Michael Eric Dyson: Crab in a Barrel

Michael Eric Dyson wasn’t just defending President Obama when he unleashed his torrential rant against Cornel West. Dyson was demonstrating his loyalty to Power, in general. “Dyson’s infantile need to reveal personal details about his one-time friend is based on his own vindictiveness but also on a desire to stay in the good graces of the powerful people West has admonished.”

How does one dissect Michael Eric Dyson’s 10,000-word screed against Cornel West? Not only is the attack purely personal, an act of bitter malice, but Dyson uses The New Republic, an openly racist organ, as his platform.

The title, “The Ghost of Cornel West,” is rather odd. No one except Dyson was aware that West had declined, even figuratively. Cornel West is the author or co-author of twenty-three books. He is a sought after advocate and is called upon by people all over the world to speak for them and with them as they struggle against police brutality, occupation and environmental destruction. West is a voice of principled conscience and is highly respected.

Of course no one is liked or respected by everyone and degrees of dislike are closely related to the opponents one chooses. Dyson’s infantile need to reveal personal details about his one-time friend is partly based on his own vindictiveness but also on a desire to stay in the good graces of the powerful people West has admonished.

Despite having supported Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, West has pointedly criticized the president’s policies. Unlike Dyson, his critiques are based on facts, actions taken, and visible outcomes. When Michael Brown’s killer was not indicted by a Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury West made this comment. “Ferguson signifies the end of the age of Obama. It is a very sad end. We began with tremendous hope and we end with great despair.” It is clear that West is acknowledging and mourning the misplaced trust that he and millions of other people placed in the Obama presidency.

But there is also something even more insidious going on with Dyson and his ilk. He and many other Obamaphiles not only insist on standing by their man, but they go to great lengths to discredit and disparage anyone who doesn’t share their infatuation.

Dyson and other critics rarely take on the substance of West’s statements. Their outrage is based on loyalty to the cult of black success which is epitomized by Obama’s election. They protect him and their friends who have found themselves in West’s rhetorical cross hairs.

This most recent act of character assassination is significant in another way. The New Republic was for many years owned by Martin Peretz, a founding father of neo-liberalism. The only black writers who appeared in TNR were right wingers like Shelby Steele, John McWhorter and Randall Kennedy. Of course TNR should never live down its role in publishing excerpts from The Bell Curve, a book of discredited scholarly value which posited that black people are genetically inferior to other races.

Neither is Dyson the first to lambast West in the pages of TNR. In a 1995 article, “The Unreal World of Cornel West,” the author states that West’s books are “almost completely worthless.” Now under new ownership, TNR is trying to improve its image and in January 2015 admitted its past racism. Giving Dyson a stage for his attack on a man who embodies black Americans struggle for self-determination proves that the apology was meaningless. Dyson has chosen sides. He stands with our enemies against one of our champions.

Black critics of Obama are often labeled as “haters” or “crabs in a barrel.” Like the crustaceans who can’t escape because they pull each other down, Dyson looks at West and is consumed with a bizarre, jealous rage. Dyson is a talking head who indulges in endless and meaningless verbiage while West chooses to stand with the oppressed and the voiceless. Dyson is an empty suit and a first class suck up. Rather than accept his role as a well paid and mediocre intellect he decided to pull Cornel West down. If there is a crab in the barrel in this sorry episode, it is Michael Eric Dyson.