Michael Eric Dyson
Debating Race by Michael Eric Dyson Buy the BookPrefaceIntroductionColbert Report Video:
Dyson on Colbert
MSNBC Video:
Dyson vs. Coulter
Newsweek: A Life in Books
Colbert Report Video:
Dyson on Colbert
MSNBC Video:
Dyson vs. Coulter

Join the Debate

Dyson vs. O’Reilly

Do you agree with Michael Eric Dyson or Bill O’Reilly on this issue? Cast your vote here:
Agree with Dyson
Agree with O’Reilly

Dyson vs. Coulter

Agree with Dyson: 86%
Agree with Coulter: 14%
Micael Eric Dyson and Ann Coulter debate the values underlying the Iraq war and the appropriateness of bringing religion into the conversation.

Dyson vs. McCain

Agree with Dyson: 85%
Agree with McCain: 15%
Michael Eric Dyson and Senator John McCain debate Violence, Hip-Hop, and the marketing of violence to children.

Dyson vs. Connerly

Agree with Dyson: 84%
Agree with Connerly: 16%
Michael Eric Dyson and then-University of California Regent Ward Connerly debate racial justice and affirmative action.

Dyson vs. O’Reilly: Billy Cosby’s Comments

Michael Eric Dyson and Bill O’Reilly debated comments made by Bill Cosby to the NAACP regarding the African-American community on The O’Reilly Factor. The following are some excerpts from their discussion:

O’Reilly: Cosby’s campaign to confront misbehavior within the African American community is of great interest. With us now is Michael Eric Dyson, the author of the new book, Is Bill Cosby Right? Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?. Now, you’ve been a critic of Cosby’s. What’s your main objection?

Dyson: Well, a couple of things. First of all, nobody denies the necessity for responsibility. I’m a Baptist preacher. We preach it every Sunday. So that’s not the point. The point is: Mr. Cosby distorted the way in which black people who are poor operate. There are vicious stereotypes, I think, in his own mind that cluttered his own imagination about how they can respond ably to their condition, number one, and, number two, what they can do about it. My second problem with Mr. Cosby is that he’s unwilling to acknowledge that there’s any virtue in the lives these people live. So if you beat them up for how their parents named them, that’s not their fault. What are they going to do? Secondly, we should get over the bigotry. Oprah is unusually named. Shaquille O’Neal is unusually named. But if we love the person, we accept the name. I think the black middle class has historically always waged war against poor people. And Mr. Cosby is part of a long history. That’s why, in my book, I discuss the racial uplift doctrine of the nineteenth century, where what I call the Afristocracy, the ruling elite of black America, tended to look down on their poorer brothers and sisters because they wouldn’t adapt themselves to the whiter world.

O’Reilly: Okay. But what you see as looking down some might see as his —challenge.

Dyson: Sure.

O’Reilly: His challenge to ask African Americans to reject out-of-wedlock birth—

Dyson: Right.

O’Reilly: —reject drug use, profanity—

Dyson: Yes. Yes.

O’Reilly: —Gangsta rap.

Dyson: All the things you’ve mentioned, absolutely right. And most black people—I would wager 95 percent of black people—say absolutely right. So the question is, why is Mr. Cosby being viewed as kind of a moral hero to black America when, first of all, he knows better than to suggest that most black Americans don’t embrace those values? And number two, even among the poor themselves, the deep, inherent conservatism, morally speaking, of those black communities, even when they’re politically progressive, is often underannounced. Number three, here’s the interesting part: Mr. Cosby for most of his career has disavowed the necessity for being explicit about race. He says, “Look, I’m a racial healer. But I don’t speak about race. I’m not an expert on blackness.” All of a sudden, after forty years of an extraordinary career, Mr. Cosby has now remonstrated against poor people without having a great deal of [balance]. Every great black leader we know, from Frederick Douglass to Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King, Jr., down to Jesse Jackson, has always said: “Get on your game, stop blaming anybody but yourself.” But at the same time they talked about impediments and obstacles in the broader society that we have to hold them responsible for, as well.

O’Reilly: He might be just doing shock therapy. Just listen to me. He might—look, it’s obvious that the carrot and the stick approach has been mixed. Some blacks get the message, some don’t. Would you agree?

Dyson: Yes. Some people agree. Some people don’t.

O’Reilly: He’s using shock therapy. He’s Dr. Huxtable who everybody thought was this kindly grandfather now getting in your face, saying, “Look, you have got to stop yelling obscenities. You’ve got to support your babies. You have got to stop the nonsense.” Maybe there is some value to that. Why do African Americans have to be coddled?

Dyson: They don’t have to be coddled. Here’s the point: You can say that to a whole class of people. Not just the poor black people.

O’Reilly: That’s his cause, though.

Dyson: But look at this: there are a whole bunch of people who are rich in this country. What’s Paris Hilton’s excuse? What is the excuse of people who are rich, who have money, who have means, who have made moral mistakes? The point is: not only the poor are the ones who are messing up.

O’Reilly: I think the guy is sincere in wanting to help people. You don’t think he’s sincere?

Dyson: Of course. But here’s the point: I think he’s sincerely wrong in his approach. I think his substance is wrong—and his approach. But let’s just say you thought his substance was right. If you beat on somebody and call them names, Bill, what business does Bill Cosby have to do with some kid being named Shaliqua and Taliqua or Muhammad? Shaquille O’Neal is a great superstar. Oprah is one of the great beloved figures of American society. Condoleezza—that ain’t no regular black name. Her mother made it up when she heard a musical signature on her score. So my point is: let’s not have the bigotry and violence and bias directed against poor black people who are already vulnerable. Let’s lift them up. Jesse Jackson said something. I’m sure you’d appreciate this: “When you’re in a ditch, do you want a shovel to dig you deeper or do you want a rope to dig you out?” I think Mr. Cosby has thrown down a shovel.

O’Reilly: I disagree with you. I think he’s given them a rope. But it’s not a kind rope. He’s saying—

Dyson: It’s a noose then. If it’s a rope that’s not kind, it’s a noose.