Dyson’s theory of random fate

Posted: July 28, 2008 in Commentary
Tags: , , ,

I am referring to Michael Eric Dyson’s piece on CNN.com where he talks about the life choices made between he and his brother (who is currently serving life in prison).

Two Brothers, Two Paths: Shades of Race

Dyson makes the following comment–

Still, I’m not seduced by the notion that I made superior choices because I was a better person. I believe that Everett is an extremely smart young man who got caught in a world of trouble – yes, by his own hand, with an assist from a society that often viewed young black males as disposable and unimportant – but who could, if given the opportunity, direct his considerable gifts to making our world more enlightened about the plight of poor, struggling black males. That’s my hope as I work diligently to free him from prison so that he can come back to society with a renewed will to offer his talent in service of our people and nation.

Herein lies the main problem I have with his piece. While he acknowledges that his brother (who mind you grew up in the same house with the same parents) made some bad life choices, he (Michael) attempts to negate these poor choices by blaming society for somewhat pushing him in that direction because he is Black.

Why then did that same society fail at pushing him in that same bad direction?

While I can certainly understand the love that he has for his brother, making excuses for him because of his darker skin is disingenuous and demeaning at best. He talks about this in this article. Here is what he said:

Besides the choices we made, Everett and I are also examples of an ugly trait that persists in black communities: the ruin of color consciousness. I am a light-skinned brother; Everett is a deep chocolate black man.

I am not suggesting that the mere difference in shade has led to his brutal circumstances and my rise. I am arguing, however, that the persistence of colorism — a sometimes subtle hierarchy of social standing historically dictated in part by darkness or lightness of one’s skin, measuring the proximity to, or distance from, the vaunted white ideal — affected how he was viewed as a developing youth, impacting the view of what gifts he might possess while shaping the presence or absence of social opportunities open to him.

(my quick side note: There are plenty of light-skinned drug-addicts, drug dealers, prostitutes, rapists, thugs, gang bangers, creeps out there as well. How do they fit in this rationale?)

Dyson, like so many other people who have avoided a life of crime did not make “superior choices” because he was a better person. He made superior choices because he chose to do so. Mind you, superior choices don’t always guarantee fame, fortune and glory. But they can certainly increase your odds in reaching those goals. For the majority of Black folks in this country who do not live in the ghetto, we are not there because of some random fate. We are where we are today because we chose to increase our odds at success in life. What I will never understand is why many middle class Black folks I have known throughout my life feel the need to lay the complete fate of less fortunate Black folks at the feet of perceived White racism. Mind you, these things are said all while they themselves are living examples of just how far a Black person can go in this society despite the occasional encounter with White racist attitudes. If we can make it, so can they. So stop selling them short.

I wanted to know more about Dyson’s brother Everett, so I came across this letter he wrote to his brother. I’m just going to cite a few excerpts.

In this excerpt, he is talking to his brother and talking about the situation that landed him in prison.

A young black man with whom you were formerly acquainted was tied up in a chair on the second floor of a sparsely furnished house. He had tape tightly wrapped around his eyes. He was beaten on the head. He was shot twice in the chest at extremely close range, producing “contact wounds.”

After breaking free of his constraints, he stumbled down the flight of stairs inside the house where he was shot. Once he made it down the stairs outside the house, he collapsed on the front lawn of the house next door. As he gasped for breath while bleeding profusely, he was asked,
first by neighbors, then by relatives who had arrived on the scene, and later by a policeman, “Who did this to you?” Something sounding close enough to your name was uttered. The badly wounded man was pronounced dead a short time later after being rushed to an area hospital.

Notice what I highlighted in the next excerpt.

I was stunned. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been. Detroiters were fed up with crime, including the ones who peopled the black jury that convicted you. How many times had this apparent scenario been repeated for them: black men killing other black men, then seeking pardon from blacks sitting on a jury in a mostly black city?

So is this an acknowledgment that an all Black jury does not necessarily equate to fair justice? Or is it a subtle attempt to paint Blacks who sit in jury boxes as incapable of passing fair judgment due to social ills allegedly beyond their control?

There are plenty of other areas in his commentary that I could address like the fact that while he mentions that there are more Black men in prison than in college, this claim has already been proven false. Or his failure to mention that it was groups like the Congressional Black Caucus that pushed heavily for the 3-strikes law (the law responsible for placing many of our young men and women in prison).

As I mentioned earlier, while exercising personal responsibility certainly isn’t a sure fire way to launch someone out of an unfortunate life situation, it certainly has proven to be a major catalyst behind the upward mobility of many Blacks in this country. Dyson acknowledges that he made better life choices than his brother, but then tries to negate his brother’s mistakes by blaming society–mind you, the same society where he himself was able to achieve much success as a writer, commentator and tenured college professor.


Letter to My Brother, Everett, in Prison
Author: Dr. Michael Eric Dyson

Commentary: Me and my brother and black America
Author: Dr. Michael Eric Dyson

Two Brothers, Two Paths: Shades of Race
Author: Dr. Michael Eric Dyson

Links that refute negative claims about Black men

  1. WBMT says:

    once again, well said, I will be posting something via youtube over the next day or so addressing specifically some of the statistical “claims” made in the piece. Keep doing the good and necessary work!


  2. captkidney says:

    Excellant post! Race issues aside, we have become a nation of irresponsible whiners. It’s good to see you call Dyson out on it.

  3. Zack says:

    Duane, this is an excellent post! I have similar views about this matter. And you “sealed the deal” with your comments about black juries in black cities. BRAVO!

    And you’re a better radio commentator than I am. But don’t tell Mo’Kelly.

  4. Give it a rest says:


    You are taking a very complicated issue and trying to simplify it.
    My grandmother used to tell me the story about how she and her sister were paraded around her Catholic elementary school because the Nuns could not believe that these two girls, one dark, one light-skinned could possible be sisters! While this PARTICULAR incident did happen over 60 years ago incidents such as this are NOT uncommon today. Maybe they will not be done in such an overt fashion but stuff like this is still done to our children everyday and have profound effects on them that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

    Duane, the reason you will find a great deal of middle-class blacks that are NOT afraid to admit that racism DOES have a different effect on different memebers of the same family is simply because they know it to be the truth. They have seen it with their own eyes!

    Duane you can have identical black twins and one night one might get accused of a crime and beat up on by some racist cops. This incident might leave a level of fear and self-hate in that twin that the other will NEVER understand at any point in their life. Needless to say one twin will go on though life with a damaged self-esteem that will prevent him from achiving what the other twin can attian with ease.

    Duane, now going back to sibling of different skin tones. The first thing we need to be consious of is how the parents of these children respond to them. It is common for the black child to have his/her spirit broken within their own home because their parents are treating the lighter (or darker) skinned child(ren) with preference.
    Children are self-forefilling prophacies if you make them believe they are good they will be good, on the otherhand if you make them believe they are bad or worthless they WILL behave accordingly.

    To believe that just because people come from the same family they should all be equally successful is silly and childish. You appear to be attempting to turn a psycological problem into a socialological one. The first question you need to ask yourself about Dyson is how truthful is he being with himself and to any readers of his letters? Maybe a great deal of his continued support for his brother stems out of the fact that he knows his brother really did get a raw deal at the hands of the parents that were instamental in Dyson’s own success (AND HE LOVES).
    Duane are you considering the fact that maybe Dyson brings up the issue of color because he was the FAVORED light-skinned son, and in his heart he knows it.

  5. Zack says:

    Give It A Rest,
    Stop by my blog for an example of how LOOKS don’t have a DAMN thing to do with how my siblings and I were raised. In fact, I omitted that my fair-skinned Mom and her deep-chocolate sister squabble about this from time to time. My Mom was slightly neglected, despite her having light skin. On the other hand, my aunt- who feels that my grandparents disliked her dark skin- was given preferential treatment (music lessons, speech classes, the whole 9).

    I understand your viewpoint, but try listening to other people sometimes. You might learn something, rather than trying to “school” Duane on his own blog.

  6. Interesting exchange.
    I must say all of you may just be right. As the legal maxim goes, every case turns around its facts-no fast and quick rules. Some light skin kids may be favored, others may be treated more severely so as not to allow them develop a self-defeating superiority complex (Malcolm X’s case). In some African ethnic groups (ex. the bamileke of W.Africa),light skinned women are more ‘costly’ to marry in terms of the bride price.

  7. Juan Garner says:

    Great points were made. THANK YOU for pointing out the fact that the statistic that there are more black males in jail than there are in college. What they don’t tell you is that the sample group (the people they choose to look for for their info) they use are people from college age (18) up through at least age 40, so yes if you look at it that way there will be more in jail than in college but if you look at it from the perspective of the age group that’s typically in college these days (18-26, somtimes a littole odler depending on what’s being pursued), then the statistic reflects the reality that for those that should be in college, there are more in college than in jail. I’m so sick of hearing that bullshit! I’ve taken a statistics class so I know how statisitics can be manipulated to show whatever it is you want them to show. Statisitcs are not a representation of truth or lies, but are information that can represent either or depending on what side you’re on. If you’ve already done an article on why that statistic is false, I say post it again, send it to radio stations that African Americans listen to, do whatever you can to get that info out because so many people ignorantly rely on that stupid so-called information.

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