The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Media -- Dont Quote Me  |  News Features  |  Stark Ravings  |  Talking Politics  |  This Just In
Best of Boston 2009

A meme deferred

Michael Eric Dyson changes the subject at Harvard
By RICHARD BECK  |  November 14, 2008


Michael Eric Dyson was going to talk about rap. Appearing at Harvard last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to give his trio of W.E.B. Du Bois lectures on African-American culture and history, the Georgetown sociology professor and energetic public intellectual had even cooked up an MC name for himself: Acade-MIC. The title alone was enough to get you giddy with anticipation: "From Homer to 'Hova: Hustling, Religion, and Guerrilla Literacy in the Pavement Poetry of Jay-Z."
Read the On the Download blog of the event and listen to the podcasts of Dyson.

But there are bigger, Change-related things going on in American blackness right now, and who is Michael Eric Dyson to stand in the way of Change? Can we talk about Barack Obama instead? Yes we can. The new title — "Obamamerica" — may have been a letdown, but the lectures themselves were anything but. Dyson is a passionate, charismatic, hilariously quick thinker with the oratorical talent of a Baptist Minister (which he is). It's as though early LL Cool J got a Ph.D. and took it to church.

The atmosphere was celebratory, even a little giddy. Dyson, surrounded by colleagues, students, and friends, spent about 20 minutes saying hello and joking around. "I feel like we in church, man," he said. The crowd was even a little rowdy. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the most powerful black intellectual ever, had to tell people to shut up.

Over the course of his hour-long lectures, Dyson covered more political, pop-cultural, and historical ground than this reporter has the space or the ability to synthesize. He analyzed the tenuous relationship between Obama and Jesse Jackson, whose "I am somebody" made our President-elect's "Yes we can" possible. He talked about Jeremiah Wright, noting that if some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s angrier sermons had been recorded and posted to YouTube, he would have been just as demonized as Obama's former pastor. He wondered how rappers would go about admiring Obama while maintaining an oppositional voice. He didn't have a unified thesis that I could pick out, but it was the happy rush of ideas that made Dyson's lectures so satisfying. Nobody knows exactly what Obama means yet, but Dyson is having a great time figuring it out.

Related: Mr. Populist?, The ‘A’ word, Good news, bad news, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama, Entertainment, Harvard,  More more >
  • Share:
  • RSS feed Rss
  • Email this article to a friend Email
  • Print this article Print
Re: A meme deferred
yep. dyson is nothing if not entertaining, something of an academic circuit rider. following the 2004 dem gathering in boston, dyson kicked it on the vineyard railing about katrina while skip gates intro'd then state senator obama as his "choice" should he go in '08. an intriguing figure is gerald early, who recently wrote in the 'chronicle of higher education', "the presidential campaign of barack obama has raised the question of what happens to the black american meta-narrative of heroric or noble victimization if he wins...a loss can be blamed on cynicism, expressed in different and political and aesthetic modalities, underscores both the blues and rap. if obama loses," he continued, "he becomes, in black folklore, john henry." well he won, and it would have been cool for dyson to reflect on 'pappa's got a brand new bag'...or at least better get one.
By jeffmcnary on 11/11/2008 at 7:38:58
Re: A meme deferred
He actually did talk about that some––it was at the core of his discussion about whether hip hop can maintain a critical voice now that Obama is "the man"––but he talked about so much stuff that there just wasn't space to squeeze everything into the article. He said that he doesn't think Obama's win will do anything to tamp down the sense of persevering-against-the-odds that is so central to black culture. If anything, Obama's win only intensifies the conviction that the struggle is worth it.
By Richard Beck on 11/12/2008 at 8:40:45

Today's Event Picks
Share this entry with Delicious

 See all articles by: RICHARD BECK

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2009 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group