Every now and then, I post podcast episodes I liken to a series of brainstorming sessions. In early-Feb, I caught up with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson to talk about his book, “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America.” Dyson harshly criticizes the president for his tepid responses to issues specifically affecting Black America. In this clip from his talk at a Chicago Humanities event promoting the book, moderator Laura Washington asks what citizens can do to bring about solutions. Before laying out three suggestions, Dyson admonishes the president for his resounding silence on the killing of Laquan McDonald.
It’s a theme he revisits in the book noting the rare occasions President Obama speaks candidly about race and examining the backlash he receives when he does (think Henry Louis Gates arrest and “Trayvon could have been me” comments). After the talk, I heard from an elderly woman who found the critique of the President disrespectful. She marched with Dr. King. She never thought she’d see an African American president and the last thing she wanted to hear from another Black intellectual was a brutal attack on his record. However, what might have been lost in Dyson’s rhetoric at speaking enagagements might be found in the book. The text is a bit more forgiving. “The Black Presidency” empathizes with a leader who has faced unprecedented obstructionism on one end and extremely high expectations on the other. Dyson believes Obama will be considered one of this country’s greatest presidents but not because of his record on race relations.
Around the 12 minute mark, the conversation shifts to hip hop and its place in politics and social commentary. Along that vein, Dyson made mention of the viral video of Chicago emcees Freddie Old Soul, J Bambii, Brittney, EssieL, Syd Shaw, and Bella Bahhs and their Set It Off Cypher. I saw him tweeting about the freestlye and I had to find a way to work that energy into the conversation. I’ve had the pleasure of bumping into some of these sisters at one point or another at The Artist Lounge or other shows across the city. There’s that sense of hometown pride you get when you see that other people appreciate the artists you admire. Check out the video that caught his attention.