March 1, 2017- A Book Review
A Book Review
Tears We Cannot Stop:
A Sermon to White America
by Michael Eric Dyson
St. Martin’s Press, New York: 2017
The strongest characteristic of this work for me is that it is written by a knowledgeable and kind black person specifically to the white people of America.
Michael Eric Dyson is, among other things, an ordained minister, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, a contributing editor of The New Republic and the author of nineteen books. He is certainly qualified to hold forth on this subject. And hold forth, he does.
He sends his message to us in the form of a sermon: “What I need to say can only be said as a sermon.” I can understand that. Although the form might turn off some readers, it keeps the author away from intellectualizing and brings his motivating energy from the head to the heart, telling it like it is.
One of the problems of race in our country, I believe, is that most white people keep a distance from racial issues, think that we don’t understand them or don’t have the experience to do something about them. And, truth be told, we are afraid of blundering or offending or otherwise getting into trouble by going where we think don’t belong.
Dyson won’t let us get away with any of those excuses. He consistently holds our feet to the fire and pulls no punches, all the while showing empathy and accurate insight into the challenges that face us as white people trying to become enlightened and helpful on racial issues.
Topics he treats run the gamut from understanding the current crisis with the police/black people relationship to what it is like to be called names and degraded because of your skin color.
He talks of a disorder that commonly affects white people he calls: C.H.E.A.T.: Chronic Historical Evasion and Trickery and encourages us to face the stages of grief that we all feel on some level: “Beloved… you often tell us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps…to admit our flaws and better ourselves…. And yet so many of you, beloved, are obstinate to a fault, intransigent and thin-skinned… Donald Trump is only the most recent and boisterous example.” Like I said, he tells it like he sees it.
And I for one, say: “Good for you. This is exactly what we need. Truth and encouragement.”
Early in the work Dyson talks about (without actually owning) the literary form of jeremiad. Although I recognized the word, I had to look it up: “a prolonged lamentation or complaint; or a cautionary or angry harangue.” And yes, there is some anger and lamentation here, but he never descends into complaining or haranguing, to his credit
When I finished reading the short work, I felt as though I had moved one level closer to some kind of empowerment, some kind of understanding that I did not have before. Dyson had spoken to me honestly, and especially respectfully, because he did not treat me as “other” or as “too sensitive,” but offered his unvarnished truth.
He ends with a “Benediction,” a note of hope with some practical suggestions as a way of going forward.
I recommend this book to you―especially if you’re thinking, “this doesn’t seem like something I’d read.”
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