Entertaining race Performing Blackness in America

Michael Eric Dyson

Book - 2021

"For more than thirty years, Michael Eric Dyson has played a prominent role in the nation as a public intellectual, university professor, cultural critic, social activist and ordained Baptist minister. He has presented a rich and resourceful set of ideas about American history and culture. Now for the first time he brings together the various components of his multihued identity and eclectic pursuits. Entertaining Race is a testament to Dyson's consistent celebration of the outsized impact of African American culture and politics on this country. Black people were forced to entertain white people in slavery, have been forced to entertain the idea of race from the start, and must find entertaining ways to make race an object of nat...ional conversation. Dyson's career embodies these and other ways of performing Blackness, and in these pages, ranging from 1991 to the present, he entertains race with his pen, voice and body, and occasionally, alongside luminaries like Cornel West, David Blight, Ibram X. Kendi, Master P, MC Lyte, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alicia Garza, John McWhorter, and Jordan Peterson. Most of this work will be new to readers, a fresh light for many of his long-time fans and an inspiring introduction for newcomers. Entertaining Race offers a compelling vision from the mind and heart of one of America's most important and enduring voices"--

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New York : St. Martin's Press 2021.
Main Author
Michael Eric Dyson (author)
First edition
Physical Description
x, 530 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction: Command performance
  • The arts. I love music: on the concert stage ; Do you see what I see?: in the photograph ; Act like you know: in the theater ; Represent: on the silver screen
  • Religion. Holy hallways: in divinity school ; Do you hear what I hear?: God in the public square ; I love to tell the story: in the pulpit ; Eulogizing ancestors: in the grieving sanctuary
  • Bodies in motion. Balling out: in the arena ; To live up to their own constitution: in politics ; Cooler than the other side of the pillow: in Black masculine style
  • The life of the mind. Class notes: at the lectern ; Think about it: in the study
  • Talk back. Tete-a-tete: in conversatin with the younger generation ; Battling brains: on the debate state
  • Publics. The right address: speeches on the public state ; The right of the people peaceably to assembly: protest orations ; Read the papers!: opinion pages ; Graduated tax: on the commencement stage.
Review by Booklist Review

Spanning three decades, this new collection by celebrated scholar, minister, public intellectual, and prolific writer Dyson is a holistic look into his commentary on Black culture, entertainment, and politics in America and beyond. The introduction details a harrowing account of the murder of an enslaved girl by a ship's captain for refusing to participate in the entertainment of her captors (and his subsequent acquittal). Dyson presents this as an illustration of the "imprint of these struggles and tensions" on present-day Black performance. What follows is an excellent set of ruminations that examine the resulting pressures and scrutiny of Black entertainment, honor the endurance and beauty of Black artistry, and reach into political history and analysis. Whether considering Leonard Freed's "portraits of social possibility" or expounding on the importance of academics connecting with popular culture, Dyson's essays and writings address a rich assortment of thought-provoking topics. Separated into sections covering such areas as the arts, religion, notable public speeches, academics, and many more, this volume offers an expansive and accessible overview of the inquiries of an important social and cultural thinker.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Cultural commentator Dyson (Long Time Coming) analyzes "the terms of Black performance" in this wide-ranging and artfully conceived collection of essays, speeches, and interviews. Eloquently illustrating how "Black folk didn't just express the pain and suffering of Blackness, they also gave voice to inexplicable joy and defiant victory," Dyson examines the careers and cultural significance of entertainers including Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Nas, and the Isley Brothers. Elsewhere, Dyson poignantly reflects on the "intertwined pandemics" of Covid-19 and systemic racism: "From the start of our forced intimacy with North America, Black folk have been trying to breathe air that is free of the pollution of captivity, of coerced transport, of enslavement, of white supremacy, of social inequality and perennial second-class citizenship." Other pieces include a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates that touches on atheism, white supremacy, and James Baldwin; a speech praising Nikole Hannah-Jones and her 1619 Project; and a forceful call for America to apply to Black reparations "the same ingenuity it used to fashion restrictions and limitations on Black life in chattel slavery and Jim Crow." Throughout, Dyson maintains a firm grip on the cultural moment and offers razor-sharp insights into American history, politics, and art. This is a feast of insights. (Nov.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Cultural critic/public intellectual Dyson, author of the New York Times best-selling Tears We Cannot Stop, demonstrates the enormous impact of Black culture and politics throughout America history by deploying the various meanings of the word entertain. Black people were once compelled to entertain white people in slavery and must continue to find ways to make the discussion of race entertaining today; from America's earliest days, Black people have had to entertain the very idea of race. Dyson sums up issues he has considered throughout his career while providing fresh insight. With a 200,000-copy first printing.

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Theologian and public intellectual Dyson turns a gimlet eye on the stereotypes and authentic expressions of Black self-presentation. The author begins on a disturbing note: A young Black girl on a slave ship is lashed to death because she refuses to dance for the crew. Since that day in 1792 and well before, Black men, women, and children have been bidden to perform. "Black folk only exist," writes Dyson, "when they are forced to adopt a narrow philosophy of life that is part Descartes, part Nas: Ut praestare, ergo sum, I perform, therefore I am." Some artists perform more or less on their own terms, as in the case of Prince. Some do so by following strange self-erasing paths, as in the case of Michael Jackson, whom Dyson likens to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Benjamin Button. As for Beyoncé, "the greatest entertainer in the world," the author seems to locate her somewhere in the middle. Given the absence of both Prince and Jackson, "Beyoncé now reigns supreme, alone, atop a kingdom of performance that she inherited from a Prince and a King but which she has made even greater." Dyson writes with a broad, well-learned view of Black history, drawing on the brilliant career of Kobe Bryant here and the sad death of George Floyd there to discuss representations of Black life in American culture, which, he writes, illustrate the words of a Baptist hymn often heard in his church: "Nobody told me that the road would be easy." He is forgiving of certain aspects of White myopia, but he is a sharp critic, as when he assails Barack Obama for having not played the race card enough: "if whites won't remind him that he's Black, then he won't remind them that they're white." As for that uneasy road? In a stirring conclusion, Dyson urges that we all follow it to fulfill the grand, incomplete promise of America. A thoughtful, elegantly argued contribution to the literature of Black lives in America. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.