Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

by Michael Eric Dyson

Hardcover, 2017



Call number




St. Martin's Press (2017), Edition: 1, 240 pages


Fifty years ago Malcolm X told a white woman who asked what she could do for the cause, 'Nothing.' Michael Eric Dyson believes he was wrong. Now he responds to that question. If society is to make real racial progress, people must face difficult truths, including being honest about how Black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted.

User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Michael Eric Dyson is a professor at Georgetown University, but first and foremost he is a minister and that shines through Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. He writes in the format and the cadences of a sermon, and with that intensity. He's here to explain to us how life is
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experienced by black citizens and why that should matter to us. He's angry and determined and also patient and kind, a guide who isn't interested in making people feel guilty, but he does aim for the reader to find understanding, repentance and an interest in taking action.

Dyson here explains both history (why and how discrimination didn't stop with the abolition of slavery, or even with the passage of the Civil Rights Act) and our present (topics ranging from police shootings to Colin Kaepernick) with both the compassion of a pastor and the solid grounding of an academic. Tears We Cannot Stop is an important book for anyone with an interest in the welfare of all Americans.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
This sermon-in-book-form should be mandatory reading for all white people in this country. All people of color know it by heart. Dyson's words are so plaintive and so devastating that I'm going to keep a separate list of quotes to use as fuel for arguments with those "not all white people" people.
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Yes, all white people. No, not you personally. But you personally can do much better! Especially useful are the reminders of the neverending white gaze that all PoC live under, and how difficult it is to learn to live by ignoring it.
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LibraryThing member justagirlwithabook
Absolutely required reading. I cannot emphasize this enough. And do yourself a favor and listen to the audiobook read by the author.

This was an incredible book to read and listen to. Michael Eric Dyson has been gifted by God to speak truth to life. As a pastor, this reads just like a sermon, but
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Dyson is so incredibly accessible, real, and convicting. As a white woman, I felt Dyson acting as a bridge between the black experience in America and my own. While I had held all my own views (in agreeance with Dyson) prior to reading this book, he put everything in such eloquent language and reaffirmed the beliefs I have come to stand firm in - I found myself wanting to say 'Amen!' at times (all by myself as I listened to this in the kitchen or in my car driving to work). His voice is powerful, his evidence is strong, and to not take a step forward as a reader, as a human being, to understand a perspective different from our own and to then be called to action, to have an opportunity to be a catalyst for change ... to not take that step forward is destructive in so many aspects and a missed opportunity to stand beside a fellow human being and understand one another.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Complicated reaction to this "sermon". I have to say that I felt challenged and interested. I do not like the shaming that went on. I am no more ashamed of being white than I am of being a woman, than I am of being fat. So I will not be shamed for who I am. But neither should anyone else be!
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Clearly there are systemic issues which need to change and I am sure that I have some of the subtle bias that many people have trouble seeing in themselves. I just have to say that I feel fear as a woman that transcends race. It is all complexly part of who I am. I just keep trying to speak out, do better, and embrace differences. Tough read!
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LibraryThing member nmele
I don't understand why Rev. Dr. Dyson's book has not garnered the same attention as Ta-Nehisi Coates's "Between the World and Me" unless the form, of a sermon, has put off those who would ordinarily talk this book up. In fact, in some ways I found Dyson's book more moving than Coates's book. Both
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address the same issue, white privilege and white racism, in stark and personal terms, but Dyson is speaking directly to his white readers. Dyson also offers some ideas for how white people can make personal reparations to African-Americans. Some of these are things my wife and I have been doing, but others gave me ideas to do more. We need to leave behind our protestations of innocence and move to embrace our black fellow Americans, and Dyson makes that case very powerfully.
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LibraryThing member ValNewHope
A little hard to listen to - lots of truths to be accepted, lots of perceptions of what it is like to be white as imagined from a black perspective, lots of suggestions about how to support change.
LibraryThing member nicholasjjordan
Hard to review. The content is great. But while I had initially thought I might be able to read this with fellow white Christians (those I pastor) who need to hear its message, I’m not sure the fiery form would be heard.
LibraryThing member Osbaldistone
If you're only going to read one book to learn what you need to know about white privilege and black oppression in early 21st century USA, this is the one. Dyson is brilliant, accessible, and clearly knows how to empower any thinking White person to begin tearing down their small part of the
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oppression we've mostly ignored since the 60s.
If you're white, and think this is someone else's problem, you >really
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LibraryThing member CarrieWuj
3.5, though this is an unqualified rating that I struggled with. I typically read for entertainment and to learn. This book definitely fits into the learning category, but it is a bit of a mind-bender. It's a valuable polemic against racism in America, but has some circular arguments that are in
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keeping with Dyson's background of philosophy. Though he has a prevalent media presence, I was not familiar with Reverend Dyson's work. This book is structured like a church service, starting with a call to worship, including a scripture reading, though not from the source you'd expect, a sermon, really getting to the heart of whiteness and blackness in America and ending with a closing prayer. Here are some samples of his thought-provoking style and rhetoric: "Race has no meaning outside of the cultures we live in and the worlds we fashion out of its force and energy. Whiteness is an advantage and privilege because you have made it so, not because the universe demands it." (44). In other words, it is a false construct. Yet it has so much power. "Whiteness is slick and endlessly inventive. It is most effective when it makes itself invisible, when it appears neutral, human American." (46) "The only way to save our nation, and yes, to save yourselves, is to let go of whiteness and the vision of American history it purports." (49) So yes, getting it -- I understand for example why there is a "Black History Month" and not a reciprocal white one (the other 11) and that I have never had to fear being pulled over by the police for anything other than a true infraction that I committed, nor had to think twice about my presence or purpose in "elite" institutions: education, government, finance, etc. Those are things I take for granted. "....black folk and white folk are often speaking different languages with no common frame of reference, and therefore, no possibility of understanding each other." (75) That is Dyson's observation of the problem, not his ultimate conclusion. He is hopeful, but he is asking a lot: to somehow eradicate race as any kind of divider, but at the same time to respect and recognize black culture and contribution without appropriating it, or coddling it. It isn't enough to be colorblind -- you must be color-aware, but not let that influence understanding or action. "The most radical action a white person can take is to acknowledge this denied privilege to say 'Yes, you're right. In our institutional structures, and in deep psychological structures our underlying assumption is that our lives are worth more than yours.'" (104) Ouch. It's a tough line to walk, and I'm oversimplifying what is a rather complex proposition. But this is an important topic to tangle with because equality on paper is clearly not the same as in real-time and we as a nation sadly are not "over it" by any stretch. Toward conclusion, Dyson states: "Beloved, one thing is clear: until we confront the terror that black folk have faced in this country from the time we first breathed American air, we will continue to die at the hands of cops whose whiteness is far more important in explaining their behavior than the dangerous circumstances they face and the impossible choices they confront." (193). In his section called Benediction, he gives some concrete actions through and acronym that can help heal: RESPONSIVE (reparation, educate, school, participation, other, new, speak up, immigrant, visit, empathy). Lots to mull over. I wish I could take one of his sociology classes at Georgetown, and I love this thought that comes from his faith training: "The idolatry of whiteness and the cloak of innocence that shields it can only be quenched by love, but not merely or even primarily a private, personal notion of love, but a public expression of love that holds us all accountable. Justice is what love looks like when it speaks in public." (100)
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LibraryThing member villemezbrown
I'm not a religious guy, but I'll give this sermon a hearty AMEN! Highly recommended.

My only complaint: Dyson repeatedly addresses the reader as "beloved." Maybe it's my introverted nature, but I was irked by the endearment. Is that a common technique in sermons maybe?
LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
If you've not read Between the World and Me, start there. This book works best as a master class in acknowledging racism at the systemic level. Dyson tackles the demagoguery of the Trump movement deftly and surgically explains how something like this could happen (shockingly, it has nothing to do
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with Benghazi or emails or Bernie--who knew???? /sarcasm). Read this book with an open mind. I learned a lot.

I haven't even tackled the structure yet! The book is formatted like a religious service, which lends the text an extra layer of rich meaning.
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LibraryThing member jerame2999
Listened to the audiobook by the author and it felt very intimate. I feel like everyone white person could get something out of this book. Liberal or conservative, religious or not. This is coming from a former baptist about a baptist preacher’s book.
LibraryThing member CovenantPresMadison
If we are to make real racial progress, we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how Black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. As Dyson writes, "At birth you are given a pair of binoculars that see Black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy.
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Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In the tradition of The Fire Next Time (Baldwin), short, emotional, literary, powerful, this is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations need to hear.
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LibraryThing member stevesbookstuff
Written as a sermon, this is a fairly short and clearly articulated, engaging read.

The book was published in 2017, and many of the reviews by White readers include words like "revelation" that, from the perspective of late 2020 look dated and out of touch. Our year this year has been filled with
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incidents like those that inspired this sermon; incidents leading to protest and discussion on race injustice in America.

My hope is that out of our collective experience this year we are all able to come together to bring about a brighter and more hopeful future for all of our fellow Americans, Black and White. Toward the end of the book, Dyson includes some suggestions for actions that we as individuals can take to help bring that future about.
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Physical description

240 p.; 7.78 inches


1250135990 / 9781250135995
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