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Michael Eric Dyson’s Divisive NYT Op-Ed on White Privilege Sparks Anger, Praise

Michael Eric Dyson’s essay following week of deadly shootings stirs strong reaction

A New York Times op-ed on white privilege and racism in America is generating serious, divisive debate online.

Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote the piece, entitled “Death in Black and White” (originally published Thursday as “What White America Fails to See”), in response to the shootings of black men Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and then five white police officers in Dallas, Texas.

Dyson argues that whiteness allows people to view the black community through “binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy.” He goes on to say, “Whiteness is blindness. It is the wish not to see what it will not know.”

“If you do not know us, you also refuse to hear us because you do not believe what we say. You have decided that enough is enough. If the cops must kill us for no good reason, then so be it because most of us are guilty anyway,” Dyson writes.

“Black people will continue to die at the hands of cops as long as we deny that whiteness can be more important in explaining those cops’ behavior than anything else,” he adds. “You cannot know how we secretly curse the cowardice of whites who know what I write is true, but dare not say it. Neither will your smug insistence that you are different — not like that ocean of unenlightened whites — satisfy us any longer.”

Many are praising the piece for its perspective on racism in America, while others are saying that it feeds into the very racism Dyson rails against by singling out white people with stereotypes. At the moment, the essay has attracted over 2,409 comments.

“I am troubled that Mr. Dyson portrays ‘white America’ with the same stereotypes and generalizations that he decries when applied to other groups,” a reader named Richard Kiley wrote. The comment has 1,415 “likes” on Facebook.

Another reader troubled by Dyson’s position wrote, “I am offended by this column. The ‘You’ is offensive because you, Mr Dyson, assume to know about me. You do not. This is lazy rage framed for a NYT audience. Rage needs to be more precise — not a club but a real sword.” That comment has 2,149 thumbs up on Facebook.

“If this isn’t the very definition of a divisive, unproductive, racist rant, I don’t know what is,” wrote another reader. “If ANY white person judged a minority group on the same types of stereotypical, classist behaviors insinuated by this article, we wouldn’t hesitate to call it for what it was — and rightly so.”

Others offer Dyson praise.

“I’m an old white guy. I am also frustrated. I see these killings and wonder how can this happen in America? But then I read about our country’s past injustices to blacks and others. I see half the country happy to hate and think more guns are the answer to everything,” Paul Near from Lake Tahoe wrote. “I appreciate your article and you are right…I can only imagine what it must be like. All I have to offer is my good wishes and my vote for a better way.”

A reader named Lee from Atlanta, Georgia, commented, “I really can’t relate to the defensiveness of the other white commenters. Are you really surprised that black people might feel angry? Does it really shock you that they feel we don’t understand? … You don’t have to talk to your children about how to behave around the police. That’s the definition of privilege. Privilege is also demanding that people like Michael approach your tender feelings in the correct way even though their family members are dying on our streets every day.”

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