Dyson delivers insightful lecture

Published 11:23 am Monday, February 23, 2009

Best-selling author and Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson received a standing ovation after delivering his lecture titled “Obama and the Changing Face of America” Feb. 20 at the University of Montevallo’s Palmer Auditorium.

Dyson, who traveled to Montevallo for the university’s annual black history program, said President Barack Obama’s physical face and biological being has forever changed the “timber and tone of American politics.” Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, is a testament to America’s multicultural reality, Dyson believes.

“The American identity has always been about the infusion of differences,” he said. “(Obama’s) face is the face of America changing. He challenges to make the face of America truly democratic.”

Dyson said Obama’s image also challenges world concepts of racial purity – European ancestry being superior to African ancestry. Obama’s intelligence, brilliance and oratorical ability, Dyson says, forces blacks and whites to question stereotypes that plague the black community.

“Race is not transmitted genetically, but absorbed socially,” he said. “There’s an artificial conception of good and bad.”

Dyson continued, “How interesting that the kin of slaves is the face of America to the world! Obama challenges the notions and rhetoric of purity on all racial sides. He challenges the narrow notions of blackness from within.”

Dyson, who previously taught at Brown University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, has been described by Vanity Fair magazine as “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today.” He has authored 16 books, including “Holler If You Hear Me,” “Is Bill Cosby Right?” and “Debating Race.”

Dyson said Obama has provided immeasurable psychological support to the black community, and added the pride blacks have exhibited since Election Day is not suggestive of pending revenge against whites.

“We got some special pride. Don’t begrudge us that,” he said. Don’t begrudge us of being proud because he’s a black president. We haven’t had one before.”

Dyson concluded the Obama presidency is a step towards a post-racist society, and a step away from crippling racial misconceptions or labels.

“Stereotypes are a lazy person’s way of dealing with the other. Different should not be inferior,” he said.

Dyson’s lecture was sponsored by Dr. Philip Williams, UM president; Dr. Kimberly Barrett, UM vice president for student affairs; Dr. Denise Myers, student support services; John Deason, housing and residence life; Robin Boyd, student life; Dr. Tracey Payne; McNair Scholars Program and the UM Office of Multicultural Affairs.