Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

Short, emotional, literary, powerful―Tears We Cannot Stop is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.As the country grapples with racist division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man's voice soars above the rest with conviction and compassion. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed piece "Death in...

Title:Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1250135990
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:228 pages

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America Reviews

  • Cynthia Dunn
    Feb 21, 2017

    Unfortunately, this book will never be read by the people who need to read it and would benefit by it. I'm afraid that Dr. Dyson is preaching to the choir.

  • TheSkepticalReader
    Feb 08, 2017

    I listened to this book via audio so apologies if I misquote a bit in the review. I tried to type the words as accurately as I listened.

    is a very loud book. If you find yourself put off by anger in politics (which is absurd in itself but whatever, I don’t have time for polite people anymore), then do

    I listened to this book via audio so apologies if I misquote a bit in the review. I tried to type the words as accurately as I listened.

    is a very loud book. If you find yourself put off by anger in politics (which is absurd in itself but whatever, I don’t have time for polite people anymore), then do not go anywhere near this book. It is also brutally honest and can slice you into bits and pieces. Which is exactly why I loved listening it. I never thought a book written in the form of a sermon would actually hold the power to move me to tears.

    As I read more nonfiction about race relationships, I find myself amazed that despite the similarity of the conversation, each account continuously adds more to the argument and keeps me wanting more. After reading

    the week before this, I didn’t have too many expectations out of this book but honestly, it blew me away. I wish I’d kept better notes to really dig into this review but alas, we all make mistakes.

    I typed out some of the best quotes I’d heard while listening:

    These are an accurate representation of what this book can offer you so if you liked any of the things said above, grab this book and get reading.

    Dyson is sharing his personal life while also tackling the broader subjects of white blindness, whitewashing, Black culture, #BlackLivesMatter, and of course,

    . Because how did we get from Barack Obama to

    ? An explanation every person of color who has experienced racism probably knows is exactly what Dyson states,

    I’d also like to add that Dyson’s discourse on America’s political culture is a contemporary one, and if you’re not up to American politics or know a bit of African American history, there might be instances where you’ll get a bit lost. Names such as Malcom X, Bill O’Reilly, Toni Morrison, Rudy Giuliani, etc. remain relevant to the conversations in this book so I’d familiarize myself with a bit of American culture before reading.

    I end the review with another quote (I can seriously listen to this man all day):

  • Reid
    Feb 04, 2017

    Let me acknowledge from the very beginning that, as a white man, any criticism I offer of this book may well be considered suspect. I do not offer this observation as a complaint, merely as a premise. Though couched in terms (and a subtitle) implying a dialogue with white America, Tears We Cannot Stop isn't really anything of the sort, and my role here (the author seems to imply) is for me to simply receive his truth and shut up. Which I am manifestly declining to do.

    Allow me also to stipulate,

    Let me acknowledge from the very beginning that, as a white man, any criticism I offer of this book may well be considered suspect. I do not offer this observation as a complaint, merely as a premise. Though couched in terms (and a subtitle) implying a dialogue with white America, Tears We Cannot Stop isn't really anything of the sort, and my role here (the author seems to imply) is for me to simply receive his truth and shut up. Which I am manifestly declining to do.

    Allow me also to stipulate, however, that I believe the moral center of this book to be entirely sound. Whiteness confers an inherent advantage to its possessor. Choose any metric you like: we are more likely to be encouraged in school, more likely to be called on in class, to be pushed to go into the sciences and math, to be offered scholarships and admission to prestigious institutions (which confer, of course, lifetime privileges), more likely to have our cancer diagnosed early enough for effective treatment, to be prescribed life-saving and life-lengthening medications and narcotics for our pain. We are likely to be preferred for jobs and promotions. We are less likely to be harassed by the police, less likely to be pulled over to begin with, less likely to be killed by them, less likely to live in poverty, to raise our children in poverty, less likely to be followed when we go into stores. We are not at all likely to have to think about the color of our skin when walking into a restaurant, bar, public building or restroom and wonder if it will cause offense. We are highly unlikely to think of our skin color at all, and when given a fleeting thought, will consider it "normal". Even when we don't consciously assume this we will do so, because whiteness has been normalized in the Western world, particularly in America, and anything other than whiteness is The Other.

    So stipulated.

    My argument, then, is not with the content of this morally important book, but with the tone Dr. Dyson chooses to communicate his arguments and the faulty assumptions behind them. He chooses here to engage in an egregious form of "blacksplaining", to cast all us pale people into one big mass and excoriate us. And, yes, I know that here he would insert a comment about my "white fragility", how my sensitive little white ego can't take a little criticism. And while he is at it, he would (and does in this book) vilify any black person who takes exception to his rhetoric as an assimilated apologist for whiteness. You see the neat rhetorical trick here? Because he has delegitimized all of his critics with a stroke of the pen, the only possible conclusion is that he is right and we are wrong. Except he isn't and we aren't.

    One of the more infuriating choices he makes is to preach his sermon to an overarching You which he uses to represent all whites, regardless of predilection or attitude. This is convenient, because he can then dump his hatred of whiteness as a construct on all persons of that color. If I were to point out that assuming one knows the character, beliefs, understandings, thoughts, dreams, and aspirations of a group of people based on the color of their skin is plain and simple bigotry, I am sure he would invoke his right to such prejudice on the basis of historical grievance. Well, allow me to also stipulate, then, that he has such a right. From the time the first white man placed hands on the first black man to make of him a slave up to the moment we elected a vile racist and a white supremacist cabal to the highest office in the (putatively) most powerful country in the world, he has earned the right to an inexhaustible supply of grievance. And he certainly avails himself of a truckload here. No, it is not his

    to such argument from generality to which I take exception. Rather, it is because I find it to be intellectually dishonest and ideologically suspect.

    As for the latter, let me explain what I mean a bit more thoroughly. The fact is that white people in the United States run the gamut from committed allies of the cause of complete equality and elimination of all bigotry to the stone cold racist. And among white people, who of them are likely to read this book? Naturally, those who are much closer to the former than the latter. Because what Dr. Dyson seems to want to do throughout most of this book is provoke a feeling of shame in his white readers, his ability to influence those allies to take positive action is undermined. Shame is not a reliable motivator to any positive action or change (as any parenting manual will tell you). Responsibility, regret, remorse, yes, but not shame.

    As to the intellectual dishonesty: it is my conclusion that this is not a sermon to White America at all. Rather, it is an attempt by Dr. Dyson to establish his

    with his fellow black intellectuals, to demonstrate that he is neither placatory nor assimilated, despite his Ivy League pedigree and light skin color (which he brings up with revelatory frequency). He is attempting, it seems to me, to demonstrate his toughness. It is not his intent to bring about a change in those of us who most need to hear his message. It is not pitched to our ears to begin with.

    Which is a shame, because this book is a moral triumph in many ways. To the extent I can, I understand and share his anger. But to have written a moderate, temperate book with the intent to bring about the education and activation of the white intellect and soul would have been much more useful and welcomed. I know of few persons writing today who have the moral authority combined with erudition, intellect, learning, and dedication he displays. I would wish for nothing more than that he might write that book some day.

    Let me not leave this review, though, without praising the last few chapters. The Benediction section, in particular, is an instructive and useful syllabus of reading one could undertake to better understand the black experience and what has and can be done to change the ingrained bigotry of our institutions and thought processes. The section that follows, on reparations, is a valuable and insightful essay on the need for making restitution for the sins, past and present, visited on people of color. Most of his ideas are practical and can be undertaken by any one of us with immediate effect. That some of these are not so practical (a lawyer or accountant that took an extra fee for being black would be, I am fairly sure, in violation of the ethical constraints of their profession; some of the other extra payment ideas would almost certainly lead to accusations of condescension) should not detract from their essential soundness. In particular, let me say that I believe, as Dr. Dyson does, that affirmative action still has a place in our society. Whiteness confers a great deal of privilege, and to tip the scales a bit the other way is to acknowledge the advantages of whiteness and the disadvantages of a different skin color.

    In the end, for all of my annoyance with the choices made and the motives for it, I thought this a very good book, tinged with greatness. Perhaps now that he has gotten this out of his system, he can set about creating something with the potential to bring about the change he wants to see in the world. I share his aspiration, and would love to share a movement with him, too.

  • Didi
    Jan 17, 2017

    The inauguration of the newly elected president of America is upon us. Racism has shown to be very alive and well in the United States, contrary to popular belief. People are all questioning how we could go from President Barak Obama to what was elected on November 7, 2016. Deep down I think we all know why and aren’t really surprised, but in essence most of us don’t want to admit what the problem really is....

  • Jessica Weil
    Feb 18, 2017

    This is a book that I challenge all my white friends to read, no matter where you stand on the spectrum of confronting white privilege and systemic racism. Michael Eric Dyson delivers a powerful, engaging, personal, informational, inspiring sermon that's essential at this moment in time when racial division is especially high.

    I urge you to read with an open heart and mind, to set aside your discomfort and listen to Dyson's plea for white Americans to reckon with the harsh truths of racism.

    Dyson

    This is a book that I challenge all my white friends to read, no matter where you stand on the spectrum of confronting white privilege and systemic racism. Michael Eric Dyson delivers a powerful, engaging, personal, informational, inspiring sermon that's essential at this moment in time when racial division is especially high.

    I urge you to read with an open heart and mind, to set aside your discomfort and listen to Dyson's plea for white Americans to reckon with the harsh truths of racism.

    Dyson is an ordained minister, so what better way to present this than as a sermon. He divides it into multiple sections: in "Hymns of Praise," he cleverly shares hymns in the form of rap lyrics; in "Scripture Reading," he quotes Martin Luther King Jr.; in the main sermon, he addresses whiteness specifically (including white innocence, white fragility, and white privilege) and then segues into a section about what it's like to be black in America. Following that is "Benediction," one of my favorite parts: in it he offers practical suggestions for what white people can do to make things better.

    The whole thing is incredibly current and topical, with commentary on Black Lives Matter, the recent election and Donald Trump's rise to power.

    For white people who seek to understand more about racism and white privilege in America (and really, that should be all of us), this is the book to read. It was literally written for us.

  • Richard Derus
    Feb 08, 2017

    #ReadingIsResistance to institutional racism's costs in a sermon aimed at those it benefits.

    is live today.

    Michael Eric Dyson pens a heartfelt, stern, anguished plea for white Americans to examine their passive complicity in a zero-sum spoils system that perpetuates injustice. St. Martin's Press does us all a service by publishing it at this point in time.

    This is Black History Month. It never hurts to be reminded that Black Lives Matter.

  • Trish
    Feb 26, 2017

    I never took the time to read or listen to Michael Eric Dyson before. He became an ordained Baptist minister at nineteen, so for very nearly forty years now he’s been using words to educate and persuade. He’s very good at it. He teaches now at Georgetown University, but he has taught at many major universities around the country. He doesn’t sound like an academic; his language is salty, strong. It appears that in addition to teaching, he consults for MSNBC, has a podcast, lectures at other unive

    I never took the time to read or listen to Michael Eric Dyson before. He became an ordained Baptist minister at nineteen, so for very nearly forty years now he’s been using words to educate and persuade. He’s very good at it. He teaches now at Georgetown University, but he has taught at many major universities around the country. He doesn’t sound like an academic; his language is salty, strong. It appears that in addition to teaching, he consults for MSNBC, has a podcast, lectures at other universities, and has been publishing lectures and books for at least ten years.

    White people may not see race because they were the dominant race & their view became normalized. This is not news. White culture was the norm. We didn’t feel the need to think or talk about race. Now we do. Dyson obliges by telling us what it is like growing up in America as a black man. He assures us neither he nor his black family are more exceptional than any other black family: “it can happen to any of us; it can happen to all of us.”

    Dyson explains that a sermon was the only way he could get across the information he wants to convey in this book. The sermon is not scholarly, but in vernacular. It is filled with anecdote either he or members of his family experienced. He clearly feels white folk have some things about their behaviors or their compassion to consider in the context of God, goodness, and fairness. He has a tendency to insist on superlatives and opinion (e.g., Beyoncé & MLKing are the best…

    ) when his opinions on these gradations of excellence don't matter. But the bigger issues he addresses are really critical to our understanding of race and the functioning of our democracy.

    “Whiteness has privilege and power connected to it, no matter how poor you are.” Dyson explicitly addresses the objections some white ethnics may have about their experience with discrimination being similar to those of blacks. It is not so, he says, gives many examples of how it is not so. I agree with him that white people are not going to have as hard a time of it as people of color. It has nothing to do with culture. If we do not see this yet, we need to pay more attention.

    In 1995 O.J. Simpson was acquitted when he was tried for murder. Many white folk didn’t understand why some black people were pleased that Simpson got off, given that he was clearly guilty. But that trial came a year or so after the trial of the police acquitted after the beating of Rodney King. Dyson takes a stab at explaining the thinking on both sides of the color line at that time. All this was twenty years ago and Dyson argues that white ignorance and police brutality is still happening. He is full of righteous anger when he says whiteness is a privilege and a shield…and an addiction. Sure it is.

    Dyson is blunt, and he doesn’t let up after this point. All he things he has seen that need attention are laid on the table. There is more than enough here to make anyone feel full…even overwhelmed. But he has some stake in making us understand the urgency here: it is his kids and grandkids that are in danger every day. He talks at length about the terror black people feel when police become involved. This is an important discussion for white folks to internalize.

    Discussion around criminality takes up most of the final third of this work. Dyson does not try to avoid difficult questions about policing, black-on-black crime, and incarceration. He wants this conversation and will provoke many listeners and readers to face their fear and their anger. Dyson asks why social engineers blast black communities for growing the seeds of their own destruction, when the same questions were not asked when crime was a problem when ghettos were filled with Irish, Italians, or Jews. This is worthwhile.

    Here is

    where Michael Eric Dyson discusses the subjects in his book, but adds a few more topics, expanding his themes in response to an interviewer’s questions. Interesting.

    I listened to the audio production of this, read by the author and produced by Macmillan Audio (

    ). Dyson talks fast, but clearly, and firmly. One can’t mistake what he is saying: white America needs to study and imagine what it is like to be black if we want to begin to understand, begin to heal the racial divide. We may not like all the things Dyson says and yet we can still agree with him about the “plague of white innocence.” No more saying we didn’t know. He's telling it. It feels urgent.

  • Skip
    Feb 26, 2017

    A book that needs to be read, but probably not by the ones who need it the most. Written in the form of a sermon/epistle, Dyson preaches mostly about the advantages of being white in America in terms of getting ahead, being paid more, not fearing death when confronted by the police, etc. I thought his discussion of the distinction between the terms "nigger" and "nigga" to be particularly insightful. On the other hand, I did not agree with his oversimplification of the reasons why Donald Trump wa

    A book that needs to be read, but probably not by the ones who need it the most. Written in the form of a sermon/epistle, Dyson preaches mostly about the advantages of being white in America in terms of getting ahead, being paid more, not fearing death when confronted by the police, etc. I thought his discussion of the distinction between the terms "nigger" and "nigga" to be particularly insightful. On the other hand, I did not agree with his oversimplification of the reasons why Donald Trump was elected President, which was viewed solely from a perspective of race. The lengthy, annotated bibliography provided in the penultimate chapter will provide many with additional books to consider, and I have already borrowed the one which most appealed to me. Also, I can't wait to compare it to

    .

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