WHAT TRUTH SOUNDS LIKE by Michael Eric Dyson

WHAT TRUTH SOUNDS LIKE

Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A social and political analyst reflects on racial tensions in contemporary America.

In 1963, Robert Kennedy asked James Baldwin to organize a small, private gathering of prominent African-Americans in order to hear their views on combating segregation and discrimination. Dyson (Sociology/Georgetown Univ.; Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, 2017, etc.) uses that meeting as a jumping-off point for an incisive look at the roles of politicians, artists, intellectuals, and activists in confronting racial injustice and effecting change. The meeting, notes the author, was frustrating for Kennedy and his guests. Besides Baldwin, they included playwright Lorraine Hansberry, black activist Jerome Smith, and entertainers Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. Hoping that a conversation would result in a practical “urban agenda,” Kennedy was stunned by “a gut punch of black rage.” For nearly three hours he listened to “violent, emotional verbal assaults,” especially from Smith, who claimed that he was “close to the moment where I’m ready to take up a gun.” To Kennedy, his guests seemed “more interested in witness than policy.” Their emotional testimony struck him as “hysterical.” For their part, they saw Kennedy as a well-meaning but ignorant white liberal. White America’s hatred of blackness, Kennedy’s guests agreed, “could never be solved solely by a governmental program.” The meeting, Dyson asserts, exposed rage that still persists, as blacks struggle to find “room to breathe within the smothering confines of white society” and public figures grapple for solutions. The author points to Minneapolis Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins and California senator Kamala Harris; black intellectuals Ta-Nehisi Coates, Erin Aubry Kaplan, and Farah Jasmine Griffin; artists Jay-Z and Beyoncé; and sports figures Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick as inspiring figures courageous enough “to face down oppression in our land.” Dyson also celebrates the potent image of Wakanda in the movie Black Panther, which helps “remythologize blackness, to see blackness as an imagined kingdom of possibility, to see it as an alternative universe of humane endeavor.”

An eloquent response to an urgent—and still-unresolved—dilemma.

Pub Date: June 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-250-19941-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2018




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Kirkus Interview
Michael Eric Dyson
February 2, 2016

In Michael Eric Dyson’s rich and nuanced book new book, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America, Dyson writes with passion and understanding about Barack Obama’s “sad and disappointing” performance regarding race and black concerns in his two terms in office. While race has defined his tenure, Obama has been “reluctant to take charge” and speak out candidly about the nation’s racial woes, determined to remain “not a black leader but a leader who is black.” Dyson cogently examines Obama’s speeches and statements on race, from his first presidential campaign through recent events—e.g., the Ferguson riots and the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston—noting that the president is careful not to raise the ire of whites and often chastises blacks for their moral failings. At his best, he spoke with “special urgency for black Americans” during the Ferguson crisis and was “at his blackest,” breaking free of constraints, in his “Amazing Grace” Charleston eulogy. Dyson writes here as a realistic, sometimes-angry supporter of the president. View video >

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