cover image Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line

Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line

Michael Eric Dyson. Basic Books, $20 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-201-91186-2

In this somewhat disjointed essay collection, Dyson (Between God and Gangsta Rap) argues that ""we haven't learned our lessons"" about racial etiquette. This ordained minister writes with rhythm and power, even if he sometimes travels well-trod ground, as when he teases out the racial ironies and subtexts in the O.J. Simpson case or analyzes the respective appeals of Colin Powell and Louis Farrakhan. Dyson also presents a self-indulgent essay on black public intellectuals; while he cogently explains this recent phenomenon, he goes on to offer tongue-in-cheek ""awards"" to various intellectuals and their critics. Much more interesting is his exploration of the tension between black sexuality and the black church, in which he argues that the church must develop ""a theology of eroticism"" to supplant ""guilty repression or gutless promiscuity."" Dyson, who is in his mid-30s, lectures his elders that the criticism rap music generates was once faced by jazz; he goes on to dispute Cornel West's attack on black nihilism by urging a focus on how power in the inner cities has shifted to a dangerous ""juvenocracy."" A final essay on Waiting to Exhale seems a throwaway, but before that, Dyson thoughtfully urges black leaders to ""transform"" race, to challenge white supremacy and black orthodoxy and to link to ""other forms of political resistance."" Author tour. (Oct.)