Michael Eric Dyson Talks Race, Gender and Sexuality

Known as one of the nation’s most influential and renowned public intellectuals, Dyson delivered a free public lecture in Bomberger Auditorium on April 24.

A Q&A session and book signing followed the lecture.

“What a great opportunity to chat with young people who are on the cutting edge of seeking out solutions to persistent problems,” said Dyson, who preceded his lecture by meeting with a small group of students in a class in the Bears Den, as well as a dinner with students and faculty in the Institute for Inclusion and Equity.

Dyson is a sociology professor at Georgetown University, a contributing editor at Time magazine and a New York Times contributing opinion writer. He is the author or editor of 18 books dealing with subjects such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Tupac Shakur and Hurricane Katrina.

He centered his talk around “The United States of amnesia”—a reference to the title of a documentary about the life and career of author Gore Vidal.  

“We can ill-afford to live in the United States of Amnesia and be addicted to forgetfulness,” Dyson said. “Because on one hand it will lead us to the belief that this is the worst we’ve ever had it. It ain’t. Oh, it’s bad. It’s dark now, but it’s been darker.”

No topic was off limits for Dyson, who took on President Donald Trump, discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, President Barack Obama, racial profiling, gender stereotypes and sexism, the Me Too movement, gay marriage and the millennial generation, among other topics, in front of an audience consisting of Ursinus faculty, staff and students and members of the surrounding community.

He challenged the audience to “make America great for the first time. Make it live up to what Dr. King talked about.”

“We must reject our citizenship in that United States of amnesia and claim memory,” he said. “It’s dangerous memory because when you remember, it upsets people. It challenges narratives and beliefs. Reject the amnesia and embrace the memory of those that make things great.”

Dyson’s current book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America (St. Martin’s Press, 2017), was named a best or most anticipated book of 2017 by numerous publications and “one of the most frank and searing discussions on race” by the New York Times. His latest book, What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America (St. Martin’s Press, 2018) is due out later this year.

Dyson’s visit was sponsored in part by generous support from the Mellon Foundation. It is also sponsored by Ursinus College student government, the Institute for Inclusion and Equity, the leadership development and student activities office, academic affairs, and the arts & lectures committee.

It is one of numerous Ursinus programs this year coordinating dialogue around issues of equity, diversity and social justice; and it is aimed at building upon the legacy of the late Rev. Charles Rice, Ursinus’s longtime chaplain, and his values surrounding community building and respecting inclusiveness and understanding. –By Ed Moorhouse