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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Tears We Cannot Stop: A review

2/11




During the last year, there has been an increasing awareness that one of the principle issues needing to be addressed by us as people of faith, and as US citizens, is that of white privilege. One of my concerns is that as the new administration begins to take over, so much will be taking our attention on on a daily basis that the deconstruction of white privilege could  get lost in a cascade of  concerns demanding to be dealt with immediately. On the other hand, it is most likely only a matter of time until the next police shooting of an unarmed African-American and call to the streets by Black Lives Matter. We have to hope that the same kind of solidarity present in the Women's March will be visible then as well. 

To the end of exploring white privilege and how we can begin to dismantle it, Michael Eric Dyson has given us an invaluable resource in his entry published Tears We Cannot Stop.   The nature of Dr. Dyson's book is made clear when you see that he has structured it as an African-American church service compete with Hymns of Praise, Invocation, Scripture, Sermon, Offering Plate, Benediction, Prelude to Service...  It's an invitation to enter into a shared spiritual space together, to be willing to hear what other wise would not be heard. His words are more than analytic, they are personal, accessible, honest and searing.

He helps us to see that white privilege is not about individual attitudes and prejudices but about a system that enforces oppression with the police as the frontline forces of that system. He helps us understand the difference between racism and prejudice, that while related are not synonyms. And that ultimately the system will need to be dismantled. 

Dr. Dyson carefully explains that what we have called "American" is essentially  white and that the entry of Italians, Irish and Jews into "americanness" has essentially been an acceptance into whiteness.  And that ultimately Donald Trump's call to "Make America Great Again" is a call to make America white again. 

He also offers very concrete and helpful advice as to how we as individuals can begin to free ourselves of  privilege through reading and study but more importantly through relationships and individual acts of accountability like establishing an "Individual Reparations Account" and other similar acts.   It is however disappointing that in his list of resources he omits any mention of our friend and colleague Cornell West. Despite their interpersonal conflict, Dr. West is nonetheless an important figure in touch with the grass roots and offering a frankly more radical analysis of what is needed systemically. (Other figures like Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays are also omitted.)

For those white people ready to enter into this journey, Michael Eric Dyson's Tears We Cannot Stop is a good place to begin. As daunting as that challenge is, speaking of the African-American community Dr. Dyson says We will not surrender because we know that faith is greater than fear, good triumphant over evil, love more noble than hate.

That same knowledge can spire and sustain us as well.

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