MSNBC’s Dyson: We Have to Retrain ‘White Brains,’ ‘White Souls’ on Race

MSNBC’s Dyson: We Have to Retrain ‘White Brains,’ ‘White Souls’ on Race

On Thursday’s “NOW w/Alex Wagner” on MSNBC, Georgetown University professor and MSNBC regular Michael Eric Dyson sounded off on Wednesday’s grand jury decision not to charge New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.

According to Dyson, the issue of race in the incident demonstrates a broader need to change the way Americans think as it pertains to race so that “language gets repeated by white tongues, white brains can follow suit and white souls can at least be trained in a different way.”

Partial transcript as follows:

DYSON: There’s no question that the overweighting of white intention suggests that the exclusive matter of deciding a moral consequence or legal effect of a particular act depends upon what the white person intended and in this case, the white police officer. You know, my pastor told me when I was a child, a mosquito doesn’t intend to give you anything, it intends to extract blood, but it may give you malaria.

So there’s no one-to-one correlation between intentionality and consequentiality. What you intend to do may not be what ends up happening. White intentions are not only the problem; it’s the absolving of white culpability and responsible by referring to white intention. That’s part of the problem as Ms. [Amy] Davidson is suggesting there and I think we really have to wrestle with that…

WAGNER: So, Professor Dyson, how do we retrain America? I mean how — it just seems so insurmountable at times like this. I mean this is something that African-Americans have lived with since the founding of the country. So what is the beginning of the process of reversal?

DYSON: Well, you’ve got to have a bifocal approach here, don’t you? You have to look at the big picture and the cosmic kind of change you have to have which is why you talk about conversations on race, on gender, on sexual orientation. You speak about the nation’s democracy and its democratic traditions and energies.

You have people constantly trying to argue back and forth about the future of this country while being governed by principles of justice, but you’ve got to focus on the small stuff, too, which is interactions between police departments and its citizens and in changing America, retraining it, it happens at the level of school. It happens with parents. It happens with the will and desire to want to see this change, but here’s what I’m afraid of. Not until something happens in the broader white America does it become a problem significant enough for the majority of Americans to take seriously.

And what I mean here is that when this pain begins to be shared in the broader community, when young people say, for instance, who have meth labs on college campuses that are granted implicit immunity end up being shot by the police, you can darn bet right then that this is going to be a problem. This has to be something shared by others and we have to have a level of empathy. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Look, I’m not Russian, but if I were in Russia and some problems were problems were going on in Russia, I would speak out. I’m not Catholic, but I would speak out.’

We have to speak out and to have the masses of American people to imagine themselves as black people as much as they can to generate empathy to say they must speak up and they must demand changes in their own communities to go along with what’s happening. And I thought de Blasio yesterday by saying black lives and brown lives matter makes a big difference because when that language gets repeated by white tongues, white brains can follow suit and white souls can at least be trained in a different way.

(h/t RCP Video)

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor


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