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What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,754 ratings  ·  258 reviews
A stunning follow up to New York Times bestseller Tears We Cannot Stop, a timely exploration of America's tortured racial politics

In 2015 BLM activist Julius Jones confronted Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with an urgent query: “What in your heart has changed that’s going to change the direction of this country?” “I don’t believe you just change hearts,” she protes
Kindle Edition, 306 pages
Published June 5th 2018 by St. Martin's Press
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Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing important lesson to white people about how to start real change. And that involves sometimes sitting silently, and, finally, as black folk have been forced to do, listening, and listening, and listening, and listening some more."

What Truth Sounds Like is a powerful and highly relevant book addressing racism. Because I feel that it is important for white America to be silent and LISTEN to the too-long-silenced voices of people of colour, I will keep this review brief and encourage all -
Brown Girl Reading
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: race relations in America
Click the link for my review. ...more
Patrice Hoffman
May 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What the truth sounds like, and is for me as I sit here and write this review is that I don't know how to review books such as this. Part of me wants to offer a review that strictly focuses on the writing. That (cowardly) part wants to remain neutral in all works that are social hot topics such as politics and race. I don't want to take a side. As reviewer, I feel it's a duty of sorts not to take a side. But another part, a bigger part of me knows I can't be honest and not share my opinions on t ...more
Jun 16, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m not sure how I feel about this book. It’s nominal premise is based on a little known meeting in late May 1963 between then Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Black intellectuals, activists and entertainers ranging from James Baldwin to Lena Horne to Lorraine Hansberry. It was a stunning collection of prominent Black cultural figures and Kennedy was meeting was to collect suggestions as to the best course the government should take in pursuit of Civil Rights. It did not go well.
As Dyson wr
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There was a meeting in 1963 between Robert F. Kennedy and James Baldwin and a few of Baldwin’s friends. When you think of an example of speaking truth to power, that meeting as described by Dyson here, will indeed standout as definitive.

Dyson writes “I heard over the years how explosive it was, how it brought together other folk I had admired, including Harry Belafonte. The gathering pitted an earnest if defensive white liberal against a raging phalanx of thinkers, activists, and entertainers w
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a worthwhile read, though I listened to the audiobook, which might have been a small mistake. I felt the author reading it himself didn't work so well. That being said, it was very informative and offered a historical context, which he connected to the modern day. I felt much more interested in the first portion of the book, which discussed the views and efforts of people like James Baldwin, Harry Belfonte, Langston Hughes and Robert Kennedy. These points were really fascinating, and I ...more
Scott  Hitchcock
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A book everybody should read but not one everybody will like. These are very complicated issues and I don't always agree with the author although I do see where he's coming from in all cases. What truth sounds like is always from the speaker's point of view and this is no different.

Things I liked/loved about this book:

The author takes on inequalities other than race and even in race it's not just about people of color. Women, people of different sexualities, muslims, women....he speaks for the
Sean Blevins
If you only read one book about race relations in the U.S....

Consider making this that one.

Covers a lot of ground, starting with (and grounded in) the 1963 Baldwin-Kennedy summit with Harry Belafonte, Lorraine Hansberry, Lena Horne, and Jerome Smith. Then compares and contrasts the significance and contributions of black artists, intellectuals and activists from the late 60s and 20-teens.

Two things of particular value: Dyson's introduction to Baldwin's concept of witness, and his analysis of thr
I first learned of the meeting between Robert Kennedy and James Baldwin (and Baldwin's friends*) when I watched the documentary I Am Not Your Negro (this is a must see). The documentary briefly mentions the details of the meeting that were discussed. I was hoping that this book would fill in the gaps which it mostly did in the beginning. The rest of the book was more of a reflection of our current dialogue on race and how people of specific professions (Politicians, Activists, Artists, and Intel ...more
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent follow-up to Tears We Cannot Stop. Just as timely, too. I appreciated Dyson’s discussion of Bobby Kennedy’s meeting with James Baldwin and other African-American artists and intellectuals, and showed it as his turning point in advocating for great social justice. He compares it nicely to Hillary Clinton’s progression with race matters. From “super-predators” to sympathizing with BLM, he says “Hillary seems to hear the activists even if they did not hear her.” He shows that everyone ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
It's been a minute since we've had a true entry in the Michael Eric Dyson Book o' the Month Club. Yeah, Tears We Can't Stop was probably thrown together over the course of two consecutive weekends, as if it were one of my own books, but it works like gangbusters. It's a much more satisfying read than the kinda disappointing Black Presidency.

What Truth Sounds Like, on the other hand? Not so much. You learn almost nothing (certainly not anything useful) about the titular meeting between RFK and Ja
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a blackity, Black intellectual read that works to digest the current racial climate in the context of an earlier racially tense time (the 1960’s) where a meeting between RFK and members of the Black elite took place. Dyson does a great job of interweaving politics and pop culture in a way that makes this book both informative and entertaining. I enjoyed this read, but it’s not for those who are looking for a neutral, objective book on race in America as Dyson makes his stance pretty clear.
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There was a meeting in 1963 between Robert F. Kennedy and James Baldwin and a few of Baldwin’s friends. When you think of an example of speaking truth to power, that meeting as described by Dyson here, will indeed standout as definitive.

Dyson writes “I heard over the years how explosive it was, how it brought together other folk I had admired, including Harry Belafonte. The gathering pitted an earnest if defensive white liberal against a raging phalanx of thinkers, activists, and entertainers w
Helga Cohen
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book by Michael Dyson is an eye opening and gives a challenging and different view of life in America. Dyson underscores our need to address systemic racism with in the United States.
In this book we are in a room in 1963 where the conversation with leading black activists and Robert Kennedy took place. These key African Americans, James Baldwin and some friends told Kennedy the truth about race relations that forced him to have the courage to confront some of these issues and have the leade
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book! It was very special listening to Michael Eric Dyson read this beautiful book he has written! I loved it! What a great, brilliant writer and a marvelous speaker he is! Thank you for this enlightening opportunity, Michael Eric Dyson!
"The greatest purveyors of identity politics today, and for the bulk of our country's history, have been white citizens. This means that among the oldest forms of 'fake news' in the nation's long trek to democratic opportunity has been the belief that whiteness is identical to the idea of what it means to be American." (65)

"Hansberry broke faith with the conspiracy of masculine pronouns to exhaust all human experience. She took a stand to liberate grammar from its disrespect of female users. Fla
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In May of 1963, Robert F. Kennedy called for a meeting with James Baldwin, author and a strong voice in the Civil Rights Movement. Baldwin brought several guests with him including the singers Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte, as well as Jerome Smith, a freedom rider who was recovering from a severe beating by white supremacists. Kennedy expected a polite even deferential meeting. What he got was much more honest and angry - these leaders of the Civil Rights movement were no longer willing to be p ...more
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exploration of the black experience of America in terms of a meeting between RFK and many notable members of the black community in 1963.

The author begins by describing the meeting between RFK, James Baldwin, and many other prominent black artists and intellectuals in 1963. RFK was looking for validation but heard the deep pain and anguish regarding the condition of black people in America. At the time RFK did not truly hear it; as time went on it seemed he internalized some of what he learne
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dyson elaborates on this book in numerous YouTube videos - all highly engaging as he's a compelling speaker. Striking is how many parallels there are between the 60s and today and how little empathy we've practiced as a nation in hearing pain. Today's art is denial although that's becoming less of an option with Trump. Also striking is how a meeting like this could never even come about in the current administration - can you imagine Trump sitting down with a bunch of BLM or other African Americ ...more
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it

This is a great 'beginner' book that puts America's racism into context. Dyson is skilled at stating the facts plainly and elegantly, and heavily references well-known moments from our recent past to illustrate current state and work to be done. He pulls no punches, and although there were moments that could've been more explored (his almost token reference and poor explanation of intersectionality was disappointing, there wasn't much discussion about black women generally), this book
Kristi Connell
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really appreciated the way Dyson weaves together the history and the present day. I found it to be a little plodding in the middle, but he came roaring back at the end - the chapter “Even If” is written with a sermon-like intensity. SO good.
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Dyson drags several intellectual thinkers, authors, politicians and celebrities. This book is almost gossipy but the drama is policy, civil rights and black lives.
It was a treat to read. Every analysis from Bobby Kennedy to MLK to Clinton, Cornel West, JayZ, and so on was insightful and balanced in its assessment. I particularly loved his many odes to James Baldwin, because I love Baldwin, but Dyson LOVES Baldwin.
I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a commentary on the top leaders and
Cody Sexton
Jan 29, 2019 rated it did not like it
If there was ever such a thing as an egotistical pop-scholar, or the figure of a media-hungry pundit-professor, Michael Eric Dyson would be its epitome as well as it’s apex.
The focal point of this book is a 1963 meeting between Sen. Robert Kennedy and a group of notable African-Americans which included several prominent and celebrated figures, such as the writer James Baldwin, musician Harry Belafonte, singer Lena Horne, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry, as well as Jerome Smith, a well known Fr
Tiffany Tyler
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It’s no secret that I absolutely adore Michael Eric Dyson. I adore that he is unapologetically black at all times without reservation and the love he has has for his people is shining bright in his latest work. There are many highlighted passages and things I’ve learned in What Truth Sounds Like but what I enjoyed most is that Dyson brings other activists & writers to the forefront. I am left with a long list of folks that I will now check out thanks to Dr. Dyson which makes this a book that wil ...more
Patience K Phillips
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What Truth Sounds Like, by Michael Eric Dyson, is a collection of historical quotes and details on historically profound and often hidden details.

At first, the third person historical sharing of other peoples experiences felt distant and disenfranchise,
for me.

Deciding for anti-racist reasons is to finish the book. Even though I found it slightly boring, at first.

Taking a temporary break was helpful. I’m enjoying the more recent historically relevant rhetoric on quotes. Although, listening on Au
This was fascinating--I did not know about this meeting at all, and Dyson even draws his discussion forward to current black artists, intellectuals, and even sports stars. All in his trademark beautiful style. I agree with Dyson's conclusion that we need to finish this conversation about race--the hard thing is we have intelligent and eloquent people like Dyson on one side, and Trump And His Tiki Torch Parade on the other. Yeesh. ...more
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
When I began Michael Eric Dyson's "What Truth Sounds Like," I found myself wondering if this book was going to be for me. I was previously unfamiliar with Dyson's work and the first passage of the book seemingly speaks of heroes and patriotic martyrs. I worried I was walking into another neoliberal revisionist telling of important histories of racial struggle and justice in the United States. You know, the kind where we hear things like Rosa Parks was just a tired woman on the bus and not a radi ...more
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Am reading about half a dozen new nonfiction books on race relations and issues in 2018. Each takes a slightly different perspective. Dr. Dyson is intelligent and articulate, but am not sure this is the best of the lot, but it is unique in that it draws in the role of Robert F. Kennedy during the Civil Rights era.

The strengths include comparing current events with a pivotal meeting fifty years ago when Kennedy attempted to understand race issues better by listening to a group of influential blac
Matt Fitz
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There's a popular sign we've likely all seen at the women's march of late that says, "I'll see all you nice white ladies at the next BLM march too, right?" or words to that effect. It really explores the intersectionality of progressive/social movements and the walls or chasms that still exist between white and black progressivism. As this book articulates, the 2016 campaign of H. Clinton to make political inroads with POC by focusing on "policy and law" was met with resentment because it lacked ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book begins with a description of the 1963 meeting in the NYC apartment of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. The meeting was attended by Robert Kennedy, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and many other notable people, without organization affiliation. There was also a young black civil rights worker there named Jerome Smith who, unlike the others, had been beaten and jailed in Mississippi.
Dyson does an extraordinary job of teasing out the racism, misogyny, homophobia, and classism in that meeting a
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Goodreads Librari...: Add Cover to HC 2 14 May 27, 2018 06:40PM  

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

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