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February 12, 2001

Dynamic speakers rock
reconciliation, race panel

By Eric Rangus

The crowd of several hundred at Glenn Auditorium for the “Reconciling Race: The Future of American Race Relations” panel discussion Feb. 7 didn’t have to look very hard for provocative statements.

Author and former head of the Black Panther Party Elaine Brown: “There is a new class of Negro with a slave mentality—‘good massa’ versus ‘bad massa.’ Somebody like, say, Colin Powell.”
Harvard University professor Cornel West: “Black folk have to deal with [the illusion of] white supremacy in them.”

DePaul University professor Michael Eric Dyson: “It’s easier to see the decadence of hip-hop culture than it is to see the decadence of the black middle class.”

California state senator and civil rights activist Tom Hayden: “People now are branded. Companies used to make goods; now they make brands. If you reject the brand, [companies] collapse. They’re frightened of you.”

West again: “Most of the great leaders of the 1960s; we don’t know the names. Don’t confuse television leaders with community leaders.”

Dyson again: “We live in a state of amnesia when it comes to race. We are addicted to forgetfulness.”

The evening provided no easy answers, only a litany of perspectives to consider. Dyson spoke of the contexts, subtexts and pretexts of race; Brown asked for a proper definition of race; Hayden questioned the corporate destination of slave-trade profits; and West vilified a corporate- and market-driven culture that feeds racism.

Each of the speakers made salient points throughout, but Dyson was a revelation. Never consulting a note or even stopping to take a breath, it seemed, when he spoke, the religion and cultural studies professor elicited loud applause with every point—not only because of what he said, certainly, but because of a clear, rapid-fire delivery that mesmerized the crowd.

The panelists’ 40-minute dialogue following their opening addresses (scheduled for four minutes each but stretching to 45 total in what was a master’s clinic in public speaking) began as a cordial trade of monologues, flowed into a casual back-and-forth, then erupted into a full-blown argument with West implicating hip-hop culture as too market driven and Dyson defending the artistic relevance of the music and pointing out the “fight for the soul of hip hop,” which prevents all members of the culture from being lumped together.

With West and Dyson leaning forward pointing at each other, their loud discussion lost in Glenn’s echoes, moderator Johnnetta Cole stepped in, arms extended like a boxing referee, and glided to the podium with amazing dexterity. She then turned the floor over to the audience for questions.

Both West and Dyson leaned back in their chairs and smiled broadly.


Back to Emory Report Feb. 12, 2001