Dyson Speaks on Race, Religion, and Popular Culture
College professor, author, and ordained minister Dr. Michael Eric Dyson addressed societal inequities in a First Tuesday series lecture in Occidental’s Thorne Hall Feb. 5.
Dyson used the lenses of race, religion and popular culture to discuss a wide range of issues, from the abandonment of poor people in the wake of hurricane Katrina to the distortion of the Bible by some modern churches to condemn certain groups.
A gifted orator and social critic, Dyson engrossed the audience with his passionate delivery, insightful critique and dry wit. A professor of theology, English, and African American studies at Georgetown University, Dyson also is a prolific author whose 15th book (about Dr. Martin Luther King) is scheduled for publication in April.
He focused on hypocrisy in all parts of our culture from the White House to the pulpit, saying the country has moved from a war on poverty to a war against poor people. “The Katrina failure was an example of the stunning incompetence and cronyism of the Bush administration,” he said. Dyson was particularly critical of the appointment of attorney Michael Brown as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, given Brown’s previous experience as the long-time stewards and judges commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. (Brown resigned in Katrina's wake.)
“Care is measured critically – in political terms – by getting resources to vulnerable people in the face of disaster, and this nation refused to show up,” Dyson said. “It took a rapper – Kanye West – to say that Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
Dyson -- who in an aside confessed his love of country music -- used examples from such popular music artists as Tupac, Biggie Smalls, and Mos Def to demonstrate how rap and hip hop function as forms of cultural and political discourse. His most recent book, Know What I Mean?: Reflections on Hip Hop, is a critical examination of the genre.
“Hip Hop offers up commentary on the suffering of the poor,” he said. “Slow down the music and listen to the poetry ... Hip hop offers the microphone to those who otherwise might not have a voice, and now Harvard scholars are studying rappers who dropped out of school in 8th grade.”