Michael Eric Dyson, named by Ebony as one of the hundred most influential black Americans, is the author of sixteen books, including Holler if You Hear Me, Is Bill Cosby Right? and I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. He is currently University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Michael Eric Dyson: Well, there is no question that if Barack Obama is elected President racism is still real, black social suffering is still real, some of the stuff we’ve been speaking about, black poverty, black inequality in schools, the fact that many white suburban schools have almost twice as much- many resources as black and brown kids do in postindustrial urban spaces. When we look at all the indices of the flourishing American soul so to speak black and brown people score very low on those because of the continuing and persistent prejudice, bigotry and differentiation in the educational structure for white mainstream brothers and sisters and those who are not. So in that sense I think that we have to continue to grapple with these disparities, the disparity of getting twice as much money in a suburban school as you get in an inner city school. So yeah, this inequality is real and the social injustice has to be addressed, and Martin Luther King Jr. was willing to talk about it in very powerful and edifying fashion in a way that we’ve lost a sense of in terms of tracking that misery. So yeah, a black President can’t remove all that. If Barack Obama is President, Jesse Jackson ain’t going to lose a job, Al Sharpton will still be able to do what he does, because the role of a black President is radically dissimilar to the role of a black prophet. And a prophet and a social critic stands outside the system to bring- to bear upon that system the most sustained form of social analysis possible. A black politician operates within the context of mainstream American society to bring further responsibility to the management of the resources of the nation while also using the bully pulpit of the presidency to garner and secure acceptance for difficult ideals and identities and peoples who may be on the margins of the society.
Recorded on: May 16 2008
I think we have a distorted vision of Dr. King because need him to be useful to us in ways that ameliorate our situation but also mollify our consciences.