cover image Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism

Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism

Michael Eric Dyson. University of Minnesota Press, $0 (346pp) ISBN 978-0-8166-2141-5

Dyson, who teaches African American studies at Brown University, has collected here an often impressive group of essays and reviews. He argues forcefully for a black criticism that rejects racial essentialism while recognizing the interweaving of cultural and political expression in African American culture. He proposes a quest for a criticism that would celebrate the virtues of black culture without ignoring its failings. Whether writing on Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan, Jesse Jackson or Martin Luther King, he offers a balanced vision that explicates the strengths of his subjects while it excoriates their theoretical lapses, whether sexism or a narrowly reductionist reading of racial politics. The final third of the book, focusing on the role of religion in black culture, features the strongest material, including an incisive analysis of the heroic stature of Dr. King. On the other hand, too many of the book's shorter ``occasional'' pieces seem included more as filler than as contributions to the theoretical or practical grounding of Dyson's work. However, when he draws on personal experience to convey the impact of racism--as when he recalls a humiliating incident at a bank in Princeton, N.J.--he is a powerful writer indeed. (May)