Michael Eric Dyson is my Hero today

Over on Shakesville, Melissa embedded and commented on a video of last night’s episode of Anderson Cooper, where Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of Sociology at Georgetown who is also an expert on race in America, went up against Erik Erickson, founder of RedState.com and allaround dickhead, to talk about whether Fox News’ coverage of Sherrod was racist.

The video is stunning.  You should watch the WHOLE thing and a transcript is here (scroll down to relevant part):

Here is a some choice bit of Dyson’s wisdom that I needed to hear over and over again in order to digest because his words are so breathtakingly brilliant and complex (it’s basically the very first thing he says):

Well, clearly the history of racism in this country is not simply about individual bias. It’s also about institutional power.

And I think, if there’s any validity in what Mr. Dean said, it is to point to the institutional matrix in which this whole thing unfolded. The reality is, is that FOX News has not been friendly toward the interests of or perspectives about African-American people or Latinos or a whole range of other minorities.

And I think that when we begin to sling around the term racism, people get offended and think, well, the right says it. The left says it. Well, bias is one thing; racism is another. Racism is the ability to impose your viewpoints, biased as they are, as normative, and then have the power to reinforce them as necessary and primarily exclusive.

So I think in that sense the institutional power that’s wielded by a place like FOX News certainly has to be called into question. And the fringe, as he pointed out, of the Republican Party has to be taken to task for the racist elements that are there.

Melissa, at Shakesville, sums up the entire discussion this way, taking aim at Erickson’s claim that liberals charge conservatives and Republicans with racism simply because of disagreements in policy:

And in the sense that progressives want to build a country (world) in which everyone has equal opportunity to thrive, and conservatives want to build a country (world) which favors particular people and skills so that some may thrive mightily while others fail miserably, I suppose that is a policy disagreement. But the policy flows from primal differences in the way we view ourselves and our relationship to and with other people.

What she says there, about wanting to build a country and world that tries to give everyone an equal opportunity to thrive is my basic political, social, and moral ideology.  In the face of simply throwing up your hands at the idea that life isn’t fair and then just grabbing for whatever you can (and if you are white, middle/upper class, cisgendered, heterosexual, male, you will have SO much more that you can grab for) and screwing over whomever gets in your way, I believe that we should try our best to make life more fair.  And in order to even start doing that, we must first admit to the history of this country that has made it so incredibly unfair and a past that continually provides certain privileges to people who look a certain way.  That is just the beginning.  You can’t even talk policy until that first admission, that realization of privilege, is made.

But as Tasha Fierce has recently argued, we are far from a place where that kind of truth can be discussed and where healing can begin.  As she says, it seems we are going backwards.  I’ll let her have the last word because her words are always so brilliant:

There was a time when I wasn’t always hearing about reverse racism, race wars, etc. in the mainstream media. It kind of seemed like most reasonable people had come to the conclusion that racism was bad, we needed to work against it, and that if you were a violent, loud mouthed racist you should just stay in your cabin and keep it to yourself. We didn’t worry about them because they stayed in the woods, for the most part, and everyone thought they were “crazy” anyway. I was focused on rooting out insidious racism, the kind that you can’t easily identify, the kind that exists in progressive communities, the institutional kind that deeply affects every person of color and which still exists today but has been obscured by all this blatant racism and the fact that we now have a black man in the White House. I could be romanticizing pre-2008, but it just seems like we wouldn’t be seeing articles like “Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege” during the Bush years. They knew to keep their racism under wraps back then. I’m almost laughing to myself remembering when the GOP was respectful of black people because they felt like if they tried hard enough, they could lure a few over the fence. Case in point: Michael Steele, head of the RNC. He became head of the RNC during the 2008 campaign as, I think, a way to say “hey black people, we’ve got ourselves a Negro too!”, and also as a way to criticize Obama without seeming racist. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way they planned, and the black guy still won. So what’s the point of respecting black people or other nonwhite people now? They’re all just going to vote for the Colored, right? Because all people of color are a monolith, especially those predictable darkies.


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