Why Is Michael Eric Dyson Whining While Baltimore Is Burning?

The scholar could better use his platform at 'The New Republic' to engage in a meaningful dialogue about the unjust treatment of Black men and women than for kvetching about Dr. Cornel West.

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It’s been ten days since Michael Eric Dyson’s New Republic essay “The Ghost of Cornel West” went live online, and still there’s plenty to say about the debate/debacle. But, frankly, from the first day I saw the Twitter rants, my biggest emotion has been one of exhaustion: 

“Oh, what fresh hell is this? What fresh skeet-skeeting of whiny male I’m-not-where-I-want-to-be-right-now-and-y’all-are-gonna-hear-about-it hell is this?”

It’s not that complicated a debate. It can be broken down quite simply. Allow me:

1.     Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West were contemporaries in the large, sometimes tangible, sometimes imaginary realm of the Black public intellectual.

2.    Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West had a disagreement that in one way or another led to a falling out.

3.    Michael Eric Dyson had feelings about said falling out.

4.    Michael Eric Dyson wrote about his feelings over the falling out.

5.    Michael Eric Dyson published his feelings in a major publication for the world to see.


I tend to disagree with some of Brother West’s public sentiments on President Obama. And I definitely do not always appreciate Dyson’s public image, one that seems to ooze chauvinistic paternalism. But, hey, neither man is unique in these flaws. But what I take absolute issue with—what I found myself taking shorter breaths over, furrowing my brow and actually engaging in social-media rants about—is when a grown-ass man uses his male privilege to whine.

Dyson’s piece is a contest over whose dick has the most lasting power in the vagina of American politics. How do I know this? Because if it weren’t about a dick, Dyson would have been helping steer conversations over Freddie Gray in Baltimore. He’d write a cover story on the perfect storm of police brutality, racism, and an economically destitute and politically corrupt city called Baltimore. He’d argue that all black lives matter by pointing out the at-risk lives of transgender women of color such as Lamia BeardWhen transgender women of color are still the most brutalized and at-risk population to die by violence it would seem that Dyson would not say that all black lives matter by way of himself.

Why wouldn’t he use his stature to cover Ferguson for TNR?

Or Garner? Or the lack of response to Rekia Boyd? Or the lack of continued coverage on the serial rapist cop who victimized (at least) seven black women in Oklahoma last year? 

The irony here is that in his attempt to maintain relevancy as a public intellectual Dyson may have just reaffirmed his irrelevancy by hollering about the wrong things. 

During these devastating times, from Ferguson to Baltimore, there is a desire to be distracted by something containable. Thusly we get a spectacle, a bright and shiny thing like one old man fussing about another old man. 

But, for women like me, all I see are men with their dicks in their hand upset no one’s around to tug it. 

I am using these charged words quite purposefully. Because, more than anything, I am tired of men whining about other men to other men. I want to know why Dyson isn’t whining about the demonization of single black mothers?

I want to whine about men like Dyson in such spaces of power who disabuse it for their own tired and flaccid agendas.

I’m tired of skeeting contests all around. I’m tired of men in all the spaces everywhere talking about equal rights and all black lives matter and leveling the playing field yet they uphold the same gender status quo in their positions of power. Nor am I reserving this for straight cisgendered men, I am speaking of and to all men. If you identify and live as a man and you aren’t actively engaging with the women around you for equal space and rights then you’re a part of my problem as a woman still sending blind pitches. Who has the same degrees as you, the same vocabulary, read the same books and written the same papers but who’s still correcting folks who call her Mrs. instead of Doctor.

Maybe Dyson is upset because he’s realized, slowly but painfully, that nothing makes him wanna holler anymore and yet he still feel like screaming. It’s called feeling unsatisfied, it’s called a midlife crisis. For that, he can and should see a therapist, he can afford one, and speak on his personal issues there. If he’s going to continue publishing he should do so on what matters which is not his hurt feelings.

I’m glad to see he’s written on the events of Baltimore today in The New York Times (although, no shocker either) but, why go to the whitest of white publications like TNR to moan and groan about a falling out with a colleague and fellow writer and activist. Why not use the publication to craft the much-needed counternarrative to the ever-ready and present one of thuggery rioting in the streets. Why not engage with Coates’s discourse on nonviolence as compliance and help steer the attention on the actual violence and brutalities of bodies and lives and not the reactive destruction of a CeeVeeEsss? 

Why not engage Black women, Dr. Dyson? Why not address what it means that most days Black mothers are treated and seen as brutes who don’t know any better, but when there’s a “riot” and property gets destroyed then Black moms are heroes

Here’s the challenge: If this is about relevancy then take your BFF woes to your therapist and start responding to women like me hungry for space, hungry for word counts with blistered fingers from typing too many pitches. If your clout is real, if it is genuine then you would step aside for the rest of us. 

But, and this is a total possibility and one I’ve privately considered for a long time, your clout may be extremely conditional. Your clout might be based on the kind of hollering you do. And this acceptable hollering is one in which you can only holler at and about other black folks. And if you do so then places like TNR will listen and look at you and publish you and you will be validated as a black scholar even though you will have not actually said or done a single thing concerning Black people. 

Indeed, let’s be real, you will not have hollered that Black lives matter or that all Black lives matter. You will have simply reiterated that your Black life matters.

…although, happily maybe I can rest for a bit, the incredible Stacia Brown is writing on Baltimore today for TNR


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