and find your spine, you will continue to be complicit in the racist animus of this country.”
In a February 21, 2020 appearance on ABC’s The View, Dyson condemned President Trump for having mentioned the movie Gone With the Wind at one of his political rallies. Said Dyson: “The kind of anarchic, chaotic, fascist impulse there is no question about that. Gone with the Wind was about subordinating black people and the white folk.”
During a November 29, 2020 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Dyson claimed that President Trump’s allegations of voter fraud in large cities during the recent presidential election was a “a dog-whistle” designed to tell “white supremacist and white nationalists” that he supported them. Said the professor:
“Think about the dog whistle that, in some instances, it has been far louder. He’s attacking Detroit, 79% Black. He’s attacking Atlanta, 59% Black. He’s attacking Philadelphia, 42% Black. He’s attacking Milwaukee, 39% Black. We get what he’s doing here. He’s trying to have his cake and eat it, too, so to speak. He has an uptick in voting among African-American people by 5% among Black men, 4% among Black women, and at the same time, he wants to whistle to white supremacist and white nationalists [that] he’s still their guy.”
“He will continue to send out the notion that somehow this [election] is a fraud, the fraud is related to race, race is illegitimate, and as a result of that, you as a white person have every reason in the world regardless of your stratification, whether you’re making $100 million a year or whether you’re barely making $10,000, to vote for me because I’m your guy…. Here is a guy who is anti-science, he’s anti-race, he’s anti-everything that makes this country, it seems, the very great thing he wants to make it.”
Claiming That Whites Are Blind to Their Own “White Privilege,” and to the Suffering & Mistreatment of Blacks
In July 2016, Dyson wrote an op-ed for The New York Times wherein he expressed his views about white people. Some noteworthy excerpts:
- “At birth, you [white people] are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead when the encounter is over…. Your knowledge of black life, of the hardships we face, yes, those we sometimes create, those we most often endure, don’t concern you much. You think we have been handed everything because we have fought your selfish insistence that the world, all of it — all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace — should be yours first, and foremost, and if there’s anything left, why then we can have some, but only if we ask politely and behave gratefully.”
- “Whiteness is blindness. It is the wish not to see what it will not know. If you do not know us, you also refuse to hear us because you do not believe what we say. You have decided that enough is enough. If the cops must kill us for no good reason, then so be it because most of us are guilty anyway. If the black person that they kill turns out to be innocent, it is an acceptable death, a sacrificial one…. We are not strangers to terror. You make us afraid to walk the streets, for at any moment, a blueclad officer with a gun could swoop down on us to snatch our lives from us and say that it was because we were selling cigarettes, or compact discs, or breathing too much for your comfort, or speaking too abrasively for your taste. Or running, or standing still, or talking back, or being silent, or doing as you say, or not doing as you say fast enough.”
- “Day in and day out, we feel powerless to make our black lives matter. We feel powerless to make you believe that our black lives should matter. We feel powerless to keep you from killing black people in front of their loved ones. We feel powerless to keep you from shooting hate inside our muscles with well choreographed white rage. But we have rage, too. Most of us keep our rage inside. We are afraid that when the tears begin to flow we cannot stop them. Instead we damage our bodies with high blood pressure, sicken our souls with depression.”
- “You hold an entire population of Muslims accountable for the evil acts of a few. Yet you rarely muster the courage to put down your binoculars, and with them, your corrosive self-pity, and see what we see. You say religions and cultures breed violence stoked by the complicity of silence because peoples will not denounce the villains who act in their names. Yet you do the same. In the aftermath of these deaths, you do not all condemn these cops; to do so, you would have to condemn the culture that produced them — the same culture that produced you. Condemning a culture is not inciting hate. That is very important. Yet black people will continue to die at the hands of cops as long as we deny that whiteness can be more important in explaining those cops’ behavior than anything else.”
In a February 1, 2017 television appearance on The View, Dyson said: “[W]hite brothers and sisters don’t see that they have privilege. They say, oh, my God. Look at you people who are politically correct now, you want safe spaces. Well your white body is a safe space in a way that African Americans, Latinos, women’s bodies are not. So what I’m suggesting to white Americans, I love you. I want you to engage in the introspection that you encourage everybody else to do. Then think about the privilege. The ultimate privilege may be this, you encounter a police person and live to tell about it…. I’m saying, there are many privileges that white brothers and sisters have and if you acknowledge it then we can figure out how to unmask that privilege and then to challenge it.”
Claiming That Blacks Are Routinely Mistreated by Police, While Whites Are Not
On July 10, 2016 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Dyson, while commenting on recent fatal police shootings of black civilians in Louisiana and Minnesota, lamented “the difficulty [of] the circumstances that we [blacks] confront” and “the vulnerability we feel” because of “the extraordinary assault upon black life, the repudiation of any sense of civility when it comes to the interactions between police forces, which most African-American people regard with respect and authority, but whose authority has spilled over into terrorizing impulses and impacts upon African-American culture.”
In a March 2, 2017 appearance on Fox Sports 1, Dyson said “the greatest privilege of many white Americans is to encounter a police person and not die in the encounter, and to live to tell about it.”
Urging President Obama to “Challenge” White People vis-a-vis the Subject of Race
On July 11, 2016, Dyson told CNN that President Obama “owes” it to white people to educate and “challenge” them vis-a-vis the issue of race: “[Obama] is one of the greatest minds, when it comes to race. He wrote one of the greatest memoirs in history, Dreams from My Father, that deals with the complexity, the nuance, the sophistication of race. We need that president, courageous, bold, articulate, and willing to endure whatever criticism he may have to endure, in order to lead this nation forward. He does not owe that simply to African-American people. He owes that specifically to white people, to challenge them in the most loving and encouraging way possible.”
Dyson Urges Whites to Voluntarily Pay “Reparations” to Blacks
In a January 2017 interview about his forthcoming book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, a New York Times Magazine interviewer said to Dyson: “At the end of your sermon, you do a ‘benediction’ section, in which you talk about making reparations [to black people] on the local and individual level: donating to groups like the United Negro College Fund or a scholarship program, but also, to cite your example from the book, paying ‘the black person who cuts your grass double what you might ordinarily pay.’ That gave me pause!” To this, Dyson replied: “Good! I used to say in church, ‘If the sermon ain’t making you a little bit uncomfortable, it ain’t effective.’ Look, if it doesn’t cost you anything, you’re not really engaging in change; you’re engaging in convenience. You’re engaged in the overflow. I’m asking you to do stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily do. I’m asking you to think more seriously and strategically about why you possess what you possess.” A moment later, Dyson advocated that every white person in America open “an I.R.A.: an Individual Reparations Account,” adding: “You ain’t got to ask the government, you don’t have to ask your local politician — this is what you, an individual, conscientious, ‘woke’ citizen can do.”
Claiming That “White Supremacy” & “White-on-White Crime” Are Bigger Threats to Americans Than Islamic Terrorism
On January 18, 2017, CNN’s Chris Cuomo suggested to Dyson that many people may have voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election because they viewed the Obama administration as having been weak in dealing with the terrorist organization ISIS, which Cuomo described as “color neutral.” Dyson replied: “Color neutral and ISIS? Many African-American people say look we were introduced to terror long before 9/11 —the vicious police forces of America that have victimized us, and the way in which white supremacy operated. […] How many people have died from terror in America in the last ten years? Maybe a hundred. Most people have died not from Muhammad, but Billy Bob. In terms of white people, white-on-white crime has done far more to damage America than ISIS.”
Portraying Conservatives As People of “Bigotry,” “Hate,” & “Nastiness”
At the August 2017 “Ministers March for Justice” rally at Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network, Dyson characterized conservatives as hateful racists who seek to oppress nonwhite minorities, while portraying leftists as friends of the downtrodden. Said Dyson: “When I go to the airport and get on the people mover, it says if you want to stand still, go to the right, and if you want to move, go to the left. I am telling you today if you want to stand still, go to the right wing, go to bigotry and hate, go to the nastiness that you see. If you want to lift yourself up, moved further to the left.”
Supporter of Affirmative Action
“Look, already it was illegal to have a quota. That is to say we’re going to make up for the numbers of black and brown people who have been historically denied or compensation to make up for the historically maligned African-American and Latino populations. But what it does suggest is that there should be a consideration of race and a holistic understanding of how college administration — college admissions are administered.
“So in that case, race is a figure — a significant feature among many others when considering a person so that diversity enhances not only African-American and Latino people who have been denied access but those white students who need to have the benefit of those black students and brown students.
“For instance, think about the fact we would have far fewer people inclined to call the police on strange-acting black or brown people if they actually had a college course with them and interacted with them.
“But secondly, what’s interesting here — we’re not talking about the masses of college and universities here. We’re speaking about the intense competition for the elite — the top echelon. So that 15 percent of college-aged students are black and yet there are only six percent at these elite institutions. Latinos, 22 percent of the population and only 13 percent at these elite colleges.
“And what the Trump administration has done here is rejected the principle of diversity as the predicate for expanding the minds of American students so that we understand race, class, culture, gender, and the like. […] They usually quote Martin Luther King, Jr. who said judge me by the content of the character, not the color of my skin. But, Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963 in his book Why We Can’t Wait, said that if the nation has done something special against the Negro (as we were then called) for 240 years, the nation must do now something special for the Negro. […]
“If race has been used [in the past] as a demerit, it has to be constituted [today] as a merit.”
Comparing the Original “Betsy Ross” American Flag to a Swastika
In the summer of 2019, Dyson spoke out about a recent controversy wherein Nike spokesman Colin Kaepernick had complained about the company’s plan to release a red, white, and blue “Betsy Ross” or “Fourth of July” sneaker which featured the image of an original American flag with 13 stars representing the 13 original American colonies. Kaepernick’s complaint was based on the notion that the flag carried a “connection to an era of slavery.” In an effort to explain why that flag was so offensive to some, Dyson likened it to Nazi and KKK artifacts: “Why don’t we wear a swastika for July 4th? Because, I don’t know, it makes a difference. The cross burning on somebody’s lawn. Why don’t we just have a Nike celebration of the cross, those symbols are symbols of hate. So we can take PC culture back.”
Characterizing Mitch McConnell As a Racist
In a December 2020 appearance on MSNBC’s The ReidOut, hosted by Joy Reid, Dyson spoke about his newly published book, Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America. In the course of his discussion, he said the following about Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:
“I talk about in the book fast terror and slow terror. Fast terror is when bombs drop and they lynch black people, when they hurt us very explicitly, by the police, who hurt and harm and kill us. Slow terror is kicking kids out of school, denying them the opportunity to be fed both mentally and physically.
“If Donald Trump is a fast terrorist, is a fast racist, then Mitch McConnell is taking a slower train toward racial revulsion. He is enacting some of the worst practices we have seen in the history of this nation in regard to a senator blocking the coming to fruition of legislation that could relieve the hurt and suffering of Black people. And to proudly stand up and say that he wanted to make Obama a one-term president — this shows us that the real religion in America is whiteness. The real politics in Mitch McConnell’s orbit are whiteness, the worship of whiteness at the altar of whiteness, genuflecting before the god of whiteness. Therefore Donald Trump is a the product of a womb that has generated this disfigured person in terms of politics, but Mitch McConnell is part of the womb. Mitch McConnell he gives life and breath to the very denunciation of blackness that Trump has been so vehemently denounced for.”
Portraying “American Exceptionalism” As “White Supremacy” in Disguise
On January 17, 2021, Dyson delivered a sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, claiming that America’s claim of its own national exceptionalism was in fact worship of its own white supremacy. Some excerpts from the sermon:
- “The sad truth is that, for many people, […] the only America they know [is an] America that spills blood in the name of misguided patriotism. An America willing to avert its eyes from truth in the glare of baseless conspiracy. An America that worships at the altar of the Second Amendment while making an idol of weapons and betraying the Second Commandment. An America that spews disgust at the dark foreigner and harbors hatred for the brown immigrant. An America that despises as enemies those who cry out that Black Lives Matter, while waving the traitorous banner of Confederate bigotry. This is America and has been America since America became America.”
- “The willful ignorance of these unflattering visions of your nation has fed your belief in American exceptionalism. … I must warn you that no nation is spared divine judgment and that only God is exceptional. No country, no group of people, no collection of territories or political ideals is exceptional. Remember I said to you in my Letter to the Romans that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Many nations think that their water is wetter, their sun brighter, their ways superior, their vision clearer, their beliefs purer than those of their chief rivals or sworn enemies. The moment a nation believes that its sins don’t diminish its moral standing, it is on the road to perdition.”
- “There is a greater danger you must boldly confront: American exceptionalism is really white supremacy on the sly. The men who founded your nation relished talk of God while holding Black flesh in chains. Many of those who say that God takes special pride in your nation seek to bless the blasphemy of white supremacy. The American church has sinned by portraying truth as white. Facts as white. Reality as white. Beauty as white. Normal as white. Moral as white. Righteousness as white. Theology as white. Christ as white. God as white. And America as white.”
- “To be honest, it was easy to understand why the forty-fourth president was widely hailed. After all, he was the first Black president America had elected. He was young and charming and whip-smart and handsome, an ebony dream come to life in the sordid political arena. Given that no Black person before him got close to the Oval Office, it seemed that only an act of God got him elected. God doesn’t put presidents into office. Voters do. God wants justice to prevail. It is up to citizens to determine what that looks like and who best embodies it, or even if that’s a virtue they value. It is hardly God’s way to be a cosmic bully.”
- “[T]he tentacles of white supremacy stretch ominously into American policing. The ultimate paradox may be that many white followers of the forty-fifth president rail against the very police forces that have historically had a hand in white supremacy’s deadly rampages against black people, who are its truest victims.”
- “I think American exceptionalism, which argues, after Tocqueville, that there’s something peculiar and unique about America – therefore the blessing of God rests upon it, therefore it has a duty and mission in the world – is quite misled.”
Accusing Republicans of Opposing Black Voting Rights
On February 1, 2021, Dyson told MSNBC’s The Beat that the Republican Party was seeking to take away black people’s right to vote:
“It’s pretty atrocious when you’ve got 106 bills in 28 states trying to suppress the vote through making it more difficult for mail-in votes. You would think the Republicans would want to increase that since they lost so horribly when you talk about the voter I.D. laws being strengthened and the registration processes being made even more difficult and then finally removing people from the rolls, these mass purges, which, of course, target with vicious particularity African-American voters — which is why Stacey Abrams, a heroic figure to be certain, not only reversed the purging of 500,000 votes in Georgia but added another 300,000. Perhaps that’s why today it has been leaked that she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of her non-violent efforts to really retard this vicious trend.
“Look, the Republicans want to make an anagram of vote. They want to veto. They want to veto the right of black people’s access to the franchise. They want to veto Democrats’ access to the franchise. And so instead of doing it the old-fashioned way: ‘Hey, we lost, let’s work harder. Hey, we lost. Let’s deliver a better message. Hey, we lost. Let’s not be xenophobic. Hey, we lost. Let’s not be racist. Hey, we lost. Let’s not be antisemitic and on and on and on. The point is work harder, work smarter, be sharper, be more insightful.’”
Deriding “Mediocre White Men” Who Criticize “Folk That Ain’t Them”
In a June 23, 2021 appearance on MSNBC’s Deadline, Dyson declared that he was “tired of hearing mediocre white men,” whom he called “maggots” (as a play on “MAGA” acronym popularized by former President Trump), criticizing “folk that ain’t them.” Said Dyson:
“I resent as an intellectual and as a black person in America that we have taken the brunt of anti-intellectualism. We have borne the brunt of being disloyal to this nation. And we have stood by to see mediocre, mealy-mouthed, snowflake white men who are incapable of taking critique, who are willing to dole out infamous repudiations of the humanity of the other and yet they call us snowflakes and they are the biggest flakes of snow to hit the earth. They are incapable of criticism. They are incapable of tolerating difference. They’re scared of, oh, my God, critical race theory is going to kill your mother. They do not even know. They are not critical. They have no race, and don’t understand theory.
“I am tired of hearing mediocre white men take to their pulpits to excoriate women and trans people and black folk, every other folk that ain’t them. It is time that we in America take back the country for certain. To seize the reins of authority so that rhetorics of compassion, discourses of empathy, and love in the most radical sense possible would prevail. That means we read everything. I read right-wing stuff every day. I ain’t no right-winger. I try to understand and get beneath what it is that drove that rage, but it doesn’t make me full of rage. So I think it’s a necessity for us to be open-minded. Women and people of color and sexual minorities can lead the way because the white guys are flubbing it up in big fashion.”
Supporter of Critical Race Theory
During a November 2021 television appearance on The View, Dyson defended Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a means of “trying to find out the conditions [in societal institutions] that we need to be rescued from as human beings.” He also accused Republican politicians and commentators of having neatly “package[d] up” CRT into a boogeyman designed to frighten white parents into believing that their children were being taught, in school, to hate themselves and to be ashamed of being white. Moreover, Dyson argued that white people, because of their historical racial transgressions, lacked the moral authority to determine how, or to what extent, the classroom should be used to address racial issues. “You can’t just ask white brothers and sisters who have been participants in a particular problem of oppression how to relieve it,” Dyson said. “White comfort cannot be the predicate for making sure that race is a strategy that shouldn’t be used.”
Additional Information About Dyson
In addition to his teaching duties, Dyson also spent time as a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a regular commentator for Tavis Smiley’s National Public Radio program. He has written op/ed pieces for The Washington Post and The New York Times, and has appeared on numerous major television programs, including: The Charlie Rose Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, The Today Show, and Oprah.
In 1995 Dyson published Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. Adorning the book’s cover was a glowing review by Angela Davis. Other enthusiastic reviews were furnished by Carol Moseley-Braun, Jesse Jackson, and Chuck D. of the rap group Public Enemy.
Dyson has received awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and the NAACP.
Shelby Steele Calls Dyson “A Plague on His People”
During an August 30, 2017 appearance on Laura Ingraham’s nationally syndicated radio program, Stanford University’s Hoover Institution senior fellow Shelby Steele, a prominent black conservative, said of Dyson:
“[T]his man is a plague on his people. He does nothing but fan up their insecurities, scream at them that they are victims, that they are owed something, that they are entitled, that they’ve been put upon, that they’re down, when we really know the reality is of course that the only way minorities – whether they’ve been oppressed or not – are going to move ahead is by self-reliance and positive good faith. Rather, what Dyson is preaching here is bad faith – is be suspicious of your country, doubt your country, doubt that you have any opportunities, disbelieve. That’s the way to move ahead. What a profound and horrible message to be sending to black Americans as we try to come out of what we’ve been through.”
Further Reading: “Michael Eric Dyson” (Linkedin.com)