In the introductory chapter of his book “Jay-Z: Made in America,” Dyson briefly mentions names like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, foreshadowing more discussion on the prominent figures to come. Admittedly, I cringed when I found out that Dyson would be discussing these celebrities, fearing that he would be disregarding their egregious crimes all in the name of protecting black men. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I read the passages dedicated to Kelly and Cosby, to see Dyson calling these men out for hiding behind “black protectionism.” But when someone brought this topic up at the book club meeting, Dyson began to rant about “cancel culture” and some of his comments contradicted the theme that he advanced in the book about people needing to be held accountable for their actions.
In the chapter titled “Somewhere in America,” Dyson describes this impulse that black people feel to protect black icons, such as Martin Luther King Jr., as understandable, but often “misplaced and easily exploited” (p.183). I related to this a lot. I’ve always felt this tension between my desire to protect black icons from a media that seems eager to rip them apart and the disappointment I feel when these same icons do terrible things. But I could never quite put it into words. I understand that the law operates to hold black men accountable more than anyone else. I know that this isn’t fair. But as a black woman when black women are often on the receiving ends of harmful actions, I would like to see black people engage honestly with the harm that some of our icons cause.
While this theme of accountability was prevalent throughout the passage, when Dyson was asked about accusations of misconduct made against him, he passionately denounced “cancel culture.” I can completely understand why people in older generations are skeptical of this so-called cancel culture, but sometimes this public denouncing of a celebrity who has engaged in sexual misconduct or advanced homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, etc stances, is the only accountability they ever face, and the only time people stand up for black women.