MSNBC's Michael Eric Dyson: We Must Retrain 'White Brains,' 'White Souls' on Race

December 5th, 2014 5:31 PM

While discussing racial problems in the U.S. as a guest on Thursday's edition of Now with Alex Wagner on MSNBC, Michael Eric Dyson stated that “saying black and brown lives matter makes a big difference because when that language gets repeated by white tongues, white brains can follow suit, and white souls can at least be trained in a different way.”

“That's a really good point,” Wagner said while agreeing with the black professor of sociology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “Even the footage of protesters being white folks and black folks and Asian folks out there on the street. It sounds pretty basic, but it's really important in showing the American problem.

Earlier in the segment, Dyson noted that “there's no question that the overweighting of white intention suggests that the exclusive matter of deciding a moral consequence or a legal effect of a particular act depends upon what the white person intended.”

Referring to the killing of African-American Eric Garner on July 17 in New York City, the professor asserted that the consequences were determined because Daniel Pantaleo is a “white police officer.”

Dyson continued:

You know, my pastor told me when I was a child that a mosquito doesn't intend to give you anything, it intends to extract blood from you, but it may give you malaria.

So there's no one-to-one correlation between intentionality and consequentiality. What you intend to do may not be what ends up happening.

Wagner also asked the sociology professor: “How do we retrain America? I mean how -- it just seems so insurmountable at times like this. I mean, this is something that African-Americans have lived with since the founding of the country. So what is the beginning of the process of reversal?”

“Well, you've got to have a bifocal approach here, don't you?” the guest asked in response. “You have to look at the big picture and the cosmic kind of change you have to have, which is why you talk about conversations on race, on gender, on sexual orientation.”

“You speak about the nation's democracy and its democratic traditions and energies,” the professor noted. “You have people constantly trying to argue back and forth about the future of this country while being governed by principles of justice, but you've got to focus on the small stuff, too.”

Those items include “interactions between police departments and its citizens and in changing America, retraining it, it happens at the level of school,” Dyson stated.

Such change also “happens with parents. It happens with the will and desire to want to see this change, but here's what I'm afraid of. Not until something happens in the broader white America does it become a problem significant enough for the majority of Americans to take seriously.”

The liberal guest continued:

What I mean here is that when this pain begins to be shared in the broader community, when young people say, for instance, who have meth labs on college campuses that are granted implicit immunity end up getting shot by the police, you can darn bet right then that this is going to be a problem.

This has to be something shared by others, and we have to have a level of empathy. Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “Look, I'm not Russian, but if I were in Russia, and some problems were problems were going on in Russia, I would speak out. I'm not Catholic, but I would speak out.”

“We have to speak out and to have the masses of American people imagine themselves as black people as much as they can to generate empathy to say they must speak up and they must demand changes in their own communities to go along with what's happening,” he asserted.
Referring to the comment made on Wednesday by New York City mayor William de Blasio that “black lives and brown lives matter,” that makes a big difference “because when that language gets repeated by white tongues, white brains can follow suit and white souls can at least be trained in a different way.”

Another analyst who took part in the segment was Heather McGhee, president of  Demos -- “a public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.”

McGhee criticized police policies that encourage “an excessive number of arrests” while asserting that across the country, there is “a culture of a lack of accountability” due at least to “implicit bias” if not “explicit bias.”

Unfortunately, the analysts never referred to the police motto of “to protect and to serve,” which is carried out in the vast majority of the nation despite the hostility apparent at MSNBC.