Long Time Coming is a confronting book to read, delving into subjects and stories that individuals of all races tend to avoid, with an even more complex writing style. Michael Dyson starts this discussion within the slave ships, riding the waves of time through America’s history of anti-blackness and violence against Black individuals.
Genre: Non-fiction / Politics & Social Sciences
Content warnings: racism, police brutality, death, gun violence, racial slurs, murder
Perfect who you are in the mood for: confrontation and eye-opening reality
We feel the history in our bones as much as we witness it with our eyes. The convulsions of racial distress on-screen twist in the pits of our stomachs. The combustions in the street explode deep inside our psyches. The blood of our brothers and sisters clot in our arteries. Their death is our death. Their suffering is our own.
Through a series of letters, Dyson addresses Elijah McClain, Emmett Till, Eric Garners, Breonna Taylor, Hadiya Pendleton, Sandra Bland and Rev Clementa Pinckney, all Black victims that fell to the systemic racism and police brutality still witnessed today. Using each letter to remember the life behind each tragedy, Dyson creates a space to recount the horrors which can be so easily forgotten. Dyson continues by bluntly addressing the faults of America’s education system and law enforcement. Dyson brings to light the racism, abuse, misogyny, xenophobia and white comfort that camouflage into the shadows of America’s history. Within each letter there is also a recount into the respective history, including slavery, segregation and the KKK. Dyson seals the letters with a final plea for hope, towards a future where Black lives really do matter.
Like all bestsellers, Dyson covers an array of themes within each letter, enveloping the reader into the themes of power and corruption and survival and courage. Dyson provides minimal sugar-coating to the nightmares within each letter, drawing out the themes under the eyes of white supremacists to behold the everlasting relevance of each individual’s last breaths. Unfortunately, Dyson was relevant in the times of Emmett Till in 1955, was still relevant during the murder of Hadiya Pendleton in 2013 and is still relevant after the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. We can only hope for a day where Dyson’s letters can be viewed as a piece of history rather than a guide to overcome racism.
Although Dyson utilises rather complex writing techniques, his usage of literary devices enables the reader to engage with the profound message that Black Lives Matter. The capitalisation of ‘Black’ throughout each letter allows for the firm establishment of their identity, which was historically silenced. In today’s society it has become too easy to digest the statistics of horrors throughout history. Dyson counteracts this by addressing each victim as ‘my dear sister’ or ‘my dear friend’ to create an indigestible tragedy, and this was a personal favourite writing technique. Dyson keeps the pacing and tone consistent throughout all periods of time and emotional openings. This consistent pace can be a whirlwind of emotions through the opening and closing of each letter or monotonous review on political and legal circumstances. All the while, giving equal and respectable time to pay respects to the loved ones lost at the face of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Dr Michael Eric Dyson is extremely qualified to delve into the history of race within America and is known as one of the most public intellectuals in America. Dr Dyson currently holds a Centennial chair position at Vanderbilt University and is a professor of African American and Diaspora studies and Ethics and Society, dedicating his thesis to 'Uses of Heroes: Celebration and Criticism in the Interpretation of Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr'. Within Long Time Coming specifically, Dyson refers to a range of resources, using his own scope of understanding to research the lives and history of those at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement and portray the appropriate and unbiased reality.
I have yet to find a book to teach me so much about history or about politics and racism in today’s society in less than 250 pages. Dr Dyson’s eloquence about the history of racism in America is best emphasised by Former President Barack Obama, who noted, ‘Everybody who speaks after Michael Eric Dyson pales in comparison.’