Ridiculous. Infuriating. Asinine. Callous. Those are some of the feelings as I read an op-ed by Michael Eric Dyson spinning Desmond Tutu’s death and legacy as an alternative to the current calls for racial justice and the reckoning of the genocide across US history and the colonization of North America by European immigrants [https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/28/opinion/desmond-tutu-america-justice.html].
I want to jump to and, who is the audience for this editorial? Because why M.E. Dyson writes is preposterous.
I find the processing of whiteness — white guilt about white supremacy and whitewashing to pretend that the record is not as sordid as it is — that passes as civics and domestic politics within this nation state to be depleting and by that I mean exhausting and energy-sapping and life-taking to meet callousness with compassion, to forgive when they willfully forget and perpetuate and perpetrate new lies.
I am not a close student of Desmond Tutu’s public speeches and statements, leadership and political moves and public stances. I’ve done some reading about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the end of apartheid but we are far from being in a place where white America will tell their truths.
I want to ridicule Dyson by pointing out the absurdity of being a tenured professor at Vanderbilt University writing about the merits of making it work out. I find it difficult to read because this is more naive than Democratic legislators trying to negotiate with Republican peers who do not accept women and people of color as equals.
I once believed a myth that Black people in the United States could save the rest of the citizenry. But I don’t but much faith in such savior roles or racial dogma at this juncture in my life. I want to judge my younger self for harboring such foolish naïveté, as I did about all the shovel-ready-projects that were supposed to lubricate the stimulus package in 2009. But all that grandiose policy amounted to little of what was promised. It was futile for the president and members of Congress to promise about an 21st century energy grid or rapid transit trains spanning from Florida to the Northeast to California when they could not guarantee governing majorities for years on end. Instead, they made multi-year promises when they rose to committee chairs then were sidelined into minority party status by November 2010.
There’s something similarly amiss when Black Lives Matter is being conflated with cancel culture and then blamed for the inhospitable and dysfunctional and violent state of affairs between races in the United States.
Dyson doesn’t say “turn the other cheek” but he suggests that the well of indigenous and Black redemption of reckless white Americans is a renewable resource. To highlight the forgiveness of family members of the Charleston 9 is unfortunate, if not perverse. To have to hold and accommodate a man who pretended to be coming for prayer group is a tremendous and horrendous burden. Maybe redemption and forgiveness can be infinite but at this stage in my life, they do not feel sufficient for the illness and ailments that plague this society.
Maybe the timeless aspect of the oppressed’s forgiveness is that we are all humans and ultimately, there will/must be some balancing amongst the humans but it is hard to feel that when most of what I see is ignorance and defiance among people who have been accustomed to others suffering being coupled with their indulgence. Even as they learn of their impact, they don’t want to rein their excesses in. They want to continue to be violent and genocidal in their supremacist belief systems.
What’s the point of taking the moral ground when the ground is being seized and taken or plundered? Rather than prescribe maybe he could acknowledge the anguish and disgust that people of color feel. The pain that more whites acknowledge and empathize with and can acknowledge rather than argue or avoid. But there’s no reconciliation without going through the agony and saddling the burden of that leadership on people of color and other oppressed majorities is not how we rectify the brokenness of the powerful.