Dyson addresses role of blacks in pop culture

Tim Paluch

As part of Iowa State’s Black History Month celebration, author Michael Dyson spoke about the role of blacks in contemporary American popular culture.Without notes, Dyson talked for over an hour Thursday in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union to an enthusiastic crowd of 250 people, occasionally wowing them with his sudden spurts of rapping.Pointing to Michael Jordan as an example, Dyson said popular culture is deeply imprinted by the black community, not just in this country but throughout the world.Dyson said there are generational divisions within the black community about whether or not “hip-hop” is an effective representation of the black community.”Black popular culture is an index of the struggles of people for self-determination and identity,” he said. “And it’s important because right now we are in the midst of debates about the legitimacy, the authenticity and the necessity of this culture and whether or not it really represents the best of what African American society and identity is about.”Dyson questioned those who say hip-hop is all about “booty” and “partying,” saying certain artists can be socially conscious and politically active.”There are some serious politics going on in hip-hop,” he said. “Buying a CD by Mos Def that helps you understand the politics of your society or the place or position you occupy is an act of politics.”There is also a debate within the black community, Dyson said, over who should be the proper and appropriate voice of the younger generation.”This debate between older and younger people within the black culture is really about the wrong person seizing interpretive authority to amplify their narratives of self-definition,” he said.Dyson also said he found irony in the immense influence of black culture on the rest of the world, especially with the racial struggles so prevalent in America.”A country that is so riveted by extraordinary racial divisions is known primarily throughout the world for its export of these black products,” he said.Tynesia Hill, junior in anthropology, said this was the second time she had heard Dyson speak. She said Dyson hit home on a lot of issues and she related to many of the topics.”Being an African American, I could definitely relate to the things he was talking about,” she said. “You always have to take into consideration both sides of the game, and he wasn’t one-sided at all.”Jeron Jones, sophomore in mechanical engineering, said Dyson gave hip-hop some well-deserved credit.”He really brought hip-hop culture to life and kind of bridged the gap of the older and younger generations of blacks,” he said.