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tv   Michael Eric Dyson What Truth Sounds Like  CSPAN  July 14, 2018 8:45pm-10:01pm EDT

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them. he was not going to compromise what he felt was the right way to compromise the case. he says that so under conventional measures as suggested earlier he was very influential but through his writing a methodology he moved to the middle of the court. he got people talking about statutes in the constitution. you cannot write a brief today, katrying to construe what a statute needs without first going through the words of the statute, what they might say but there is a different way of talking about things. if you go back to the eclectic way courts will go on for five or ten pages about what a statute met but not in that
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influential way. >> you can watch this and other programs online at >> i am pleased to introduce tonight's guest, michael dyson is a professional or of sociology at georgetown. the contributing opinion writer for the new york times and a contributing editor of the new republic and espn, the undefeated. he is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including "making malcolm". the new york times best seller -- a two time winner of the naacp image award for outstanding literary work, nonfiction. he was a 2007 winner of the american book award come hell or high water.
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tonight, he will discuss his book, "what truth sounds like". looks at the conflict between conscious and conflict, morality and power and addressing race using a 1963 meeting between robert kennedy, james baldwin and several others. singer and activist who attended the meeting praises what truth sounds like it is a tour de force. written work that calls on all of us to get back in the room and resolve the racial crisis we confront to more than 50 years ago. they call it an eloquent response to an urgent and unresolved dilemma. the conversation will be moderated by civil rights activists and host of how to save the people. we are pleased to host them at the church tonight. please welcome our guest. [applause]
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>> it is good to be here with all of you, it's good to be with you, haven't seen you in a while. >> it's good to see you. [inaudible] tv are not in real life. >> 's book just came out which you all survived. hoping we can have a conversation about the book but what's happening around the world on race and justice. we've not talked about this yet. it will be our first conversation front of all of you. >> why, what is the art? >> i want to thank harvard bookstore in this wonderful historic church. we feel the spirit of emerson live here. we hope he is channeled through
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us in this brilliant legendary young man has already given his life in full commitment and sacrifice for the people. let's get up some love. [applause] later on this is the anniversary of -- death and we want to celebrate the memory of a warrior who, against his own will represent something bigger than himself. that's a great question. that's why we have you here. i wanted to explicitly address what america. a local figure here, malcolm x spent time here, part-time. he was asked a question as you know from a young white woman who heard him here in boston and was so taken by his words that traveled all the way to harlem. >> he said mr. malcolm, what is
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it that i can do. in the famous answer was nothing. >> the delayed response was that here some things you can do. here's some things you can think about. many of my books address race, class, culture, politics and religion, blackness in particular. i wanted to articulate a vision of value and a set of virtues that i thought were serious that white folk should take seriously. i wanted to address them directly. in love, but also with some tough love and hard medicine. it's often difficult for white mothers and sisters to be directly addressed even though i was same beloved. as a minister, directly addressing the incidents in the hostility, and another woman
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robin d'angelo has a book coming out, white fragility. i wanted to deal with that. i wanted to say please stop killing us. that's when i wrote my book on obama, their sterling incident in louisiana and the casteel incident minnesota doubled up and ganged up on me. i said enough is enough. i set up all night ru wrote to t op-ed. they ran it, it got a lot of -- [laughter] but, the book grew out of that. there was such overwhelming response. why people are either angry at me or at same thanks for telling us the truth of what you felt. in this book -- that was more personal book.
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it was digging into the wells of my anxiety and my own belief that my narrative makes the narrative of other black people inform the words. in this book i turn to a historical events. as you know, the famous meeting between james baldwin and bobby kennedy, another local man. bobby kennedy had met james baldwin in the nobel laureates dinner about a year before. then, they said we kind of like each other. let's get together and chop it up a bit. about it a year later, less than a year later, jimmy baldwin fired off a fiery telegram, it was not a tweet for swiping right, it was a telegram that he said look, were looking at what is going on in birmingham with the ghoulish, ghoulish bowl, just devastating the lives of
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black people, negroes as we recall them. he was outraged. it was called bombing hamm, birmingham because bombs were dropping. kids are being blown up and of course the civil rights movement was at a peak. he saw the women and children being washed against the walls by high pressured hoses and police dogs nipping in snarling at the flesh of black girls and boys, and women. he had enough. he fired off this telegram and say, you are not doing the right thing. you are not using race as a prism for which to see the life. it's all political with you people, he fires set off, dick gregory who had met with bobby kennedy said what are you just
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hook up with james baldwin. he met them for breakfast outside of d.c. and virginia. he only had half an hour and said i'm going to be a in new york where you come by. there is a young activist named trump smith. this is where this predecessor comes in. jerome smith is by lower legend and literally an account of those were there, along with john lewis, the most decorated freedom writer in the history of the nation. that only because of his intelligence but because he suffered physically. he was beaten within an inch of his life far more than any other figure. he was there, the meeting got
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off to a good start. bobby kennedy wanted the negroes to be grateful. as you know, with all do respect to the extraordinary trajectory later on a bobby kennedy, the kennedys, especially john kennedy gained more in depth as he did in life. he was torn between two forces. on the one hand, there were white bigots he had to appease in the south. like carol cox who he put on the bench who literally called black people makers from his elevated judicial bench. then the georgia governor who robert john kennedy, jfk call to get martin luther king jr. out of jail. he placed a well-timed call to the governor, they got king off
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before the election. kennedy became president. he also told him, i will not use federal forces to intervene on behalf of nick gratian. then he's telling black people, i'm going to help you civil rights. bobby kennedy was a younger brother, less knowledgeable but more inclined to have conversations like today. he stepped into the room. it was their penthouse on central park. he started up and said, i am trying to figure out what rages going on a black america. you're listening to the black muslims not martin luther king jr. he was forced to work with him. he did not want king there or whitney young. he did not want others there he wanted figures on the cutting edge he felt could tell the truth. not people beholden to their
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organizations. he wanted people to tell from there got what the truth was. he gathered them there, kennedy begins and then trump smith rips into him. he says, we are not here for a pity party. people are out here dying. i'm tired of all of this madness. they go back and forth and kennedy is appalled. he use the word bs on bobby kennedy. bobby kennedy is expecting the negroes to be grateful for what they have done for black americans. and they're saying were not grateful. sorry, not sorry. this man interjected some serious rhetoric that this white man had never heard from black people. when it was directed against him he was ahead of temper.
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as a result, he was a henchman or an aggressive advocate for mccarthy in the 50s. he transforms himself into an advocate for the poor. in between, he was caught trying to be the attorney general and advocating for people of justi justice, and trying to moderate. in one sense, trying to modulate the tensions of what's going on between white folks and white bigots. he was saying, we can't be too aggressive because we had white people to bring back in. if we alienate them too much they will not come back. the black people basically said bull crap, we inhabit it. then the rain hansberry got involved then bobby kennedy had to hear things he was not used
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to hearing, especially the young activist on the frontline who is saying, if you want to know about rage, check me out. at one point, jimmy baldwin wanted to ratchet up the atmosphere. he said would you go to a foreign theater of war and defend america? he said never, never, never, three times. bobby kennedy was appalled because he was a patriot. his brother died in the war, jfk, you know his story. a war hero. he thought this is america. he said you want us to go kill people but you cannot even defend us here. then it went from bad to worse. he finally shut up and for three hours he listened. that was unusual for white men of power to listen to black men and listen to their eloquence, pain and poetic trauma. poetic because it was express
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that way. he got mad. he got pissed. he got the fbi is sick to them on those people. he get dossiers on everybody there. the white liberal, bobby kennedy, wiretapped those people out of anger. one of the people there was clarence jones. he was the lawyer for both james baldwin and martin luther king jr. it led to the surveillance of martin luther king jr. . . >> and, along with the political nature of it, and he began himself to rethink his own understanding, became far more everyone empathetic. and you know at the end of his life he was seen as the most
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trusted white man in america, or at least one of them, for african-american people and died a martyr not only for poor people in america, but for racial justice as well. >> chapters one and two, that is pages 1-86 -- [laughter] the first chapter's called the meeting. i will say what's interesting about this and hearing you talk about it and reading it is we met with president obama twice, i met with loretta once, attorney general loretta lynch. what's interesting is about all to those meetings is people have a lot to say before they meet the president, and then they come in, and they're like, thank you, president obama. [laughter] and i remember the last meeting we had was a big meeting, it was probably like 40, 30 of us in the eisenhower building because the roosevelt room is actually very small -- >> right. >> and i had just gotten out of jail in baton rouge, and i go up to obama afterwards, and it's just he and i, and i'm like,
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obama, you can't call people dud cans. he said you've said things on tv the you shouldn't say. and i said, but i'm not the president. [laughter] >> right. >> but it is interesting, this idea. and i wanted to ask you about it, is that you talk about, and you talked about it here, this idea of wanting to get black folk in the room that hadn't been deputized by a civil rights group and, therefore, weren't e be holden -- beholden. >> right. what's interesting, and this is something we didn't have a lot of time to talk beforehand, ferguson isn't present here. it's sort of like an absent thing, and as somebody who was in the street in ferguson, i don't know how to think about the current moment of unrest -- >> no question about that. >> and i think about we were not part of any organization. no organization started those protests. but you do talk about hillary, and we can talk about that. you talk about activists, and you bring up britney, who i
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love -- from right. >> you actually only recognize people who are in organizations. >> right. >> so i wanted to understand -- >> that's a great point. see, this is in part reparations by having you here tonight -- [laughter] to guide me through and take me to task in public. i'll play bobby end kennedy right now. >> already vetted my house -- visited my house. >> no, but you're absolutely right. it's not only that you can't do anything, but that you can. that's a central moment. you're talking about central definition. and i probably was cautious enough and careful enough to try to think about how i was going to talking about trans movements and, you know, african-american struggle along the front lines of gender and so on and missing a major, a major response, resistance and engagement with the truth of what i'm talking about in the book. and you're absolutely right. and when i write part two, i certainly want to kind of dig deeper into that, because i'm working on some other stuff.
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but you're absolutely right, that's a glaring absence that needs to be addressed. my editor is probably listening now on c-span and will do that in the -- [laughter] but what i was also trying to do in terms of drawing the parallels is to show that the people in organizations to a certain degree had been radical used in a way that -- radicalized in a way that wasn't necessarily in the '60s. it has a historical trajectory -- >> [inaudible] >> right. what i mean by that is that, you know, for one of the things about many movements is that they begin in ways that people who are part of the movement may not be as conversant with the past as they ought to be and as, if necessary in order for them to understand that they are running a marathon not a interrupt. one of the reasons -- not a sprint. one of the reasons that i wanted this young man here is that when i first met him and engaged with
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him, i was impressed with the complete command of what happened before. knowing that history, being inducted into an awareness and a consciousness of what preceded him, and that's so critical and so cruel. so on the one hand while acknowledging the necessity for that, i think that some of the younger people who are involved in organizations now took advantage of that knowledge, those who were informed, knowing that they didn't want to, quote, sell out, right? so campaign zero or working, what you did in ferguson, what barber is doing now, i think with the poor people's campaign reviving that kind of historic legacy, he left -- to your point -- the naacp that he was connected with in north carolina and is now, you know, forming his own group and then leaning forward. so you're absolutely right in terms of those who stand outside the, quote, system and those who stand outside of organizations that are formally recognized. now, what's interesting here as
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you know, and i talk about it here, it's -- people are ambiguous about whether or not martin luther king jr. was invited to that meeting. because on the one happened, baldwin -- on the one hand, baldwin was saying we want to be able to tell the truth without being beholden to that, but kenneth clark, another great intellectual, the most celebrated social signtist in his -- >> you talk about him in the intellectualist chapter. >> gotta give some love. >> there's more than love in that chapter. [laughter] >> that chapter don't stop at love. >> no, no, no, i just keep it real. so the thing is that kenneth clark was a remarkable figure in the mold of, you know, great social scientists who were looking at the world through their own intellectual and analytical prism but also trying to figure out how to address the looming racial crisis especially in the north. and what bob by end ken key --
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bobby kennedy wanted to do was address the urban crisis that he saw brewing. the thing that brought him to baldwin and all these figures was how to do you figure out what to do with the rising rage in black america because they're being attracted to the black muslims, and they're turning away from nonviolence. but at the same time, he was beefing with the nonviolence folk, and if you wanted to hear policy prescriptions for that, you had to have ella baker, joanne baker and the like are. martin luther king jr. was both inside and outside. he was inside the sclc, of course, but after he got more radical, as he got many mature, he got to challenge the principles of those reigning organizations, the civil rights discourse, the politics of respectability to a certain degree. he began to challenge that. that was the tension going on there, and i wanted to mark the fact that younger generations -- without row plantizing and isle
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eyeing, took a -- you've maintained both a respect for the protocol and etiquette for that. speaking to obama, you were respecting his office and his person, and you're challenging him at the same time. that, i think, is a beautiful development that, of your generation of activists who take a page from an earlier epic but also apply it in ways that are quite interesting. so what i wanted to do there is to call upon both of those traditions and allow them to kind of talk to each other across the chasm of the ages. >> there's another protester in the room, and he mispronounced your name, and he just got it should arguing with a police chief, and she looks at obama and says, that's not my name. and we're all like, what is
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happening? police and her were yelling back and forth across the room, and i go to sort of say something to her, but it's like -- it's not on me, if he's the president. if he gonna let them yell -- he looks at her and says i want to hear you. i want to make sure i hear you. that is the way he sort of diffuses you, and there's this moment where you're like, obama, that was good. [laughter] on page 31 you say and my father, baldwin had forsaken the -- [inaudible] and said the heart that is witness and promise. and it makes me think about you talking about barber right now who's doing the poor people's campaign. and one of barber's big asks is about moral courage. >> right. >> this is a two-part question. one is how do you wrestle with the seeming either absence of god in the current way that we think about activism or just the nonpresence in the way that it was because the movement was
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sort of born in churches before -- >> right. >> and this moment was not. and the second is this question of -- does barber's call for more courage mean anything or does it mean anything in the absence of god, is that actually nurvetion right? is moral courage the thing that's going to get us on the other side of freedom, or does the ask need to be something more? >> yeah, that's a very powerful question and a theologically sophisticate one too, so let me try to answer that. i told you emerson was going to show up. how to justify god's ways before human beings and wrestle with the presence of evil in the face of the claim that god is good and all-powerful and present and intending our good and at the same time we're being sub is accelerated by evil -- subverted by evil practices that make us question whether or not any good exists to begin with. yeah. what's interesting is that, you know, martin luther king jr. as one of the most signal voices of the '60s and arguably the
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greatest freedom fighter that's been born in this nation, as you said along with many other people, men and women, drew their inspiration from the black church. but what's interesting is that the majority of the black church wasn't checking for them, right? in terms of its theology, right? martin luther king jr. had to leave the national baptist convention along with the great gardner taye locks you know, who was a great -- taylor, who was a great, great preacher. god saves us not by flattering us, but by posing us. right? william augustus jones, oh, my god, you know? what they said of carlyle marnie, he had a voice like god but only deeper. [laughter] and is william augustus jones -- they sit after sundown at supper wondering who's going to be the big shot in the kingdom of god. [laughter] i mean, great poetry. i mean, for nothing else. the rhetorical command. when you hear a t.k. jakes, a
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frederick haines, you know, when you hear a carolyn knight, when you hear some of our great preaches, you hear -- preachers, you hear the command of rhetoric but also the ability to preach sermons that convince people that their lives are worth something, that convinces them of the integrity of their spiritual existence in light of the belief that god walks with them and that the suffering will not exhaust their existencement so martin luther king jr. was part of that tradition and jet at the same time he was -- and yet at the same time he was read as a marginal figure because of his political activity. j.h. jackson who was then the head of the national baptist convention was a very conservative negro leader and preacher. and so he didn't want all that civil rights hearsy, right? this tension between -- heresy. martin luther king jr. and his
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cohort had to leave the national baptist convention, basically forced out to start the progressive national baptist convention. millions of members in the national baptist convention, about two to three in the progressive national baptist convention. but even there let's admit it, you know, most people -- black, all black people benefited from the civil rights movement. most black people didn't participate. very small numbers of people. it's true today too, right? >> very true today. >> right? when i asked jesse jackson, man, how did you get involved with martin luther king jr. directly, you're a young 26, 27-year-old buck, you go up to selma, and next thing we know you're part of the organization. he said, the line wasn't long to come die with king. [laughter] right? come be assassinated with me. yeah, i think i'm going to become a banker. [laughter] as you know, given the sacrifices you have made. i wasn't being hyperbolic. and the threats you've
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confronted. so the reality is that martin luther king jr. drew from a movement whose moral center was deeply entrenched and rooted in the black church, and yet the political expression and around the ticklation of that spiritual sensibility made him a marginal figure within it. he was on the edge, on the periphery. martin luther king jr -- [inaudible] right? he was a complicate theological figure. and when he began as a liberal theologian, theological figure, a lot of people probably couldn't have stood his own understanding of the gospel and its relationship to the bible. he wasn't a biblical literalist, right? he underthe metaphoric intensity and the power of the gospel, and yet that gospel convinced him of his ultimate significance as a child of god. and he and many others mobilized the masses of african-american people and america by literally
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appealing to their consciences to transform this culture. now, you asked a brilliant question. what about now when there's been a shift toward more secular leadership. it was true before that black ministers were leaders, why? because black ministers had more education than most other people, right? black ministers had access to college, right? many of them. now, we know the reason black people were attracted to be methodists and baptists is because they had loose organizational structures and lower educational demands. when you were enslaved, you couldn't go to college. that's why black people were attracted to become ministers, because they could participate because the spirit moved them, not because they had the credentials of the unitarians, right? et -- because of their strict and stringent and, you know,
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racially tinged demands for a certain kind of educational, educational achievement. so now when people get access to college and, you know, a lot more people than ministers are educated, you've got a whole class of business people, you've got a whole class of secular leaders who are political figures who grow up, they begin to challenge the hegemony and the dominance of the church. obama in one sense was probably the first major national black figure who was able to appropriate the resonance of a prophet and trump the prophet himself. usually in the black church is what jesus said, is god and mama and minister, right? what -- their word is true, right? but now obama comes along, all right, with the culture of -- [inaudible] between he and jeremiah wright. he ain't no prophet; that is, obama. but he played one on television. and black people assigned him
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ultimate moral worth. god has assigned obama. thisposition in life. a lot of black people prayed for obama, believed he was the embodiment of a messianic impulse. which is interesting. and on the one happened, the on the other hand, who was a bigger messiah than barack obama, right? obama undercut the moral authority of the black church by laying claim to being a prophet himself because he was the embodiment of the prophetic wish of black people to have political authority. so now we've moved into a post, we could say post-christian, post-preacherly leadership class, but we know still a lot of black lead are arers are ministers themself, a lot of black people are influenced by
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the church, but there has been a diminishing, if you will, influence of that particular institutional expression of black religion. but still the moral ld hold on it is what's interesting. so to answer your question, yeah, when barber talks about moral courage, what he's trying to do is to translate some of the institutional and theological accepts and beliefs -- accents and beliefs of the black church into moral language that is appealing to the masses. this is what martin luther king jr. did so brilliantly, and people try to compare jerry falwell or ralph reed or some of these right-wing ministers to king. well, they're using the gospel to justify their political beliefs. that ain't a what king did. they were using christianity -- they were using their beliefs to justify this as a christian nation and to make everyone bow down at the altar of their narrow interpretation of christianity. king wanted everybody to participate regardless of their
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religious orientation. now we've got religious bigots, and howard thurman, the great teacher of martin luther king jr., and his book was in ing's briefcase as he traveled the country. so these religious bigots who worship at the altar of their own narrow understanding of the faith, fetishizing their own theology didn't understand what king was trying to do. whoever will regardless of your faith, your religion, your class and culture could participate. so now there is a lessening of that religiously intense orientation, but the language survives the moral orientation, the ethical imperatives survive. and more than most other people black folk do be going to church still, right? and even if they're going church, church kohls to them. i mean, beyonce is, what? is a secular priest. i mean, she's got a church after
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her already, right? i mean, queen bey. there's some deeply profundly relibs -- profoundly religious understandings of the gospel. cousin christians, my kind -- [laughter] who are taking the gospel into the broader world so in the secular arena it is coloring, it is coloring the lens through which people view god. but god in that sense has been unleashed from the narrow theological prism that some of the earlier people worshiped at, worshiped through, worshiped with. and now there's a new challenge afoot to figure out if we can translate some of the theology we believed 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago into new forms right now. king found a language to speak to the masses. as i said in about 1989, justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public. martin luther king jr. inspired know write that a phrase because
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he found a way to say universally if you are concerned as a human being, you and i are brothers and sisters. that's the kind of post-religious, post-christian identity we need to embrace. because i would rather be with an atheist who claim not to know god, but who does the right thing every day than a christian who wants to send me to hell because my skirt is too short or i'm gay or trans and thinks that god is cosigning their bigotry. i think that's the arena within which william barber happens to be operating right now. >> well done. [applause] >> so we're going to go to questions and answers in a second. this is my last question. [laughter] so don't give us a too long answer because we've not to get to people. [laughter] >> all right. >> you set this up, this is
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perfect. we didn't even prep for this. on 106 you say in another manner -- [inaudible] is at odds because hip-hop is at odds with older forms of cullture, expression and politics. hip-hop culture ripped up the unspoken social agreement that was in place long before the civil rights movement. this agreement held that are respectability politics is crucial for black success. in this vein you talk a lot about you are a big jay-z fan -- >> i am. >> jay-z is all over the book. you also talk about bey, who i love them both. they've been very kind to the movement. >> right. >> can you talk about -- there are people who worry about hip-hop in this moment, people who look at some of the artists who glorify domestic violence and drugs at scale in a way that is not just about telling the truth about the lives that they live in hard neighborhoods, but it's sort of something different. and there are people who worry about what that looks like, the r. kellies of our time, right?
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but that is not telling the truth -- or maybe that is telling the truth about something that is really bad x. then there are people that think about hip-hop is this expression that's radical and different. what do we do about the difference between the two in this moment, and i think about r. kelly as sort of maybe the best sort of example of that. >> sure, sure. >> and the second is do you worry about the way that social justice has become its own industry e, that there is -- i think about all the people who didn't stand with us in 2014, who didn't come down, who didn't send money or anything -- >> right. >> and now they are doing specials on abc about -- you know, now it's like this thing where you can make money, and i'm worried that the symbolism has taken over the work. >> yeah, yeah. >> that the artists have come in and they have sort of, like, figured out how to make an industry of it, but the outcomes are actually changing. >> right, right. >> there's a whole chapter called the artists where he
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talked specifically about the artist space. but i wanted to ask these questions. one is about, again, how do you deal with some of it telling the truth, some of it is the r. kelly, and do we worry about the industry that artists have -- >> that's brilliant stuff. that's why he's here! that's why this man is here. yeah, that's a great, great point. so your first point, of course, i'm an old man. i'm 59 years old. thank you, thank you. you're first in line, ma'am. [laughter] so i'm an old guy, relatively speaking. and, you know, trying to spit lyrics, there's nothing worse than seeing an old man trying to be young and hanging out with rappers, it's horrible. but what's interesting is that, yeah, of course we worry. and rappers who get older, who start aging out start worrying. because this is an explosive art form. it's so influential. it's so powerful. and there are multiple generations. can't talk about the hip-hop
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generation. you talk about little flip, you're talking about lil' john, you're talking about lil' wayne, and those littles are all generationally specifically, right? [laughter] some of y'all going to have to be big at a certain point, right? [laughter] and then you've got the tension in terms of the rhetorical fluidity and the percussive spirit of mumble rap, and i joke about it as an older guy. you know what i'm saying? no, i really don't know what you're saying. i mean -- [laughter] no. you know -- [inaudible] like, what in the hell are you saying? [laughter] right? i'm with you. i mean -- i'm down with it. so i'm down with all that. i joke about it, but i love the fact that, you know, mumble rap is a blues aesthetic.
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james brown moved from the fluidity from an r&b aesthetic to a per is cutsive so that the beat itself dictated. the music itself became an expression of the funk, and funk was about all the crap in the world. and that's what funk music is. i mean, if james brown, you know, birthed it, then maybe -- [inaudible] those figures were critical. now i think mumble rap is doing the same thing. it's about the feel that they give you, it's about the blues aesthetic that they are communicating, a cosmos of suffering condensed into algorithms and lyrics that intensely communicate the suffering implicitly even if the words are full of joy. so i've got love for them. i've got love for what they do, but however, as james brown would say, your point is so powerful because you can't act
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like you ain't got no influence on people in some of the stuff you're talking about. how many drug deals do we need to see go down? is all those daytonas, i mean, daytona is done, but he's 41 years old. east hike i'm talking about -- he's like i'm talking about that stuff, and he's beefing with drake, i'm teaching a class on drake this fall because i love drake. >> i don't think drake won that battle though. >> well, i mean, well, the battle ain't over. let's just see -- >> battle feels over. >> now, once -- >> isn't it true that you called kim and kanye? because slavery's not a choice. >> right. i did call kim and kanye, because you're posting this stuff on the internet. what if i had said something crazy? >> posted one of your texts? >> oh, yeah, yeah i was like, brah, come on, can we talk? and i'm a huge fan of kanye.
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hen this he turned the phone over -- he said my wife is taking over, and kim got ms. johnson free today. i believe in systematic social justice, i believe in systematic approaches to criminal justice reform, so i don't believe in the individualistic ethos, but at the same time thank god that she went to talk to donald trump and that sister johnson got, what, pardoned today. that's a good thing -- >> commuted. >> commuted, commuted, commuted, commuted. [applause] and that's a good thing. >> not justice. that is like -- >> that's something approximating it, and it's better than what she sad. so for me, so i talked to them, and i had a conversation and so on. i'm like you know i'm not down with -- and he admitted later on that it was my mental illness that led me to say that slavery was choice. but back to your point, there is a great deal of suffering that needs to be addressed that artists have to be held accountable for. and it's not simply, as you read the passage in my book, i
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acknowledge the degree to which respectability politics precluded the recognition of certain artistic achievements by young black people who were hip-hop artists. the whole genre was getting dissed. i was there at the beginning, i saw it. and when chuck d. was out, they were like this is an expression of political sensibility that needs to be embraced, no, they was like shut that noise off. especially when trey -- elvis was a hero to most, but he never -- [inaudible] i mean, my god, what's more political than that? shut it off. it's terrible, t horrible. it's going to be over in ten years. you're not even music. it's stupid. that's what black people were saying. white record executives were going, hmm, you mean you had an idea, six weeks later you had a record that couldn't be played
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on radio selling it out the back of your trunk, and five weeks after that you sol half a million with no radio play? come here, knee e grows, come here, right? [laughter] they capitalized it, fosteredded it. black people who didn't invest like your point about ferguson, right? i'm going to get to that in a minute. so now the very people who demand ethical responsibility and moral culpability weren't invested in trying to nurture these young people, talking to them, speaking to them, trying to engage them in serious fashion. so then it got quickly commercialized, rapidly commodified, made into a fetish, and now it became something that white kids in the suburb were checking out on the regular. so, yes, there is something worrying to all of us who are concerned about the impact of arten on consciousness of the vast magnitude of repetition
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that goes around getting money, getting paid all expenses, black people killing other black people, seeing them as less than human and the ways in which the celebration of a certain kind of ethic of carnage goes apace. on one sense, better to do it on wax than real life, except in real life it's happening too, so is it reinforcing it? it could glorify it. glorificationing is different than causation. that means it already existed. you ain't responsible for it, but it did happen. so i will say this, everybody ain't guilty but everybody's responsibility. so all of us have a responsibility to think critically about that. and r. kelly, i interviewed him one night, 2:00, on my marvin gaye book. on an amazing genius. can barely write, but there's something deeply and profoundly wrong not only with the fact a he was abused and abused his abuse, hurt people hurt, as susan taylor says. but the way in which the culture
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of negative elect of the very bodies of gay and lesbian young people, of abused black people, of women who have been abused, right? which is the me too movement's insistence that the rage that they feel in the face of neglect has to be privileged and made a priority as we grapple with the place of women's bodies in our political imagination. so, yeah, we gotta wrestle with that stuff, we gotta talk about it, and rappers can't be both the bomb digty and everything you say is so cold and beautiful and impactful and then think you ain't got no responsibility for what you say. that's what harry belafonte teaches us. at his height, he was the first artist -- not black, first artist period in america, first artist period to sell a million copies of an album. with calypso. first artist. so this wasn't no dude who was a has been like, yo, i think i'm going to become political and conscientious now. he was at his height and did what he did. comparable to what beyonce's
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evolution and development as most gift global entertainer right now and then her own unapologetic blackness. and the fact that people like you are surrounding, i wrote the introduction to her lemonade book. the fact that young people like you are informing a context within which it makes sense for her to emerge is extremely important. there's a tension and relationship between social pressure and movement and self-realization as an artist. you can only realize yourself to the degree that a social movement provides a scheme ma, an agenda and an expression of what's possible. then let me answer the second question very briefly. yeah, it's jacked up. it's jack up. it's jacked up, the fact that -- because you were out there. is there a commodification of the movement? of course there is. is it bitterly ironic and deadly
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paradoxical that some the people that weren't even participating now are getting paid off of it? yeah, that's just crazy, right? but it's predictable. because this is what happens with the fetish of things and material. even revolution gets commodified. right? they going to be selling these jackets. [laughter] for $900. >> it's a vest. >> it's a vest, i'm sorry, it's a vest. that's what old people say. that look like a jacket to me. [laughter] but, look, you need to start selling it first. get it right here, that's what i say. [laughter] he needs to get paid. see, the people who need money ain't got the money, and the people who exploit it don't need the cash, got plenty of dough, right? so we need to take up a collection for this brother right here, for real. amen. [laughter] [applause] so, yes, but that's the cycle of capital. that's what happens when we commodify and make a fetish and a thing out of our resistance.
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yes, our politics can be externalized, right? karl marx was trying to say with labor you become alienated from your own work because you don't have a relationship to what you produce because somebody steps in, buys it from you, resells it, makes a lot more dough, and you can't even support your family. so, yes, with our social movement social justice can become ad commodity, a thing, a fad that now -- your point was even more poignant in terms of artists who come along who then make literal money off of that without necessarily recycling it back to the very communities that need it. one of the reasons i love jay z and beyonce even before the challenge before mr. belafonte, they were quietly doing that and then step it up subsequent to that. so, yeah, there's a way in which there's a great danger in this stuff being commodified, or it's tough. think about martin luther king's speeches and the things that he
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did and who has control of that, who has ownership of that? now, i'm not against the king family at all because they sufferedded the greatest loss of all. but at the same time, we want young school children to hear the i have a dream speech. we want them to know the contributions of a king. so, yes, there's a danger in commodifying and making a fetish and a material possession out of something that began in deep and profound horror. that's why some people were pissed at the fact that kanye paid $85,000 for the cover of daytona which is, what, the drug scene from -- >> whitney. >> -- whitney houston. i mean, there's something -- right, the relationship between commodity and conscience has to be teased out there. and can i say one thing, where is brother eddie julio? i want this brother to come up here, give him a microphone, right here. this is the anniversary, tell us what this anniversary -- >> anniversary of california
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leaf broader's death. he taught him at rikers finish. >> the young man who because he couldn't afford bail got sent to jail, where was he, at rikers? this young man was his teacher. >> hello. >> i'd just take a couple minutes to speak here. can c-span see him? if not, come on up here, man. this is not plan. >> maybe i don't need it. >> no, no, we want you to be on tv, dog. [inaudible conversations] >> we love you, eddie. [applause] >> oh, my gosh. this is sort of impromptu so, you know, so i didn't want
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allegedly he had stolen a backpack. he spent more than 300 days in solitary confinement, and this was as a 16-year-old. and i think the only thing i would say, first thank you, dr. dyson, for inviting me to the stake, is that, you know -- to the stage. it's nice to come here and hear these two brilliant folks speak about justice. but i think we could all -- i think they could do without the praise and they would invite the help, you know? it means a lot more to join the work than to applaud the folks doing the work. and so for folks like khalif who are gone now and then his mom passed, you know, and the headline on the newspaper was she died of a broken heart. the irony was that that wasn't ironic, that she did, in fact, die of a broken heart because she lost her son is that to just join us in the work, you know?
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thank you. [applause] >> let's give it up for dr. dyson. we're about to take it to q&a, but let's give it up. [applause] >> [inaudible] thank you. [applause] >> if you have questions, i think i'm being told that you're going to line up at this mic. is there another mic? this mic. >> yeah. we have time for a few questions, so if you have any, you can line up down the center aisle. >> or comments, philosophy be, poems, lyrics -- [laughter] contributions. speaking of commodifying. >> he'll be around to sign books after. >> yes. >> good evening. thanks for being here.
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i'm resident of -- [inaudible] massachusetts and all year we're celebrating the 200th birthday of frederick douglass who lived in leadership for a number of years and wrote his first autobiography in lynn. i'm curious, it's a two-part question. i'm curious if frederick douglass had any particular impact on you over the course of your career, of your life, and if so, how? but then also i scam the book, and i -- scanned the book, and e e think i saw only one reference. do you think that frederick douglass and his works are a bit passe by now, mine, are we past the -- i mean, are we past the point of really learning anything from frederick douglass because we're that much further forward in time? >> yeah. no, it's a great point. no, i mean, you know, everybody has their list, right? so you think about in your own mind. mine is, you know, given the era in which i merged, my own patriarchal presumptionings that i have to always hold in tension and check, but when i think
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about the greatest leaders that we produced, martin luther king jr., frederick douglass, jesse jackson, number three, harriet9 tub match, number four. yes, he influenced me deeply. rate rassi sets a child free -- literacy sets a child free free slavery. it will unfit you for slavery, it will make you uncomfortable being a subordinate to somebody or something, and learning your way out of it is the most brilliant approach one might imagine. it was updated with george clinton who said free your mind, and your ass will follow. [laughter] right? so for me -- [applause] frederick douglas was extremely important and, look, we've talk about virtue osty because in the book i talk about virtuousty,
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and by the way, one of the greatest ones i've heard davi decision in hamilton. but he talks about the pursuit of that. i mean, who is more virtuous with the word than frederick douglass? what to the negro is this fourth of july, right? i mean, in asking these questions and poignantly phrasing thing for subsequent generations to learn are from. and even his, you know, his evolution where he became a bit more conservative at the end of his life -- well, a lot more at end of his life is instructive about how we mature and grow and what things and cannot occur to those who are not involved in the movement. but, yeah, he's an extremely important figure who continues to inform not only my thinking, but the thinking of my generation -- what was the second part of your question? >> you think his relevance has maid faded a bit. >> let me be very brief.
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look, in my book, until five years ago james baldwin was passe. it's hard to think about that. what? the group in ferguson and black lives matter more generally, right? with the three sisters at its helm helped revive james baldwin because we had to provide a language for the best of those leaders. now, there's always junk in every generation, right? but for the best of those leaders who are doing what they're doing, james baldwin was dragged from historical dismemory into a present place where we have to explain duray. well, he could be explained both by baldwin and rustin and a whole range of field because that's the complicate nuance he possesses. so many of these younger activists activate such profound resonances from a previous generation and generations that
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we have to have somebody who was there then help explain what's going on. and james bald with wynn was right on -- james baldwin was right on the cutting edge. people or weren't checking for him, thinking about him in the same way. social movements that joined, as black lives matter did -- it does -- existential witness to the demand for public policy. that's a unique kind of fusion. the older, you know, martin luther king jr., self-care, they don't know what that is, right? so they're -- look, and i wish they would have. i wish these of us who are older kind of laugh at black lives matter. self-care, you know, we joke, martin luther king jr. didn't stop i can't go to birmingham today, identify got to take a p mental health day. [laughter] you can laugh at that, but i tell you what, wish kanye would. love him, he did. i wish a lot of leaders could have known. gandhi said, oh, no, no, i have to take care of myself because
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if i don't take care of myself, i'm not going to be good for you. that's not selfishness, right? that's what we see every day in america is narcissism. everything is about himself. but we can learn something about an ethic of self-care. it's about protecting the very carrier, body, infrastructure and anatomy that must articulate the meaning of the dream. when martin luther king jr. was murdered, 39 years old, when an assassin's bullet traveled with evil speed across a chasm of space and snipped his neck, shattered his jaw, and his feet on the ground traveling like bicycling, and and ralph abernathy came out of room 306 in the motel and then took, extracted from a launderedded shirt a cardboard and took a mason jar and swept the blood of
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king into it saying this is the blood of the prophet shed for us, right? they opened up his body, he was 39 years old, they said he had the heart of a man 65 years old. the stress, the tension, the eating, all of that together. so self-care was a critical moment. so now to join existential witness, right, martin luther king was deserted by jimmy baldwin too. because king was a slow talking, very powerful example -- >> writes about that in the book. >> right? but jimmy baldwin was like malcolm, rapid speed. but even more so with the kind of poetic intensity. malcolm's street rhetoric was bathed in an oratorical tradition wise ped by the suffering of the proletariat. jimmy baldwin that way too but also his sensitivity to those that were demarginnallized even
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as he spoke masses of black people. they had to revive him in a way, and in that same sense frederick douglass awaits the appropriate moment for the revival to occur. [applause] >> that makes me very, very proud that we're bringing him back to life in lynn this year for his 200th birthday. >> absolutely. thank you very much, brother. okay, i've got to give shorter responses. you're looking at me crazy. [laughter] >> i want to thank you both for just your commitment. so i'm 59 as well -- >> you look much better than me. you look much better than me, ma'am. [laughter] >> thank you. that's -- thank you -- >> she's like, that's true. [laughter] >> so i'm very torn in the asylums that we are today, and i
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vividly remember my father who was a soldier crying when martin luther king die. i had never seen my father cry before. i feel like every day i want to cry because we are living in the same kind. i feel the same anxiety that i felt in the '60s and the early '70s, but we weren't there with you. we weren't there in ferguson. we stayed in our capitalist, comfortable environment and said look at them and i'm so proud of them, but we didn't step up and stand with you. so my question, it's kind of for both of you. how do we bridge that gap? i want to step up. i don't want to lose my job. so how to we to that, you know what i mean? this is where we're torn right now. >> yeah. [applause] i'm mindful of those 400 days, you know, when people -- if you
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saw us marching in the street, it was like -- [inaudible] stand still in august and if we sit still for more than five seconds, we were arrested. and i remember that every day because that was an america that we were told was behind us. and then it was like we lived it. in this moment i do think there are people who are sort of, you know, sixth graders are great, seventh graders are puberty and deodorant and a nightmare, but sixth graders are still really magical. one day my students, they were like can we go to gym early, i was like you can definitely go to gym early because i'm tired of you, and they come back really quick. and i realize that they're in love with thed idea of gym more than the work of gym, right? and i think in this moment there are people more in love with the idea of resistance. and i think one is a focus on
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systems and structures. i think people are addicted to programs. but programs mostly exist because the system didn't figure out howed to do it right in the first place, right? >> yep. >> and a lot of programs really are doing the sort of we are going to make the best decision for poor people and people of color, the second is we do need to sacrifice. some of us, you know, people look at me, they're like deray made a million or dollars. i could be defaulting on my student loans. [laughter] this was the cost. i think we could have nuance in the way we talk about sacrifice though, and we should. you've got to give up something whether it's your time, your energy. but one of the things that's really hard about this moment is there are way more people interested in doing something than there's an infrastructure to deal with the interest. even if you -- i know places that want a lot of volunteers, but if i gave them 10,000
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volunteers, they literally wouldn't be able to do anything with it. we're trying to figure out how you scale involvement, and i think people are struggling. we figured out how to do it with donations and with phone banks and those sort of things, but the sort of tangible things you can touch and feel, nobody's figured out how to do it after 2,000, the 3,000, the 20,000, the 50 ,000. and i'm hope that voting is one way. and this is the fight we had with obama. he always talked about voting as the thing, and i was like i voted my swire life, i got tear gassed, the voting can't be the only way we think about voting power. i don't have an answer, but the first thing i did in st. louis and ferguson was make peanut butter and sequelly sandwiches, that's what i did. and that became a way. i had800 followers on twitter, and i made amazing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. laugh they think change doesn't start big, it doesn't matter,
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but all the best organizers i know started in somebody's living room and somebody's basement. they saw a problem and said -- >> i make a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich. >> yes! i'm going to have to see you on that one. laugh. [applause] >> seriously, i really want -- how can we, so you gave me some great ideas and, you know, i don't know where we go from here, but i don't want to just sit on the sidelines anymore, and i want to figure out how to help our young people. because you you guys are the fu. i brought my son with me today who's 24 years old and had no idea he knew who you were, and i was, like, wow, we're not even talking. how do we change that. >> just to add to that brilliant summary and marching orders really, i think a couple things. in my tears book, i had a quote from howard thurman that i mentioned her who said is don't -- he said resist the temptation to reduce your dreams
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to the event you're continue fronting right now -- cop fronting right now. -- confronting right now. and so thurman said our slave foreparents imagine ifed a world we can't even begin to then think about with far less resources. so you can't reduce the complexity on the horizon of potential to where we are now. donald trump ain't god. and he's going to be out of office hopefully in a four-year term and certainly in eight. even if it's eight, i know that, but i'm saying oh, we ain't doing the work to get him out. please don't believe that. we're belly aching on the sidelines, but in terms of infrastructures of resistance the, voting is one, right? black women have taught us that. but black women have used voting like a -- [inaudible] like beauty. [applause] like stravinsky, right? be like hank williams, like dolly par parton. so black woman have taught us you can do that even from within
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the systemic limits that are imposed upon voting. they found a way to get doug jones into office in friggin' alabama. and so what you have to say is don't, it's like that saturday night live, you know, thing with -- what was it, was it chris rock and dave of chapelle. and they were there, and the white people were going, oh, my god, it's the worst thing ever. donald trump, i never in history. and they look at each other, yeah, okay. guess y'all forgot about, i don't know, slavery, jim crow, the horrors of black people every day. see donald trump is treating america like a nigga, and the reality is that we use to it. we know what that is. but white folk are going, jiminy cricket -- [laughter]what does this feel like? donald trump is what we've been warning you about for 300 years.
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>> yes, yes. >> we have been telling you. that's what it is, right? [applause] so he is literally the fleshly thesaurus of white supremacy. reduced to one body. narcissistic, self-involve, don't give a dang about nobody else, thinks that his life is the litmus test for what's virtuous. his understanding of patriotism is the exhaustive and exclusive one. so don't make the mistake of believing this is the worst we've been. america goes, oh, my god, now we're post fact. dude, you were post truth in 1619, that was post fact. you said you extracted africans from their resting place at the behest of god to save their souls. you posed fact and posed truth already, right? is what you call salvation indigenous people call genocide. >> yes. >> whites even with the -- look at the confederate flag.
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look at not only the confederate flag, the confederacy. here's post fact, no, the civil war was fought not about slavery, but about states' rights. do you hear what i'm saying to you? states' rights do what? all human beings! so this notion that this is new and i'm amazed that the media is now upset because they're getting treated like the media treated us all along. if it breeds, it leads. bleeds, it leads. the media has done to us what donald trump is doing to them, and now they're outrage. you can't even stop it. they sit there at the press qualifierses with thinly -- press conferences with thinly veiled -- [inaudible] and we're supposed to be empathetic to the fourth estate. and yet that same media crushes us daily, reproducing the pathology of stereotype to make us believe we're -- and black people watch more tv than anybody else, and we abide that
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poison more than anybody else as well. not only hip-hop, but the darn media itself. so don't -- do yourself a favor, don't believe that the whole horizon of possibility is reduced to this moment. see beyond it. there is a new day coming and a fresh reality -- [applause] >> well, that was it. michael eric dyson will be here to sign your book. let's give it up one last time for professor dyson. >> thank you. [applause] >> now look, now i'm a baptist, right? i know this is a high church right here.
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[laughter] this is what i want to ask. this young man didn't even know this, right? he doesn't know this, but i'm a baptist preacher. i'm moved by the spirit, all right? so what i want to do tonight, i don't care what he says, he gotta shut up right now, i want to take up a collection for this young man right here. yeah, no, no. [applause] so i don't know if y'all pass the plate, i don't know how -- y'all got an offering plate here? y'all do that here? i want somebody to get an offering plate, i'm going to dig in my pocket too, i'm going to start it myself. i want you to take up a collection so it can't be taxed, it's all cash -- no, no. [laughter] i want to take up a clerk for deray and the -- a collection for deray and the work he's doing. theoretically, he's on the front line. he came here at tremendous sacrifice, and i just want to, out of the kindness of your heart -- you don't mind me, right? we in a church. i want y'all -- there's the basket right there.
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[laughter] let me get some more, let me get some more. >> thank you. >> all right? >> get some more. so i'm going to pass, get your offering ready, your checks, your credit cards, we even take food stamps. [laughter] all right are, thank you. look at there, money. we want money. i want y'all to pass this down. >> thank you, sir. >> you know what? do it like you're doing in church. everybody just march up here. that's what i'll do. y'all come up row by row. i'm getting some dough. y'all come on. here you go. >> we'll form the signing line down the aisle to my right. so, please, head towards the back of the hall after you make your donation and join the signing line. okay, jim will be holding the basket here in the center. ..
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