Religion & Liberty Online

Only The Federal Government Can Keep Republicans Honest, Says Dyson

dysonOver at we have the opportunity to see one of America’s famed black public intellectuals provide another example of unreasonable commentary. Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, in response to the recent Supreme Decision striking down one section of the 1965 Voting-Rights Act said that Clarence Thomas joining the majority opinion is like “A symbolic Jew [who] has invited a metaphoric Hitler to commit holocaust and genocide upon his own people.” Dyson also believes it is asinine that, in America “we should trust [Southern] states to police themselves.” Whites simply cannot be trusted.

One has to wonder why a network like MSNBC would want this type of commentary, but it is important to understand what Dyson is implying. It is pretty well known that black progressives hate all the things that Clarence Thomas represents, so we should not be surprised that Dyson would criticize anything Thomas did. However, to accuse Thomas of being like a self-hating Jew who wanted Hitler to kill his own people is beyond ridiculous. If I were Jewish I might even be offended at the reduction of comparing the Holocaust to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To make his commentary even more odd, Dyson and others believe that special oversight by the federal government is always needed in the states originally covered by the 1965 Act including Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia and later expanded to other states and counties. The translation goes something like this: without the federal government being “big brother” in particular jurisdictions, voting rules for blacks are destined to be discriminatory. The call for on-going government intervention is premised on the belief that white conservatives and post-1960s Republicans have always been racist and always will be no matter what. To press the point even further, many in Dyson’s tribe believe that Southern whites do not have the capacity to be anything other than racist. This is why we need the Act in the South especially. One has to wonder if it has ever occurred to Professor Dyson that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act has actually introduced disincentives for blacks to get involved in local and state politics because of relying too much on central government intervention? Perhaps the best way to promote justice at the local and state level is for citizens to be more heavily involved at the local and state level.

An additional complication is the dominant narrative that blacks would be far worse off in America if it were not for the interventions of the federal government. This story positions scholars like Dyson to suffer from the post-traumatic stress of imagining an America without government intervention. The real question that needs to be explored historically is how much better off blacks would be without the government providing the context for oppression and discrimination in the first place–the oppression that government later gets credit for rescuing people from. We need to ask if the government, in creating special programs for blacks to remedy the government’s past injustice against blacks, has made blacks better off. Thomas Sowell is quoted with posing this piercing question,

Do people who advocate special government programs for blacks realize that the federal government has had special programs for American Indians, including affirmative action, since the early 19th century — and that American Indians remain one of the few groups worse off than blacks?

So, to answer Dyson’s question about trusting self-governance: Yes! We do believe all people in all states need to be very involved in their local and state politics. Perhaps having the federal government step away and all states treated equally under the law is the perfect incentive to encourage civic literacy, participation, and virtue.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.