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

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  772 ratings  ·  136 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 prot

Kindle Edition, 306 pages
Published June 5th 2018 by St. Martin's Press
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4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  772 ratings  ·  136 reviews

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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 --
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: race relations in America
Click the link for my review.
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
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 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
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
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
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!
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
Reading in Black & White
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 ...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
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
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
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a well-researched, well-written, thought-provoking book. As someone who is learning to examine her white privilege more fully, it was a very useful read for me. I'll be completely honest: It was hard to read some of it (and not just because I feel that Dyson is infinitely more intelligent than I'll ever be and some of what he has to say was way over my head). I'm sure I'll be digesting much of what I read for days and weeks to come, and I appreciate all that I've learned. It's clear I st ...more
Michael Huang
The Kennedys didn’t really start to understand the plight of black people. In fact, they did the bare minimum — until they had a meeting with activists and intellectuals in 1963. During that meeting, Jerome Smith spoke up about his experience that gradually made Robert Kennedy better realize the situation of black people. He then became a passionate force for more equality. Today, the author argues, we need more politicians like RFK who can really understand the black experience and work on addr ...more
Shannan Harper
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I felt it was an interesting book, but if you're on the slow side like I am, you might want to keep a dictionary near by. Mr. Dyson recounts a meeting between Senator Robert F. Kennedy and James Baldwin.
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-library
MED leaves no stone unturned in this fabulous book/ conversation on race in America. This is another must read for every American.
Especially enjoyed the chapter on activist athletes ("Activists 2"): a really great section and discussion of 'white privilege' reality in final section "Even If" (Wakanda Forever).
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
An insightful, enjoyable read that is much-needed. I learned a ton and highly recommend. I loved the Wakanda chapter.
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is not a review. Reviews are what you write when you've finished reading the book. I just started reading this one, and the only way I'm going to make it from page 20 to the end is by venting the frustration and disappointment I'm feeling at the quality of the prose. This book's ideas and its deep currents of pain are much more important than the style. Of course they are; the moral urgency of the book's subject makes such merely stylistic concerns seem trivial. And yet, even in apocalyptic ...more
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was such a good reading experience, I don’t know if my review would give it justice. In 1963 General Robert Kennedy reached out to Baldwin to put together a group that might help him to understand the black American experience. This book recounts that meeting & much more. This deep insight into the 1900s and political figures today and of the past was fascinating. He also makes a case for Hilary Clinton that is both complex and insightful.
Jul 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been wanting to reads this book since I heard Michael Eric Dyson interview on the view. The story centers around a meeting that took place in civil rights era between Bobby Kennedy, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, and other well known black activist at the time. Dyson states in his book that RFK changed during this meeting. He had to face up to his own prejudice and hear some hard truths from the black community. The meeting ultimately changed his views on race and elevated his place in h ...more
Adam Shields
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short Review: This is the fourth book I have read by Michael Eric Dyson in just over a year. Dyson is a cultural critic, essayist, theologian, and professor. What Truth Sounds Like is a follow up from his earlier Tears We Cannot Stop. That earlier book was a direct theological argument toward White Christians about the importance of racial justice.

What Truth Sounds Like is a different approach roughly based on an actual meeting with Robert Kennedy in 1963 that was arranged by James Baldwin. Jame
M.A. Reads
Sep 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I was somewhat disappointed with What Truth Sounds Like. I don't know if that disappointment is more reflective of my expectations or the book's shortcomings. When I picked up this book, I expected to be transported back to 1963 and into the room where it happened, where RFK was challenged by some of the day's leading black activists, artists, and intellectuals to reconsider his ideas about race. But ultimately, Dyson is not a historian so much as he is a cultural critic. A towering intellectual ...more
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Michael Eric Dyson is an American academic, author, and radio host. He is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University.
“President Lyndon Baines Johnson once argued, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” 0 likes
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