Wednesday, February 8, 2017

TEARS WE CANNOT STOP, a heartfelt sermon to an absent congregation

TEARS WE CANNOT STOP: A Sermon to White America

St. Martin's Press
$24.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Short, emotional, literary, powerful―Tears We Cannot Stop is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.

As the country grapples with racist division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man's voice soars above the rest with conviction and compassion. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed piece "Death in Black and White," Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot Stop―a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted.

The time is at hand for reckoning with the past, recognizing the truth of the present, and moving together to redeem the nation for our future. If we don't act now, if you don't address race immediately, there very well may be no future.


My Review: I don't take my white male privilege as my due. I recognize that, even in my state of disability and deeply offensive otherhood by being unapologetically gay and intelligent in a world that really really dislikes both those qualities, I am still protected by a halo of white maleness from the full force of contumely routinely piled on others. I'm not stopped by cops while walking on the boardwalk. I'm not made a target by predators as I wander through my wealthy little town. I'm not, in short, Black or Latinx or Desi.

Dyson is still speaking to me in my bastion of safety. I'm not immune to racism because I don't personally practice it. I am the beneficiary of racism's unbearable viciousness. Every unsolved murder of a Black man or teen or child hit by a stray bullet fired in a dispute over goodness knows what (that happened year before last in Hempstead, a few minutes from where I live) suffers from a lack of what I have without question: The full protection of the society I live in, however grudgingly offered. I can demand that the institutions in place give me what I need. Others can't. And that is institutionalized racism at its most disagreeable. Because I, and so many like me, can make these demands, others are perforce denied their access to them. It is a scarcity model, a zero-sum game, where my privilege comes at the expense of your access to the spoils.

How does one cause those who have abundant goods, easy access to services and wealth, to share with those who have not? Dyson exhorts and educates the white elite to enjoin us to see things as they are. Then we're left to question our consciences as to whether the way things are is okay with us. My answer is "no I'm not okay with it" and still that makes no difference in the world at large. It brings institutional racism no closer to collapse. And, crucially, it brings me into no significant danger of losing my white male privilege. Dyson has effectively presented me the case for my privilege to end; he and I together with the people of conscience can only exhort, can try to explain to any audience we can find that as "guiltless" as we may be in our own hearts, we need to put our hands to the divine work of ending our own luxury.

Savonarola tried that. Got him burned at the stake. The Black Panther Party has advocated for this for over 50 years. Got their leaders jailed, murdered, marginalized. White America isn't in the pews listening to the sermon, Dr. Dyson. The converts are, I hope, already out there flapping their gums about the subject. I bash my keyboard to bring awareness to the issues of exclusion and denial. This is my way of encouraging all my fellows in privilege to resist the understandable desire to (silently, tacitly) accept the tainted gifts that the kakistocracy currently ascendant in US politics delivers to us.

Despite the urge to put a book that makes you feel ashamed of things you think you can't control or influence right down on the nightstand, I ask you please to stop yourself from the easy course. Please pick the book back up. Please understand that Dyson is extending a hand to you, palm up, to offer you reasons to take action and make decisions that support true equality. Put your palm to his. Take that action, make that decision, no matter how small or how "useless." There is a reason for you to do the right thing:
We don't hate you, white America. We hate that you terrorize us and then lie about it and then make us feel crazy for having to explain to you how crazy it makes us feel. We cannot hate you, not really, not most of us; that is our gift to you. We cannot halt you; that is our curse.


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