Long Time Coming
A lot of Michael Eric Dyson books are generally the same, with updated topics and examples. That’s not exactly true, as sometimes he focuses on figures like Tupac, Martin Luther King, or Jay-Z in order to talk about broader issues or to focus on a very specific issue. In this book, it’s more like his other common type of writing like in Race Rules or Tears We Cannot Stop, which are almost jeremiads about contemporary topics. What’s interesting about reading the older books is to see both the evolution of the topics surrounding race in America, but also to see the evolution of Dyson as a writer and a thinker.
This book is specifically positioned after the 2020 election and spends a lot of time with the pandemic, the mass protests of summer 2020, the Trump presidency and other similar topics. There’s an interesting conversation about “cancel culture” which Dyson links specifically to white supremacy and the tools of suppression that have cancelled Black people in the past (whether literally through murder or more “cancel culture”ly like Colin Kaepernick. It’s interesting, but like all other conversations about cancel culture the free-floating nature of the definition leads to unclear meaning at times.
The structure of the book is in the form of long letters to figures like George Floyd and Emmet Till, but used to discuss contemporary events. The sadness of these letters is in the sense of continuity of the topics they cover. There’s a suggestion here that the methods change, but the ideas stay the same.
A very different kind of Michael Eric Dyson book in that it’s a history book more than analysis. That’s not to say that many of his other books have not indeed been histories, but the focus is a lot more analytical, Here’s a long history of important moments in race relations, with a moment tied to a contemporary event as well. This links the present with the future. It’s also important because if you’re talking about the Tulsa Race riot for example where white people killed dozens or hundreds of Black citizens in Tulsa while also burning Black businesses, it’s easy to feel that is a product of a different past. But if you connect that to more recent examples where the death toll might be lower, but the effect is often the same, it becomes clearer that whiteness protects whiteness with whatever tools are available to it at the time. One of the reasons things seem a lot better now is that in part, things are, but also that same kinds of racist actions happen in different ways, often more out of sight or in coded language. It’s one of the shocking things about contemporary politics, not that it involves a whole lot of racism, but that racism is liminal again in a way we’re less used to, but also that there’s more public pushback. This is a book for a broad audience, which is what Dyson excels at, explaining complex things in clear ways.