“Barack Obama is the Shaquille O’Neal of presidents,” said Michael Eric Dyson during a visit to Third Unitarian Church in Austin on April 24 as part of an annual lecture series named after the church’s minister emeritus and longtime Oak Parker, Rev. Don Wheat. 

Dyson, a professor, media personality, author, hip-hop scholar and himself an ordained minister, pulled out all of those hats in what amounted to a roughly hour-long sermon/lecture/improvised comedic performance. 

Dyson’s genuine disappointment with Obama was on full, virtuosic display, as he riffed on the main theme of his recently published book, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America.

For Dyson, Obama will go down as one of the greatest presidents in American history (“the Black Ronald Reagan”). After all, Obama saved the banks, saved the auto industry and implemented a more humane health care system. And besides, Dyson said, just imagine the headlines if Obama hadn’t done these things? 

“‘First Negro allows banks to collapse’ … Forget the first term, he wouldn’t make it out of the first week!”

 But when it comes to dealing with race, Obama will be judged more harshly, Dyson argued. Black matters to the first black president are like free throws to one of the NBA’s all-time great centers — a liability, noted the Georgetown professor, who served as an official Obama surrogate in 2008.

In his sermon, and in his book, Dyson references the president as the “scold of black people,” which plays on The Souls of Black Folk, the famous 1903 book by W.E.B. Du Bois.

This is a president, Dyson argues, who praises LGBT activists “for pushing him” to do what’s right, but who tells Black Lives Matter activists that they “can’t just keep yelling.”

“But never a word that is disconsolate spoken to real bigots who challenge the legitimacy of you to even be a citizen, much less to be a president!” Dyson said.

Obama, “acts like whites don’t need scolding,” too. That would be wrong, Dyson said. “I teach ’em, I knows they do.” 

“If you don’t scold whites,” Dyson argued, “don’t do it to blacks!” 

Michael Romain

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