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Reflecting Black

African-American Cultural Criticism

1993
Author:

Michael Eric Dyson

Reflecting Black

From rap music to preaching, from Toni Morrison to Leonard Jeffries, from Michael Jackson to Michael Jordan, Reflecting Black explores as never before the varied and complex dimensions of African-American culture through personal reflection, expository journalism, scholarly investigation and even homily.

From rap music to preaching, from Toni Morrison to Leonard Jeffries, from Michael Jackson to Michael Jordan, Reflecting Black explores as never before the varied and complex dimensions of African-American culture through personal reflection, expository journalism, scholarly investigation and even homily.

Reflecting Black is one of the most thought-provoking books ever written on African-American cultural criticism. Dyson’s penetrating and creative essays provide fresh insights not only on black popular culture and religion, but on the important issues of race, gender, and class.

William Julius Wilson, Lucy Flower University Professor of Sociology and Public Policy, University of Chicago

From rap music to preaching, from Toni Morrison to Leonard Jeffries, from Michael Jackson to Michael Jordan, Reflecting Black explores as never before the varied and complex dimensions of African-American culture through personal reflection, expository journalism, scholarly investigation and even homily.

"A landmark text in Afro-American cultural criticism. There is simply nothing like it that exists. The level of theoretical sophistication and political engagement is rare-and badly needed." -Cornel West

"As Reflecting Black so richly demonstrates, Michael Eric Dyson combines cutting-edge theoretical acuity with the passionate, engaged, and accessible stance of a public intellectual. His critical purview encompasses scholarly tomes and mass market periodicals, trends in theology and in hip-hop culture alike. This book is a splendid introduction to a singularly important voice." -Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

"Dyson is a young black cultural, political and religious critic whose new book directs its nastiest commentary at racism, sexism, capitalism and straight-up immorality. His is a fresh voice seemingly unfazed by Blackademe's battle royal. Dyson's project is very much in the tradition of recent work by a number of young African-American cultural critics like Tricia Rose, Hilton Als, bell hooks, Greg Tate, Wahneema Lubiano, Elizabeth Alexander and Herman Gray, to name but a few. Reflecting Black is much more than a cultural critique in the formal sense. It interrogates the political, social and moral crises confronting American society generally and African-American communities in particular. In the end, Dyson is not one of those cultural studies scholars concerned with debating the fine points of discourse theory. He is an 'oppositional' critic with a much higher purpose than developing analytical tools to make sense of African-American culture. The Reverend Dyson is not only operating within a rich Marxist tradition but within a very old and continuing African-American tradition. Black communities, through newspaper columns, church groups, street corner gatherings, beauty parlor and barber shop discussions, have always debated and taken responsibility for their culture(s). Dyson's constant lecturing, chiding and encouraging embodies what Antonio Gramsci and his own mama expected us to do all along: not just interpret culture but actively change it--through struggle." -The Nation

"Where Michael Jackson meets spirituality, where Martin Luther King meets Malcolm X, where the consolidating 'narrative of racial unity' meets the 'perplexing and chaotic politics of racial identity': These are the border zones of Michael Eric Dyson's compassionate, postmodern, eclectic critical project. Reflecting Black is an invigorating reader for our perplexing and chaotic times." -Voice Literary Supplement

"He shows an admirable breadth, ranging from issues such as racism and political correctness in the seminary to examinations of such icons of popular culture as filmaker Spike Lee, singer Michael Jackson and athlete Michael Jordan. One entire section of the book is devoted to black religion, and includes an examination of the lives and examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X." -Washington Post Book World

"Yet, if Dyson stumbles in his discussions of black popular culture, he soars in his section titled 'Beyond the Mantra: Reflections on Race, Gender, and Class.' In 'Remembering Emmett Till,' Dyson writes not just with his mind, but with his heart." -Boston Globe

"Yet his insights are just as often incisive and challenging, and they demand serious consideration. By insisting that we acknowledge the complexities of race in America and by refusing to accept easy answers, Reflecting Black forces us to think harder about how we can create alternatives." -Wilson Library Bulletin

"These days it seems as if everybody has an opinion about Spike Lee, Michael Jackson, and Malcom X, but few critics of black popular culture also have the wherewithal to tackle the fine points of race, gender, and class theory in addition to the rich and complex legacy of black religion. Michael Eric Dyson, who won the 1992 National Magazine Award for Black Journalists and who is an assistant professor at Brown University, has something important to say about all of these topics in Reflecting Black, a collection of articles that have previously appeared in such publications as The Nation, The New York Times, and Tikkun. Like Cornel West, Dyson is a rare breed, the public intellectual, and his essays attempt what he calls 'an oppositional African-American cultural criticism,' one which 'promotes the preservation of black culture's best features, the amelioration of its weakest parts, and the eradication of its worst traits.' Whether writing on 'Michael Jordan and the Pedagogy of Desire' or 'Leonard Jeffries and the Struggle for the Black Mind,' Dyson is certain to become a forceful presence in African-American criticism, and Reflecting Black is an excellent introduction to his work." -Virginia Quarterly Review

"Michael Dyson skillfully explores various quarters of contemporary culture, presenting a fascinating array of places, personalities and perspectives. Even the book's postmodernist format, with its mix of long and brief essays, reviews, interviews, editorials and reflections, is adventurous. Dyson clusters his musings into three categories: black popular culture; issues of race, gender and class; and black religion. He lifts up alternatives to the hopelessness which engulfs inner-city communities, and offers strategies of resistance and empowerment. This seminal text has much to add to the discussions in congregations, seminaries and the public square." -Christian Century

"Dyson resists essentializing modes of expression, particularly the reduction of black culture to a response to oppression and racism, and offers substantive explorations of , for example, rap culture, black nationalism, affirmative action, and contemporary gospel music." -Common Knowledge

"Dyson's is an ambitious project indeed, and one whose fulfillment would presumably have to command the attention and respect of the creators and consumers of the artistic creations and social practices he so skillfully dissects. . . . Preacher that he is, Dyson cannot resist the rhetorical virtuosity of his calling; and his essays are inventive, often freewheeling displays of scholarly erudition and passionate exegesis. Even when his oratorical skills test our faith as in his essay, 'Michael Jackson's Postmodern Spirituality,' his exuberance and sheer pleasure in the act of analysis itself sustains his momentum. Michael Dyson's 'oppositional African-American cultural criticism' carefully straddles both sides of the racial divide. He assumes a 'tough-love' posture toward his African-American readers at the same time that he directs the attention of his white readers to sources of value and insight in arenas of African-American life." -Tikkun

Reflecting Black

Michael Eric Dyson, who won the 1992 Magazine Award from the National Association of Black Journalists, is Professor of American Civilization and Afro-American Studies at Brown University. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University.

Reflecting Black

Reflecting Black is one of the most thought-provoking books ever written on African-American cultural criticism. Dyson’s penetrating and creative essays provide fresh insights not only on black popular culture and religion, but on the important issues of race, gender, and class.

William Julius Wilson, Lucy Flower University Professor of Sociology and Public Policy, University of Chicago

As Reflecting Black so richly demonstrates, Michael Eric Dyson combines cutting-edge theoretical acuity with the passionate, engaged, and accessible stance of a public intellectual. His critical purview encompasses scholarly tomes and mass market periodicals, trends in theology and in hip-hop culture alike. This book is a splendid introduction to a singularly important voice.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

A landmark text in Afro-American cultural criticism. There is simply nothing like it that exists. The level of theoretical sophistication and political engagement is rare-and badly needed.

Cornel West, Princeton University

I believe that Reflecting Black will be an important, salutory, and widely read book that will establish Dyson’s deserved reputation as a leading African-American intellectual.

Nancy Fraser

Dyson is a young black cultural, political and religious critic whose new book directs its nastiest commentary at racism, sexism, capitalism and straight-up immorality. His is a fresh voice seemingly unfazed by Blackademe's battle royal. Dyson's project is very much in the tradition of recent work by a number of young African-American cultural critics like Tricia Rose, Hilton Als, bell hooks, Greg Tate, Wahneema Lubiano, Elizabeth Alexander and Herman Gray, to name but a few. Reflecting Black is much more than a cultural critique in the formal sense. It interrogates the political, social and moral crises confronting American society generally and African-American communities in particular. In the end, Dyson is not one of those cultural studies scholars concerned with debating the fine points of discourse theory. He is an 'oppositional' critic with a much higher purpose than developing analytical tools to make sense of African-American culture. The Reverend Dyson is not only operating within a rich Marxist tradition but within a very old and continuing African-American tradition. Black communities, through newspaper columns, church groups, street corner gatherings, beauty parlor and barber shop discussions, have always debated and taken responsibility for their culture(s). Dyson's constant lecturing, chiding and encouraging embodies what Antonio Gramsci and his own mama expected us to do all along: not just interpret culture but actively change it-through struggle.

The Nation

Where Michael Jackson meets spirituality, where Martin Luther King meets Malcolm X, where the consolidating 'narrative of racial unity' meets the 'perplexing and chaotic politics of racial identity’: These are the border zones of Michael Eric Dyson’s compassionate, postmodern, eclectic critical project. Reflecting Black is an invigorating reader for our perplexing and chaotic times.

Voice Literary Supplement

He shows an admirable breadth, ranging from issues such as racism and political correctness in the seminary to examinations of such icons of popular culture as filmaker Spike Lee, singer Michael Jackson and athlete Michael Jordan. One entire section of the book is devoted to black religion, and includes an examination of the lives and examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X.

Washington Post Book World

Yet, if Dyson stumbles in his discussions of black popular culture, he soars in his section titled Beyond the Mantra: Reflections on Race, Gender, and Class. In Remembering Emmett Till, Dyson writes not just with his mind, but with his heart. Michael Eric Dyson soars. He writes not just with his mind, but with his heart.

Boston Globe

Yet his insights are just as often incisive and challenging, and they demand serious consideration. By insisting that we acknowledge the complexities of race in America and by refusing to accept easy answers, Reflecting Black forces us to think harder about how we can create alternatives.

Wilson Library Bulletin

These days it seems as if everybody has an opinion about Spike Lee, Michael Jackson, and Malcom X, but few critics of black popular culture also have the wherewithal to tackle the fine points of race, gender, and class theory in addition to the rich and complex legacy of black religion. Michael Eric Dyson, who won the 1992 National Magazine Award for Black Journalists and who is an assistant professor at Brown University, has something important to say about all of these topics in Reflecting Black, a collection of articles that have previously appeared in such publications as The Nation, the New York Times, and Tikkun. Like Cornel West, Dyson is a rare breed, the public intellectual, and his essays attempt what he calls 'an oppositional African-American cultural criticism,' one which 'promotes the preservation of black culture’s best features, the amelioration of its weakest parts, and the eradication of its worst traits.' Whether writing on “Michael Jordan and the Pedagogy of Desire” or “Leonard Jeffries and the Struggle for the Black Mind,” Dyson is certain to become a forceful presence in African-American criticism, and Reflecting Black is an excellent introduction to his work.

Virginia Quarterly Review

Michael Dyson skillfully explores various quarters of contemporary culture, presenting a fascinating array of places, personalities and perspectives. Even the book's postmodernist format, with its mix of long and brief essays, reviews, interviews, editorials and reflections, is adventurous. Dyson clusters his musings into three categories: black popular culture; issues of race, gender and class; and black religion. He lifts up alternatives to the hopelessness which engulfs inner-city communities, and offers strategies of resistance and empowerment. This seminal text has much to add to the discussions in congregations, seminaries and the public square.

Christian Century

Dyson resists essentializing modes of expression, particularly the reduction of black culture to a response to oppression and racism, and offers substantive explorations of , for example, rap culture, black nationalism, affirmative action, and contemporary gospel music.

Common Knowledge

Dyson’s is an ambitious project indeed, and one whose fulfillment would presumably have to command the attention and respect of the creators and consumers of the artistic creations and social practices he so skillfully dissects. Preacher that he is, Dyson cannot resist the rhetorical virtuosity of his calling; and his essays are inventive, often freewheeling displays of scholarly erudition and passionate exegesis. Even when his oratorical skills test our faith as in his essay, ‘Michael Jackson’s Postmodern Spirituality,’ his exuberance and sheer pleasure in the act of analysis itself sustains his momentum. Michael Dyson’s ‘oppositional African-American cultural criticism’ carefully straddles both sides of the racial divide. He assumes a ‘tough-love’ posture toward his African-American readers at the same time that he directs the attention of his white readers to sources of value and insight in arenas of African-American life.

Tikkun