Michael Eric Dyson discusses Obama’s impact on racial landscape in U.S

By Daniel Curtin

Collegian File Photo
(Collegian File Photo)

Michael Eric Dyson visited the University of Massachusetts to discuss  his new book “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America” Wednesday afternoon.

Dyson, who is the author of 18 books and current professor of sociology at Georgetown University, spoke in the Bowker Auditorium at Stockbridge Hall.

He reflected on Obama’s time in office and its impact on race relations in the United States. Dyson spoke admiringly about the achievement it was for Obama to become the first African-American US president.

“I know that when Obama was first elected that many black people had to wake up and say ‘Were we just dreaming?’ Is this black figure really the president of the United States of America?” he said.

The lecture was sponsored by Commonwealth Honors College, the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Kathryn and Paul Williamson Lecture Fund according to a UMass press release.

Dyson did not refrain from criticizing what he saw as the president’s shortcomings. He said the president has been hesitant to address the issue of race by approaching it with a “strategic inadvertence.”

“This is the first time I had a chance to see a lecture about this historic period in American history,” Martin Jones, a UMass alumnus, said. “I also happen to be a fan of Michael Eric Dyson and his other books, I think he is one of the most brilliant intellectuals on race in America.”

Dyson’s talk covered many events involving race relations that occurred during Obama’s time in office, including the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 and the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates in 2009.

“(Obama) is the Shaquille O’Neal of presidents. My man Shaquille just got into the Hall of Fame, a dominant center, one of the most gifted players of all time and yet he couldn’t shoot free throws…” Dyson said as the audience laughed at his comparison. “Obama’s free throw shooting is race and its reality. He’s a great and dominant president but when it comes to race he has been feckless and in many ways unimaginative.”

Sarah Tanzi, a political science graduate student, was impressed with the insight that Dyson was able to reveal about how Obama handled issues of race during his presidency.

“I think that what I found most compelling about his talk was essentially the analysis he was making on how Obama has to walk that fine line about addressing race,” Tanzi said. “While symbolically he does a lot for race… In terms of action (Obama) won’t do as much.”

Dan Curtin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @dmcurtin96.