In Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We CanNot Stop; A Sermon To White America, Dyson tackles race by way of preaching, which is the central theme of the book.
This is a cry out to White America about what it means to be black in this country.
I, myself have come face to face with awkward and uncomfortable encounters with White America. With each encounter I was left feeling like it was up to me, to just charge it to the individual’s head and not their heart.
Dyson offers up his message the way a minister would to his congregation. This adds a more heart felt approach in dealing with a topic such as race. He uses terms of endearment like Beloved. He even breaks down the table of contents like a Sunday Service:
I. Call to Worship
II. Hymns of Praise
IV. Scripture Reading
Repenting of Whiteness
- Inventing Whiteness
- The Five Stages of White Grief
- The Plague of White Innocence
Being Black in America
- Our Own Worst Enemy?
VII. Offering Plate
VIII. Prelude to Service
IX. Closing Prayer
He breaks down the difference between Nationalism and Patriotism. Terms that have been tossed around here lately.
He writes,”Nationalism is the uncritical celebration of one’s nation regardless of its moral or political virtue,” says Dyson. “Nationalism is a harmful belief that can lead a country down a dangerous spiral of arrogance, or off a precipice of political narcissism. It is the belief that no matter what one’s country does-whether racist, sexist, xenophobic, or the like- it must be supported and accepted entirely.”
He goes on to say, “Patriotism is a bigger, more uplifting virtue. Patriotism is the belief in the best values of one’s country, and the pursuit of the best means to realize those values. If the nation strays then it must be corrected. The patriot is the person who, spotting the need for change, says so clearly and loudly without hate or rancor.
“The nationalist is the person who spurns such correction and would rather take refuge in bigotry than fight it. It is the nationalist who wrap themselves in a flag and loudly proclaim themselves as patriots. That is dangerous, as glimpsed in Trump’s amplification of racist and xenophobic sentiments. In the end, Trump is a nationalist, and Kaepernick is a patriot.”
The format allows Dyson, a well known academic and news author to reclaim his identity as an ordained Baptist minister. His narrative voice carries a much deeper authority, as he shares his own personal encounters with White America.
For those that like to suggest slavery was a long time ago, it’s in the past, “Slavery casts a long shadow across our lives. The spoils we reaped from forcing people to work without wages and treating them with grievous inhumanity continue to haunt us in a racial gulf that seems impossible to overcome. Black and white people don’t merely have different experiences; we seem to occupy different universes, with worldviews that are fatally opposed to one another.”
In order to tackle the race issue, there’s something that needs to be done. Dyson points out, “Whiteness must shed its posture of competence, its will to omniscience, its belief in its goodness and purity, and then walk a mile or two in the boots of blackness. The siege of hate will not end until white folk imagine themselves as black folk-vulnerable despite our virtues.”
Police brutality is an ongoing matter. It remains to be an attack against blacks in this country. Black Lives Matter was created to address this issue and White America decided to spit in the face of Black Lives Matter by creating Blue Lives Matter.
Dyson addresses this.
He writes, “To pretend that the solution is to bring back a lost balance between black folk and cops ignores history, ignores racial terror, ignores how things are not, and have never been equal. It is to ignore the even more insistent strains of Coptopia, an ideal state of affairs where police can display ghastly inventiveness in traumatizing or disappearing black and brown bodies while demanding even greater public reverence.
“If you’re honest you’ll see that the police force is a metaphysical collective with a gift for racial punishment that has never viewed black folk as human beings, because the law that they are charged to enforce has never seen us as human beings. And the Constitution that the law rests on did not write us in as fully human.”
It’s a smooth read. I couldn’t put it down.
*Erica Van Buren is a multimedia journalist with published work in the St. Louis American, St. Joseph News Press, Community News, Independent News and the Riverfront Times.