Michael Eric Dyson's Appearance On Politically Incorrect
One of our viewers, Joseph Anderson, was kind enough to refer us to a very interesting transcript of Michael Eric Dyson 's appearance on Politically Incorrect on September 24th. We run it today for the benefit of all of our viewers. Special thanks to Joseph for alerting us to the program.
Bill: Good evening. Welcome again to "Politically Incorrect"...
I think we have put together a panel, again, tonight for you that will be
interesting and enlightening. Some people, here, I have had on many times,
and I like very much. All of you have been here before.
This is Michael Eric Dyson. This is his book, "Hollar If You Hear Me." He is
a college professor and a columnist for the "Chicago Sun-Times."
This, of course, is Holland Taylor, an Emmy-winning actress. You're doing a
play at the Playhouse these days called "The Unexpected Man."
Kerri Houston's been with us before. She is the National Field director for
the American conservative union.
And, of course, Tommy Smothers is...Tommy Smothers. ...I don't--
I don't know what I think! --With just him sitting here--
Tommy: Yeah, here I am.
Bill: --It's like in "The Godfather" when they brought the brother into the
trial, you know? Nothing had to be said: ...He's here.
All right, I wanna talk about racial profiling here, today. And I don't want
you to have to bear the burden of being the spokesman for all of
Black-America...[looking at Dyson]
Bill: But, I think a lot of people, and I am one of them, have been
thinking lately, what do Black-Americans think about racial profiling?
Because, until this happened, this was a horrible thing in America, racial
profiling. But, I would guess now, Black-Americans, like most people, also
don't wanna get on a plane with the three angry-looking Arab guys.
Michael: Well, you know, here's the reality: I think that many African
American people understand that in this nation, where we've endured this
horrible tragedy, that obviously all of us have jangled nerves: we're
suspicious, we're skeptical. We wanna be kind, and, yet, we don't wanna be
But I think that, beyond that, most African American people say they flip
the script. They say, "Maybe now white-Americans understand what we've been
dealing with for a long time here."
So when we look at Arab-Americans, true enough, I think --I hope I would've
had the courage to step out on the plane with them in Minneapolis and say,
"You know what? I'm in solidarity with you, 'cause this stuff has happened
to me." And many white-Americans think they're justified because they think
black people tend to rape, rob, kill, steal, murder, destroy.
So I would tend to think that many African American people, although they
understand why it happens, still find it unacceptable. I still think it's an
unacceptable practice. Because many of those Arab people who are citizens of
this country, and who have given their lifeblood for the sustenance of this
nation as we have, the rest of us have, are the very ones being targeted.
And they are just as embarrassed at the outrageous behavior of a small
subsection of their community.
Kerri: And, of course, a lot of them came here to escape what has happened
Bill: Almost all of them--
Kerri: A great number of them. Yeah, yeah.
Bill: --Came here to be away from the *culture* that produced this kind of
violence. That's why those are the ones who come here. And they're the smart
ones 'cause they're the ones who've figured who to get out of that prison.
Holland: It isn't just racial profiling. It's any kind of profiling. And
you have to look at when it's happening. Is it happening because somebody is
driving down in a rough neighborhood with a bunch of guys in a car? And are
they suspicious and should you pull them over just because of profiling or
if someone's getting on a plane which is, after all, a bomb, and is there
profiling there for much more serious reasons? I think, once a person has
been admitted to a plane, they theoretically should have gone through all
the scrutiny they are going to go through.
Bill: Oh, and there's 'so' much scrutiny.
Holland: And once having gotten on the plane, they should be welcomed as
anyone. They've passed through what scrutiny there is.
Michael: Right, and they just--
Bill: But we still don't have scrutiny at the airport.
Michael: But, you know what? I'll tell you this, though: I think America is
now a Black nation, though, Bill. Because, you see, when people tell me,
"Well, you gotta get to the airport two hours ahead to get your luggage
searched through" --Oh, I've been doing that for 15 years! Oh, you mean
--oh, and I'm always the random guy! My name is Michael "Random" Dyson!
I go through --right? I go through the airport, they check me --and I go, I
don't care if I shave, or if I got a beard. I can have my left eye closed
and my right eye cocked. If I go through wearing a suit and a tie or looking
like a B-boy, it doesn't make a difference: it's, "Sir, could you step
aside, please." And I'm saying, this is what I deal with constantly.
And, you know, I said, "Tim McVeigh behind me is getting away with murder,
and I'm being checked and searched down." And I'm saying that this, to me,
now, puts America in the position of African American people. This is
indeed, to me, a kind of 'Blackening' of America.
Holland: They're learning.
Bill: You mean the people at the airport actual going through where you put
your luggage; they're the ones who take you aside?
Michael: Oh, absolutely!
Bill: 'Cause they're the ones who look - I mean, they're the ones, who,
when they go through, must get it even worse.
Michael: Oh, absolutely!
Bill: I mean, they look--
Michael: Here's the irony: You tell them, you know what, a lot of you who
are doing this job, getting paid subsistence wages, look like me! You must
know that I'm not more likely to do this to somebody else.
And Black women, above anybody, are stopped and searched ridiculously! I've
talked to many professional Black women who are taken aside. So, I'm saying
to you that the treatment America now is dealing with is a kind of low-level
Bill: Why women?: Why Black women?
Michael: Well, that's -- it's idiotic, because they're not more likely to
commit any more crime than anybody else. But, because they're felt to be,
somehow, more likely to conceal it by not looking obvious, then they are the
ones who are taken aside.
Bill: Oh, they can hide it in the high hair.
Tommy: Well, the profiling: If you profile -- if everybody was profiled,
and just not the Arabs or Blacks, and they're starting to profile everybody
now, but they're not. But, if they were, they would probably, if there was
somebody that'd be profiling and started profiling, say, someone not as --
say, a little weird or a little slow-witted -- so that they say, "I don't
know: you might be stupid enough to do something!"
Michael: But, here's the point that's interesting. I think -- but, you know
what? Whenever we talk about profiling, look at this: When Tim McVeigh did
what he did -- and let's admit it, it's not your religion or your, if you're
a fundamentalist. When Tim McVeigh did what he did, I didn't see them
profiling *white* boys from mid-West with buzz cuts. They just didn't do
that! I mean, they were not the suspects who were being taken aside.
Bill: But that is a bit of a specious argument, because that really was an
aberration. I mean, the amount of people in this country, or even around the
world, who were sympathetic to what Tim McVeigh did, I would guess number in
the hundreds, maybe the thousands. Even militia groups distanced themselves
from Tim McVeigh.
The amount of people around the world who were sympathetic, whether we wanna
believe this or face this, to what went on September 11th, number in the
millions to tens of millions, maybe the hundreds of millions. The Arab
streets in many capitals and villages in the Arab world think that was a
good thing. So it is not comparable, and let's get --
Michael: Okay, point granted--in the sense that there are millions of more
people around the world who believe that. But, in this country, when we talk
about some of the ideas put forth like a Tim McVeigh, or people who are
engaging in the murder of doctors at abortion clinics, I'm saying - to me -
the problem is not whether you are Christian or Muslim or Jew. The problem
is, are you a fascist and fundamentalist? And do you believe that your
viewpoint is the only one to be taken legitimately, and has the resonance
morally in this country?
And I'm telling you -- listen, the arguments that bin Laden is making
against the West, I've heard *Bill Bennett* make 'em, I've heard right-wing
*Rush Limbaugh* make 'em --"American Western culture is crazy, it's stupid,
Bill: Hey, hey!: Rush Limbaugh defended me last week. Don't attack him.
Michael: --Right-wing conservatives. And they've made the most ridiculous
arguments, both on terms of race and in terms of class and gender and
culture in this nation. And I said, that's the same stuff! I don't see the
difference between Bill Bennett and that argument -- not in terms of the
moral context. So, that's what I mean. I mean, of course, millions of people
around this world think that what happened to America was its comeuppance!
Michael: Many Black people understand that.
Bill: But, to racially profile, even if it's not right--and we agree it's
not right--can something be not right and yet be justified?
Kerri: Well, I think we might be having a little bit of the wrong argument.
I've flown twice since the event happened. And both times they asked me if I
had nail clippers. And I said no. And then I thought to myself, if I'm a
terrorist on a plane, do I say, "Excuse me, do you have any nail clippers in
your bag that I could use?" It's ridiculous!
What we need to concentrate on is security, not racial profiling. You can
have 500 Arabs and one lunatic on a plane, and it's the white lunatic that's
gonna do something crazy.
Bill: We have to take a break. We'll be right back...
Bill: Okay, welcome back...
One of the things I wanted to get to last week and never did is why do they
hate us!? You know, what's goin' on there!?
Dan Rather said something that I thought was rather -- I didn't understand
why he said this: He was asked a week ago as a guest when he was on with
Dave Letterman, why did they do this, why do they hate us? And he [Rather]
said, "We just don't know. They just hate."
And I just thought that can't be!--and --
[Talking over each other]
Tommy: I've heard that said: "Why do they hate? --Why do they hate our
freedom? And why do they hate" - I say, "They don't hate our freedom." They
hate the fact that we're not -- we're not exporting it to the rest of the
We're just sitting here free as birds--all the things we can do--and yet I
haven't seen our government representing people who love revolution, who
support the little guy. Our government goes out--we don't pay attention to
'em. They [the U.S. govt.] support every death squad, every -- just about
all the way down along the line--
Bill: Well, we fought for the freedom of Kuwait when that was invaded--who,
incidentally, had *oil*!
Michael: Yeah, right.
Tommy: Was that another 'democracy'?
Michael: Well, that's the point, though. I mean, America, let's get it
right, either we're supporting the guy or we're against the guy. Either
we're with Saddam Hussein - ol' man Bush is in his corner - and then when
Kuwait becomes a problem--geography then!--with the oil there, then he
becomes the enemy.
Either we're funneling money through the CIA into Afghanistan to put down
the Soviet rebels on the one hand - and then Laden is our friend - or now
he's our enemy because we taught him the dirty tricks he used against us.
So, for me, why do they hate us? Because American imperialism and
colonialism is devastating! It reaches wide! Its tentacles are just
enormously offensive! And people don't hate our freedom; they hate the way
in which we hoard the freedom to ourselves!
[Talking over each other]
Holland: It's just ours. It's our jewel.
Michael: That kind of arrogance -- to me, is deeply offensive. This is why,
again, when I talk about African-American people who look at this, when we
look at the flag waving, it's not that we're not American: We love America,
but we make a distinction between patriotism and nationalism.
*Patriotism* is the critical support of your country in the face of its best
virtues and trying to correct it when it's wrong. *Nationalism* is the
uncritical support of America, right or wrong. And nationalism--
Holland: Which we've seen a lot of lately -- six guns shooting and flags
waving. It's just indiscriminately...
Michael: This is nuts to me. If I was a guy who's smart as you, I'd be
pissed off when I got stopped at the airport, too.I tell ya--
Holland: Can I say something on the hate America theme? Speaking after such
brilliance... Mike, forgive me, but just, from my point of view, the thing
that I find myself thinking again and again, since the 11th, is that a lot
of us say - and the phrase that comes to everybody's mind - it's a new
world; it's a different world. [But, ] The fact is, it's a new *America*.
It's a different *America*. It's the same *old* world.
And what I find, in terms of everyone hating us - which is the theme - that,
on the contrary - not speaking of the Arab world specifically or our enemies
there specifically - but generally I find the world has been kind to us and
tolerant, because we are like a prodigal bad child who has all the goodies
and our face smeared with candy and our pockets stuffed with dollar bills
and our tricycles and our guns and our six-shooters.
And we've been having a whale of time over here on our continent, and
nothing has happened to us. And [now] something has happened to us! The
scale of it was so spectacular that it stopped the world. But, really,
European nations around the globe could have said, "Grow up, wake up! So now
you're like -- now you understand what the world is really like!" Because
they live with the potential of this kind of thing all the time. It's just
the scale of it was like --it was like a child that was whipped unseemly, in
an unseemly way.
So the world is now saying, "That was a hell of beating that young nation
had to get to wake up!--to grow up and enter the world which already was
Michael: And you know what? What else is -- what's interesting, too, is
that this is not the first Wall Street to burn. You remember back in 1920s
when, in Tulsa, Oklahoma with the upwardly mobile Black people, there was an
act of such utter horror, when they bombed those people out of their
communities in Oklahoma. And what's interesting to me, when I hear people
rage to war--
Bill: People are not familiar, so just briefly tell the story of [Tulsa,]
Michael: Well, what happened is that this was called "the Black Wall
Street" in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And in Tulsa, Oklahoma an all-Black community
was established - historically established. They had their own banks, their
own systems of delivery of goods and services: highly educated Black people.
And because of the resentment, the collective resentment of the white folk,
who were there against the Black folk, they went out and looted their
stores, burned their homes, and killed these people in massive numbers.
And I'm saying, what's interesting to me is that, now that I see America
hurtling toward war, I ask, should Black people have responded against their
white brothers and sisters in the same way that we now want to respond to
our brothers and sisters throughout the world?
I don't romanticize bin Laden, because he started in Africa [allegedly
bombed the U.S. embassy in the Sudan]. Let's not get it twisted. He doesn't
have solidarity with people of color. The reality however is that
African-American people in particular, but others as well, understand that
low-grade terrorism is what we confront in this nation every day.
You tell me about arbitrary violence. What happens if you think -- my son
who lives in Atlanta, will he go out today and, reaching for his wallet:
some policeman 'mistake' it for a gun and then murder him? I tell you,
that's terroristic to me. Now, it's low-grade, it's not on the spectacular
scale about which you've spoke, but it is an insidious every day factor that
robs us of a sense of security in this nation. And that's what I think we
all feel. That's why I say we're all Black now. Everybody understands what
it means to be Black right now in America.
Bill: But, for that reason, do you think that Black-America has an
understanding of -- because I think, like I said, this idea that, you know,
"Why do they hate us?" "They just do!" That seems to be white-America
[saying]: "They just do!"
Is there an understanding that Black-America has? I mean, because, you know,
when I heard that -- "They just hate us!" -- I thought back to like when we
had the riots here. And I heard people say the same thing: "Why are the
Black people rioting? Well, they just do! You know, they're criminals, and
they just do! They just -- you know, they have nothing better to do, and
they just hate us!"
And I thought, you know -- and don't hang me on this analogy -- but it's
like when you heard on "60 Minutes" last night -- Muslim people say -- well,
a lot of the Arab people, the Muslim people" -- this was like, okay, they
finally got the invincible super power! I thought - like, when the O.J.
verdict came down -it's like they finally got one!
Michael: Right, exactly.
Bill: And I'm not saying Black - please, I don't need any more trouble -
I'm not saying Black people are anything like the terrorists, but is there
an analogy there between people who finally get one mark against the
Michael: And Black people didn't even have to necessarily believe O.J. was
innocent, they just didn't think he was guilty. Because what they were
trying to say to America is, "We've been trying to tell you this story about
how Black people have been mistreated in this system for so long." O.J. is a
rickety broken-down metaphor, but he's the best we got. Because only a guy
like that would be really appealing to white America.
O.J. was a substitute white man. So when white America saw him, they were
*abhorred*! Now, if Jim Brown had been the guy, white people would have been
going, "*Of course*, he did that!! *Of course*!!" Right?
But not -- but hey, not with O.J.!! 'Cause O.J. was a white guy in black
face. So finally, Black people said, "Hey, you know what, if O.J. got away
with it, baby, and he was one of theirs, then darn right, we're gonna do the
boogaloo and celebrate."
Now I'm saying to you -- and Black people knew that he was just as
disingenuous -- and the only thing black on O.J. for years was the bottom of
Bill: But for people who had never gotten a break from the criminal justice
Michael: That was beautiful!
Bill: It was even better that he really was guilty!
Michael: That's exactly! -
You can't frame -- you know what was wrong with that trial? You can't frame
Bill: --A guilty man!
Michael: You know what I'm sayin'? And I'm not suggesting that - Mr.
Simpson, if you see this. What I'm saying to you --
Keepin' it real, "G"! But let me tell you this, many of those - Black people
understand. We live in a nation where, yes, we have been mistreated. Here is
what we say, "If they did this stuff to us through slavery, and Jim Crow
apartheid, do you think - If they did this with people who are Americans, who
died for them and went to war to defend the possibility of democracy
spreading, and came back with German prisoners of war - and the German
prisoners of war could go into the front door of the restaurant, and the
black people had to go to the back door. If they did it to us, what do you
think they've done throughout the world!?"
Of course, we understand! Of course, we empathize! Of course, we understand
what it means, finally, to say, "This is what we have felt like! This is the
terror we experience every day! And you must now bear the unavoidable misery
that comes with that kind of imposed terror."
Bill: Okay, I have to take commercial. We will be right back...
Bill: Okay, we're back...
And, you know, we're all trying to be sensitive. And that's well and good...
[But] Is anyone a little bit disturbed by this list of songs that the radio
is not supposed to play anymore? Clear Channel Communications [Inc.],
Michael: Yeah, yeah.
[Laughter and applause]
Bill: Uh, yeah.
No, it's not -- no, they're not banned. But, it is kind of a blacklist. And
some of them I really don't understand. You can't play "What A Wonderful
Michael: I don't get that.
Bill: Yeah, because I guess it's not!--
Kerri: 'Cause we don't wanna be too cheerful.
Bill: But then we don't--
Holland: It's inappropriately cheerish.
Bill: We don't wanna be cheerful, but then we don't wanna sing - "Benny and
the Jets" is no good; "American Pie" is no good. It's odd --"Ticket to Ride"
-- you know, some of these, obviously you understand the reasoning--
Kerri: Are the royalties too high? ...Is that the problem?
Tommy: Well, there's a time, when things get tough, there's always these
people who wanna stop the very concepts of what we're about. Which is "free
expression," and it's always in a righteous, national, sick sense of the
word. And when I look at you, Bill, and what you're going through this past
week, I have such compassion for you because--
Bill: Who would know better?
Tommy: --The Smothers brothers, we were fired. We had all these constant
things [said] that, "We were un-American." *Because* we were patriotic, we
were criticizing our country, because it was valid to do it. You *had* to do
it, if you're a real patriot. If you have a sickness going on, you wanna
point it out.
Tommy: And you had to go through this thing. And, now, I warned you about
this. I said, "Sometimes we gotta keep a twinkle in our eye and not say
exactly what we wanna say, what we mean."
Your passion's true, and your thoughts are true. And right now when we see
this thing, it's the same type of thing: We don't wanna it hear it on --
something that disturbs, someone's making those rules for us. And who they
are, I don't know who they are.
Holland: Well, fortunately, it wasn't a law. It was a suggestion. But it's
interesting to me that the suggestion is to avoid stirring up feelings.This
is not about opinions or politics. This is about making people feel a
certain way: "Don't make them feel squeamish about having any kind of
happiness when such a terrible thing has happened in the world. Don't make
them feel even more downtrodden by, you know, songs that use words like
'bomb,' or 'kill' or 'death.'"
Bill: It is odd that--
Holland: It's suppression of feeling--
Bill: At the moment that Mayor Giuliani is telling the citizens -- you
know, 'cause he said he would walk down the streets, somebody would pass
him, they would be smiling and they would stop, because they felt it was
wrong to be smiling.
And he had to say, you know, "Please, it's okay. You may smile." And at the
same time, we're not allowed to say, "What A Wonderful World" or -- you know
-- two of the songs -- "Imagine," I thought was banned. And then it was sung
on the telethon the other night. So, which is it?
Holland: One of the great songs ever written: "Imagine."
Michael: I think we're caught in kind of a collective--
Bill: And isn't that the appropriate song now? Aren't we trying to
"Imagine" a better world?
Tommy: What's this collective thing we're caught in now? 'Cause I know
Michael: Right, right, right. Well, I think it's collective grief. I mean,
obviously we're grieving as a nation. We don't know the appropriate
Holland: But, we should have those feelings.
Michael: Oh, no, no -- absolutely. We should have them. We should
articulate them. And we should be honest about them. But I'm saying that in
a nation, again, where we have -- you know, we don't wanna be too happy or
to appear to be too blithe in the face of somebody else's horror and
destruction. I understand that. But, at the same time, I think, as brother
Smothers is saying, is that --
--when you have a nation where you cannot express yourself--
Bill: --All right!: One of "the Brothers"!
Bill: --I'm sorry.
Michael: That's the Black Baptist preacher in me!--
Bill: I gotta take another [commercial] break. I'm in enough trouble...
Bill: Okay, we're out of time...
Thank you, panel. Thank you [audience] for letting us talk openly, even as
we pay our respects and rally around the flag.
Tommy: Your show is very important. I'm glad it's on.
Bill: Thank you.
Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher
Thursday, October 11, 2001