- Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University
- Expert in “gangsta rap” and hip-hop music
- Condemned Bill Cosby's assertion that black Americans should embrace education, be more law-abiding, and learn to speak proper English
- Member of the Democratic Socialists of America
- Believes that the 9/11 attacks were “predictable to a degree due to America’s past imperialistic practices, and how it is viewed by other countries”
Michael Eric Dyson is an ordained Baptist minister and a professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, whose faculty he joined in 2007. He has also taught at the University of North Carolina, Columbia University, DePaul University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Into much of his teaching, Dyson incorporates his expertise in hip-hop music and “gangsta rap.” Says Dyson: “Gangsta rap often reaches higher than its ugliest, lowest common denominator. Misogyny, violence, materialism, and sexual transgression are not its exclusive domain. At its best, this music draws attention to complex dimensions of ghetto life ignored by most Americans. . . . Indeed, gangsta rap’s in-your-face style may do more to force America to confront crucial social problems than a million sermons or political speeches.”
In 1996 Dyson published Between God and Gangsta Rap, which laments the “miserable plight of black men in America,” and calls "[t]he demonization of gangsta rappers" merely "a convenient excuse for cultural and political elites to pounce on a group of artists who are easy prey."
In 2001 Dyson published Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, about the life of the late rapper who he lauded as a black Jesus figure. In the book, Dyson writes that Shakur’s “stirring raps made many people see suffering they had never before acknowledged. It helped many desperately unhappy young people reclaim a sense of hope and humanity.”
A member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Dyson joined such notables as Noam Chomsky and Barbara Ehrenreich in speaking at the organization’s 17th Annual Socialist Scholars Conference in 1999.
Also in 1999, Dyson said the following at a forum organized by Academics for Mumia Abu-Jamal:
"So for me, then, the Mumia Abu-Jamal case is about the person who is able to articulate the interests of minority people not only in terms of color, but in terms of ideology. Because we know what the real deal here is also about. It is about the repression of left-wing, progressive, insightful cultural criticism and political and moral critique aimed at the dominant hegemonic processes of American capitalism and the American state as evidenced in its racist, imperialist and now we might add homophobic and certainly its patriarchal practices."
In August 2000, Dyson was a featured speaker at the Los Angeles Shadow Convention’s Drug Policy Reform Day, a gathering of anti-War on Drugs activists, Democratic Progressive Caucus members, and leftist celebrities who condemned existing drug laws as discriminatory and racist. Among those in attendance were Jesse Jackson, Al Franken, Maxine Waters, John Conyers, Bill Maher, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and Tom Hayden.
According to Dyson, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were "predictable to a degree, due to America’s past imperialistic practices and how it is viewed by other countries." "What I am against," he elaborated, "is the hypocrisy of a nation [the U.S.] that would help train bin Laden by funneling millions from the CIA to Afghan rebels to put down the Soviets, and now switching sides to funnel money to the Soviets to stop the spread of fundamentalism."
When asked how Tupac Shakur, were he still alive, would have viewed the 9/11 attacks, Dyson replied: “I think that Tupac would say, ‘What business do we have being in Arab nations when the tentacles of colonialism and capitalism suck the lifeblood of native or indigenous people?’ . . . He would have had questions about who really was the thug. He would have said that America has ignored the vicious consequences of its imperialistic practices across the world. America ignores how millions of people suffer on a daily basis throughout the world, except in isolated spots that involve so-called national interests. Thirdly, that America has forfeited its duty as global policeman, by virtue of its own mistreatment of black people.”
In addition to his teaching duties, Dyson has also been a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a regular commentator for Tavis Smiley’s National Public Radio program. He has written op/ed pieces for The Washington Post and The New York Times, and has appeared on a number of major television programs, including: The Charlie Rose Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, The Today Show, and Oprah.
In 1995 Dyson published Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. Adorning the book’s cover is a glowing review by Angela Davis. Other enthusiastic reviews were furnished by Carol Moseley-Braun, Jesse Jackson, and Chuck D. of the rap group Public Enemy.
In April 2005 Dyson published Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost its Mind? This book is a rebuttal to statements made by the eponymous comedian, who in 2004 publicly lamented the failure of many African American parents to raise their children to be well-educated, law-abiding citizens. Dyson views Cosby’s assertions as the unjustified charges of an upper-class member of the black “Afristocracy” against the underprivileged members of the “Ghettocracy.”
In May 2005 Dyson was interviewed by newsman Al Roker, who asked whether whether Cosby’s statements had any validity. The professor replied, “Oh sure . . . there’s validity always. Tim McVeigh [mastermind of the April 1995 terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City] had a point: The state is over-reaching. But the way you do it, dropping bombs and castigating of human beings, that’s terrible. . . . Let’s hold the larger society accountable for creating the conditions that lead to some of the downfalls of the poor people.”
Dyson reacted passionately to a February 26, 2012 incident in Sanford, Florida, in which a "white Hispanic" neighborhood-watch captain named George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old African American named Trayvon Martin. When Zimmerman was subsequently acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in a July 2013 trial, Dyson said:
“So, you know how you felt on 9/11? Yeah, that’s how we feel when it comes to race… Not until, and unless, the number of white kids die that approximate the numbers of black and other kids who die, will America see.... [L]ook, the reality is you got to act now. The president, you won the second term. You’re in office. You are ensconced. Do something courageous, bold, and helpful. Not only to African American people, but to America. Because unless we do this, white Americans and others will feel that this was a justifiable verdict, this is how things happen."
In June 2013, Dyson likened Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to “a symbolic Jew [who] has invited a metaphoric Hitler to commit Holocaust and genocide upon his own people,” after Thomas had voted to strike down a portion of the Voting Rights Act.
On August 24, 2013, after Al Sharpton had delivered the keynote speech at the 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington, Dyson declared: “What Reverend Sharpton did today was magnificent. Today Reverend Sharpton emerged as the preeminent leader of his generation, bar none!”
Dyson was incensed by an August 2014 incident where Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed an 18-year-old black male named Michael Brown in an altercation that occurred just minutes after Brown had perpetrated a strong-armed robbery of a local convenience store. Brown's death set off a massive wave of protests and riots in Ferguson, and eventually grew into a national movement denouncing an alleged epidemic of police brutality against African Americans. (For details about the case, click here.) When a grand jury ultimately decided (in November 2014) not to prosecute Officer Wilson, Professor Dyson lamented that “our American culture’s fearful dehumanizing of black men” had caused Wilson to perceive Michael Brown “as a demonic force who had to be vanquished in a hail of bullets.”
In July 2016, Dyson wrote an op-ed for The New York Times wherein he expressed his contempt for white people. Some noteworthy excerpts:
- "At birth, you [white people] are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead when the encounter is over. Those binoculars are also stories, bad stories, biased stories, harmful stories, about how black people are lazy, or dumb, or slick, or immoral, people who can’t be helped by the best schools or even God himself. These beliefs don’t make it into contemporary books, or into most classrooms. But they are passed down, informally, from one white mind to the next. The problem is you do not want to know anything different from what you think you know. Your knowledge of black life, of the hardships we face, yes, those we sometimes create, those we most often endure, don’t concern you much. You think we have been handed everything because we have fought your selfish insistence that the world, all of it — all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace — should be yours first, and foremost, and if there’s anything left, why then we can have some, but only if we ask politely and behave gratefully."
- "Whiteness is blindness. It is the wish not to see what it will not know. If you do not know us, you also refuse to hear us because you do not believe what we say. You have decided that enough is enough. If the cops must kill us for no good reason, then so be it because most of us are guilty anyway. If the black person that they kill turns out to be innocent, it is an acceptable death, a sacrificial one. Terror was visited on Dallas Thursday night. Unspeakable terror. We are not strangers to terror. You make us afraid to walk the streets, for at any moment, a blueclad officer with a gun could swoop down on us to snatch our lives from us and say that it was because we were selling cigarettes, or compact discs, or breathing too much for your comfort, or speaking too abrasively for your taste. Or running, or standing still, or talking back, or being silent, or doing as you say, or not doing as you say fast enough."
- "You hold an entire population of Muslims accountable for the evil acts of a few. Yet you rarely muster the courage to put down your binoculars, and with them, your corrosive selfpity, and see what we see. You say religions and cultures breed violence stoked by the complicity of silence because peoples will not denounce the villains who act in their names. Yet you do the same. In the aftermath of these deaths, you do not all condemn these cops; to do so, you would have to condemn the culture that produced them — the same culture that produced you. Condemning a culture is not inciting hate. That is very important. Yet black people will continue to die at the hands of cops as long as we deny that whiteness can be more important in explaining those cops’ behavior than anything else."
- "Day in and day out, we feel powerless to make our black lives matter. We feel powerless to make you believe that our black lives should matter. We feel powerless to keep you from killing black people in front of their loved ones. We feel powerless to keep you from shooting hate inside our muscles with well choreographed white rage. But we have rage, too. Most of us keep our rage inside. We are afraid that when the tears begin to flow we cannot stop them. Instead we damage our bodies with high blood pressure, sicken our souls with depression."
In a January 2017 interview about his forthcoming book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, a New York Times Magazine interviewer said to Dyson: “At the end of your sermon, you do a 'benediction' section, in which you talk about making reparations [to black people] on the local and individual level: donating to groups like the United Negro College Fund or a scholarship program, but also, to cite your example from the book, paying 'the black person who cuts your grass double what you might ordinarily pay.' That gave me pause!” To this, Dyson replied: “Good! I used to say in church, 'If the sermon ain’t making you a little bit uncomfortable, it ain’t effective.' Look, if it doesn’t cost you anything, you’re not really engaging in change; you’re engaging in convenience. You’re engaged in the overflow. I’m asking you to do stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily do. I’m asking you to think more seriously and strategically about why you possess what you possess.” A moment later, Dyson advocated that every white person in America open "an I.R.A.: an individual reparations account," adding: "You ain’t got to ask the government, you don’t have to ask your local politician — this is what you, an individual, conscientious, 'woke' citizen can do."
Professor Dyson has received awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and the NAACP.