Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, has been described as both "a Princeton PhD and a child of the streets" who grew up in Detroit. He is an admitted welfare dad who never started college until he was 21. Since that time, he has authored 18 books and is one of the talking heads sometimes seen on cable TV or heard on NPR, discussing race relations.
According to Dyson, the civil rights movement is nothing less than the complete fulfillment of the social contract articulated by Thomas Jefferson at the founding of our nation. The immortal declaration that "all men are created equal."
He reminded the audience that it is really not all that long ago that blacks were required to drink out of separate water fountins, sit at the rear of buses and were denied access to places like Disneyworld. He noted his own experience as a child, being denied service at a restaurant because he's black.
"What's a n-----, momma?" he asked, never having heard that word before. "Just you don't tell your daddy," she warned him.
Those days are over, but because we live in what Gore Vidal has called the United States of Amnesia, we quickly forget these indignities. He noted it is "not truly American to hold people hostage to their racial identities."
Today, Dyson explained, there is some evidence that the country is actually moving backwards. The Supreme Court has nullified a core provision of the Voting Rights Act, ending nearly 50 years of U.S.oversight of elections in much of the South. And Dyson insists that black people are "precriminalized" in the minds of both black and white police officers.
"Black people don't hate the police," he stated. "They just don't want the police to mistake us for the criminal."
Though he generally supports President Obama, the nation's first black president, he had some criticism for him, too. "Obama can't act as black in public as Bill Clinton does. He can't play the sax or start rappin' on Ellen's show." He complained that, all too often, Obama acts as though his mission is "to control the Negro madness." Dyson believes this is just as ridiculous as when Obama complained about Pennsylvania voters who "cling" to their guns and religion. In many ways, Obama has continued to reinforce a view of white superiority.
Dysin suggests hip hop as a way of understanding what it is like to be born black and disadvantaged. He calls Tupac Shakur, a black rapper gunned down in a 1996 drive-by shooting, the "Truman Capote of the hood," a genius whose lyrics graphically described life in the ghetto.
Not to disrespect my peoples but my poppa was a loser
Only plan he had for momma was to fuck her and abuse her
Even as a little seed, I could see his plan for me
Stranded on welfare, another broken family
Now what was I to be, a product of this heated passion
Momma got pregnant, and poppa got a piece of ass
Look how it began, nobody gave a fuck about me
Pistol in my hand, this cruel world can do without me
How can I survive? Got me asking white Jesus
will a nigga live or die, 'cause the Lord can't see us
in the deep dark clouds of the projects, ain't no sunshine
No sunny days and we only play sometimes
When everybody's sleeping