In this Book

University of Minnesota Press
From rap music to preaching, from Toni Morrison to Leonard Jeffries, from Michael Jackson to Michael Jordan, Reflecting Black explores as never before the varied and complex dimensions of African-American culture through personal reflection, expository journalism, scholarly investigation and even homily. "A landmark text in Afro-American cultural criticism. There is simply nothing like it that exists. The level of theoretical sophistication and political engagement is rare-and badly needed." -Cornel West "As Reflecting Black so richly demonstrates, Michael Eric Dyson combines cutting-edge theoretical acuity with the passionate, engaged, and accessible stance of a public intellectual. His critical purview encompasses scholarly tomes and mass market periodicals, trends in theology and in hip-hop culture alike. This book is a splendid introduction to a singularly important voice." -Henry Louis Gates, Jr. "Dyson is a young black cultural, political and religious critic whose new book directs its nastiest commentary at racism, sexism, capitalism and straight-up immorality. His is a fresh voice seemingly unfazed by Blackademe's battle royal. Dyson's project is very much in the tradition of recent work by a number of young African-American cultural critics like Tricia Rose, Hilton Als, bell hooks, Greg Tate, Wahneema Lubiano, Elizabeth Alexander and Herman Gray, to name but a few. Reflecting Black is much more than a cultural critique in the formal sense. It interrogates the political, social and moral crises confronting American society generally and African-American communities in particular. In the end, Dyson is not one of those cultural studies scholars concerned with debating the fine points of discourse theory. He is an 'oppositional' critic with a much higher purpose than developing analytical tools to make sense of African-American culture. The Reverend Dyson is not only operating within a rich Marxist tradition but within a very old and continuing African-American tradition. Black communities, through newspaper columns, church groups, street corner gatherings, beauty parlor and barber shop discussions, have always debated and taken responsibility for their culture(s). Dyson's constant lecturing, chiding and encouraging embodies what Antonio Gramsci and his own mama expected us to do all along: not just interpret culture but actively change it--through struggle." -The Nation "Where Michael Jackson meets spirituality, where Martin Luther King meets Malcolm X, where the consolidating 'narrative of racial unity' meets the 'perplexing and chaotic politics of racial identity': These are the border zones of Michael Eric Dyson's compassionate, postmodern, eclectic critical project. Reflecting Black is an invigorating reader for our perplexing and chaotic times." -Voice Literary Supplement "He shows an admirable breadth, ranging from issues such as racism and political correctness in the seminary to examinations of such icons of popular culture as filmaker Spike Lee, singer Michael Jackson and athlete Michael Jordan. One entire section of the book is devoted to black religion, and includes an examination of the lives and examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X." -Washington Post Book World "Yet, if Dyson stumbles in his discussions of black popular culture, he soars in his section titled 'Beyond the Mantra: Reflections on Race, Gender, and Class.' In 'Remembering Emmett Till,' Dyson writes not just with his mind, but with his heart." -Boston Globe "Yet his insights are just as often incisive and challenging, and they demand serious consideration. By insisting that we acknowledge the complexities of race in America and by refusing to accept easy answers, Reflecting Black forces us to think harder about how we can create alternatives." -Wilson Library Bulletin "These days it seems as if everybody has an opinion about Spike Lee, Michael Jackson, and Malcom X, but few critics of black popular culture also have the wherewithal to tackle the fine points of race, gender, and class theory in addition to the rich and complex legacy of black religion. Michael Eric Dyson, who won the 1992 National Magazine Award for Black Journalists and who is an assistant professor at Brown University, has something important to say about all of these topics in Reflecting Black, a collection of articles that have previously appeared in such publications as The Nation, The New York Times, and Tikkun. Like Cornel West, Dyson is a rare breed, the public intellectual, and his essays attempt what he calls 'an oppositional African-American cultural criticism,' one which 'promotes the preservation of black culture's best features, the amelioration of its weakest parts, and the eradication of its worst traits.' Whether writing on 'Michael Jordan and the Pedagogy of Desire' or 'Leonard Jeffries and the Struggle for the Black Mind,' Dyson is certain to become a forceful presence in African-American criticism, and Reflecting Black is an excellent introduction to his work." -Virginia Quarterly Review "Michael Dyson skillfully explores various quarters of contemporary culture, presenting a fascinating array of places, personalities and perspectives. Even the book's postmodernist format, with its mix of long and brief essays, reviews, interviews, editorials and reflections, is adventurous. Dyson clusters his musings into three categories: black popular culture; issues of race, gender and class; and black religion. He lifts up alternatives to the hopelessness which engulfs inner-city communities, and offers strategies of resistance and empowerment. This seminal text has much to add to the discussions in congregations, seminaries and the public square." -Christian Century "Dyson resists essentializing modes of expression, particularly the reduction of black culture to a response to oppression and racism, and offers substantive explorations of , for example, rap culture, black nationalism, affirmative action, and contemporary gospel music." -Common Knowledge "Dyson's is an ambitious project indeed, and one whose fulfillment would presumably have to command the attention and respect of the creators and consumers of the artistic creations and social practices he so skillfully dissects. . . . Preacher that he is, Dyson cannot resist the rhetorical virtuosity of his calling; and his essays are inventive, often freewheeling displays of scholarly erudition and passionate exegesis. Even when his oratorical skills test our faith as in his essay, 'Michael Jackson's Postmodern Spirituality,' his exuberance and sheer pleasure in the act of analysis itself sustains his momentum. Michael Dyson's 'oppositional African-American cultural criticism' carefully straddles both sides of the racial divide. He assumes a 'tough-love' posture toward his African-American readers at the same time that he directs the attention of his white readers to sources of value and insight in arenas of African-American life." -Tikkun

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
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  1. Title Page, Copyright
  2. pp. i-v
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  1. Contents
  2. pp. vii-ix
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  1. Acknowledgments
  2. pp. xi-xii
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  1. Introduction. Beyond Essentialism: Expanding African-American Cultural Criticism
  2. pp. xiii-xxxiii
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  1. Part I: What's Going On? Black Popular Culture
  2. p. 1
  1. 1. The Culture of Hip-Hop
  2. pp. 3-15
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  1. 2. Rap Music and Black Culture: An Interview
  2. pp. 16-22
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  1. 3. Spike Lee's Neonationalist Vision
  2. pp. 23-34
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  1. 4. Michael Jackson's Postmodern Spirituality
  2. pp. 35-63
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  1. 5. Be Like Mike?: Michael Jordan and The Pedagogy of Desire
  2. pp. 64-77
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  1. 6. Bill Cosby and the Politics of Race
  2. pp. 78-89
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  1. 7. Between Apocalypse and Redemption: John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood
  2. pp. 90-111
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  1. Part II: Beyond the Mantra: Reflections on Race, Gender, and Class
  2. p. 113
  1. 8. Probing a Divided Metaphor: Malcolm X and His Readers
  2. pp. 115-131
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  1. 9. The Liberal Theory of Race
  2. pp. 132-145
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  1. 10. Racism and Race Theory in the Nineties
  2. pp. 146-156
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  1. 11. Leonard Jeffries and the Struggle for the Black Mind
  2. pp. 157-166
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  1. 12. Sex, Race, and Class: Two Cases
  2. pp. 167-181
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  1. 13. The Plight of Black Men
  2. pp. 182-198
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  1. 14. Black Grass-Roots Leaders
  2. pp. 199-209
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  1. 15. Reflections on the 1988 Presidential Campaign
  2. pp. 210-218
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  1. Part III: This Far by Faith: Black Religion
  2. p. 219
  1. 16. Mixed Blessings: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Lessons of an Ambiguous Heroism
  2. pp. 221-249
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  1. 17. Martin and Malcolm
  2. pp. 250-266
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  1. 18. For Jonathan's Sake: The Morality of Memory—a Sermon
  2. pp. 267-275
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  1. 19. Rap Culture, the Church, and American Society
  2. pp. 276-285
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  1. 20. "God Almighty Has Spoken from Washington, D.C.": American Society and Christian Faith
  2. pp. 286-321
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  1. 21. The Promise and Perils of Contemporary Gospel Music
  2. pp. 322-329
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  1. Index
  2. pp. 331-343
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