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383px-Michael_Eric_Dyson_at_Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._Memorial_4_April_2012_cropLUMPENPROLETARIAT—One of today’s most prominent non-white intellectuals in the USA is Dr. Michael Eric Dyson.  Some of us first began to notice Dr. Dyson when he published Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture (1997), or Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X (1995).  We recall Dr. Dyson speaking quite cogently about, if not from, street culture, particularly that of semi-underground hip hop, quoting Tupac, and articulating an unsung radical perspective informed by street culture.  This, of course, involves the capacity to tap into the working class zeitgeist.  This capacity, of course, can be very valuable for the American ruling class.  And, surprise, surprise, over time, Dr. Dyson seemed less and less radical, once he no longer had Bush, that easy mark, to kick around, but instead had to decide whether to publicly oppose, or support, the Democrat Party once Obama arrived.  Being the ‘first’ black president, the race card helped Dr. Dyson obfuscate valid critiques levelled against the Obama administration.  And, as time passed, Dr. Dyson seemed to adopt the role of an apologist for the establishment politics of the Democrat Party.

Over time, Dr. Dyson started sounding increasingly like an uncritical Democrat Party tool.  For example, at the Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Keynote Address (2013) at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Dr. Dyson was appallingly apologetic about the Obama administration and its imperialist foreign policy and regressive domestic policies.  He did this by working to redirect his audience’s attention away from the crimes against civil liberties and human rights by the Obama administration and toward hot button issues of race (phenotype), which may be a ‘red meat’ issue capable of dampening valid critique of Obama’s neglect of the working classes, his imperialistic and fascistic policies.  But it becomes intellectual dishonesty for an academic to ignore or downplay very real policy crimes by a sitting president.  Just because there are racists spewing hatred for Obama and people of colour doesn’t mean we must, then, ignore Obama’s problematic policies.  If some day, we have the first Chicano president, Chicanos are not going to hold back their critique just because they’re Chicanos, too.  We could say the same for the first female president or the first lo que sea.

During the question and answer period at the UMKC 2013 MLK Keynote Address, I challenged Dr. Dyson’s apparently uncritical support of Obama’s shredding of the Constitution, Section 1021 of the NDAA, expansion of the drone programme, protection of banksters, and so on. [1]  I reminded Dr. Dyson that Dr. King himself would have opposed Obama’s imperialistic and fascistic agenda were he alive and that it was appalling that Dr. Dyson would apologise for, and promote, Obama’s regressive politics in his speeches.  (At least, Dr. Cornel West sharpened his critique of Obama’s administration after the 2008 presidential election.  But Dr. Dyson seems to have missed all of the damning news headlines revealing Obama’s tenure to be a complete disaster for the working classes of the world.)  Dr. Dyson backtracked and pandered to the audience with jester-like wit, acknowledging that he’s ‘not without contradictions’.  But he never gave any convincing arguments for why his university audience should continue to support a failed administration and failed political party.  Perhaps, he hadn’t expected anybody in the audience to have been a lifelong listener of free speech radio.

That shameful episode in Dr. Dyson’s public career was back in January of 2013.  More recently, it seems Dr. Dyson’s uncritical support for the Obama administration and the antidemocratic Democrat Party has only deepened, as he has been given increased access to the White House and its inner circles.  (This resembles the defeated fate of big labour organisations in the USA, who sacrificed their opposition leverage for proximity and empty promises.)  Malcolm X, ostensibly one of Dr. Dyson’s role models, once deftly noted in his 1964 speech, “The Ballot of The Bullet“:

“The first thing the cracker does when he comes in power, he takes all the Negro leaders and invites them for coffee.  To show that he’s all right.  And those Uncle Toms can’t pass up the coffee. [laughter, applause]  They come away from the coffee table telling you and me that this man is all right. [laughter]

The exclusivity of whiteness in the White House may have expired, but the same relations of power seem to endure in our political landscape.  When a prominent non-white intellectual garners a national audience, the establishment will entice and seduce with invitation into the inner circles of power, but only on conditions of acquiescence and tacit complicity in the regressive policies of the American ruling class.

Free speech radio’s Davey D has engaged Dr. Dyson in a conversation attempting to address the sundry complaints accumulating on the Left against the Obama administration and the Democrat Party, generally, and by extension against Hillary Clinton and her bid for the presidency.  But Dr. Dyson kept interrupting Davey D, abusing his celebrity, and avoiding these real issues.  Ironically, by engaging in establishment apologia, Dr. Dyson engages in what he lambasts, “abusing charisma for the predicate of exploitation.”  Listen here. [2]



[Transcript by Messina for Lumpenproletariat and free speech radio KPFA]

HARD KNOCK RADIO—[16 MAY 2016]  “What’ up, everybody.  Welcome to another edition of Hard Knock Radio.  Davey D hangin’ out wit’ you this afternoon.  On today’s show we talk with professor extraordinaire, public intellectual, the one and only Michael Eric Dyson.  You don’t wanna miss it.  All that and more comin’ up after the afternoon headlines.”  (c. 1:38)

[KPFA News Headlines (read by Gabriela Castelán omitted by scribe]  (c. 8:45)

DAVEY D:  “What’ up, everybody.  Davey D hangin’ out wit’ you this afternoon.  And, boy, we’ve got a good, good show in store for you.  A couple of—or I shouldn’t say a couple of weeks—maybe about a month and a half ago, Michael Eric Dyson, who is no stranger to our airwaves, a well-known public intellectual, a professor at Georgetown University, author of something like 16 books came through to speak at the Church of Light and Heart, Heart and Light, over on—right there—on the border of Oakland [California] and Berkeley [California].  A packed house, packed house.  Threw down.  And we had a very spirited back and forth.

“And the reason why it was so spirited is because—you know; I’ve known Dyson for a very long time; and I recall he, um, was very, very critical of—within a couple of months of Barack Obama getting into office—he was very, very critical of him.  And, then, over time, he—you know—warmed up a little.  He maintained his criticism.  But he definitely wasn’t as strident with it.  Um, and we talked about that.  (c. 10:05)

We talked about his support for Hillary Clinton and the differences he sees between her and Bernie Sanders.  And we talked about his relationship, his strained relationship with Dr. Cornel West.  It was an incredible conversation.  You know?  Dyson is never at a loss for words.  He’s sharp-minded and definitely had gave a lot of food for thought.  And we want to share that conversation—parts of that conversation—with you this afternoon.  I think you’ll find it enlightening.  I think you’ll find it entertaining.  I think you’ll find it exhilirating, for some people, agonising for others.  But that’s what a good conversation is about, especially when it’s one, that’s taking place before the public, where you have a variety of opinions.

“And, you know, we are offering this entire conversation, which is with the, you know, Q and A and everything, it’s about two and a half hours.  It’s really, really good.

“And, so, I want you all to pull up to your radio.  Turn it up.  Turn it up.  You got your radio?  Some of ya’ll didn’t go turn up your radio.  So, we’re gonna wait here for a couple of seconds ‘cos I’m not lying.  I’m not lyin’ folks.  This is a good conversation.  I wouldn’t sit up here and just fib to you on the air.   I want you to turn it up.  I want you to call up a friend.  Tell ’em: Tune into the radio, 94.1 FM.  Michael Eric Dyson’s on; and he’s goin’ all the way in today.  I mean it’s goin’ to be a conversation.  You know?  (c. 11:38)

“You know?  For those of you, that are driving—you know—put your phones down.  You shouldn’t be texting.  Don’t make a phone call.  I want you all to listen to what’s goin’ on.  And, uh—’cos this is a conversation for the ages.  And, so, without further ado—oh, before we get into the conversation I’m ‘a give out the phone number ‘cos I never give out the phone number.  People go:   [SNIP]

“So, without further ado, let us check out this very real talk with Michael Eric Dyson and myself, here in the City of Oakland, March 5th, 2016.  I think you’re gonna enjoy it.  Here we go.”  (c. 12:45)

[begin audio from Oakland event]

DAVEY D:  “In the beginning, you were probably one of the first prominent people to endorse him.”


DAVEY D:  “New Orleans.  Talk about that.”


DAVEY D:  “Part of the reason that people wouldn’t put this sort of critique as early on we heard the analogies, playing chess not checkersYou said to a lot of us, like, look, he’s givin’ us a wink and a nod.”


DAVEY D:  “And many people looked at that and was: Alright.”


DAVEY D:  “It’s the wink and the nod.”


DAVEY D:  “So, in retrospect, first question—”


DAVEY D:  “—with that wink and a nod, what has he done for usWas it wrong to say that?


DAVEY D:  “Because many people took that—because you are in a leadership position.”


DAVEY D:  “So, they took that to heart.”


DAVEY D:  “And I would just add that the conversation, that we’re having now we couldn’t have even had—”


DAVEY D:  “—four years ago without people people bein’ up in arms.”


DAVEY D:  “There was critique early on with Obama.”


DAVEY D:  “And people were visceral—you know; they were just crushed—”


DAVEY D:  “—because of it.  And, so, here we are.  And, so, two parts to that question.  One, about your initial remarks.”

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  “Right; right.”

DAVEY D:  “And, two, did we have to, as a people, go through the process and see where it would land us—”


DAVEY D:  “—before we could get, maybe, re-centered and say:  You know what?  From now on, we will hold people accountable?


DAVEY D:  “But we gave him a pass because it was the first time it had ever happened?

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  “Yeah.  Of course!  Let’s stop lying!  Of course, we did.  You know.  Emanuel Cleaver—it’s a brilliant point you’re making.  Emanuel Cleaver, who was, then, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus—I’ll take the questions in opposite, uh, in reverse form.  Um, there’s no question.  He said: Look.  I’m supposed to go; I’m supposed to say:  No, we’re not giving this president a pass.  He said: Heck, yeah! We’re givin’ him a pass.  He’ a brother. [chuckles]  He’ the first one.  He said, and I don’t think he needs to compare.  You know?  Jews, Italians, Poles—you know?—he said, they ain’t gon’ be doggin’ they first president.  And we ain’t gon’ do that either.  (c. 14:31)

“So, he said, and the president—this is interesting, he said—knows thatAnd the president knows we ain’t gon’ do so as much ‘cos I don’t care how good you are.  When somebody treatin’ you—like I said, I tried to use as an analogy earlier—when you like him a little bit mo’ than they like you, I don’t care who you are, you got to be Jesus not to exploit that.  (c. 14:47)

“Right?  ‘Cos, then, you know I’m like:  Oh, okay.  [muttering] She like me anyway.  So, I can go on—[audience laughter]—and she’ll still be there.

“Right?  I mean, you know, that’s abusive.  Right?  But that’s what we would be calling it otherwise.  We would call it abusive, abusing charisma for the predicate of exploitation.  (c. 15:06)

So, there’s no question that Obama was getting a pass from us because the dude was under so much pressure.

“And, yes, now let me say this as well.  There were some people who were, early on, criticising.  But they were hatin’, too.  It’s one thing to criticise somebody.  It’s another thing to get personal.

“And I’ve had very well-known disputations—[scant audience laughter]—with people that I feel to this day. [3]  Why do I know that?  ‘Cos they’re bein’ nasty to Hillary [Clinton] right now—the same kind of ad hominem—or, in their case, ad feminem—right?  Ad hominem argument.  You know what an ad hominem argument is.  We arguin’.  And, then, he starts talkin’ about my momma.  Or you throw something petty.  You so stupid.  You so silly.  Stop!  Why don’t we just disagree?

“Can I—can me and Davey D honestly believe two competing ideas without him being lower on the totem pole of humanity or behind it?

“And, so, I’ve got a problem to this day with those who are viciously personal against Obama.”  (c. 16:05)

DAVEY D:  “Let’s go back because I’m talkin’ about before, when he was runnin’.”


DAVEY D:  “And, as he was runnin’, there was critique.  And critique came from the Left.”


DAVEY D:  “You might want to put the name radical—”


DAVEY D:  “—and there were concerns about his policies early on.”


DAVEY D:  “There was concerns about his refusal to really address race.”


DAVEY D:  “And that’s where it came up the most.  And the—”


DAVEY D:  “—initial critique, that they had on Obama was like: What are we getting from him?  Right?”


DAVEY D:  “So, moving aside from the time—”

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  “Okay.  [interrupting]  Let me address that.”

DAVEY D:  “Let’s look at those things.  But you said—and I want to come back—a wink and a nod.”


DAVEY D:  “And many of us took that and was like:  Alright, I’m [playing] chess not checkers.  So, when a critique did come up—”


DAVEY D:  “—shut it down and said:  He’s playing chess, not checkers, brother.”


DAVEY D:  “Just fall back and let him do his thing.”


DAVEY D:  “So, here we are, seven years later.  And, just to give you some statistics, over the last five years, there’s been more than a thousand people shot each year by the police.”

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  “M-hm. [blithely]

DAVEY D:  “Right?  Let’s just think about that.”


DAVEY D:  “Right?  And look at the number of black people, that have been shot.  That’s just one issue.”

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  “M-hm. [blithely]

DAVEY D:  “We won’t talk about the $93 billion dollars, that have left our communities because of foreclosures.”


DAVEY D:  “Right?  Nobody’s going to jail on that.  We give a long list.  So, we—”

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON[cutting in] “Well, I’ve got a lot of ’em in my book.”

DAVEY D:  “Yeah.”

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSONI’ve got a lot of ’em in my book.”

DAVEY D:  “You do?  You mentioned them.”

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  “I break ’em down.”

DAVEY D:  “Yeah.”

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  “Well, let me say this—excellent point.  First of all, Obama’s strategy was what I call in the book strategic inadvertence.  Now, what I mean by that is he doesn’t wanna, specifically, say what he’s doin’.  He wants to give you the product without making the commercial. [chuckles]  You see what I’m sayin’?

“Right?  He don’t want no infomercial ‘cos if he tell the infomercial e’rybody and they momma know what he doin’.  So, his point was: Let me be a little bit mo’—now, how do I know this?  ‘Cos he said it to me—that’s number one—in the White House, in the Roosevelt Room.  This is afterward, though.  Right?  This is afterward, admittedly, but even before I knew what his strategy was.  And he said once, off the record—but I guess it ain’t off the record no mo’—”

DAVEY D:  “Right.”  (c. 17:58)

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  “—’cos Davey D done coaxed it out of me.  [raucous laughter in the distance]  You know what I’m sayin’?  He’s like Oprah up in here. [4]  [laughter in the distance continues]  [Dr. Dyson feigns a distraught voice] Oh, Oprah.  Oh, my god, Davey D.  I’m just tellin’ him everything.  Don’t ask for my bank account number.

“So, we’re in a off-the-record meeting and Obama goes:  You know; you think if I go out here and say black this and black that these white senators are actually going to support what I’m saying?  Now, he might as well be sayin’:  Fool!  [guffaws]  [audience laughter]  I’m not mad.  Right?  And to his face.  The reason I can say what I say in my book is I didn’t lie to him to his face.

“I said:  Mr. President, you believe—and this is what I mean by strategic inadvertence—he believes a rising tide lifts all boats.  He believes:  If I hook everybody up, black people are the most in need.  Therefore, they gon’ get hooked up.   Let’s admit where that worked.

“It worked.  That’s what he did: affordable health care.  (c. 18:48)

“Right?  Now, that’s not a targeted

“And it worked.  That’s what he did in affordable health care.  Right?  Now, that’s not a targeted-to-black people policy.  But did it disproportionately help black people?  Of course.  Right?  Because most of the people, uh, were, percentage-wise, beneath the poverty level—and, those in need of health care—are disproportionately black and brown people.  So, check mark for him.  [5]
“He would also argue, as he did—‘cos I know he did ‘cos I interviewed him—he told me.  [chuckles in delight]  He would argue about the Pell Grants. [6]  He said:  I’ll let you do the math.  Right?  Okay?  He got a little; he got a little funky wit’ it.  [audience laughter]  (c. 19:22)
“I’m talkin’ ’bout he’ tryin’ to show the flavour up in this place.  [laughs]  He said:  I’ll let you do the math about who’s gettin—I did the math.  Of course, black people disproportionately benefited more and so on and so forth.  [SNIP]




Learn more at HARD KNOCK RADIO.

[This transcript will be expanded as time constraints, and/or demand or resources, allow.]


TRUTHDIG—[29 APR 2015]  At the heart of Dyson’s critique is a discourse that engages in character assassination, but not before he makes clear what is really at stake in his attack. Dyson resents West’s critique of Obama’s domestic and foreign policies. But rather than judiciously and analytically weigh such criticisms, hardly confined to West, he positions him as a spurned lover, angry and bitter because, among other things, he did not get a ticket to Obama’s 2008 inauguration.

Dyson expands his critique by claiming that West is not a scholar who has lived up to the standards of decent scholarship, bolstering his case by quoting, among others, Larry Summers, the irrepressible apostle of neoliberalism and unbridled finance capital.

It never occurs to Dyson that Summers’ critique of West may be more political than anything else. In what appears as an act of infantilism, Dyson claims that West is a talker rather than a scholar, as if speaking truth to power does not have its place as a legitimate mode of political intervention, or that the realm of university-based scholarship is the only true space where truth can hold power accountable.

Finally, Dyson decries West for not being a prophet in the manner of Martin Luther King Jr. and others and for not exploring adequately the genealogy of prophecy.

I want to argue that Dyson’s attack should not be seen simply as a personal attack, as much as it is a product of the fear liberal intellectuals have about the role of left-oriented public intellectuals and the crucial role that pedagogy and changing consciousness plays in creating the formative cultures that make individual and collective resistance possible.

West in this attack is simply a stand-in for a range of public intellectuals who no longer believe in existing political formations and are redefining politics through both their words and actions.

Some have complained that there are more important issues to address than criticizing Cornel West, and I partly agree with that, but at the same time, the issue is not whether West should or should not be held up to criticism. The issue is that the criticism in this case is close to worthless and another indication of the bankrupt liberalism that wallows in the irrelevant and personal, and soothes itself with what it thinks is a trenchant analysis, one that in reality reads like an apology for a politics burdened by its bad-faith defense of the status quo.

Talking about West’s personal life is a venture into the kind of spectacularized psychosis exhibited in the “Dr. Phil” show and in full display in the entertainment media.

This isn’t scholarship. On the contrary, as Herbert Marcuse once put it, this is a form of scholarshit. With the recent killing of so many black men by the police, the increasing reach of the punishing state, the militarization of all aspects of society and the cruel attack on social provisions and the welfare state by the financial elite, you would think that Dyson as a black intellectual would use his talents to address a number of serious social problems.

In fact, Dyson’s article is important less because of its focus on Cornel West’s shortcomings, personal and political, however fabricated, than as an exemplar of the crisis facing the work of many prominent intellectuals in the academy who have silenced themselves or lost themselves in the corridors of power, refusing to extend their intellectual capacities to addressing important social issues while defending higher education as a public good and reaffirming the connection between scholarship and social justice.

Political commitment and the work of the public intellectual is difficult, and it takes many forms, from writing books to engaging broader public spheres as a speaker, populist, organizer. West is a powerful and courageous activist and intellectual. Dyson has become a populist in a way that is not free of its own brand of opportunism—power seduces, and Dyson now has to bear that burden. Unfortunately, he does not bear it with dignity in this case.

Whatever Dyson might say about West withers next to the intellectual and moral comatose he displays in this assessment and putrid defense of Obama. He writes: “The odd thing is that Obama talks right—chiding personal irresponsibility in a way that presumes the pathology of many black families and neighbourhoods—but veers left in his public policy.”

This is more than a form of a moral and political self-sabotage: It is a descent into the dark cave of oppressive ideology. Tell that to the parents of the children killed by drones, to the whistleblowers put in prison, to people harassed by the surveillance state put in place under Obama, or to the endless number of immigrants exported and jailed under his administration. Maybe we should also include his tolerance for the crimes of bankers and torturers and his intolerance for the children and others who live close to or below the poverty line.

Learn more at TRUTHDIG.


[1]  Also see:

  • “Dissent Grows Against Indefinite Detention Law NDAA” by Oskar Mosco, MediaRoots.org, 19 AUG 2012.
  • “Post Mortem: Media Roots vs. Rolling Stone vs. Obama” by Robbie Martin and Felipe Messina, MediaRoots.org, 2 MAY 2012.
  • “Occupy Movement Repression Bears Federal Footprints” by Felipe Messina, MediaRoots.org, 20 NOV 2011.
  • “Meet Jim Messina, Obama’s ‘Enforce’ Against Progressives”, 1 APR 2011.

[2]  Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Hard Knock Radio, hosted by Davey D, Thursday, 16 MAY 2016, 16:00 PDT, one hour broadcast.

[3]  For example, see the following resources:

  • Michael Eric Dyson-Cornel West Squabble: Nothing New to See Here“, by Elwood D. Watson, Huffington Post, 27 JUN 2015.
  • EXCLUSIVE: Cornel West responds to Michael Eric Dyson” by Laura Flanders, The Laura Flanders Show, 28 MAY 2015:

  • Michael Eric Dyson vs. Cornel West“, by George E. Curry, The Philadelphia Tribune, 1 MAY 2015.
  • Perils of the Public Intellectual: Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson’s Attack on Cornel West“, by Dr. Henry A. Giroux (for Counterpunch), Truthdig, 29 APR 2015.
  • What’s Behind Michael Dyson’s Over-the-Top Takedown of Cornel West?  Hoping to salvage Obama’s legacy and his own reputation, Michael Eric Dyson is lashing out at their most relentless African-American critic.” by Max Blumenthal, 24 APR 2016.
  • Why They Hate Cornel West: Michael Eric Dyson’s attack on Cornel West signals the bankruptcy of the black political class, by Glen Ford, Jacobin, 24 APR 2015.
  • Michael Eric Dyson Tells The Root About His Split With Mentor Cornel West: Dyson talks with The Root about the end of a friendship and how the brilliant West is stymied by a bitterness his peers do not understand”, by Danielle C. Belton, The Root, 20 APR 2015.
  • Cornel West Is Not Mike Tyson” by Dave Zirin, 20 APR 2015.
  • Michael Eric Dyson Slams Cornel West At NAN Convention: ‘You Ain’t That Important’, by News One Staff, NewsOne, MAY 2014.
  • Michael Eric Dyson to Obama: ‘You’ve Got to Be More Like Bush’ The scholar and pundit gets real with the president.” by Nsenga Burton, The Root, 3 NOV 2010.

[4]  Of course, the bigger problem here is two-fold.  First, many people have expressed complaints regarding Obama’s Affordable Health Care programme because it turns out that it is not so affordable for many people after all.  And, second, the bigger problem originates from the fact that so many people live beneath the poverty level, as Dr. Dyson glossed over.  And, worst of all, many people need not live in poverty, if politicians simply learn from Bernie Sanders’ chief economist, Dr. Stephanie Kelton (University of Missouri-Kansas City).  (And this also applies to Bernie Sanders, himself, because he has yet to inform the people about the economic policy tools available to us in a modern economy with modern money and a sovereign monetary system.)  In a nutshell, being a sovereign currency issuer, the USA can afford to spend its own currency for public purpose, such as a federal job guarantee programme capable of giving anybody willing and able to work a job.  This economic theory comes from heterodox economics theory, particularly the branch of economics known as modern money theory or modern monetary theory (MMT).

[5]  Yes, Obama can boast about providing Pell Grants.  But, perhaps, he may need to feel ashamed, instead, as he likely is aware of MMT (modern money theory), which shows that, actually, the USA can afford to provide free of charge cradle-to-grave education for its people.


[3 JUN 2016]

[Last modified  23:28 PDT  5 JUN 2016]