Black People Are Central to the Public Shade Throwing Between Dyson and West

0 Comments 21 April 2015

Black ColorsThis is not the first time well known Black persons have gotten into public spats and it is likely not the last time. That said, the current attention to the heated disagreement between Drs. Michael Dyson and Cornel West is about more than whether two Black scholars ought trade vitriol in the public sphere. It is also about more than their access to power. What troubles me about the current debate is the appeal to Black culture and Black people; the “who’s more concerned” about “our” people. And frankly, I am more troubled that black people allow it, time and time again, by Dyson, by West, by Smiley, by Jackson, by Sharpton and on and on and on. While these scholars and clergy have been vying for who can be known as the “the most important activists since Martin Luther King, Jr.”  or the most erudite intellectual ever birth from the bowels of Black America white privilege has been shitting on Black neighborhoods.

Are we so easily swayed?  How dare we simplify this matter to a mere critique of West or Dyson when it is easy enough to watch Black persons pay money they don’t have to spend to attend conferences featuring scholars and preachers labeled as “deep.” WTF?!!

We are complicit in supporting this notion of the Black leader, the “go-to” person, the talking head representing Black culture to white America and broadly speaking the national media. Looking to them to “not embarrass us” as opposed to the simple and true narratives and logic of persons like Sweet Brown’s “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Internalized oppression against ongoing systemic racism demands this assimilation, accommodation and “Lord just don’t let that deviant be a Black person” view. The requirement for a respectable embodiment of ALL Black people continues to control not only our support for persons treated unjustly by our legal systems but also how Black people are treated in the academy where as students in predominately white institutions we struggle to be heard and as faculty that struggle becomes the struggle to be respected.

Yet it is our experience in the academy – the education we receive – that changes us and it should. We should encourage education and intellectualism should not be despised or denigrated. Unfortunately, I fear this current debate will fuel anti-intellectualism. In truth the problem really is not the rich vocabulary of a scholar. The bottom line is how people sense they are being respected whether it be President Obama’s sense of how Dr. West treated him and vice versus or whether it be how Black people feel their existential situation of oppression is being attended to while these two scholars wage a war of words and ideologies. People are asking, Why is this even important?

If we derive anything from this discussion I hope it will not be that Black scholars need to isolate their disagreements to private spheres. That is such a small matter. I hope this drives us to thinking about power, authority and how both are attained and maintained. I hope it leads Black persons to ask questions about accountability for persons we – by our support or apathy – see as leaders for this is what they are, Dyson and West. Prophet is a weighty title neither can be said to properly bear.

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