Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America
Tears We Cannot Stop is thorough, incisive, and convicting, as good sermons are. Dyson explains whiteness from the perspective of someone who has had to get an advanced degree in whiteness and its violence, in order to survive this world. When someone else is more expert on you than you are yourself, it can be hard to digest, but the fact is that Dyson is right. And we should listen to experts even when it's difficult.
From chapter 2 of the Sermon section of the book, which was my favorite: "There is often sorrow and anguish in white America when blackness comes in the room...It bears some resemblance to the five stages of grief a person passes through when they know they're dying." Dyson walks through each stage: Deliberate ignorance about race and racism and a re-writing of history. Denial and gaslighting: "Black folk are made to feel crazy for believing something they know to be true."Appropriation: "White culture bows at the shrine of black culture in order to rob it of its riches."Dilution, or the claim that bad things happen to everyone, and when it comes to heroic action, white folks were there too, saving black folks.
And he gives a solution: "Beloved, you must give up myths about yourself, about your history. That you are resolutely individual, and not part of a group. That you pulled yourselves up by your bootstraps. You must also forcefully, and finally, come face-to-face with the black America you have insisted on seeing through stereotype and fear. Whiteness can no longer afford to hog the world to itself or claim that its burdens are the burdens of the universe. You must repent of your whiteness, which means repenting of your catastrophic investment in false grievances and artificial claims of injury. You must reject the easy scapegoating of black folk for white failures, white disappointments, and white exploitation."
My only complaint about this book is that as a non-religious person I found some of the religious references and preaching cadence jarring, but the quality of the content is so great that I'd only knock off half a star at most. And I do think it's appropriate to examine racism in the context of religion, since religion and racism are two huge factors that shape our minds.
White folks, if you read one book about race in America, make it this one. It lances the wound of racism so that we as a society can (hopefully) heal. But like Dyson himself would tell you, read more than one book about race! Read lots of books by black authors--he provides a reading list in one of the last chapters, along with many other action items that are clear and straightforward, though not necessarily easy, to follow. It's 2019; it's time for us to do this work and eradicate white supremacy.