SMLS: Michael Eric Dyson and Ray Suarez Discuss Race in America

SMLS: Michael Eric Dyson and Ray Suarez Discuss Race in America

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Christian Holm
July 23, 2015

Over the past several months, MSNBC Political Analyst Michael Eric Dyson and Al Jazeera America reporter Ray Suarez have provided commentary and context to racial tensions that have flared in Baltimore and Charleston, S.C. They brought their insights to The Washington Center on July 17 for a Simpson-Mineta Leaders Series discussion about the state of race in the United States.


Dyson and Suarez opened by providing a brief historical overview of race relations in the United States. Afterward, Dyson didn’t waste any time diagnosing the root of the problem.


“The irony of our progress is the perception that our problems don’t exist,” he said. “When we see events in Charleston, Ferguson and Baltimore unfold and produced into condensed TV images for all of us to see, it doesn’t need any further explanation.”


Following Dyson’s remarks, Suarez invited questions from several students.


Kristy Won (Institution: University of Washington - Seattle; Internship: D.C Mayor's Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs) How does race relations in the United States impact our global standing as a human rights leader?


Dyson: It’s hard to tell the rest of the world that they should be more conscious of human rights abuses when we have systemic problems of our own. Are the problems we have, such as lack of access to healthcare and our prison system, really any better than anywhere else? We can’t use American exceptionalism to obscure our own problems anymore.


Raphael Mariani (Institution: Vassar College, NY; Internship: Amber Road) Why are some still denying the racial motives of Dylann Roof as the cause of the shooting in Charleston?


Dyson: This is an example of using misinformation to reinforce plausible deniability. It’s easier for some to believe that this was just a random act of violence, rather than accept that culture played a part in turning Roof into a killer. In other words, it’s made to be everything except what it actually is.


Nathaniel Lewis (Institution: University of Illinois - Chicago; Internship: National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors) How do we counteract policies that reinforce racial tension and inequality?


Dyson: We do it by having productive conversations and holding our leaders accountable for destructive policies. We educate the next generation of thinkers and spare them from the misinformation that propagates injustice. The only way to stop the cycle is to be a stopper of the cycle.


Following the Q&A, Dyson gave the students marching orders to become agents of change.


“All of us have to interrogate our processes. We need the courage to challenge injustices so that we don’t replicate the things we’re actually trying to oppose,” he said. “Let’s make sure we are all a part of the American dream as it continues to unfold.”


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