Tears We Cannot Stop Book Summary, by Michael Eric Dyson

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1-Page Summary of Tears We Cannot Stop


Michael Eric Dyson’s book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America is about how white people can end racism. He argues that they have the power and privilege in this country, so it’s up to them to make a change.

Black people in the United States face racism every day. In fact, Dyson has faced it himself and knows how terrible it is. He’s been harassed by police and experienced discrimination in banks, colleges, and graduate schools as well as with his brother being convicted of murder. Black people are also stigmatized because they know that police can kill them without any repercussions.

Some white people believe that they are raceless and that whiteness is natural. However, this belief is false because whiteness is not a real concept but an invented one. People of different ethnicities come to the United States where some of them become viewed as trustworthy, virtuous, and superior due to their race.

White people are offended when they’re reminded of the fact that their success is based on oppressing black people. They don’t want to admit that they benefit from white privilege, so instead, they insist that all their advantages were earned through hard work and merit. This prevents them from understanding racism in society.

There are many ways in which white people can be racist. Some of them believe that the Civil War was about states’ rights rather than racism, and they argue against protesting police brutality by refusing to stand during the national anthem. White people think that black people who criticize racism are unpatriotic because they think America is a white country. They ignore or downplay the central place blacks have played in American history.

Racism affects the way black people see themselves. Black communities and churches may believe that white people are smarter or more likely to succeed than black people, and they also believe that light-skinned blacks are smarter and more attractive than dark-skinned blacks. Similarly, sexism in white culture is reflected in black communities as well.

To confront racism, white people can take several steps. The first is reparations. Reparations have mostly focused on government payments to black people for past and ongoing injustices, such as slavery and police brutality. However, individuals can make reparations by paying more to black employees or contributing to scholarships for black students to go to college.

White people should become more educated about black history and racism. They should attend protests against the injustices that African Americans face, such as Black Lives Matter protests. Whites should broaden their social circles to include black people and work to understand them better.

Book Structure

Michael Eric Dyson is a Baptist minister. His book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, uses the rhetorical and linguistic structure of sermons. He also refers to profane rap lyrics as hymns at many points in his book. However, it’s not simply a sermon; it’s an argument that uses the structure of a sermon to add emotional force behind its claims. For example, he sacralizes denigrated aspects of black life and culture by referring to them as hymns.

Dyson writes in a dramatic tone and addresses white people directly. He uses repetition for emphasis, as he says, “We do not hate you, white America… We cannot halt you.” This sentence switches out the word “hate” with its close analog to emphasize that black people’s emotions are less important than white people’s power.

Dyson is an academic and can get a bit pedantic. For example, he spends several pages at the end of his book providing extensive reading lists to help people understand racism in America. However, Dyson writes clearly and uses personal anecdotes to describe concrete instances of racism. Despite the sometimes ornate language and controversial subject matter, Tears We Cannot Stop is easy to read and a quick read.

Tears We Cannot Stop Book Summary, by Michael Eric Dyson

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