This book does the other thing that I think he’s quite successful at, using some kind of centralized example, figure, moment, etc in order to speak to larger issues, and by usually moving away from more recent events, where the truth might still be unknown, hot takes abound, and which, sadly, are under the process of being “explained away” he does the reverse of “current events” books. He shows how a current state of events is part of a much longer process and series of episodes.
He takes here a meeting among Black artists, activists, and cultural thought leaders (as opposed to more “professional” activists ie, no Martin Luther King) and Robert Kennedy, when he was figuring out next steps after being Attorney General. This meeting included Harry Belafonte, James, Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, among others. The meeting was not “productive” in the sense of figuring out answers to questions, but in the sense of showing RFK the seriousness and depth of the pain, and how wanting the federal government’s response had been in the realm of civil rights and civil rights legislation, and how the slowplaying that Kennedy administration hadn’t won the support they were looking for in the white populations, and yet still cost them.
So RFK listened, then got mad, then stayed mad, and then slowly came to understand what had happened. The meeting involved bearing witness and not practical solutions, but he needed to know more before he could do more, especially in his future roles as Senator, and possible President.
So this meeting then becomes the core of this book, and this bearing of witness, even when frustrating, must be part of the conversations about race in this country. The book is small in focus and in length, but Eric Michael Dyson just always comes equipped (at least for me) to take the clearest and most reasonable understanding of a moment, and really get to the heart of things.
I think his stance of “I don’t have to like it, but…” is a much more honest and reasonable reaction to things he doesn’t necessarily agree with among people he ostensibly agrees with, and it’s something very very very lacking in non-Republican circles.