COLUMBIA — E pluribus unum — out of many, one.
According to Michael Eric Dyson, MU’s keynote speaker for Black History Month, this prolific statement carried by the eagle on the Great Seal of the United States explains the reason contributions made by all Americans have helped make this country into what it has become today and why the accomplishments of black Americans should be celebrated by all people during Black History Month.
Dyson — author, professor and social critic — spoke at Jesse Auditorium on Thursday night to share his views on voting, black culture and other issues pertaining to black people in America. The auditorium was nearly full, with people of various ages and races attending.
Dyson began his speech by describing how intricately black and American history intertwine despite attempts to separate the two histories in an attempt to forget the existence of slavery.
“One past is our lover and the other is our baby’s mother,” Dyson said.
It’s phrases like this, along with Dyson’s honesty, that keeps C.J. Buford of Columbia following Dyson’s work. Buford said he has seen Dyson four times at different church appearances.
“If somebody talks to you the way you talk to your friends and at the same time stimulates your mind, it makes you listen,” Buford said, adding he would love to emulate the way Dyson speaks and that he agrees with many of his views. “If I could use some of the words he uses, I would probably say some of the same things.”
Dyson continued his speech by noting some of the double standards that blacks face when people don’t understand the way the past affects the future.
Dysons said that blacks are accused by some of obtaining their success through programs like affirmative action instead of through hard work. Many of those accusers don’t understand that for years, many whites have obtained their status simply by being white and not because of their qualifications, he said, citing Bush’s tenure in the White House as an example.
It is necessary to understand history before one can interpret the present. Without understanding history, it is possible to make “sweeping generalizations” and believe untrue stereotypes, Dyson said.
Dyson, the author of “Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?” pointed to actor and comedian Bill Cosby as an example.
“You can’t assume just because you (were) born black that you know black,” Dyson said. He said it was important for black people to understand their history rather than to assume that being born black is “enough.” You can’t limit your blackness to a music selection, he said.
Dyson quoted well-known poets like Robert Frost, along with big hip-hop names like Tupac Shakur and Jay-Z. He said he is a fan of the music but doesn’t appreciate the misogynistic lyrics in some songs.
Jakeitha Patterson, a graduate student at MU, said it is Dyson’s versatility that keeps her coming to see Dyson.
“He’s able to relate to so many different kinds (of people), he can go from the utmost to the lowermost,” she said.
Dyson ended his speech by noting the stereotypes placed on strong black women, such as Harriet Tubman, who ran the Underground Railroad.
The session ended with a question and answer segment with Dyson followed by a book signing. Other events for Black History Month can be found online.