President Barack Obama is “severely under-representing the interest of a segment of America that happens to be black,” according Michael Eric Dyson, cultural analyst and Georgetown University professor, who spoke at the Hammerschmidt Chapel on Sept. 15.
“We know he’s Jackie Robinson—we’re just trying to hold him on long enough so we can get to Willie Mays,” Dyson said.
Dyson explained that Obama must be supported but criticized, and proceeded to imitate Obama’s “glide in his stride” alongside the podium, as if “you can hear parliament funkadelic in the background,” generating enthusiastic laughs and applause from the audience.
Dyson has won two NAACP awards and was named one of the 150 most powerful African Americans by Ebony magazine. Vanity Faire described him as “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today.”
Dyson, who spoke as part of EC’s annual Schade lecture series, presented “Dr. King for the 21st Century”—a look at how Martin Luther King Junior’s ideals and past contributions should be applied in American society today.
“[King] was a man who believed that America was essentially a dream,” Dyson explained, “and as a dream it could be reimagined, even revisioned, and surely revised in light of all quests for a more perfect embodiment of truth and democracy.”
One of Dyson’s main points was that King would challenge Obama because of the wars we are in today, as well as the 16.7 percent African American unemployment rate.
Dyson also explained the hatred of poor people that currently exists in America, and that King would have been appalled.
“Poverty’s on the rise…and here we are in an almost demonically intense preoccupation to giving more cash to the wealth!” Dyson shouted as the audience replied with applause and several “Amen’s.”
Dyson described King as “a man of great intelligence,” who used his intelligence for more than self-fulfillment, but for “utility,” and for the betterment of society.
Dyson also explained that King was the product of the environment which he spent his life trying to liberate, reminding us to “replenish the soil from which we emerged.”
“You must understand that King was produced in a black world, but he changed the world beyond black existence,” Dyson said. “He wasn’t just helping black folk, he was helping America.”
Closing the lecture, Dyson explained that King would challenge all bigotries, such as sexism, racism, and homophobia, and in order to do so, we must challenge ourselves.
“Either God loves humanity or God loves no humanity,” Dyson said. “We must stitch together and piece together and puzzle out our common humanity, and when we do that, then the world will come together and King’s dream will be realized.”
Listen to the full lecture at Chicago Amplified on WBEZ’s website.