On Saturday’s (Nov. 19) episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN had the pleasure of chatting with professor and renowned scholar Michael Eric Dyson about where he stands on reparations, Barack Obama, and Black-on-Black crime, among other topics.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Dyson is a well-respected academic, ordained Baptist clergyman, and former professor of sociology at Georgetown University. His groundbreaking research interweaves cultural analysis and history to examine pressing problems facing the African-American community today, namely as it relates to pop culture. Roughly 20 books have been published by Dr. Dyson on topics as diverse as the lingering impact of Hurricane Katrina and the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. His first bibliography, “Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism,” debuted in 1993, and the scholar has gone on to win two NAACP Awards for 2002’s “Why I Love Black Women” and “Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?” in 2006.
In recent years, Dyson’s 2019 book, “JAY-Z: Made in America,” scored him a New York Times best-selling nonfiction classification, delving into the parallels of hip hop culture and politics as it relates to the rapper and entrepreneur. In 2020, he published “Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America,” which wrestles with topics such as anti-Blackness and systemic racism, followed by “Entertaining Race: Performing Blackness in America” this past year. Dyson has maintained throughout his career that African-Americans in the United States are still reeling from the effects of institutional racism and oppression that originated during slavery.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from the Michael Eric Dyson interview. Check them out below and watch the full episode here.
1. On Kanye West supporting Donald Trump
In a shocking move, Kanye West announced his support for Trump during a performance in California just days after the 2016 general election. Many people were taken aback by this, and Ye was heavily criticized for months by hip hop fans and fellow musicians for his support of the former president. In a revelation, Dyson claimed he spoke with Kanye around that time and warned him to avoid any further contact with Trump.
Dyson shared, “[Kanye] said, ‘Well, what do you think I should do?’ I said, ‘You should distance yourself from him. I don’t think that, that’s something healthy for you.’ So when he says people can’t think and they can’t be independent, who are you independent from? White supremacy is a dominant stream in American society.”
2. On Will Smith slapping Chris Rock being the humiliation of another Black man
In March, Will Smith delivered the slap heard around the world when he hit Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars after the comedian made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. Broadcasted across the globe, it dominated media headlines and ultimately severed the relationship between the two cultural icons. Dyson recalled the situation, sharing his thoughts on the slap.
“Both of them are dear friends of mine and I love them. I love both of these men… Geniuses at what they do. Extraordinary human beings. One of them made a horrible mistake in publicly humiliating another Black man, and that Black man is left to deal with the consequences of that. Even though he says he’s fine, the depression, the trauma, the internal sense of self-questioning: ‘Should I have done this? And if I had done something differently, could it have led to a different consequence?’”
3. On Brittney Griner’s nine-year sentencing in Russia
WNBA All-Star and two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner was convicted on drug charges in Russia in August, then sentenced to nine years in prison. This month, she was sent to a penal colony in Mordovia, situated 210 miles east of Moscow, where she will spend the next several years serving her sentence. According to Dyson, Griner was given such an extreme sentence due to her being a queer Black woman.
“There is no question that if she weren’t a woman who challenged the sexual norms… She’s married to a woman, but she’s a dominant ball player. She’s a phenomenal cultural icon. Even LeBron had to admit it,” shared Dyson. “This Black woman, had she been anybody else — even a straight Black woman would’ve received more support than a queer Black woman with a Black wife.”
4. On Kamala Harris facing backlash for not doing enough in office
As pointed out by N.O.R.E., longtime supporters and the general public have no clear understanding of what Vice President Kamala Harris has done or been attempting to do in her role second to President Joe Biden. Pivoting from their conversation on Griner’s arrest, Dyson talked about why he thinks VP Harris hasn’t said much.
Regarding Harris’ role in the Griner situation, Dyson shared, “I know Kamala Harris. The thing is Kamala Harris, however, as a sitting vice president [who] doesn’t want to do something by a public intervention that’ll count negatively against Brittney Griner. So, in other words, if they’re behind the scenes tryna work it out, you gotta ask yourself a question: Do you want the commercial, or do you want the product?”
5. On Barack Obama not doing much for the Black community during his time in office
The vast majority of African-Americans applauded Obama when he became president in 2008. While he was praised for signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women, financial reform legislation, and efforts for consumer protection, many feel that he didn’t do enough for the Black community during his time in office. One of those people is Dyson, who stated that Obama was simply “the Black face of the white American empire.”
“[Obama] was sent to be the Black face of the white American empire. So the point is… his job from the giddy-up was to represent America with all the good that means and with all the self-destructive nastiness that it brings as well,” Dyson explained. “Barack Obama was a man who was given the responsibility and the reigns of the American empire at a very moment when its fortunes were declining. That’s when they always give negros the car keys… when the car ain’t working.”
6. On Joe Biden doing more for African-Americans than other Black politicians
Despite Joe Biden’s claims that he could restore the middle class during his run for U.S. presidency, his campaign relied mostly on his camaraderie with Obama to win voters over. As such, he’s faced a lot of criticism from Black voters regarding police reform, among other topics. Midway through the interview, Dyson claimed that Biden did more for African-Americans than Obama by making Kamala Harris vice president and Ketanji Brown Jackson the first Black woman to serve in the Supreme Court.
“Obama was an extraordinary president, but all of the Black people who blindly followed him, who didn’t criticize him now want to criticize Joe Biden. You didn’t criticize your own! You had a Black man in there who could identify with you. What did Joe Biden do? He put a Black woman on the ticket and gave her the vice presidency or allowed her to be elected, and he put a Black woman on the Supreme Court. Obama had three bites at the apple. He couldn’t put one sister on the court, and you mad at the old white man?
7. On police brutality seemingly spiking under Barack Obama’s presidency
Police killings of unarmed Black individuals like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Illinois gained widespread media attention under the Obama administration, prompting calls for a thorough congressional inquiry and reform of discriminatory policing procedures. Dyson discussed police brutality during the 2016 administration and if it was more severe than it is now. “Obama sent the meter of white supremacy off the chart,” he shared.
“They wanted to get Barack, couldn’t get him. Who can you get? Vulnerable Black people,” Dyson stated. “We were his proxies. Can’t shoot him, shoot us. Can’t kill him, kill us.”
8. On O.J. Simpson calling him after his insensitive comments on the “TODAY Show”
O.J. Simpson was judged civilly responsible for the unfortunate deaths of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman in 1997, despite having been exonerated of their murders in 1995. Dyson went on “TODAY” on the fifth anniversary of Brown’s death and said, “There was nothing Black on O.J. but the bottom of the shoes.” Because of that comment, O.J. called Dyson later that night, leaving him rather shaken.
“I came home and this fool called me. He said, ‘I want to come to your class.’ [I replied], ‘OK, anytime you want to. You can come, it’s amazing,’” he revealed. “I called Johnnie Cochran and said, ‘Why did you give this negro my phone number? You know that’s O.J. You know what he be doing.’”
9. On PnB Rock being killed in Los Angeles
PnB Rock, 30, was slain in a mid-September robbery at a Los Angeles Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles location. Three people were detained in connection to his death. Shauntel Trone, 32, was taken into custody and charged with accessory to murder. Freddie Lee Trone, 40, and his son, 17, were also both charged with one count of murder and conspiracy to commit robbery, as well as two counts of second-degree robbery. Later in the interview, Dyson shared that the cultural addiction to death in the Black community must be seen for what it is and denounced.
“It’s not good when you’re out here talking about killing, mayhem and murder. So going out here… you know, Pop Smoke or PnB [Rock]. You’re at Roscoe’s, and it’s a father and son tag team of toxic masculinity and murderous masculunity, and you kill that kid. You couldn’t of just taken his chain? You got to shoot him in the back of his head? This is a cultural addiction to death that we must denounce for what it is.”