...draws both its impassioned style and its moral urgency from his years in the pulpit ... The result is one of the most frank and searing discussions of race I have ever read. This is a book that will anger some readers, especially those who reject Dyson’s central premise: that if we want true racial equality in America, whites themselves must destroy the enduring myths of white supremacy. Even sympathetic readers might mistake this extraordinary work for merely a catalog of white sins. But such a reading fails to account for the actual experience of Dyson’s sermon, in which a black preacher speaks to his white congregants in the most tender, intimate terms, even as he preaches against a culture of 'whiteness' ... again and again Dyson makes it clear that more than white guilt, he seeks action, and more than condemnation, he wants change. He wants readers to wake from their sleep of ignorance about 'what it means to be black in America.' Reading his praise for James Baldwin, I couldn’t help thinking that the same is true of Dyson himself: 'His words drip with the searing eloquence of an evangelist of race determined to get to the brutal bottom of America’s original sin' ... Tears We Cannot Stop is a lament, originating from within the grieving heart of black America, aimed directly at white readers who are often too frightened, or indifferent, or ashamed, to look a man like Michael Eric Dyson in the eyes. I can only hope that others will read and be changed by this book. It ends with a desperate plea for white Americans to rise up in defense of, and in solidarity with, our African-American brothers and sisters. In response, I say simply: Amen.
To root the book in his own life and tradition, Dyson structures it as a worship service, dividing chapters into 'Hymns of Praise,' 'Invocation,' 'Benediction' and 'Sermon,' the latter of which constitutes more than half of the text. At first this seems a bit contrived, since these components don't function the same way in print as they do in person in a worshipping community. But the format also allows Dyson, a celebrated academic and news analyst, to reclaim his identity as an ordained Baptist minister. So his narrative voice carries a deeper and more intimate authority ... This personal experience — Dyson's raw honesty and self-revelation — enables him to confront his white audience and reach out to them.
...thoughtful yet angry, mingling insight, righteousness and harshness ... there is little comradeship in these pages, and if there is love, it is of the toughest kind imaginable. Dyson makes clear that he regards much of white America as a pernicious force ... Still, he asserts that his problem is less with white individuals than with whiteness itself — with the political, economic and social advantages the status confers ... At times, though, there seems to be a built-in irrefutability to Dyson’s case. Any effort by white people to disassociate themselves from charges of privilege, to bypass or mitigate guilt, is dismissed as just another case of “innocent whiteness” — of reckless, blind denial...Any argument against Dyson is then, by definition, confirmation of his point. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. But it does little to invite dialogue ... Yet Dyson is also pessimistic about the chances for racial understanding in America and, in this book at least, he doesn’t show enormous capacity for it himself.