POS334-L: THE RACE AND ETHNICITY BOOK REVIEW DISCUSSION LIST

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From Subject
Tony Lenn Heiserman <tlheise@ILSTU.EDU> Rev: Race Rules (Heiserman)
heather freeman <hmfreem@ilstu.edu> Rev: Race Rules(Freeman)
John Bevill <jbevill@fcg.net> Review: RACE RULES (Siders)
robert joseph nuckolls <bjnuckol@.ILSTU.EDU> Race Rules
Sarah Elizabeth Niziolek <senizio@ilstu.edu> Review of Race Rules, Dyson (Niziolek)

Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 14:52:49 -0600
From: Tony Lenn Heiserman <tlheise@ILSTU.EDU>
Subject: Rev: Race Rules (Heiserman)

Dyson, Michael Eric. RACE RULES. Vintage Books, New York. 1997By: Tony Heiserman

The key to humanity in a racial context is found in a virtue called responsibility. This is perhaps the essential point in Dyson’s book on race in America. "I want to speak to, and about the pain and rage that fester inside that man, inside all of us. Inside our entire country. Race continues to plague our lives. Race continues to make a difference. Race continues to dominate. Race rules." (Dyson 9)

Michael Eric Dyson is an intellectual who personifies intelligence, charisma, and understanding. He sees the many different sides of the racial spectrum because he is "a black American, a black intellectual, a black preacher, a black father, a black citizen, and a black man." (Dyson 9). His book on race covers everything from the O.J. Simpson case to gangsta rap to the Million Man March. The reasoning for writing his book is because in one of his speeches that he gave, a man wrote him a disconcerting letter that really upset him. The author of the letter was an enraged white male that was very upset about the O.J. case. This sets the tone of the book which requires Dyson to explain the many intricacies of his views on the ethnicityDyson went in depth in discussing his feelings toward the O.J. Simpson case.

He felt that the circumstances governing people’s opinions of O.Jinvolved labeling O.J. as a man that made good but forgot where he came from. While considering the impact of this case on the nation as a whole, Dyson deliberates on three uses of race: context, subtext, and pretext"Race as context helps us to understand the facts of race and racism in our society. Race as a subtext helps us to understand the forms of race and racism in our culture. And race as a pretext helps us to understand the function of race and racism in America." (Dyson 33).

Dyson goes on in his comprehension of these three terms further by saying that there is a racial clarification that serves in context, a racial mystification that serves in subtext, and a racial justification that serves in pretextRacial clarification supports the facts that surround race, racial mystification acts to obscure the role of race, and racial justification serves to vindicate racial beliefs and defend racial interests. Dyson says that most whites confuse racial clarification and racial justification because they misinterpret a fading of racism in America. According to Dyson and most people across the nation, the O.J. trial proved that race is a major problem that encompasses us allDyson portrays himself as a black intellectual along with his peers (bell hooks, Henry Louis Gates, and Cornell West for example).

But there are quite a few problems that come along with being a black intellectualDyson sees six problems that go with being a black intellectual however ludicrous that may be. First, there is the question of how they got anointed as a black intellectual. Second, their work suffers because their time is spread so much because of their many speeches on television and radio. Third, the prestige, fame, and fortune they get tends to make them sellouts. Fourth, they play an authenticity game where they preach blackness to the white masses. Fifth, they are not ever thoroughly criticized by colleagues. And sixth, they all want to be HNIC (Head Negro In Charge).

On one side of the spectrum, Dyson calls for a solidarity of black intellectuals (which is good), but on the other hand he goes through an awards show format where he scrutinizes all of his colleagues (which is bad). The part that stands out the most in his awards format is that he includes himself in his critiquing. This seems to be an admirable qualitySince it seems that Dyson is in a criticizing mood, he goes on in criticizing the black church. He condemns the black church for not propagating the use of safe sex. He sees this as a major problem that is hurting the black church and the black race as a whole. He says, "the sensuality of our bodies must be embraced in worship. That sensuality should be viewed as a metaphor for the passion of our sexual relations as well. And vice versa. The link between sexuality and spirituality was hinted at when the Bible talked of the church as Christ’s bride, and alternately, as the body of Christ." (Dyson 92) He furthers his belief in saying, "tradition is the living faith of dead people, while the traditional is the dead faith of living people. Too often, the latter has ruled black churches." (Dyson 93)

Dyson is afraid that the black church is falling behind in the times and that there needs to be a drastic change in the course of the church’s teachingsThere is another drastic change that many people accept as valid whereas Dyson sees no change at all, and this is the subject of black youth, pop culture, and political nostalgia. Dyson feels that the problem is that most people see the younger generation as very much different as to how things used to be back in their time. He points out there was a very large faction of people who were against jazz because of its sensuality. Dyson sees no difference between the jazz age and the age of hip hop. Back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, jazz was seen as a detriment to society, the same can be said of gangsta rap in the 1990’s. Dyson pulls many correlations between the two types of music. For example, both were seen as corrupting, both were seen as too sexually oriented, and both were never fully accepted until the white mainstream accepted it. He expresses his viewpoint that it is a simple misunderstanding of nostalgic significance. He claims that every generation sees the next generation as inferior because of our forgetfulness of what happened back in our periodThe next period that Dyson concerns himself with is critical to his book and that is his discussing of black leadership and responsibility. Here he talks about the Million Man March and a comparison of Colin Powell and Louis Farrakhan. "True enough, the themes of the march-black men atoning for our ills, especially to black women, and taking responsibility for our own uplift." (Dyson 152)

Dyson was a proud member of the march and he recognizes its importance in black America. But I think a more interesting point is his comparison of two totally different people: Powell and Farrakhan. Most people would agree that Powell has more legitimacy with the white mainstream and that Farrakhan seems to hold to the black and Muslim communities. But what is not so well know is that they share a significant similarity. "They share a crucial assumption about the mechanisms of black improvement: pulling oneself up by the bootstrapsWhile Powell sees self-help as key to transcending race, Farrakhan sees it as key to translating race into the idiom of black self-determination." (Dyson 164) Dyson discusses in depth the two backgrounds of these highly influential men in our political atmosphere. The key is "still, there are some things that black men have got to do by and for themselves. There exists among black men a great hunger for responsibility." (Dyson 179) At this point, Dyson meanders off his original course of discussing race in America and how it takes responsibility to transcend it. He goes on in discussing why he wasn’t so successful on the Oprah show and how much of an impact it would have been had he the opportunity to properly criticize a panelist for comparing Waiting to Exhale to Mein Kampf. Then he drifts off on different tangents explaining the importance of the great film of Waiting to Exhale.

He also includes the speech that he was to have given at the Million Man March but did not have a chance to giveDyson now comes back to reality in discussing court cases that have been very influential to the racial debate. "The rules may be color-blind, but people are not. The question remains, therefore, whether the law can truly exist apart from the color-conscious society in which it exists, as a skeleton devoid of flesh; or whether laws is the embodiment of society, the reflection of a particular citizenry’s arranged complexity of relations(Dyson 213) He reviews many instances that involve this racial context: the civil rights agenda of the 1960’s and the court cases of Shaw v. Hunt and Bush v. Vera. These are all very instrumental in defining raceIt is at this point that there must be a proper critique of Dyson’s flaws because the review of Race Rules is at an end. One of the major problems in Dyson’s logic is in the form of his understanding the plight of blacks, women, and every other ethnic minority, but misses a major classification, the poor. There are millions of people across this nation (whether they are black or white or green has no significance) who are homeless, jobless and education-less who desperately need our attention. And a issue that springs from that question is why must every issue be a black/white one? In Dyson’s discussion of Colin Powell he explains a way of transcendence of race. This is a mood pointThere are also a few more problems with Dyson’s book that he misconstruesIn his analysis of the black church and how they should perpetuate the use of safe sex, he misses a critical point. The church should not perpetuate safe sex, they should continue to perpetuate abstinence. It is not the church’s responsibility to inform its congregation on such issues, it need only read what the Bible says about those issues. From Proverbs 5:15-17 it says, "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers." In the same chapter that Dyson discusses the black church he includes a section that entails a forum style description of a sexual encounter that he had while he was a young preacher. From pages 95 to 100, he includes a graphic narration of what occurred. Was that really necessary to understanding Race Rules?

The other major conflict that he has is in his chapter on black youth, pop culture, and the politics of nostalgia. Dyson makes the point that there are many correlations between jazz and hip hop and that people are just being nostalgic for saying there is a fundamental difference between the periods. There are two crucial points as to why this is false. First the language and reference of today’s gangsta rap is nothing like how things were said in the jazz age. Included are lyrics from two of the most popular gangsta rappers today, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr Dre. From Snoop Doggy Dogg’s album entitled Doggystyle on track #13, "Niggaz be brown nosin’ these hos and shit, takin’ bitches out to eat and spendin’ money on these hos, ya know what I’m sayin’. I treat a bitch like 7-up, I never have, I never will." And from Dr Dre album entitled The Chronic on his song, Nuthin’ But A "G" Thang, "put the rap down, put the Mac down, and if your bitch is talkin’ shit-I’ll have to put the smack down." This doesn’t sound like lyrical masterpieces like the jazz age. Second, the jazz age was characterized by improvisation whereas the hip hop age is predominantly a result of cannibalization. Perhaps the most successful rapper of 1997 was Puff Daddy. Here is the major problem, every major release by Puff has been sampled (or stolen from another song) by at least two different groups. In his first release that made Puff big, Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down, this song was an almost direct copy of a song from the early 1980’s by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Puff Daddy didn’t even acknowledge his sampling until he released the single, "I’ll be missing you", which was stolen from Sting when he was with the band The PoliceThe Police’s song was entitled "Every breath you take, I’ll be watching you". At a MTV Music Awards, Puff had Sting come on the stage and sing with him "their" song. Puff Daddy did acknowledge Sting’s acceptance of blatant plagiarism. This is not inventive nor creative in the hip hop communityAnd the final flaw that Dyson has is when he initiates his support of gang activity in portraying it as a "juvenocracy."

"For me, a juvenocracy is the domination of black and Latino domestic and urban life by mostly male figures under the age of 25 who wield considerable economic, social, and moral influence." (Dyson 140) It may sound like a colorful word but it still means a gang, nevertheless. There is nothing beneficial in being a member of a gangIn conclusion, I think that Dyson may want to reevaluate some of his points after further deliberation. He did achieve his main goal in saying how men need to take responsibility for their actions, but he still came up short in providing enough evidence to show how much his Race Rules Back to top...


Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 10:46:48 -0600
From: heather freeman <hmfreem@odin.cmp.ilstu.edu>
Subject: Rev: Race Rules(Freeman)

Micheal Eric Dyson, RACE RULES: NAVIGATING THE COLOR LINE Reviewed Heather Freeman

Why is there a continual stream of books on race pouring into the bookstores? Maybe it's because the mere mention of the word "race" brings so many feelings and emotions rushing to the minds of almost every individual in this country. Michael Eric Dyson is quite aware of this factHe wrote RACE RULES to speak about the pain and rage that so many people feel about race relations

Dyson goes right to the heart of the race issue by starting with the trial of the century that fueled the obsession of the American people with raceThe O.J. Simpson trial raised the question if we, as a country, will ever be able to get over the issue of race

Dyson offers his interpretation of the black and white response to the verdict. He explains the black response by stating that the decision, so swiftly made by the black jury, was in reality put into motion long ago from the first time a court decision was colored by race. He claims the enraged white response was because whites felt betrayed by O.J. Whites had allowed O.J. in to the inner circle as a "surrogate white" and then he had reverted back to "black barbarism." Dyson seems to be vastly generalizing here

Dyson believes that there are three different ways to explain the trial and the meanings of the verdicts. He gives a breakdown of the three uses of race. They are race as a context, race as a subtext, and race as a pretext Context is the facts of racism. Subtext is the form that racism takes, and pretext helps us to understand the function of race and racism. Dyson uses these as examples how race and racism have influenced Americans. Race as a context leads to racial clarification. This means asking questions about what in history brought about people’s present day feelings about raceRace as a subtext is used by Dyson to explain what he calls racial mystification. Racial mystification is the hidden forms that racism takesThese can be in the form of codes, symbols, and signals. Race as a pretext are the excuses people makeup for their prejudice beliefs. Dyson then applies these uses to the trial in an attempt to show the differences in the white perception and the black perception of the trial

The next topic Dyson tackles is how black intellectuals have come to be both loved and hated. There seems to be a "backlash" occurring, in the black community, because of the praise heaped on a few select black public intellectuals. Dyson claims this "backlash" is occurring for several reasons. One reason is other black intellectuals want to know how these intellectuals were chosen. Another criticism is these public intellectuals spend to much time on the airwaves and not enough time working on their intellect. The third reason critics tear apart these intellectuals is that they believe that fame and fortune has turned them into sellouts. These black intellectuals have also been accused of claiming to represent the race when they are really catering to whites. Dyson admits at times and depending whom you are talking about these criticisms have been true for some black intellectuals. To get over this "backlash" Dyson suggests that all black intellectuals need to listen to criticisms that are fair, admit that they are vulnerable to the seduction of fame and fortune, and realize that there our a lot of jealous people out there

In this same chapter about political intellectuals Dyson gives a list of awards to black intellectuals and their critics. While the awards are not really mean-spirited, I am sure some of Dyson’s peers might be a little offended by his categorizations. One example is "The Elijah Complex Award"This award went to bell hooks because she has said several times that she is the only black intellectual to talk about class. Dyson suggests that somebody should tell bell what God told Elijah, "Sorry but there are 7000 others like you still around." However, at other points in this book Dyson does praise bell for her work as a black feminist. Dyson even made an award for himself showing that he does not put himself above the fray. The award was "The Spike Lee/Terry McMillan Award For Shameless Self-Promotion". He says that he is the recipient of this award for calling radio stations, television stations, and newspapers in an attempt to promote his books

The black church preaches that Christians abstain from sex. Dyson feels that this is unrealistic. He believes that a theology of eroticism needs to be implemented so, that blacks can be freed from guilt and repression associated with sex. This would put an end to all the lies that cause unhappiness. Dyson theology of eroticism would focus on honesty and black sexuality. Kids are having sex and getting pregnant and worst of all getting AIDS. Dyson says that children should be given an opportunity to live by being taught early on about safe sex

Another problem in the black church is the way pastors shake up their congregations about the evils of sex when they themselves have erotic desires. Dyson tells a story of a pastor who was preaching to his congregation about fidelity. Then behind close doors admitted to Dyson and the other pastors that he wanted to be set up with a woman who had been sitting in the congregation. Dyson did not make a moral judgment about the pastor and later was thankful because he found himself in a similar position. His solution to these contradictions is for the sensuality of black bodies to be contained in black worship. In this way Dyson believes that blacks can then "recover the erotic uses of our bodies from the distortions of white racism and the traps of black exploitation". As he does throughout the book Dyson holds both blacks and whites responsible for this travesty

The Million Man March meant different things to different people. To Dyson the march was a chance for black men to quit talking about coming together and actually do it. He saw it also as a chance for black men to shoulder some of the responsibility for how black men have treated black women and homosexuals. Dyson says, "I went to Washington with the hope that a larger, more insightful, more healthy, more self-critical and more complex conversation about black men might be started." Unfortunately the march did not achieve all of these goals. While the March did bring black men together to take responsibility for their actions it did not touch on the issues of homophobia and their poor treatment of black women. Dyson believes the women who were allowed to speak were used as "pawns and tokens". They were mere cheerleaders who stayed away from such topics as abuse and homophobia

Dyson uses Colin Powell and Louis Farrakhan to compare and contrast the divide between black America. He gives an in-depth history of both Powell and Farrakhan giving the reader a sense of who they are and why they believe what they believe. Colin Powell is seen as a strong believer in race transcendence. However, Dyson feels that this is only possible if you pretend that race is not an important factor. When discussing race it is essential to point out the progress that has been made when you are trying to transcend race. Dyson believes that race transcendence is a dream for whites who want to forget the mistakes of the past without having to work to improve race relations in the future. Farrakhan attempts to translate race while stressing masculinity. This race translation does to teach black men about personal responsibility, but puts men in the center of the family and gives little respect to black women who have had to raise their families alone. This call to responsibility by Farrakhan failed to include homophobia as well

Throughout the book Dyson seems to be interpreting black reasoning to a white audience. This is not necessarily a bad thing because it allows for some deeper understanding of what it really means to be black in AmericaDyson explains at one point, "Contemporary black public intellectuals are valued because we speak-by no means exclusively, and, in some cases, not even primarily, but nonetheless in important ways-to a white public." The need to clarify is also apparent in the first chapter when he is answering a white man’s angry letter. He seems to be trying to explain to this man, and other whites with the same beliefs, that most of the black community is not blaming white people for their problems. They are just seeking racial justice, or in other words, equality. By navigating the color line Dyson is saying we as a nation, not as black people or white people, need to come together and work on the issues that divide us

Heather M. Freeman hmfreem@ilstu.edu Back to top...


Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 16:06:55 -0600
From: John Bevill <jbevill@fcg.net>
Subject: Review: RACE RULES (Siders)

Michael Eric Dyson, RACE RULES: NAVIGATING THE COLOR LINE (Vintage Books, 1997) Review by Fran Siders 2-19-98

In 1998, most white people think that we know how to interact with members of the black race because racism is not really a problem anymore. Michael Dyson does a wonderful job explaining the many different ways that racism still effects society. Through explanation of black problem to white people, the problem of racism would be solved. Racism certainly does not exist as public lynching, but racism exists nonetheless

Dyson points out that many blacks, who have been accepted into white society, have only been able to do so by transcending their race. He uses O.J. Simpson and Colin Powell as examples of blacks who have been accepted into white society because they do not harp on the trials and tribulation of their race. They rise above all the problems associated with being black and do not share those problems with the white race; therefore, the upper-class of the white race accepts and embraces them as one of their own. To Dyson transcending race is the same as suppressing one’s raceSuppressing race will not solve problems, it will only make white people expect all black people, striving to belong, to suppress their race as well

Dyson thinks that black intellectuals are the privileged few of the black race that the white race has chosen to listen as they describe the trials and tribulations of being black. Dyson thinks that whites have forced blacks to choose a few speakers to speak for the entire race. The chosen few speak to the white public. As Dyson later points out in the book, black intellectuals do not speak for the race, but rather speak of the ideological strands of blackness and for kinships possessed outside the black communities that they think are most healthy

Dyson believes that black intellectuals, both those in the public eye and those in the private sector, need to stop undermining each other. Several pages later, Dyson "gives" away eleven "awards." Many of these awards are derogatory comments on many other black public intellectuals. To give Dyson his due, he awards himself a couple of awards. After his comments about supporting each other, this part of the book was most disappointing and a little disgusting. Dyson denounced other public black intellectuals for doing the same type of things

According to Dyson, the black church is still the center of their culture, regardless of the fact, that many have not officially joined the churchBecause the church is the center of culture, the church should take a more progressive role. He also believes that the church should teach the youth about safe sexual practices along with abstinence. He draws points out the sexual activities of some married ministers he associated with during his time a minister. He traces the failure of blacks and the black church to embrace their sexuality to slavery. White men wanted to contain the sexual threat the black men posed. White slave owners, to keep the slave under control, pumped psychological poison about the ugliness of the black body and sole into the heads of slaves, and those beliefs carry over into the present day. To overcome this brainwashing, the black church needs to stress that sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of but instead should be embraced. The black church should openly accept gays and lesbians into their community. The behavior of the church is hypocritical. Most of the parents and ministers engaged in sexual activity before marriage and preach abstinence to their children. Guilt has made their views rigid and inflexible. The church preaches against homosexuals but will have the singer, that everyone knows is gay, sing the solo Many whites ignore black problems, until they also become white problemsCriticism of rap music only occurred because white people were concerned about its effects on their children. The criticisms should be kept in this context. Dyson clearly illustrates this using gangsta rap as an exampleIf more support had been given to those rappers that were encouraging black men to take responsibility for their children and respect black women, perhaps the tide of crude lyrics and derogatory remarks about women could have been stemmed. Dyson also points out that the blues and jazz were equally as nasty as rap. In their day, they were viewed with almost as much controversy. The attack on gangsta rap is because the children of white suburbia found it appealing, and their parents did not. As long as the bad side of rap was restricted to black youth, it was ignored and unprotested. Gangsta rap drew the black community into a period of longing for the good old days. Instead of criticizing gangsta rap and the hip-hop culture, it should be evaluated on "its artistic statements and ethical imagination." Instead of trying to bring back the good old days, blacks should rely on the historic black determination to remain undefeated by pessimism from within and beyond the culture. Each generation's contribution to black society should be viewed in the context of the times While this does not excuse what is currently happening in the black communities, it certainly offers an explanation

Dyson describes the current domination of black and Latino domestic and urban life by male figures under the age of 25 as a "juvenocracy." A major contributor to this juvenocracy has been the economy of crack. The crack industry brought millions of dollars to formerly impoverished youth. This economy allowed black and Latino youth to provide for themselves and their families and shifted the power to them. They became de facto heads of the household and neighborhood guardians. The gun culture of America also contributed to juvenocracy. In 1990, there were more people killed with firearms in suicides, homicides, and accidents than were killed in the Korean War. Juvenocrats have the ultimate weapon of death with firearmsThe juvenocrats illicit activities and immoral lifestyles reinforce destructive behavior

The plight and abuse of black women is discussed in detail. Instead of supporting and nurturing their mates, black men abuse and degrade those who stand by and support them. Black men need to become self-critical. Black men should stop using the black woman as their cheerleader as they did during the Million Man March. The myth surrounding sexual performance needs to be destroyed so the black man can pay attention to the art of making love. Dyson used his appearance on the Oprah show to demonstrate how strongly some black men resent black women getting ahead. Dyson appeared to give his thoughts on the movie "Waiting to Exhale." Many of the black male members of the audience were outraged at the portrayal of black men in the movie. Because Dyson took such a strong position in favor of black women, that his dismissal of gangsta rap as a product of the times came as a disappointment

Dyson feels that racism dominates the American culture. The colorblind society we try to convince ourselves we live in is not the path to eliminating racism. The path to eliminating racism needs to be understanding and acceptance of different cultures and races. Only then can the wounds of racism begin to heal. Dyson does a good job of explaining what white people see as the problems with black culture. Dyson sees his role in the black intellectual community as explaining to whites what the problems are as whites see them. In many cases, his explanations sound more like excuses. He does not say that the explanations are right or wrong. Instead, this is just the way that things are. I would have preferred an occasional personal opinion about what he feels are right and wrong within the black community. He talks about how the Million Man March was an attempt by the black man to accept responsibility and try to become better people

Dyson speaks several times throughout the book about taking responsibility. But, for each problem of black society he offers an excuse. Hip-hop culture and gangsta rap are just a product of their times (Never mind how demeaning it is to women.) The black church needs to take responsibility for educating the youth on safe sex. Making excuses falls short of taking responsibility. Responsibility is about accepting what was done and changing how to do it Back to top...


Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 01:40:38 -0600
From: robert joseph nuckolls <bjnuckol@ILSTU.EDU>
Subject: Race Rules

"RACE RULES: NAVIGATING THE COLOR LINE"

Author: Micheal Eric Dyson

Reviewed By: Bob Nuckolls

Rules! Rules! Rules! It appears most anyone who seeks to establish a special agenda, meaning, or purpose, developes an unique set of guidelines or "rules". In my often used, "Random House" dictionary, one definition of a "rule" is "a principle or regulation governing conduct, procedure, etc." It is also defined as "the customary or normal condition, practice, etc. In the book, "Race Rules", Micheal E. Dyson describes "rules" as the "sorts of thinking and behavior that I see operating among and between blacks and whites." He states the rules are not prescriptive. He continues to write, "I like to help us navigate the issues of power, justice, and equality that divide blacks and whites, and that echo in black communities as well." While reading the book, "Race Rules", it appears Dyson attempts to accomplish this most difficult feat

Immediately Dyson managed to capture my attention as I read the first sentence of the book. Dyson answered my question with a question, "why another book on race?" Dyson answers my question as he writes about a letter he recieved from a person he concluded as a "white man of high intelligence who was full of rage". He described this as a "dangerous combination". The author of the letter seemed to think Dyson blames white folk for everything that's wrong with black folk. The letter appears to suggest at some point blacks should stop placing blame on others, specifically whites, and begin to accept responsibility. Due to this letter, and perhaps many more letters and/or incidents similiar to this, Dyson probably felt compelled to write this book

Just as my interest was peeked, it began an unfortunate gradual decline as I read the first few paragraphs of chapter one. This chapter discusses when blacks become a "credit to their race". My interest declined simply because I did not want to read another opinion or theory concerning the "trial of the century". Dyson confessed to being an "O.J. addict". I am not. I must admit, initially, I did not give the reading of the first few paragraphs a fair chance. Fortunately, it did not take long for my interest to resurface as I realized what Dyson was attempting to convey

Although the chapter mostly discusses the trial, the point was not whether Simpson was guilty or not, but the interpretation or reaction to the verdicts. Simpson was largely "accepted" by many whites, not only in the United States, but across the world. Dyson writes the "wide adulation heaped on Simpson beyond his gridiron glory also owed much to his absent, indeed anti-racial politics. Simpson soothed white anxieties about the racial turmoil caused by black radicalism. Simpson took the path of least resistance for those looking to dodge the burden of being black; ignoring race. Simpson has largely sidestepped the indignities imposed on ordinary blacks. Simpson made a career out of making white folk feel safe. Dyson writes, Simpson has confessed that it wasn't until he got hate mail in jail that he admitted racism hadn't gone away. Simpson concedes that he simply ignored or denied racism for most of his adult life. Dyson explains, the extraordinary white hostility aimed at Simpson after the verdicts can largely be explained by the equally extraordinary investment O.J. made in the white world. He was a Good Negro who played by the rules. Many whites returned the favor. He became a "surrogate white". Many whites may have felt betrayed once he was charged, then cleared, of murder. For according to the rules of surrogate whiteness, Simpson should have confessed his guilt and taken his punishment like a (white) man. When this obviously did not occur, perhaps many whites concluded maybe their "adoption" of Simpson as a "surrogate white" was a wrong decision. Since he did not play by (their) "rules", he was no different then the rest of the black males. Perhaps many whites concluded, Simpson was not a "credit to his race". In regard to black America, many felt that justice finally prevailed for a black man. Perhaps a feat many may believe occurs few too often

Dyson explains the responses to the verdicts showed just how sick and separate race makes us. He described the trial, the spectacle, and the aftermath as a "racequake". It crumbled racial platitudes. He continues to explain, race is the source of our harmony or disfavor with one another Black and white responses to O.J. prove how different historical experiences determine what we see and color what we believe about raceThis is so true. Unfortunately, the color of one's skin, is how many will judge the particular person or issue. Many will look at the race of a particular person, and based their opinion or judgement of the person strictly on this process

While reading about the trial, although at times Dyson may make some generalizations, I believe his overall theories are more accurate than not

Dyson discusses the three uses of race; race as context, race as subtext, and race as pretext. He explains, race as context helps us to understand the facts of race and racism in our society. It shows how arguments have been used to clarify the role race and racism have played in our nation's history. He further explains, to view race as a context leads to racial clarification. With racial clarification, we get, as closely as we can, to the facts of race

Race as a subtext helps us to understand the forms of race and racism in our culture. It highlights how arguments have been used to mystify, or deliberately obscure, the role of race and racism in our culture. He further explains, to view race as a subtext aids our understanding of racial mystification

Race as a pretext helps us to understand the function of race and racism in America. It shows how arguments have been used to justify racial beliefs and to defend racial interest. Dyson explains if the context of race is tied to history, and the subtext to culture, then the pretext of race is linked, broadly speaking, to science. He writes, race viewed as a pretext increases our understanding of racial justification

Dyson does a magnificent job of explaining each catergory. Each is explained thoroughly. He does a wonderful job of applying situational and real life examples of each catergory. He does explain that the catergories are not absolute; that they are impure and flexible. In my opinion, the flexibility is a contributing factor on why the catergories are so applicable

After reading, through the first chapter, once again my interest vanished as he wrote about Black Public Intellectuals. Unfortunately, unlike the first chapter, my interest never resurfaced. What made the chapter worse is when Dyson finds it appropriate to give awards for Black Public Intellectuals and their critics. He named the awards the "Envys", given to recipients of the first annual awards of the Black Public Intellectuals and their critics. I found the awards to be a waste of pages. Please do not misunderstand. I have nothing but praise and respect for the Black Public Intellectuals; especially the people he mentioned within this chapterThey are leaders who have opened the doors of opportunity for many African-Americans, and at the same time, have provided a wealth of knowledge. The chapter just did not capture my attention

Dyson writes about the role of the Black Church and Sex. Dyson suggest the black church should assume a more active role in teaching or preaching safe sex, combining condoms and common sense. Dyson writes that the traditional black church methods of curbing teen sex aren't working. We must make a choice. Either we counsel our kids about how to have sex as safely as they can, or we prepare to bury them before their lives beginAlthough in reading through the chapter I understand his concerns, and while I admit the church should approach the topic of safe sex in an appropriate, possibly less subtle manner, I firmly believe the majority of the instruction should come from the parents. Parents need to accept and assume the responsibility of teaching their children about safe sex

I enjoyed reading about the state of black leadership. Dyson writes about Colin Powell and Louis Farrakhan. He does a very good job in describing their history, and what they have now become. He uses an unique method in comparing and contrasting the two. Although there are obvious differences between the two, they share a crucial assumption about the mechanism of black improvement: pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, or self-helpDyson writes while Powell sees self-help as key to transcending race, Farrakhan sees it as key to translating race into the idiom of black self-determination

What is most interesting in the chapter of black leadership, after spending a great time discussing Powell and Farrakhan, Dyson writes about another brilliant leader, Jesse Jackson. He writes, Jackson has been recently overshadowed by the bright light of Powell's emergence, and Farrakhan's rise. But Jackson has been at this a lot longer than either Powell or Farrakhan. He continues to write like Powell, Jackson has ranged far beyond narrow black interests in articulating an ecumenical vision of social change. Unlike Powell, Jackson has remained rooted in a blackness that feels no need to suppress its particularity. Like Farrakhan, Jackson has consistently, even when it was unpopular to do so, talked about the wages of white supremacy. Unlike Farrakhan, Jackson has not allowed that understanding to thwart his embrace of every stripe and hue of American in figuring out how to overcome the lethal limitations of race

Dyson described Jackson as the most powerful example of race transforming leadership in our time. I concur

Dyson also writes about the black youth, pop culture, and the politics of nostalgia, and about the black woman in the chapter Behind Every Great Black Woman, There Are a Hundred More. Each chapter offers interesting insights filled with enlightenment and information

Overall, I enjoyed reading "Race Rules". Although there were some sections where I lost some interest, Dyson was, at most times, able to rejuvenate my interest. Basically, in my opinion, Dyson discussed some of the controversial issues in today's society and attempted to explain or interpret them as a highly respected "intellectual". It is very apparent Dyson has a great deal of knowledge in race relations, and was successful in sharing his knowledge with me as I read the book. It is also very apparent that race, or the color of one's skin, continues to be more important than one's inner self. We have a long ways to go before we become a color-blind society Back to top...


Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 18:58:43 -0600
From: Sarah Elizabeth Niziolek <senizio@acadcomp.cmp.ilstu.edu>
Subject: Review of Race Rules, Dyson (Niziolek)

If you are looking for a virtual map to navigate your way across America's "Color Line," see Micheal Dyson. "Race Rules" is an attempt to explain how race really works in American society, focusing on three main ideas

The book begins by examining the O.J. Simpson trial. There is an indepth look at O.J.'s rise to fame and his rejection of his race. This intentional rejection is not completly bad, according to Dyson. Simpson's silence about his race made him more acceptable to Whites. It was this acceptance into "Whiteness" that helped in his trial and in his treatment by the police. Dyson uses the slow pased chase down L.A. freeways I-5 and I-405 as an example of this special treatment. Had it been any other black man they would have shot or beat him in a heart beat. Most importantly, however, is the verdict and what it meant to Blacks. Dyson uses this case and its trial to show that "Race remains our nations malevolent obsession." Blacks and Whites look at the same experience but view it differently. Dyson points out that O.J.'s aquittal reminded our nation that race really does rule

Dyson also discribes three uses of race: race as context, race as subtext, and finally race as pretext. Context is the facts of racism, subtext is the many forms of racism and finally pretext is the fuction of race and racism. It is clear that these definitions and the examples given with them are for his White readers. It is a way to further explain the true existence of race in our sociey

Following this "explaining" to Whites, Dyson discusses Gansta Rap and what this music is really all about. The fact that Jazz and Blues music were also frowned apon is the start of the discussion. This new music takes directly from past generation's "hits" and mixes it into the new Gantsa Rap. The idea that this music is all about sex, drugs, and gang violence only reflects how life in urban America really is. In fact, the lyrics of many of the classic blues and jazz songs contain the same themes as today's music, only it was done in a kind of code back then

Gangsta Rap has been around for nearly a decade and it has its roots deep in the past. It is only recently that it has come under seige. Middle class White children have started listening and this is very threatening. The thought that such music could influence the way White youngsters dress, talk, and behave is very threatening to the White population. After describing why he believes there is a problem with this music, Dyson attempts to explain that this is how Blacks are living today. Hinting that someday gansta rap will be considered on the same level as blues and jazz are today

According to Dyson, its not the rappers fault that their music is as volger as it is. Early rap was much more political but the public didn't pick up on it. He essentially bleame the public for not picking up on this type of music. This takes the blame off the rappers who are simply performing and selling what the public wants to hear and what they will buy

On this same note there comes the discussion of Black English. Dyson strongly believes that Black English is a very strong component in the Black identity "Black English is the sytax of black survival, the grammar of black aspirations to achieve self-definition in a white world that attempted to will it, to write it, into oblivion." All the back to the days of slavery and to years following emancipation, Blacks were denied literacy. White denied Blacks the opportunity to read and become educated for fear of a collapse in the racial heirarchy. It was out of this denial of literacy that Black English was born. Dyson argues that Blacks form their social identies out of this form of english that they pieced together

The second focus is on Black Intellectuals. Here Dyson discusses what it means to be a black intellectual and how too often ther is competetion among these people. All to often these intellectuals are fighting against one another all trying to be HNIC, or Head Negro in the CountryThis fighting is a waste of a perfect opportunity to join forces and make a significant impact on racism in America. It is the responsibility of these intellectuals to "...raise America's and black folks' vision of what we might achieve if we do away with the self-destructive habit of racism and the vicious forces of black self-defeat taking us down from within." He makes a strong point against black intellectuals critizing each other instead of defending one another

Finally Dyson disscusses the state of Black culture today. First he discusses the Black Church. Himself being a former preacher and an ordained Baptist minister, he tries to explain some of the problems with the Church itself. His biggest concern is its teachings on sex. The preachers preach abstance but live a life of lust and passion. This approach is not working for two reasons. The first is obvious how can you teach abstance and fidelity when you don't practise either one yourself. Second, the occurance of teen pregnancy and births out of wedlock are not decreasing. Rather, safe sex needs to be taught and condoms should be available at Church. The Black Church is "body centered"and rightfully so since Black sexuality had been seen as animalistic for so long

Homosexuality must also be reconsidered by the Church. The Black Church is notoriously homophobic. Preachers often give sermons damning homosexuality yet homosexulaity is know to go on frequently. There is one very compeling example of a preacher who gave a sermon against and kind of sexual ills especially homosexuality. Once his sermon ended the choir began singing with a well known gay man performing a solo. Many of the preachers are also gay and even worse many of the strongest advocates against homosexuality in the Church are gay themselves. This is not a healthy practise. This is an act of self-hatred. It is the renounsing of homosexualtiy by the Church which forces gays to denounce their sexuality. This is likened to racism in America where Blacks have been victims of discrimination and exclusion long enough to know how it feels. Blacks know "...what it means to be thought of as queer, as strange, as unnatural, as evil...." For this reason Blacks should be more sensitive to homosexuality

Colin Powell, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan and the Million Man March, all Black leaders with different philosophies about race in America. In an attempt to make Whites better understand the signifigance of each of these leaders Dyson compairs each against the other. Beginning with their rise to recognition as leaders, their trails and tribulation, and ending with what they are (were) pushing for now

The impact of the Million Man March on Blacks was far more than just a bunch of guys coming together. Dyson shows just what it meant and what its pupose really was

This book was truely a guide for Whites. Taking an issue and explaining it in a Black man's point of view, Dyson was able to explain some things very well. The way he explains O.J. Simpson to Louis Farrakhan paints a very detaild picture of how Blacks see themselves in American societyHe makes an attempt to show how Whites and Blacks see differently on historical experiences. The way he goes about this by giving some background information and working his way to the present situation is very helpful. In this respect he is very successful in enlightening Whites. The way he talks about Louis Farrakhan, for example, is in a very neutral manner. He does not hold back on Farrakhan's short comings but he also emphasizes his strenghts. Dyson's explanation of what the Million Man March meant to Black men was very appealing

I must, however, question Dyson's thoughts on Black intellectuals. He makes a strong case for why they need to stand behind one another. He discusses that all to often they are willing to stab each other in the back to become HNIC. When it comes right down to it Dyson says they should band together and form a united front in one breath, and in the next he, himself, begins to citicize other Black intellectuals. He gives out awards like: "I'm not a Profit, But I Play One on T.V.," "The 'Excuse the Accent, But I'm a Wanna-Beatles' Award," and "The Elijah Complex" to the Black intellectuals of his choices

His discussion of the Black Church and Gangsta Rap, thought they too explain a lot to the lay-White-person, really comes out of nowhere. He seems to be blowing his own horn when he talks about a close encounter with a young women as a young minister. It is easy to lose the true meaning of this section by getting caught up in what could have been a steamy sex scene

Even more out there is this discussion on gansta rap. It was interesting to hear his defense of the music and his reasons for its bad reputation were even logical. But frankly it's a long jump from Ella Fitzgerald to Puffy Daddy

Over all Dyson does a good job of giving the Black point of view on our society. He comes off as nuetral. He doesn't throw racism at White America yet he shows that it is really a factor in our society. His agruements are overwhelmingly fair and logical. While it was easy to see hi main points he doesn't do a really good job organizing his book to follow his arguments. He tends to jump back and forth. This book has opened my eyes to the otherside of the fence without making me feel unfairly guilty and I credit him for that Back to top...