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Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

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Short, emotional, literary, powerful―Tears We Cannot Stop is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.

As the country grapples with racist division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man's voice soars above the rest with conviction and compassion. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed piece "Death in Black and White," Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot Stop―a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted.

The time is at hand for reckoning with the past, recognizing the truth of the present, and moving together to redeem the nation for our future. If we don't act now, if you don't address race immediately, there very well may be no future.

228 pages, Hardcover

First published January 17, 2017

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About the author

Michael Eric Dyson

61 books1,097 followers
Michael Eric Dyson is an American academic, author, and radio host. He is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,540 reviews
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,652 followers
August 14, 2017
I chose to read this book the day after a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one person and injuring more than 30 others.

Michael Eric Dyson's book, subtitled "A Sermon to White America," is exactly the kind of book that I wish the alt-right and white supremacists would read. Dyson, who is a sociology professor and an ordained minister, shares his experience of being black in America, and his thoughts on the election of Donald J. Trump as U.S. president.

The book, which was published in January 2017, is structured as a sermon, using soaring rhetoric and referring to his readers as beloved. The book is compact but powerful. I read this in one sitting, and at turns it made me sad, angry and frustrated, but also hopeful that the race situation in America can improve. Our country has been making progress in equality with every generation — and we need to continue to strive, despite DJT's demagoguery.

I would highly recommend this book, along with "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates and "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson.

Personal Note:
I am heartbroken over this latest hate crime. I am heartbroken with every incident of police brutality against black people. I am heartbroken every time I read about the scores of injustices done against anyone who was born with a skin color that isn't white, or a religion that isn't "socially approved." But when I start to feel despair, I remember that I am not alone in wanting to help. I remember that I am a librarian and an educator. In my own small way, I try to make a positive difference by reading and recommending books that promote empathy and understanding. If you have read this far, it probably means you also want to help, and I nod to you in peaceful solidarity.

Opening Passage
"America is in trouble, and a lot of trouble — perhaps most of it — has to do with race. Everywhere we turn, there is discord and division, death and destruction. When we survey the land, we see a country full of suffering that we cannot fully understand, and a history that we can no longer deny. Slavery casts a long shadow across our lives. The spoils we reaped from forcing people to work without wages and treating them with grievous inhumanity continue to haunt us in a racial gulf that seems impossible to overcome. Black and white people don't merely have different experiences; we seem to occupy different universes, with worldviews that are fatally opposed to one another. The merchants of racial despair easily peddle their wares in a marketplace riddled by white panic and fear. Black despair piles up with each body that gets snuffed on video and streamed on social media. We have, in the span of a few years, elected the nation's first black president and placed in the Oval Office the scariest racial demagogue in a generation. The two may not be unrelated. The remarkable progress we seemed to make with the former has brought out the peril of the latter."
Profile Image for Brown Girl Reading.
349 reviews1,590 followers
February 7, 2017
The inauguration of the newly elected president of America is upon us. Racism has shown to be very alive and well in the United States, contrary to popular belief. People are all questioning how we could go from President Barak Obama to what was elected on November 7, 2016. Deep down I think we all know why and aren’t really surprised, but in essence most of us don’t want to admit what the problem really is.... https://browngirlreading.com/2017/01/...
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
February 27, 2017
I never took the time to read or listen to Michael Eric Dyson before. He became an ordained Baptist minister at nineteen, so for very nearly forty years now he’s been using words to educate and persuade. He’s very good at it. He teaches now at Georgetown University, but he has taught at many major universities around the country. He doesn’t sound like an academic; his language is salty, strong. It appears that in addition to teaching, he consults for MSNBC, has a podcast, lectures at other universities, and has been publishing lectures and books for at least ten years.

White people may not see race because they were the dominant race & their view became normalized. This is not news. White culture was the norm. We didn’t feel the need to think or talk about race. Now we do. Dyson obliges by telling us what it is like growing up in America as a black man. He assures us neither he nor his black family are more exceptional than any other black family: “it can happen to any of us; it can happen to all of us.”

Dyson explains that a sermon was the only way he could get across the information he wants to convey in this book. The sermon is not scholarly, but in vernacular. It is filled with anecdote either he or members of his family experienced. He clearly feels white folk have some things about their behaviors or their compassion to consider in the context of God, goodness, and fairness. He has a tendency to insist on superlatives and opinion (e.g., Beyoncé & MLKing are the best…ever) when his opinions on these gradations of excellence don't matter. But the bigger issues he addresses are really critical to our understanding of race and the functioning of our democracy.

“Whiteness has privilege and power connected to it, no matter how poor you are.” Dyson explicitly addresses the objections some white ethnics may have about their experience with discrimination being similar to those of blacks. It is not so, he says, gives many examples of how it is not so. I agree with him that white people are not going to have as hard a time of it as people of color. It has nothing to do with culture. If we do not see this yet, we need to pay more attention.

In 1995 O.J. Simpson was acquitted when he was tried for murder. Many white folk didn’t understand why some black people were pleased that Simpson got off, given that he was clearly guilty. But that trial came a year or so after the trial of the police acquitted after the beating of Rodney King. Dyson takes a stab at explaining the thinking on both sides of the color line at that time. All this was twenty years ago and Dyson argues that white ignorance and police brutality is still happening. He is full of righteous anger when he says whiteness is a privilege and a shield…and an addiction. Sure it is.

Dyson is blunt, and he doesn’t let up after this point. All he things he has seen that need attention are laid on the table. There is more than enough here to make anyone feel full…even overwhelmed. But he has some stake in making us understand the urgency here: it is his kids and grandkids that are in danger every day. He talks at length about the terror black people feel when police become involved. This is an important discussion for white folks to internalize.

Discussion around criminality takes up most of the final third of this work. Dyson does not try to avoid difficult questions about policing, black-on-black crime, and incarceration. He wants this conversation and will provoke many listeners and readers to face their fear and their anger. Dyson asks why social engineers blast black communities for growing the seeds of their own destruction, when the same questions were not asked when crime was a problem when ghettos were filled with Irish, Italians, or Jews. This is worthwhile.

Here is a link to 45-minute WBUR Boston radio show where Michael Eric Dyson discusses the subjects in his book, but adds a few more topics, expanding his themes in response to an interviewer’s questions. Interesting.

I listened to the audio production of this, read by the author and produced by Macmillan Audio (link to clip on my blog). Dyson talks fast, but clearly, and firmly. One can’t mistake what he is saying: white America needs to study and imagine what it is like to be black if we want to begin to understand, begin to heal the racial divide. We may not like all the things Dyson says and yet we can still agree with him about the “plague of white innocence.” No more saying we didn’t know. He's telling it. It feels urgent.
Profile Image for Reid.
895 reviews60 followers
February 6, 2017
Let me acknowledge from the very beginning that, as a white man, any criticism I offer of this book may well be considered suspect. I do not offer this observation as a complaint, merely as a premise. Though couched in terms (and a subtitle) implying a dialogue with white America, Tears We Cannot Stop isn't really anything of the sort, and my role here (the author seems to imply) is for me to simply receive his truth and shut up. Which I am manifestly declining to do.

Allow me also to stipulate, however, that I believe the moral center of this book to be entirely sound. Whiteness confers an inherent advantage to its possessor. Choose any metric you like: we are more likely to be encouraged in school, more likely to be called on in class, to be pushed to go into the sciences and math, to be offered scholarships and admission to prestigious institutions (which confer, of course, lifetime privileges), more likely to have our cancer diagnosed early enough for effective treatment, to be prescribed life-saving and life-lengthening medications and narcotics for our pain. We are likely to be preferred for jobs and promotions. We are less likely to be harassed by the police, less likely to be pulled over to begin with, less likely to be killed by them, less likely to live in poverty, to raise our children in poverty, less likely to be followed when we go into stores. We are not at all likely to have to think about the color of our skin when walking into a restaurant, bar, public building or restroom and wonder if it will cause offense. We are highly unlikely to think of our skin color at all, and when given a fleeting thought, will consider it "normal". Even when we don't consciously assume this we will do so, because whiteness has been normalized in the Western world, particularly in America, and anything other than whiteness is The Other.

So stipulated.

My argument, then, is not with the content of this morally important book, but with the tone Dr. Dyson chooses to communicate his arguments and the faulty assumptions behind them. He chooses here to engage in an egregious form of "blacksplaining", to cast all us pale people into one big mass and excoriate us. And, yes, I know that here he would insert a comment about my "white fragility", how my sensitive little white ego can't take a little criticism. And while he is at it, he would (and does in this book) vilify any black person who takes exception to his rhetoric as an assimilated apologist for whiteness. You see the neat rhetorical trick here? Because he has delegitimized all of his critics with a stroke of the pen, the only possible conclusion is that he is right and we are wrong. Except he isn't and we aren't.

One of the more infuriating choices he makes is to preach his sermon to an overarching You which he uses to represent all whites, regardless of predilection or attitude. This is convenient, because he can then dump his hatred of whiteness as a construct on all persons of that color. If I were to point out that assuming one knows the character, beliefs, understandings, thoughts, dreams, and aspirations of a group of people based on the color of their skin is plain and simple bigotry, I am sure he would invoke his right to such prejudice on the basis of historical grievance. Well, allow me to also stipulate, then, that he has such a right. From the time the first white man placed hands on the first black man to make of him a slave up to the moment we elected a vile racist and a white supremacist cabal to the highest office in the (putatively) most powerful country in the world, he has earned the right to an inexhaustible supply of grievance. And he certainly avails himself of a truckload here. No, it is not his right to such argument from generality to which I take exception. Rather, it is because I find it to be intellectually dishonest and ideologically suspect.

As for the latter, let me explain what I mean a bit more thoroughly. The fact is that white people in the United States run the gamut from committed allies of the cause of complete equality and elimination of all bigotry to the stone cold racist. And among white people, who of them are likely to read this book? Naturally, those who are much closer to the former than the latter. Because what Dr. Dyson seems to want to do throughout most of this book is provoke a feeling of shame in his white readers, his ability to influence those allies to take positive action is undermined. Shame is not a reliable motivator to any positive action or change (as any parenting manual will tell you). Responsibility, regret, remorse, yes, but not shame.

As to the intellectual dishonesty: it is my conclusion that this is not a sermon to White America at all. Rather, it is an attempt by Dr. Dyson to establish his bona fides with his fellow black intellectuals, to demonstrate that he is neither placatory nor assimilated, despite his Ivy League pedigree and light skin color (which he brings up with revelatory frequency). He is attempting, it seems to me, to demonstrate his toughness. It is not his intent to bring about a change in those of us who most need to hear his message. It is not pitched to our ears to begin with.

Which is a shame, because this book is a moral triumph in many ways. To the extent I can, I understand and share his anger. But to have written a moderate, temperate book with the intent to bring about the education and activation of the white intellect and soul would have been much more useful and welcomed. I know of few persons writing today who have the moral authority combined with erudition, intellect, learning, and dedication he displays. I would wish for nothing more than that he might write that book some day.

Let me not leave this review, though, without praising the last few chapters. The Benediction section, in particular, is an instructive and useful syllabus of reading one could undertake to better understand the black experience and what has and can be done to change the ingrained bigotry of our institutions and thought processes. The section that follows, on reparations, is a valuable and insightful essay on the need for making restitution for the sins, past and present, visited on people of color. Most of his ideas are practical and can be undertaken by any one of us with immediate effect. That some of these are not so practical (a lawyer or accountant that took an extra fee for being black would be, I am fairly sure, in violation of the ethical constraints of their profession; some of the other extra payment ideas would almost certainly lead to accusations of condescension) should not detract from their essential soundness. In particular, let me say that I believe, as Dr. Dyson does, that affirmative action still has a place in our society. Whiteness confers a great deal of privilege, and to tip the scales a bit the other way is to acknowledge the advantages of whiteness and the disadvantages of a different skin color.

In the end, for all of my annoyance with the choices made and the motives for it, I thought this a very good book, tinged with greatness. Perhaps now that he has gotten this out of his system, he can set about creating something with the potential to bring about the change he wants to see in the world. I share his aspiration, and would love to share a movement with him, too.
Profile Image for Monica.
592 reviews621 followers
September 29, 2019
Michael Eric Dyson makes an impassioned plea for America to wake up, fess up, own up to the systemic racism that has existed since the original sin of slavery. Dyson uses both history and personal anecdotes to support the concept that white privilege and white denial are the primary forces that propel racism in America. This appears to be one of the first published books since the 2016 election that basically points to the results as exhibit A of the fact that America is foundationally a racially fragile nation with a significant amount of the voting population dedicated to at best of preserving white privilege and at worst are racially motivated. Among the most powerful observations on display is that America's view of "patriotism" is fundamentally racially biased (obvious: immigration actions, kneeling at football games, unarmed black males disproportionately killed by cops, voting rights, criminal justice system etc). America doesn't know nor does it want to know its history and all of this leads to its complicity in strengthening an unjust and unfair and biased system based upon skin color, religion and ethnicity. Dyson also believes that America in general knows it has a system that upholds white privilege but pretends not to know, so that it can be maintained. He premises that the notion of "color blindness" is immature and lazy as it attempts to absolve people from recognizing and dealing with the chronic and long term systemic inequities due to race and their own role in sustaining it. He pleads for people to assess the police slaying of unarmed black men seriously and stop pretending that black-on-black crime absolves the police from murder in numbers disparate to any other group. He encourages that even the most open minded, self-aware denizens examine their own lives and actions and note how they help to sustain and preserve a system of privilege for some. Dyson does all of this within the framework and format of a sermon. Dyson is a pastor as well as an academic. It's effective. Especially if one is given to Christian teachings. He was thoughtful, logical and compassionate. This was not an indictment, but a request that America and it's systems stop trying to gaslight (my term not his) themselves, people of color and "others". He weaved current events along with some biographical anecdotes. Though more emotional screed than a dissertation; Dyson backs up his assertions with evidence that is very convincing. I found this book a cathartic, smart, well considered, earnest and intentional. A constructive and impressive plea for folks to pay attention. I enjoyed it way more than I expected (though personally I did find the sermon a bit gimmicky, but then I'm not particularly religious).

4+ Stars

Listened to the audio book. Michael Eric Dyson read his book. No he doesn't have a future in audio book narration for anything but his own books; however, I felt like he and I were in a conversation. I think that is how he intended it. It was well done.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,887 reviews1,924 followers
November 4, 2017

#ReadingIsResistance to institutional racism's costs in a sermon aimed at those it benefits. My review is live today.

Michael Eric Dyson pens a heartfelt, stern, anguished plea for white Americans to examine their passive complicity in a zero-sum spoils system that perpetuates injustice. St. Martin's Press does us all a service by publishing it at this point in time.

This is Black History Month. It never hurts to be reminded that Black Lives Matter.
Profile Image for shakespeareandspice.
342 reviews535 followers
February 14, 2017
“My friends, I know reading this frightens many of you. It may even anger you. Please bear with me. Until you make whiteness give up its secrets none of us will get very far.”

I listened to this book via audio so apologies if I misquote a bit in the review. I tried to type the words as accurately as I listened.

Tears We Cannot Stop is a very loud book. If you find yourself put off by anger in politics (which is absurd in itself but whatever, I don’t have time for polite people anymore), then do not go anywhere near this book. It is also brutally honest and can slice you into bits and pieces. Which is exactly why I loved listening it. I never thought a book written in the form of a sermon would actually hold the power to move me to tears.

As I read more nonfiction about race relationships, I find myself amazed that despite the similarity of the conversation, each account continuously adds more to the argument and keeps me wanting more. After reading The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race the week before this, I didn’t have too many expectations out of this book but honestly, it blew me away. I wish I’d kept better notes to really dig into this review but alas, we all make mistakes.

I typed out some of the best quotes I’d heard while listening:
“We have made it clear, well, at least most of us, that we find it unacceptable for white folk to say it under any conditions. But despite all your effort and care, the word is still out there, still wreaking havoc, even when it’s not being spoken. Nigger condenses the history of hate and the culture of violence against black folk. When white folk say the word they bridge the gap between themselves and the hateful history it reflects. It links verbal and physical violence. The term is also a form of moral violence. It has to do with the intentions of white folk when they hurl that word in our presence. … Nigger says lynching, castration, rape, rioting, intellectual inferiority, Jim Crow, second-class citizenship, bad schools, poor neighborhoods, police brutality, racial terror, mass incarceration, and more.”

“You don’t get whiteness from your genes. It is a social inheritance that is passed on to you as a member of a particular group. And it’s killing us, and, quiet as it’s kept, it’s killing you too.”

“It is hard for you to give up this willful ignorance. It is a drug. It is privilege and addiction. Your whiteness is a shield that keeps you from knowing what Black folk must always know. Not until the Simpson verdict did many of you claim that you were finally awakened to what Black folk had to know every day. But if so, you went back to sleep pretty damn quickly.”

“The ventriloquist effect of whiteness has worked brilliantly. Black mouths moving, white ideas flowing. What your vast incuriosity about Black life keeps you from knowing, and this is heartbreaking to admit, is that we Black folk often see ourselves the same way you see us. Sometimes we view our own culture, our traits and habits, through the distorted lens of white condescension or hatred. Often we make other vulnerable black folk in our midst the nigger you’ve made us all out to be.”

These are an accurate representation of what this book can offer you so if you liked any of the things said above, grab this book and get reading.

Dyson is sharing his personal life while also tackling the broader subjects of white blindness, whitewashing, Black culture, #BlackLivesMatter, and of course, Donald Trump. Because how did we get from Barack Obama to Trump? An explanation every person of color who has experienced racism probably knows is exactly what Dyson states,
An even greater fear lurks barely beneath the surface. What horrifies many of you is that America at its root has been in part made by Blackness. God forbid but it may in part be Black. Slavery made America a slave to Black history. As much as white America invented us, the nation can never be free of us now. America doesn’t even exist without us. That’s why Barack Obama was so offensive and so scary to white America. America shudders and says to itself: The president’s supposed to be us, not them. In that light, Donald Trump’s victory was hardly surprising.

I’d also like to add that Dyson’s discourse on America’s political culture is a contemporary one, and if you’re not up to American politics or know a bit of African American history, there might be instances where you’ll get a bit lost. Names such as Malcom X, Bill O’Reilly, Toni Morrison, Rudy Giuliani, etc. remain relevant to the conversations in this book so I’d familiarize myself with a bit of American culture before reading.

I end the review with another quote (I can seriously listen to this man all day):
“Beloved, the deed has been done. We have—since that “we” must contain, by virtue of our system of government, if not the will, then at least the implied consent, of even the people who opposed with all their souls the choice you made—elected Donald J. Trump as president of the United States of America. Please take measure of every phrase in that sentence. Donald J. Trump, the man who unjustly called into question the citizenship of Barack Obama, our first Black president. The man who gave consolation to a gnarled federation of bigots. The man who lent his considerable indignity to berating Muslims, Mexicans, Black folk, the other-abled, women, and so many other vulnerable populations. This man has now become the world’s most powerful man because he is president of the United States of America—the most powerful nation in history. For millions this is nothing short of a nightmare, or perhaps more accurately, a whitemare.”
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,536 reviews9,776 followers
July 17, 2022

From the synopsis:

'Short, emotional, literary, powerful―Tears We Cannot Stop is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.'

There are innumerable passages within this insightful and thought-provoking work by Michael Eric Dyson that I could quote here, but I'm not going to do that. I want you to read it for yourself.

The audiobook, narrated by the author, is just over 5-hours and in my opinion, is the most impactful way to read this. His gift in oration brings such fire and heart to the message, it is not to be missed.

Five hours out of your life.

Open your ears, open your mind, open your heart. Just listen. Don't argue, nit-pick, 'yeah, but' your way through this.

Profile Image for Cynthia Dunn.
164 reviews111 followers
February 21, 2017
Unfortunately, this book will never be read by the people who need to read it and would benefit by it. I'm afraid that Dr. Dyson is preaching to the choir.
Profile Image for Jessica Sullivan.
518 reviews428 followers
February 19, 2017
This is a book that I challenge all my white friends to read, no matter where you stand on the spectrum of confronting white privilege and systemic racism. Michael Eric Dyson delivers a powerful, engaging, personal, informational, inspiring sermon that's essential at this moment in time when racial division is especially high.

I urge you to read with an open heart and mind, to set aside your discomfort and listen to Dyson's plea for white Americans to reckon with the harsh truths of racism.

Dyson is an ordained minister, so what better way to present this than as a sermon. He divides it into multiple sections: in "Hymns of Praise," he cleverly shares hymns in the form of rap lyrics; in "Scripture Reading," he quotes Martin Luther King Jr.; in the main sermon, he addresses whiteness specifically (including white innocence, white fragility, and white privilege) and then segues into a section about what it's like to be black in America. Following that is "Benediction," one of my favorite parts: in it he offers practical suggestions for what white people can do to make things better.

The whole thing is incredibly current and topical, with commentary on Black Lives Matter, the recent election and Donald Trump's rise to power.

For white people who seek to understand more about racism and white privilege in America (and really, that should be all of us), this is the book to read. It was literally written for us.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,097 reviews138 followers
April 8, 2017
This was a difficult book for me to read, both because of how it was constructed and what it made me have to examine in myself.

Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown professor and Baptist preacher, delivers this book as a written sermon addressed to us white folks. Often blunt, angry, anguished and sweeping in his condemnation, he argues that white privilege is something all whites benefit from, most especially when they want to deny it most.

Much of the book revolves around his anguish over the killing of black men by white police officers and our criminal failure as a nation to intervene more forcefully to stop it, but he also explores everything from jobs to housing to marriage to social relationships .

There were many times I wanted to plead, "but I'm not that white person: I'm the fair minded, liberal, outraged-by-injustice white person."

Dyson helped me to see that that is not a good enough answer, and that I need to do more about educating myself, putting myself out there at both the personal and activist level, and seeing the deep strains of racism that still shape and drive our society.

Like many other whites, I kept waiting for Dyson to address the high gun death rate in the black community itself, as well as the lesser issue of skin color bias within the black community. When he did tackle those topics, it was like a bucketful of ice cold water over my head.

While he never quite acknowledges that the rate of gun deaths, adjusted for population, is significantly higher in the black community, he makes the compelling point that whites overall kill more people and that the vast majority of homicides are white-on-white killings, yet no one approaches that problem through a racial lens. As to the "high yaller" prejudice within the black community, he describes it as one of the many ways in which blacks have taken into themselves a bias originally projected onto them by whites.

Dyson finishes his book with several practical and creative suggestions for how white people can begin to change this long entrenched imbalance in our society, from finding particular black youths or schools or scholarships to support, to simply showing up at demonstrations and vigils now dominated by blacks, to lending our expertise to attacking some of the most systemic manifestations of racial bias.

This is a powerful book, disturbing to me, but uncomfortably, piercingly on the money.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,074 reviews711 followers
June 5, 2018
This book is just what the subtitle says, "a sermon to white America." It is a plea to white America for understanding of the black experience in America. He speaks with gentle words, beginning many sentences with words such as, "Dearly beloved, I must tell you that . . . " Though his words are tender and intimate, “... a plea, a cry, a sermon, from my heart to yours,” the message conveyed is critical of a culture of "whiteness" describing it as often cruel and uncaring while at the same time being cluelessly unaware regarding its very existence. One of the definitions of white privilege is the freedom to not think about being white. African Americans meanwhile live with frequent reminders that they're not white.

The book is structured in the style and form of a sermon complete with; (1) Call to Worship, (2) Hymns of Praise, (3) Invocation, (4) Scripture Reading, (5) Sermon—containing two parts, Repenting of Whiteness,and Being Black in America, (6) Benediction, (7) Offering Plate, (8) Prelude to Service, and (9) Closing Prayer. However, the book is not overtly religious as one might conclude from the aforementioned chapter titles. Some examples: Scripture Reading consisted of rappers and hip-hop lyrics, Benediction provided suggestions of things to do to to make things better, Offering Plate was a review of Georgetown University's reparations, and Prelude to Service sighted the 2016 American election as reason to work now for a different outcome in 2020.

The following quotation is the author's response to the question from a white person, "... how do I seek to supplant white supremacy and the patriarchy without perpetuating those very same things through my action?”
Answering this earnest young man, I acknowledged the limitations of our subject positions. I also acknowledged that our lives are constantly in process. I told him that some of the greatest victims of whiteness are whites themselves, having to bear the burden of a false belief in superiority. I told him how l also loved the words of many old dead white men, from Tennyson to Merle Haggard, even though many of those white men would find me troublesome. I asked him not only to challenge white privilege, but also to resist the narcissism that celebrates one's challenge to whiteness rather than siding with those who are its steady victims. Working as a white ally is tough, but certainly not impossible. Learning to listen is a virtue that whiteness has often avoided. I asked him to engage, to adopt the vocabulary of empathy, to develop fluidity in the dialect of hope and the language of racial understanding.

I felt at that moment, on that night, that something good might happen. I had no reason to doubt that at many other moments like this, on many other similar nights, hope might prevail. If you, my friends, would make a conscious effort to change. If you would stop being White. (p69-70)
The audio version of this book is 5 hours long, so this is a long sermon. That provides time to tell a lot of stories and cover a wide variety of subjects. I was particularly interested in his comments about the O.J. Simpson trial. I was embarrassed by the reaction of many blacks to its verdict when I saw videos of a black audience enthusiastically cheering the announcement of the verdict. (I would also be embarrassed for a white audience cheering the acquittal of a policeman who killed an unarmed back person.) Thus I found the following quotation from the book of Johnnie Cochran Jr. to be of interest.
I didn’t take any surveys, but I believed that most black folk knew deep in our hearts that O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole and Ron. There's more evidence against O.J. than there is for the existence of God. It's not that Marcia Clark and her team didn’t do their due diligence. O.J.’s accusers and prosecutors lost before they stepped into the court. The hurts and traumas against black folk had piled so high, the pain had resonated so deeply, and the refusal of whiteness to open its eyes had become so abhorrent that black folk sent a message to white America. No amount of evidence against Simpson could possibly match the far greater evidence of racial injustice against black folk. And you can’t claim ignorance here, my friends. If a videotape recording of a black man going down under the withering attack of four White police couldn’t convince you of the evil of your system, then nothing could.

The celebration of the not guilty verdict was a big “fuck you” from black America. It was the politest way possible to send a message you had repeatedly, tragically, willfully ignored: things are not okay in the racial heartland. (p62)
Profile Image for Elizabeth .
398 reviews14 followers
March 18, 2017
I frequently read books that will challenge me, make me think differently, open my eyes, and help me learn and grow. I chose this book for that very reason. And while it did give me a few new ideas it mostly frustrated and infuriated me. I'm not entirely sure who Dr. Dyson thought he was writing for? Is it for students like those he teaches at Georgetown who are young, inexperienced, and naive in regards to white privilege and institutional racism. Is it for older white people, entrenched in their white privilege and institutional racism? If it is them, I can assure Dr. Dyson they are never going to pick up this book. Is it for me? White, but well aware of my privilege? Living a life, and reading books like this, to try to combat racism in my world, my neighborhood? Well, if he's writing to me he really should have dropped the smug condescension because it just pissed me off.

As I read this book I was thinking often about how I would write my review. I thought long and hard about what I would say. And in the end, I realized that another reviewer already said what I wanted to say, more eloquently than I could ever say it. So I am quoting Reid when I say,
"My argument, then, is not with the content of this morally important book, but with the tone Dr. Dyson chooses to communicate his arguments and the faulty assumptions behind them. He chooses here to engage in an egregious form of "blacksplaining", to cast all us pale people into one big mass and excoriate us. And, yes, I know that here he would insert a comment about my "white fragility", how my sensitive little white ego can't take a little criticism. And while he is at it, he would (and does in this book) vilify any black person who takes exception to his rhetoric as an assimilated apologist for whiteness. You see the neat rhetorical trick here? Because he has delegitimized all of his critics with a stroke of the pen, the only possible conclusion is that he is right and we are wrong. Except he isn't and we aren't.
In all fairness, I did get some new ideas for how I personally can fight racism that is so entrenched in our society. But overall, I was very disappointed that this book was 90% scolding and 10% ideas. Do NOT tell me what I already think. Do NOT call me beloved (we haven't even met) and heaven knows I do not like being condescended to.

Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,180 followers
June 29, 2019
I wish every white person in America would read this book, especially those who deny racism still exists -- or worse, admit it does and yet don't think it's a problem. In "Tears We Cannot Stop", Michael Eric Dyson delivers an impassioned plea for change, recounting many personal and painful episodes in his own life, but also in the lives of countless others. He asks that we whites stop hiding from the truth, and start acknowledging our white privilege that allows for the oppression of people of colour. The pain and evil inflicted upon our African American sisters and brothers did not end when slavery ended, it did not end with desegregation, it did not end when we elected our first black president and it sure as hell did not end with the election of Trump. When blacks fear for their very lives because of police brutality, when they are gunned down in the streets, when police are not held accountable for taking their lives, THIS IS A PROBLEM!!! And that's just one of many, many instances of the deep-seated racism in America that needs to be changed. It needs to be changed now. We cannot wait, we cannot allow this to go on. We need to educate ourselves about the suffering inflicted upon so many Americans solely because of their skin colour, solely because this country still exists and operates for the benefit of the whites.
Michael Eric Dyson argues for this in an honest and heartfelt way. His words are powerful, and deeply, desperately, important.
Profile Image for Dave.
256 reviews32 followers
March 20, 2017
Instead of "A Sermon to White America" this should be subtitled something like "Another Preaching to the Choir." It's really hard to imagine anyone that doesn't already care about race issues having the patience to read this. Even for me, someone who is concerned with race issues, it was really difficult to force myself to finish it. Most of the book reads like a cathartic diary entry, being more flowery religious fluff than actual information. The logic is inconsistent and hypocritical. The arguments are disingenuous and misleading. This stuff really just makes it easier for racists to discredit racial equality movements, basically giving them more flawed ideas to pick apart (probably one of the main reasons Fox News likes to invite this guy on their shows).

A couple quick examples of this: In one of the rare instances that he actually uses statistics to make his argument, he points out that most violent crime is committed by white people, not blacks. In 2015, 42% of violent crimes were committed by whites and 36% by blacks. Okay, but if 63% of the population is white and only 12% black then is that really helping to prove your case? How about when you complain that only a quarter of the high positions in the sports industry (not the athletes, who are a majority black) are held by black people? Isn't that more than 12%? Is that really the best you can come up with? There's not really any summary of the bigger picture in here. Since black people are something like 3 times more likely to be impoverished than whites, and the desperate situations associated with poverty lead to more criminal behavior, it's understandable that black people commit violent crimes at higher rates. That honest admission would be a much better argument to use. And instead of angry rants about white people refusing to admit their privilege, why not actually acknowledge that most poor people in the U.S. (something like twice the number of poor blacks) are white. We're not all living on easy street and we shouldn't all be expected to give poor blacks special treatment. Again, the rates of financial success indicate that white people are born with an unfair advantage but a lot of them don't have any better prospects than you do. Why not try to use language that isn't so incendiary if you want them to listen? I think more poor whites would be willing to listen if you focused on why your lives are on average even worse than theirs are instead of trying to make poor people admit to being so "privileged."

The "cultural appropriation" stuff is pretty irritating too. I think the most ridiculous example is his complaint about dreadlocks. Apparently it's racist for white people to wear them, despite their long history in white pagan cultures for thousands of years. Black people however can use whatever parts of European culture they want though, right? The hypocrisy and racist rhetoric is absolutely amazing. The fact is people who live in close proximity always influence each other. You can't be this crazy about it. It's like when some Native American groups get pissed off at white ecovillage types for "stealing" their culture. Do you want us to stop acting like ignorant Europeans or not? If "white culture" isn't sustainable then why are you so against us following your good example? I know it can get a little touchy when the result is a travesty of their religion or something but to not even be okay with us wearing our hair the way our own ancestors did is really pushing it.

It just kills me how much praise this book has gotten when there's very little point of it being read by anyone. If you want to understand the important statistics, things like more blacks being arrested for crimes committed at equal rates as whites, getting longer jail sentences, shot more by cops, less job prospects for law-abiding blacks than criminal whites, being more likely to live in toxic polluted areas, etc. then read something like The New Jim Crow. Even Jared Diamond's books are more worthwhile for this subject, as well as other anti-empire writers who point out the root causes (not so much a real belief in racial superiority but more just political agendas that require the demonization of easy targets). This guy doesn't really show any understanding of the bigger picture at all. In his view the only thing wrong with the American Dream is the way it's distributed. I mean, the book is dedicated to Beyoncé Knowles for fuck's sake! You really think someone who keeps hundreds of millions of dollars for themselves is a "feminist and humanitarian"? Really?! For giving away a few million dollars, probably only like 5% of her wealth, when giving away literally 99% would still leave her filthy rich? I guess it doesn't matter what effect her resource consumption is having on black and brown people all over the world, right? Give me a break. This guy is clearly not the great philosopher everyone is making him out to be. You seriously learn more from watching Boyz-n-the-Hood or Crash than you do from reading this.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,287 reviews395 followers
February 26, 2017
A book that needs to be read, but probably not by the ones who need it the most. Written in the form of a sermon/epistle, Dyson preaches mostly about the advantages of being white in America in terms of getting ahead, being paid more, not fearing death when confronted by the police, etc. I thought his discussion of the distinction between the terms "nigger" and "nigga" to be particularly insightful. On the other hand, I did not agree with his oversimplification of the reasons why Donald Trump was elected President, which was viewed solely from a perspective of race. The lengthy, annotated bibliography provided in the penultimate chapter will provide many with additional books to consider, and I have already borrowed the one which most appealed to me. Also, I can't wait to compare it to Between the World and Me.
Profile Image for Ed.
Author 42 books2,692 followers
August 14, 2020
I have to say this book was somewhat difficult for me to read. The hard truths it presents are good food for thought. It's constructed like a sermon, but the main narrative works on its own power. I learned some things I didn't know. The prose style is energetic and earnest, not overly preachy. It's topical and relevant with the BLM movement in the news. I'll continue reading more of the "Black Voices" titles recommended by my library.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,215 reviews111 followers
July 14, 2018
"I have no reason to doubt that at many other moments like this, on many other similar nights,hope might prevail. If you, my friends would make a conscious effort to change. If you would stop being white."

This book angered, frustrated and inspired me simultaneously. Being a Young Black Male living in this society, I wish that we were past racism. I wish that we can all come together and live in union as brother and sisters, why are we still discriminated against by the color of our skin? Why are blacks still called the word N***ger by White America. We live in a racist society but the only difference is that it is subtle. There are laws that are put in place to make Black people inferior because according to white supremacy, they are unqualified, black and useless. It took everything in me not to become outraged at certain passages in the novel. Dyson not only was transparent about his life but he talked about other Civil rights leaders that paved the way. There are far too many memorable quotes to recite, it will be quoted on every page.

To be White in America is to be privileged, (This is not to say that all Whites are racists), To be black is to be stigmatized (This is not to say that All Whites are racists), To be White is be considered over the black person who the same qualifications as the White contender.) While I did not experience extreme racism like Dyson and other people, I have been treated unequal in contrast to someone who has a 'dominated; skin color.

*Let me preface this by saying that I have more White friends than I do Blacks but that does not mean that racism is swept under the rug. It still goes on, whether we are talking about religion, politics, textbooks (that does not include Black history).*

The book reads like a sermon, but I warn you to be prepared because the topics may anger or get you very emotional.

Dear White America, we are not the enemies, we just want to have the same rights as you. When will America be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin?

Bravo Dyson for writing this, you are an example of what America does not acknowledge if it does not give credit to someone else.
Profile Image for Raymond.
337 reviews246 followers
June 9, 2017
Another powerful book by Michael Eric Dyson (this is the fourth of his books that I have read). It is a very well written work that was hard to put down. Dyson draws on history, current events, and his own personal story to give a sermon on the sins of racism and the effect it has had on how White people have treated Black people in America. In some respects I would compare this book with Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me. The only difference is that it ends with Dyson giving prescriptions to White Americans on how to make race relations better. Highly recommend.

Also, here is a great interview between Tavis Smiley and Dyson about this book. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/i...
Profile Image for Tiffany.
153 reviews46 followers
July 25, 2017
The frustrating thing about this book is the framing. For about the first half of the book, the subtitle is a misnomer - it's a screed, not a sermon. It's angry and divisive, talking categorically about how 'white folk' think and what 'white folk' do not feel. In the second half of the book, it shifts to a slightly more measured tone that is less abrasive. The effect is that the book completely misses the mark if it was actually intended to sway anyone's mind. If it is preaching, it is preaching only to its already established choir.

Even when I, as a (liberal/progressive/educated) reader (living and working in a diverse community) already agree with the substance of the discussion, the delivery is so off-putting that even this supportive reader disengages more than engages. The majority of the people that Dyson rails against the most - white folk who consciously scorn black folk and/or actively use their power to express their hate of black people - wouldn't come close to feeling a change of heart. If this Sermon was to THOSE white folk, then it was so much wasted breath.

Other parts of the book talk about the white folk who are not SO bad, who don't understand white privilege and so unwittingly promulgate continued black suppression by inaction. I feel fairly confident that this book would not persuade many of those minds, either. There are too many statements made about how 'white folk' are, as a whole, and us 'white folk' don't like or respect a whole lot of other 'white folk' enough to want to be lumped in together with them in broad statement insults like "It's hard to be white and empathetic to others." Which was the most 'WTF' moment in this screed. I think if folks are on the fence, you telling them that they struggle to grasp empathy as a culture is incredibly belittling and you lose the cause. Humans have been showing empathy to other humans for as long as there have been humans, and one culture doesn't corner the market. Also - OTHER humans have exhibited a LACK of empathy towards other humans for just as long. People are different. I would hazard a guess that if there was any broad cross-section of people who tend to be more empathetic than others, it's women over men. Or, as many studies have shown, people who read literature over people who do not.

There are a whole lot of good white folk out there, who DO feel empathy, but who do NOT feel empowered to make a difference in American culture. We see police brutality and we feel shocked and saddened and we know it isn't right. Just like we see starving children and poverty-stricken, crime-ridden neighborhoods, or sub-standard schools, or heck, even genocide throughout the world, and we think - wow, people can be really awful and this country is not something to be proud of and this world is full of a lot of hate and selfishness and fear. At least for a large portion of us (- who LOVED the Barack Obama that the author says the majority of white folk despised -) the problem isn't a lack of empathy. It's a feeling of powerlessness and despair. That doesn't mean we don't see, that we don't understand, that we don't care, and that we don't want to fix it. In general, 'the masses' (of all races and creeds, and me included) have always struggled to organize to form a significant concentrated effort to be taken seriously - a collective action problem. Tackle that. In a way that persuades people to want to join you. Maybe not by insulting people by sweeping statements, or making them feel guilty or ashamed of being born with fair skin. Persuade people to organize and improve the country because it's the right thing and the best thing for all of us. Many more people are inspired by pursuing a just cause that increases the happiness and safety of a country than by shaming them and making them feel defensive and insulted.

There is a difference between being correct and being effective. The author takes pride in telling the hard truth. However, there is an art and a skill in being persuasive, while still being genuine. It is one objective to feel the catharsis of getting something off your chest by saying exactly what is in your mind. It is another objective entirely to get people to join you in action, to elicit enthusiastic agreement, to change minds. The latter skill - the more nuanced and difficult one - is the skill that should be sought with pride, instead of stopping at the former. Go beyond being correct. Be effective. You don't need to be false to accomplish this. You just have to be strategic.

The book finally gets somewhat strategic at the very end, but the people who most need reached won't get there. At the end of the book is a discussion of trying to overcome that feeling of another race as 'other.' This hits the right tone. There is a section that suggests making individual retributions, which might give an idea to some upper middle class to high class folks who don't struggle to feed their own families and pay their own rent - but, let's face it, in America today, that class of people are shrinking. There are good suggestions about going out and volunteering your time to a diverse community, and taking proactive stances on hiring diverse candidates. There is an extensive reading list provided on black culture, although it won't be touched by the subset of white folks who tend to be most vocal racists - those without a lot of education who do not read a lot.

I tried not to get too offended by being lumped in with the blatantly racist white folk. Because, man, I read those comments on the internet from ignorant, hateful, awful white people, and they make me enraged and depressed, too. They really do. Just saw another article on Colin Kaepernick last night, in fact - a topic that was discussed in the book - and it is just dispiriting to read what supposedly real people think and say on the internet, even next to their supposed names and pictures. So, is the author justified in being disgusted and outraged and exasperated at a lot of the stupidity and crassness and moral loathsomeness of these people? Sure. It's just that it would be more effective to try and enlist friends than to alienate sympathetic 'white folk', which could be done through more conscious wording. Because you can hardly get 5 people of the same race/culture/background in a room together who think the same thing. I wish the book didn't hammer over and over again this idea of white folk being one uniform, unified group as much as it did.

Below are some other responses I had as I read through the book:

Just started this and I am immediately turned off by "God stood in my way when I tried to write anything, and everything, except what I offer you now."

"God" has "compelled" a whole lot of people to do a whole lot of things. If you are going to throw this book up as another one of "God's" acts, then I don't think you are any more credible or worthy of consideration than those terrorists crashing plans on 9/11, who felt similarly driven by "God." But it's a different God? But they don't understand God like I do? These seem like flimsy rebuttals.

Maybe make an argument because you think it is right and just and good - in and of itself. Being responsible for it yourself. Without needing to feel like God is making your decisions for you.

Apparently, I do not appreciate being preached to, especially not by someone who sounds this pretentious, even when I am in agreement with the overall sentiment that race relations in the U.S. should be openly discussed and actions should be taken to improve.


Read more of this today. Pondered whether a religious man preaching on better relationships between all of God's children should feel comfortable declaring (as compelled by God) that "Lord, the Devil hides in White People." Let's be honest - the so-called devil hides in every type of people that have ever existed. Becomes clear that author/preacher is not preaching for all of God's children to get along. He is preaching for his own people to get more respect. Not quite as holy of a message.

Author also made a comment about thanking God that his daughter grew up to be "hauntingly beautiful," which I found kind of strange - kind of slipping into Trump territory there. And of all the things to thank God for...
Profile Image for Colleen Browne.
286 reviews68 followers
February 5, 2022
This book is a sermon from one of the most prominent African American ministers/writers alive today. It is from the heart, provides plenty of information from his own experiences as well as the experiences of other Africans to explain what life is like to be black in America. It is enlightening and sometimes difficult to take in but there is one thing I am certain of: It is sincere and deserving of our attention.

It is divided into chapters covering a myriad of issues surrounding race and being black, replete with Dyson's own experiences. As someone from a background where the overwhelming majority of the population has been white who moved to an area of great diversification with a great many African Americans, it is especially helpful.
Profile Image for Barbara (The Bibliophage).
1,086 reviews148 followers
January 8, 2018
Full review at TheBibliophage.com.

Michael Eric Dyson tells it like it is in Tears We Cannot Stop. Subtitled A Sermon for White America, it is just that. In both structure and tone, Dyson combines his experience as both pastor and professor. It is a moving and emotional book. But it’s also exquisitely literate and deeply meaningful.

As a white woman, I’m on a quest to expand my perspective. This book sets the tone for another year of questioning and learning. Dyson speaks right to his readers, calling them “Beloved” throughout. But it’s tough love, since he’s also pointing out faults in logic and understanding.

Read this, my friends. Read it and follow Dyson’s suggestions. Share it and discuss it. And maybe, just maybe, we can start making this world a better place for everyone.
Profile Image for Andre.
519 reviews141 followers
February 7, 2017
In this latest Dyson offering, Mr. Dyson is making a direct appeal to white Americans to give up their hold hold on whiteness and once and for all really try and understand what it is that Black Americans feel and deal with on a daily basis in our sojourn on these shores. Indeed, "that white America can definitively, finally, hear from one black American preacher a plea, a cry, a sermon, from my heart to yours." While Dyson presents a very compelling case, I'm afraid it will fall on deaf ears. He says, the only way he could have said these words is in a form of a sermon and that for the most part is the way the book is constructed. In the middle it is more of an essay form though he continues nominally with the sermon flavor. Essentially, Dyson argues we (Black folks ) have to depend on the ability and willingness of white folks to change their hearts and minds if the race issue will ever see the light of transformation.

"And there is a paradox that many of you (white folk) refuse to see: to get to a point where race won't make a difference, we have to wrestle, first, with the difference that race makes.......... When it comes to race the past is always present." A tall order for a people to in fact cash in their own privilege and cast their lot with the dark and despised. I'm not of the religious bent, so my faith in that is negligible. Dyson strains to make clear the difference between individual racism and bias compared to institutional racism. "It is harder to indict forces and institutions than the individuals who put a face to the problem. Institutional racism is a system of ingrained social practices that perpetuate and preserve racial hierarchy."I don't think Dyson has gone in as hard as he thinks he has. He drops reminders throughout that he and his children are very accomplished, not sure why he found that necessary.

The most disappointing part of the book is Dyson arguing for the continued use of ni**er, because we have effectively flipped the word to a more positive and endearing meaning, even effectively changing the spelling of the word to end in ga. Makes me want to holler, N! please. A wordsmith like Dyson should be ashamed of himself to engage in that cowardly nonsense. He even quotes Jay -Z, to buttress his argument. The simple fact of the matter is that the cost of using ni**er is zero. Try using some pejorative words to refer to other groups and see what happens. So, if you can't be universal in the the use of pejoratives, I say stop it when it comes to us. Otherwise, you are showing your cowardice. If you think I'm over reacting see Michael Jackson and the furor surrounding his song, 'They don't really care about us' and Marlon Brando about the stereotypes that have failed to make it to the silver screen. Dyson, being the scholar and wordsmith that he is should no better. Those who don't have the articulation and erudition of Dyson would be hard pressed to explain why ga is different than er and argue for it's use and white Americans non-use. Stop it Dyson.

He closes strong with a discussion concerning the killing of black bodies with impunity from this who've taken a vow to protect and serve us. He asks whites to put themselves in our shoes. He suggests to whites, who ask, "what can I do" to open up an IRA, an individual reparation account and pay a black tax, perhaps paying extra for services received from a Black provider.

Dyson ultimately concludes that, " We don't hate you, white America. We hate that you terrorize us and then lie about it and then make us feel crazy for having to explain to you how crazy it makes us feel. We cannot hate you, not really, not most of us; that is our gift to you. We cannot halt you; that is our curse."

This book certainty has the power to make white Americans contemplate the present and future, the question is will they buy it and embrace the content?
February 6, 2017
Important not just for White America, but for all of America to read. As a South Asian American, my community of immigrants also aspires to assimilate and in many ways that means aspiring towards whiteness. Desi Americans must also sit with the discomfort that our community also has anti-black sentiments and benefits from those sentiments in American society. Our Desi culture also appropriates Black culture. Many in our community react like White America to calls for racial justice by BLM: we are upset at damage of broken windows and cars but don't care nearly as much for the historical racial violence that targets Black communities. South Asian Americans must also heed to Dr. Dyson's sermon-to engage with African Americans, to purposefully build relationships based on shared interests. This is a sermon that I know my community needs to hear as well. Books offers practical ways people can change themselves and the future-if only one is willing and open to honest self reflection. Otherwise may be just as difficult for Desi Americans to read as it may be for White Americans.
Profile Image for Marie.
85 reviews
March 9, 2017
Just another stereotypical self victimization narrative. a book trying to point out and end racism by being highly racist in tone and subject. here is a novel concept instead of placing blame always upon whites, why not instead look in a mirror and take responsibility for ones own actions and then place it upon the individual. it annoys me greatly to see books like this one being allowed to be published while other works of a higher magnitude remain unpublished and ignored.
Profile Image for Yesenia Cash.
227 reviews17 followers
November 30, 2019
Mr. Dyson just took me to school/church! I don’t do religion and I loved this so much!
Profile Image for Kristina.
1,214 reviews477 followers
August 26, 2017
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America by Michael Eric Dyson is exactly that: an elegantly written sermon of anger and forgiveness, hope and despair. Dyson is an academic, but he is also an ordained minister and he writes in the same rhythmic, poetical powerful language he must use when preaching. I liked this book for its raw emotions and beautiful language even as it made me sad and angry and horrified. I will never be able to understand hating someone merely based on skin color. That just makes no sense to me.

The chapters in the book are divided into the sections of a church service. Even though I am an atheist, Dyson’s appeals to God and the structure of the book as a sermon did not bother me. His sermon is inclusive and appeals to anyone who is concerned about America’s white/black division and the rise of white nationalism under President Trump. In the section, “Call to Worship,” Dyson explains to the reader that the discrimination and anger and ignorance that keeps black Americans in their place also affects white Americans, that what ails African Americans also ails white Americans. He quotes Martin Luther King Jr by saying that we are a “single garment of history” (5). The book is written in the form of a jeremiad, an extended lamentation about the difficulties faced. Once those difficulties are named, then they can be tackled. This is exactly how Dyson structures the book. He lays out the challenges of African Americans then suggests how they can be overcome.

The book proceeds with personal stories of Dyson’s experiences being harassed and discriminated because he is a black man. Even though I have heard stories similar to his, I’m still shocked and disheartened. Why would you treat another human being with such disrespect and scorn? Why do people think they have the right to do this? This lack of empathy for anyone different is disturbing. In the longest section of the book, the sermon itself, Dyson discusses the “invention of whiteness” and how O.J.’s not guilty verdict was a kind of “fuck you” from black people to white people. They (African Americans) pretty much figured O.J. was guilty, but the investigation was so blatantly racist that all the evidence was tainted. When the verdict was announced as not guilty, black Americans took satisfaction in that because so many police officers are never convicted of brutality and senseless shootings against black men. “It seemed to black folk that the only way to combat white privilege was with the exercise of a little black privilege” (62).

American history is the history of white people (men, really) and the prevalence of whiteness is difficult to overcome: “If whites are history, and history is white, then so are culture, and society, and law, and government, and politics; so are logic and thinking and reflection and truth and circumstances and the world and reality and morality and all that means anything at all” (65). A solution to this, Dyson believes, is to stop being thinking like a white person. He goes through the five stages of white grief he calls CHEAT (Chronic Historical Evasion and Trickery aka the “racial blues”):

1. Pleading ignorance about black life and culture because it has no impact on your life and no historical significance.
2. Forget it and deny it. The past never happened and you’re crazy to think these things (black gaslighting) or this all happened in the long ago past and it was bad but it’s all fine now. My ancestors did these things, not me. It’s systemic now, not individualistic: “racism without racists.”
3. Appropriation: whites like the best of black culture and appropriate it as their own. When they are criticized for using attributes of black culture to their advantage, whites claim they don’t see race, they are colorblind.
4. Revising racial history: “It didn’t happen this way.” The Civil War wasn’t about slavery, it was about states’ rights. (Um…states’ rights to do what? Oh yeah. Own property. That property being enslaved human beings.) Slavery saved Africans from their terrible African culture and they were way better off living under American guidance. They had so many opportunities to excel in the South! Blacks started slavery because they captured and sold their own people to the traders.
5. Bad things happen to everyone, not just black people. No one deserves extra help because bad things happen to everyone (attacks on affirmative action). Dyson’s responses: “White privilege is a self-selecting tool that keeps you from having to compete with the best” and the “history of whiteness in America is one long scroll of affirmative action” (89).

From this list, Dyson discusses “white fragility,” the willful ignorance of whites who don’t want to learn the truth, who don’t want to acknowledge the fiction of their superiority and refuse to see white privilege. One way of making whites feel superior is to use the slur “nigger.” This is a word I despise typing because it’s evil and sickening, but Dyson addresses why the word is so troublesome, why whites should never use the word or its companion nigga. I’m going to quote him verbatim because he says it better than I can:
Nigger condenses the history of hate and the culture of violence against black folk. When white folk say the word they bridge the gap between themselves and the hateful history it reflects. It links verbal and physical violence. The term is also a form of moral violence. It has to do with the intentions of white folk when they hurl that word in our presence…The word nigger has such fantastically evil resonance because there is a kind of moral onomatopoeia at work: nigger is a word that comes as close to any suggesting the racial violence that it describes. Nigger says lynching, castration, rape, rioting, intellectual inferiority, Jim Crow, second-class citizenship, bad schools, poor neighborhoods, police brutality, racial terror, mass incarceration, and more” (132-3).
Dyson goes on to say that the word has no rival because the menace it implies is portable: “it shows up wherever a white tongue is willing to suggest intimidation and destruction” (133). There are no examples of black people lynching, raping, destroying white people en mass and then celebrating those evil deeds with postcards commemorating the event. Black Americans have never had the privilege of government and societal protection to do these things, but white Americans have (and continue, in the form of police brutality, to do so).

In section five (still in the sermon), Dyson poses the question: are black people their own worst enemy? He believes that blacks have allowed racism to poison their own views about themselves and engender self-hate. He uses examples of his father who internalized the way whites treated him and didn’t think he or his children should be too ambitious, that they couldn’t because they were black. Just as poor whites, “rednecks,” are the lowest on the social ladder but still better than blacks, black people also discriminate: there are black folk, but gay people and “niggers” (very poor black people) are at the bottom.

In the last section of the sermon, Dyson explains why black people fear the police so much (although you’d think by now that would be self-evident). African Americans see them as terrorists because like terrorists, “they hate us for who we are” (178). Police serve and protect white people, and sometimes that means getting rid of black people: “You cannot know the terror that black folk feel when a cop car makes its approach and the history of racism and violence comes crashing down on us. The police car is a mobile plantation, and the siren is the sound of dogs hunting us down in the dark woods” (181).

In the benediction, Dyson offers solutions for whites who want to try to heal the racial divide and bring America together: reparation (as individual or group offering/activity); educating yourself about black history and culture; educate others; participate in rallies, protests, etc.; befriend/get involved with black people; speak against injustice; and above all cultivate empathy: “Whiteness must shed its posture of competence, its will to omniscience, its belief in its goodness and purity, and then walk a mile or two in the boots of blackness” (211).

At the end of the book, Dyson brings up Donald Trump and calls him “white revenge” and the epitome of white power, white rage and white supremacy—the white response to eight years of a black-skinned president. He touches on why people voted for Trump: “As important as their economic vulnerability is, it is not the major engine of their disgust; rather it is the fury of whiteness unleashed, of whiteness unbounded, or whiteness made, not less white, but even whiter by its class rage, a rage that oddly leaves aside solidarity with millions of other hurting souls whose only reason for exclusion is their color” (220). I agree with this. I think above all else, Trump voters liked him because he is white, a repudiation of Obama, and has promised to take “take America back” and “make America great again.” Those are just barely coded racist references. Also, in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book Strangers in Their Own Land, the people she interviewed made it clear that they voted for their white interests above anything else, even when those interests were not to their economic advantage. Tribal identity above all else.

Tears We Cannot Stop is a powerful, amazing journey into the collective pain of the black American experience through the writing of a minister and professor. Every time I read another book on the subject of civil rights, I always learn something different. Throughout the book, Dyson addresses the reader as “Beloved” and goes on to say that he knows what the reader is thinking, that the reader doesn’t want to believe what he is saying, is obstinate about giving up white superiority, etc. That device I found a bit exasperating. I could deal with being addressed as “beloved,” but I tired of him telling me what he thought I was thinking, and it was always negative. If a white person is picking up this book and reading it, that reader must be open-minded and thoughtful and concerned enough about racism to even be reading the book. If I (or other white readers) were as negative as he told us we were, we wouldn’t be reading the book! What makes me sad is that I know people who think the way he describes, particularly regarding the whole “civil war wasn’t about slavery, it was about states’ rights” nonsense. I wouldn’t describe these people as racists, but that kind of avoidance of reality is racist. Why is it so difficult to face up to this fact? Why re-write history to make the civil war seem heroic? If we can agree that slavery was an evil, then the war fought to keep it in place was also evil.

“We do not hate you, white America. We hate that you terrorize us and then lie about it and then make us feel crazy for having to explain to you how crazy it makes us feel. We cannot hate you, not really, not most of us; that is our gift to you. We cannot halt you; that is our curse” (193).

I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,589 reviews191 followers
October 9, 2019
Powerful, passionate, Professor and Minister Michael Eric Dyson uses a sermon as a way to talk to white people in America to examine the harmful myths around racism. He confronts one thing after another, and demolishes one objection or denial of reality after another put forth by people, whether conservative or liberal,
Using examples and stats, he asks his audience to take a really hard look at their inculcated ideas, to look more closely at their sanitized history books, at their systems (education, judicial, etc) that have stacked the deck in their favour for centuries. Also, he asks his audience to not dismiss black emotions and experiences, to not put their own upset and possibly overturned assumptions and anger before the centuries of brutality, and current situation of inequality. Essentially, he asks his white audience to not dismiss or answer with vitriol, but instead to be empathetic. To listen, and to learn, and to begin changing not just their minds about what an American is (e.g., who built the country and who gets to have dreams), but to also begin the hard work of changing the lives around them.
Though I’m not a religious person, I could appreciate the method the author chose to address his white audience. He does say a little about Trump, and the way in which Trump's been supported since he took office.
I look at how things have continued to spiral downwards since 2016, and the hateful sentiments and policies that have issued from the White House, and wonder if the many necessary things Dyson says can reach an even more divisive population.
This is yet another necessary and important working well argued examination of the US and its inability to really begin confronting its violent and deeply racist past that I’m glad I read.
Profile Image for Nicole Harris.
229 reviews29 followers
February 15, 2017
If you are a white person and you are reading this review, you should stop now and immediately obtain this book and read it. I have to say that the audio was incredibly powerful and I highly recommend taking in Tears We Cannot Stop through the voice of Dr. Dyson. Last year Between the World and Me was my "this should be recommended reading for all" book. This far in 2017 it's Tears We Cannot Stop.
Profile Image for Rachel.
582 reviews68 followers
April 2, 2017
(4.5 stars, rounded up for being so important)

This book isn't light or easy, but it's essential reading. Michael Eric Dyson delivers a sharp and intelligent argument about how prevalent racism is in our country and why white people need to wake up and speak up against it. This book is a challenge and a call to action. He even offers a reading list and suggestions for what whites can do to confront daily racism and acknowledge white privilege. It's a seriously powerful book that should be required reading for all white people in America.
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