Cover image for Tears we cannot stop : a sermon to white America
Tears we cannot stop : a sermon to white America
First edition.
Physical Description:
228 pages ; 20 cm
Call to worship -- Hymns of praise -- Invocation -- Scripture reading -- Sermon. Repenting of whiteness. Inventing whiteness ; The five stages of white grief ; The plague of white innocence -- Being Black in America. Nigger ; Our own worst enemy? ; Coptopia -- Benediction -- Offering plate -- Prelude to service -- Closing prayer.
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.


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"One of the most frank and searing discussions on race ... a deeply serious, urgent book, which should take its place in the tradition of Baldwin's The Fire Next Time and King's Why We Can't Wait ." -- The New York Times Book Review

Toni Morrison hails Tears We Cannot Stop as "Elegantly written and powerful in several areas: moving personal recollections; profound cultural analysis; and guidance for moral redemption. A work to relish."

Stephen King says: "Here's a sermon that's as fierce as it is lucid...If you're black, you'll feel a spark of recognition in every paragraph. If you're white, Dyson tells you what you need to know--what this white man needed to know, at least. This is a major achievement. I read it and said amen."

Short, emotional, literary, powerful-- Tears We Cannot Stop is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.

As the country grapples with racist division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man's voice soars above the rest with conviction and compassion. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed piece "Death in Black and White," Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot Stop-- a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that 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.

"The time is at hand for reckoning with the past, recognizing the truth of the present, and moving together to redeem the nation for our future. If we don't act now, if you don't address race immediately, there very well may be no future."

Author Notes

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON is one of America's premier public intellectuals. He occupies the distinguished position of University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, and is a contributing editor of The New Republic and ESPN's The Undefeated. Ebony magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential African Americans and one of the 150 most powerful blacks in the nation.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In his latest, commentator and writer Dyson (The Black Presidency, 2016) preaches a message that he admits will be hard for most white Americans to hear, let alone internalize and accept: white folks are complicit in societal attitudes toward African Americans, and our future progress as a nation is dependent on a new mindset. Dyson lays bare our conscience, then offers redemption through our potential to change. Dyson beseeches readers to fully and compassionately embrace the struggles of black Americans citizens of a country rooted in the sin of slavery and poisoned by racism. He offers poignant, personal examples of injustices brought by a society suspicious of himself and others of color. He covers a wide range of topics, including policing tragedies, the lack of African Americans in mainstream American history, the willful ignorance of whites, patriotism versus nationalism, the power of language, and the future of race relations under President Trump. With a reading list to encourage further learning, Dyson offers an intellectual framework for everyone to adopt in order to understand and embrace each other's struggles to be united.--Kaplan, Dan Copyright 2017 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

ONE SUNDAY IN 1984, my father did something unexpected, at least for a white man in Georgia. He drove us past the little rural church we usually attended and kept going 40 miles south, ah the way to Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist - home parish of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and an epicenter of the American civil rights movement. Reading Michael Eric Dyson's "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America," I was often reminded of that morning, when I was first exposed to the righteous anger, wry humor and unflinching honesty of a black pastor, determined to guide and teach his flock. While Dyson is best known as a writer and sociologist, he is also an ordained Baptist minister, and his new book draws both its impassioned style and its moral urgency from his years in the pulpit. At a time when one video after another has forced us to acknowledge that unarmed African-Americans are regularly killed by the police, Dyson desperately wants his readers to confront the sources of that violence in our nation's longstanding culture of white supremacy. But he also knows how many political arguments and sociological studies have fallen on deaf ears. And so rather than a treatise, "Tears We Cannot Stop" is a fiery sermon, and an unabashedly emotional, personal appeal. "What I need to say" to white America, Dyson writes, can only be said in "a plea, a cry, a sermon, from my heart to yours." The result is one of the most frank and searing discussions of race I have ever read. This is a book that will anger some readers, especially those who reject Dyson's central premise: that if we want true racial equality in America, whites themselves must destroy the enduring myths of white supremacy. Even sympathetic readers might mistake this extraordinary work for merely a catalog of white sins. But such a reading fails to account for the actual experience of Dyson's sermon, in which a black preacher speaks to his white congregants in the most tender, intimate terms, even as he preaches against a culture of "whiteness" that "grows more shameless, more cruel, more uncaring by the day." Dyson is ah too familiar with the claims of innocence and the kneejerk defensiveness that will surely greet this book, and yet he sets out to conquer such denial not only with the difficult truth but also, astonishingly, with love. "Beloved," he writes, in the voice of one ministering to the sick, "your white innocence is a burden to you, a burden to the nation, a burden to our progress. It is time to let it go, to let it die in the place of the black bodies it wills into nonbeing." Many white readers may wince, as I did, to hear their own indifference to black suffering named with such precision, and some, desperate not to face their involvement in America's systems of racial oppression, might abandon this book altogether. But that would be to miss an essential lesson. For again and again Dyson makes it clear that more than white guilt, he seeks action, and more than condemnation, he wants change. He wants readers to wake from their sleep of ignorance about "what it means to be black in America." Reading his praise for James Baldwin, I couldn't help thinking that the same is true of Dyson himself: "His words drip with the searing eloquence of an evangelist of race determined to get to the brutal bottom of America's original sin." If there is a criticism here, it is that Dyson gathers steam slowly, and his opening "Hymns of Praise" to hip-hop artists give little indication of the moral power to come. But this is a small quibble with a deeply serious, urgent book, which should take its place in the tradition of Baldwin's "The Fire Next Time" and King's "Why We Can't Wait." The comparison might at first seem hyperbolic, but like those books, "Tears We Cannot Stop" is a lament, originating from within the grieving heart of black America, aimed directly at white readers who are often too frightened, or indifferent, or ashamed, to look a man like Michael Eric Dyson in the eyes. I can only hope that others will read and be changed by this book. It ends with a desperate plea for white Americans to rise up in defense of, and in solidarity with, our African-American brothers and sisters. In response, I say simply: Amen. ? PATRICK PHILLIPS is aprofessor of English at Drew University and the author of "Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America."

Library Journal Review

Activist, critic, scholar, and ordained Baptist minister Dyson (sociology, Georgetown Univ.; The Black Presidency) religiously lays out an order of service in hope of inspiring repentance, redemption, and reparation in a racially troubled America. Opening with a call to worship and closing with a prayer, his nine-chapter work with a central six-part sermon pleads for America to find its moral and spiritual foundations. Dyson traces the historical invention and social inheritance of whiteness, and how it has led America to ignore, discount, and dismiss black grievances. In order to make racial progress, Dyson passionately urges all Americans to reject racial revisionism and face difficult truths in addressing the disorder he labels Chronic -Historical -Evasion and Trickery, or CHEAT. This work is both lucid in its logic and profound in its probing and wide-ranging cultural and social analysis. Dyson's homily resonates amid personal recollection and reflection as a call to action for Americans to reach a positive future by working to cultivate empathy, develop racial literacy, and live up to the demands of justice. -VERDICT A must-read for Americans who hope for a brighter day to emerge from the anguished hopelessness created by white idolatry and willful ignorance.-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

I Call to Worshipp. 1
II Hymns of Praisep. 9
III Invocationp. 19
IV Scripture Readingp. 35
V Sermonp. 41
Repenting of Whitenessp. 43
1 Inventing Whitenessp. 44
2 The Five Stages of White Griefp. 71
3 The Plague of White Innocencep. 95
Being Black in Americap. 125
4 Niggerp. 126
5 Our Own Worst Enemy?p. 143
6 Coptopiap. 170
VI Benedictionp. 195
VII Offering Platep. 213
VIII Prelude to Servicep. 217
IX Closing Prayerp. 225