What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America

Michael Eric Dyson. Macmillan, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-19941-6
Sociologist and political commentator Dyson (Tears We Cannot Stop) delivers a piercing and wide-ranging analysis of American race relations. The focal point of the book is a 1963 meeting between Sen. Robert Kennedy and a group of notable African-Americans, organized by Kennedy to “sound out the prospects for racial change” during a period of extreme social tension. The group included several prominent and celebrated figures—writer James Baldwin, musician Harry Belafonte, singer Lena Horne, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry—as well as Jerome Smith, a Freedom Rider recovering from vicious beatings. The meeting quickly devolved into a tense and explosive encounter. The group “let the rage run free,” forcing Kennedy to finally listen to the anguish of black America. Dyson depicts this as “a watershed moment in American politics” that began a conversation, which continues to this day, about the need to force white people to be witnesses to black suffering, the limits of mainstream liberalism and its gradualist approach, and “the explosive power of truth through testimony.” Dyson rounds out the book by bringing contemporary cultural touchstones into the discussion, among them Jay-Z, Beyoncé, the film Get Out, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Black Lives Matter. This is a poignant take on still-festering racial tensions in the United States. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/28/2018
Release date: 06/05/2018
Compact Disc - 978-1-250-29593-4
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