“Barack Obama is the Shaquille O’Neal of presidents,” said Michael Eric Dyson during a visit to Third Unitarian Church, 301 N. Mayfield Ave., in Austin on April 24 as part of an annual lecture series named after the church’s minister emeritus, Rev. Don Wheat.
Dyson, a professor, media personality, author, hip-hop scholar and himself an ordained minister, pulled out all of those hats in what amounted to a roughly hour-long sermon/lecture/improvised comedic performance.
On Sunday, Dyson’s genuine disappointment with Obama was on full, virtuosic display, as he riffed on the main theme of his recently published book, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America.
For Dyson, Obama will go down as one of the greatest presidents in American history (“the Black Ronald Reagan”), but with a record that’s more deserving of historical hagiographies and misty-eyed revision. After all, Obama saved the banks, saved the auto industry and implemented a more humane health care system. And besides, Dyson said, just imagine the headlines if Obama hadn’t done these things?
“‘First Negro allows banks to collapse’ … Forget the first term, he wouldn’t make it out the first week!”
But when it comes to dealing with race, Obama will be judged more harshly, Dyson argued. Black matters to the first black president are like free throws to one of the NBA’s all-time great centers — a liability, noted the Georgetown professor, who served as an official Obama surrogate in 2008.
In his sermon, and in his book, Dyson references the president as the “scold of black people,” a bitter play on The Souls of Black Folk, the famous 1903 book by W.E.B. Du Bois.
This is a president, Dyson argues, who praises LGBT activists “for pushing him” to do what’s right, but who tells Black Lives Matter activists that they “can’t just keep yelling.”
“But never a word that is disconsolate spoken to real bigots who challenge the legitimacy of you to even be a citizen, much less to be a president!” Dyson shouted, as if Obama were sitting in the front row.
Obama, Dyson argued, is most conciliatory, empathetic, understanding and open to negotiate with his enemies (the John “orange is the new black” Boehners of the world), but harshly Cosby-esque to his own, suffering kind.
He cries for the children of Newtown, ignoring the familial dysfunction of the gunman responsible for the massacre, while he goes to places like Chicago (where “young people of color are mercilessly murdered!”) and feels compelled to lecture on family values, Dyson said.
“As if a present father might have stopped the infusion of guns that are readily available!” the professor shouted.
Obama, “acts like whites don’t need scolding,” too. That would be wrong, Dyson said. “I teach ’em, I knows they do.”
“If you don’t scold whites,” Dyson argued, “don’t do it to blacks!”