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Why white Americans don’t see themselves when they hear the word ‘race’

May 18, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT
“Can we challenge the forces of unconscious white privilege and implicit bias, to come out of the closet and be held accountable?” Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson says asking that question is his job. Dyson gives his Brief but Spectacular take on white privilege and the American amnesia over race.
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MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, Author, “Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America”: One of the greatest privileges of being white in this country is to encounter a police person on the street and live to tell about it.

When many people say, let’s get rid of political correctness, that’s a shorthand for, let me keep on being bigoted the way I was before.

As the great philosopher Shawn Carter said, you was who you was before you got here, player, and you might change, but that’s just the top layer.

When you think about the collective white fragility of many white Americans, you know, black people, brown people, red, yellow people, you know what we do? I’m going to break a secret to you. We’re very cautious and careful about how you might interpret things, because you’re very fragile. Your feelings might get hurt.

You have had 44 of 45 presidents. Most CEOs of American Fortune 500 companies have been white. Where are the tears of white America coming from?

To be white is to be seen as, I’m just a human being. I’m just an American. Why can’t you guys do the same?

So, many white brothers and sisters don’t understand they possess a race. When you hear gender, what do we think? Oh, that must be the women. We don’t think, hey, I possess a masculinity. And, often, it’s a toxic masculinity.

Many white brothers and sisters, when they hear the issue of race, they think the other. They never think themselves.

It was the great, late Gore Vidal who said, we live in the United States of amnesia.

So, America is obsessed with history when, what? It’s a reenactment of the Civil War, some battle that was lost in the South.

But when it’s about black history, why don’t you people get over that? Stop obsessing about slavery. Stop talking about reparations. Stop speaking about historical repression. Talk about what’s going on now.

When it makes America look great, claps, applause. When it doesn’t, get out of my face. Stop living in the past.

My role is, for many communities, a paid pest. That’s what I do. I’m a professor. So, I get paid to think about stuff that is pestiferous.

I try to use humor. I try to use self-deprecation, but the ultimate goal is the same. Can we challenge the forces of unconscious white privilege and implicit bias to come out of the closet and to be held accountable? That’s my job.

One of my white students, after reading a book that horrendously detailed the tragedies and horrors of white violence against black people, said, “For the first time in my life, I feel ashamed to be white.”

I didn’t want him to get stuck in a pocket of misery and guilt, because white guilt ultimately will not fix anything.

You’re going to get into circles that I will never get into. You’re going to go home to Thanksgiving. Go home and talk to granny, not before you eat the turkey or the stuffing or the pumpkin pie. But after, then say to her, you know what, I have got black and brown and red and yellow friends, and it’s not what you say. Or say to your cousin and your uncle, this is not how it goes down.

And when we do that, we can get rid of the amnesia that has blocked a white grappling with its own problems and issues, and tell the truth about race in America.

My name is Michael Eric Dyson. And this is my Brief But Spectacular challenge to white America.

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