MSNBC's Dyson Praises Obama's 'Ingenious' Use of the N-Word

In a move that would surprise few, MSNBC on Monday night praised Barack Obama's use of the N-word in a recent interview. Analyst Michael Eric Dyson appeared on All In and cheered the President: "He was, I think, quite ingenious, clever to be sure, about exploiting those boundaries by drawing attention to them." 

The "boundaries" were a reference to anchor Chris Hayes's insistence that Obama wanted to "blow up" the way "we patrol explicit taboos." Dyson marveled, "[Obama] just blew that whole thing up and now he's forcing us to have that conversation." 

The President used the racial epithet while talking to liberal podcaster Marc Maron.

Dyson's praise is hardly shocking. In 2014, he actually uttered this sentence: "And I ain't saying that Obama is Jesus, but for many of his followers he is..." Regarding the President's visit to Ferguson, Obama compared, "I'm a Christian preacher and God finally said, 'look, I can't send nobody else. I got to go myself.'" 

A transcript of the June 22 segment is below: 


CHRIS HAYES: Joining me now, Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Georgetown University and MSNBC political analyst. Michael, it really does strike me that the reaction is the President knew what he was doing and did it precisely for this reason, which is to kind of blow up a little bit the imbalance we have towards the way we patrol explicit taboos on this subject and all of the implicit structural stuff that's going on.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly right.. The very point that he was trying to make is that the elimination of that word does not eliminate the realities to which it refers. When white racists, bigots, and terrorists were destroying black life, property, and other communities, they used that word. They didn't say the "N" word, they called black people that term. So, what Obama forced America to do is to come to grips with the ugliness of it, the gritty, utter, irresolved, unresolved antipathy that the word conjures.


DYSON: The word conjures that because it refers to something very real. And you're absolutely right. The contrast between the implicit and the explicit here, he just blew that whole thing up and now he's forcing us to have that conversation.

HAYES: You know, I was reminded of an experience I had when I was in the White House, I think it was in 2012, if I'm not mistaken. I was in the West Wing, the Oval Office, and the president had chosen a painting, which is the Norman Rockwell painting, "The Problem We All Live With," which is a painting that has that word sprawled across it.

DYSON: Right.

HAYES: I remember thinking -- it didn't get a ton of press. Wow, the President of the United States has said to everyone who is going to come in and out of the office of the most powerful man in the world, you're going to look at this photo of the reality of where this country has been and what is sort of underlying the surface. And it was a similar kind of moment of like, let's all take a second to remember what we're looking at here.

DYSON: Well, right. It's the Edgar Allen Poe's "Purloined Letter" hidden in plain sight. So, the reality is the signifiers of race are everywhere. Once we put on the goggles and begin to see with different eyes through a different lens, we begin to see race in ways we haven't seen before. When the most powerful man in the world uses a term that has been used against him, that has been --

HAYES: Thousands of times every day.

DYSON: Oh, my God. I mean, against this man that all of a sudden they don't find that the problem. The press doesn't point to, oh, my God, look at the obscene amount, the very velocity that comes at him daily through the kind of calumny and assault and all kinds of outrageous things said about him. But, no, his very use of the term to suggest that this is something that black people are referred to and that is not only inappropriate but that when it is -- when it is excised from your vocabulary, you still have to deal with the consequences of it, that becomes the bete noire, that becomes the focus and it only re-enforces his point a thousand times over.
We're obsessed with the "N" word but not the people to whom it refers and not the conditions that make that word especially ugly.

HAYES: I took a little tour through YouTube today. It was a tour of presidents formally used -- previous presidents using the word, the White House states. And there's quite a lot of exemplars. I mean, even when they're not on tape we know that Truman used it and LBJ is on tape and Richard Nixon.

DYSON: Oh, yes.

HAYES: It's a little -- it's pretty shocking to go back and listen to it just come out of LBJ's mouth, for instance, when he was talking about the Civil Rights Act, about to pass the Civil Rights Act and just dropping it, not as mentioning it, I mean, using it like straight up using it, talking about whether they're going to get the Civil Rights Act passed.

DYSON: Exactly right. I mean, the reality is, is that Obama is the president who then puts it in kind of scare quotes to suggest that this word is a very complicated one, but LBJ, Andrew Johnson and a bunch of others were using it straightforwardly without any signification other than hatred and vile disrepute for black people.

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