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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[…]

Correcting the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Michael Eric Dyson: Well, I think America's tendency to fethishize, iconicize,(sic) elevate, glorify, glamorize figures is because we all have a need to have an unblemished character that reflects the American soul. I may not be perfect but he sure is. I may not be the ideal but she sure is. That's why we idolize athletes. We look at them and see the feline mystique. We see the masculine physique, the feminine physique. We see the perfection that is embodied in their ideals athletically and we say we want to be them or we project ourselves on to them or because I can't do well they can do well. So a Kobe Bryant or a Tiger Woods or a Martina Navratilova or one of the Williams sisters, Serina or Venus or some other athlete, Babe Ruth as an icon, Barry Bonds as an athlete People see in them extraordinary achievements and possibilities that loom larger than their own physical limitations and their own psychic ones so to speak. So the same thing is done with these enormously courageous figures who are flawed to be sure but the flaws must be erased, the blemishes must be rendered nonexistent, and we got to remove the pimples from the faces of history, and we don't want to see that. We want to apply some cream to smooth them out so to speak, and so I think that with Martin Luther King Jr. in particular the need to elevate and glorify and glamorize him has to do with the fact that the real Dr. King would be a judgment upon America because the real Dr. King was dismissed by America. For the first time in a decade in 1967 nearly, he did not make Gallup Poll ten most admired Americans list. That's shame on us, not on him. No university really wanted to hear from him at the time of his death and no American publisher wanted to publish a book by him. These are things we conveniently- we forget so by projecting perfection on to him we remove the necessity of examining us under a sharper glass of scrutiny that would point to our failures and flaws as well.


Recorded on: May 16 2008