It was a grudging, though derisive, admission of Dyson’s level of productivity as an author. , which is largely a collection of conversations that Dyson has had over the past few years, represents his 14th publication in just as many years.His first collection of essays, Reflecting Black (University of Minnesota Press) was published in 1993.Since January of 2005, Dyson has published texts on Hurricane Katrina, one of the seven deadly sins (Pride), the specter of race in contemporary American political discourse and of course, Bill Cosby’s rhetorical “drive-by” on the black poor.Given Dyson’s prolific output and heightened visibility, it should not be surprising that some of his peers within the academy accuse him of pandering to the marketplace, while many outside of the academy view him as little more than a race hustler.You only now who they are.” (Philadelphia Weekly, 16 January 2006).Norman Kelley defines such figures as “African American market intellectuals who profit while they prophet, selling attitude” (The Head Negro in Charge Syndrome).In this regard Dyson is, as Cornel West has suggested, really unprecedented -- but not necessarily so. Dyson’s ability to circulate in multiple public and media spheres is predicated on his ability to seamlessly switch codes.
As such this is as much meant to defend Dyson as it is meant to defend the vocation that he, as well as many others, have brilliantly upheld with guile, intelligence, passion.
In contrast, it is very difficult to listen to the critiques of figures like jazz critic Stanley Crouch and sportswriter Jason Whitlock, who were both elevated to national visibility in the aftermath of the Don Imus controversy, and not believe that they fundamentally hate black youth -- or at least what they think black youth represent.
Figures like Crouch and Whitfield seemingly only have a presence in mainstream media culture because they so consistently deride black youth.
When Dyson appeared on both NBC’s Today Show and BET’s Rap City on the same day to promote his book, Is Bill Cosby Right? Du Bois’s manipulation of forms like the sermon, music and cultural criticism, the memoir, political theory, historical narrative and the eulogy throughout the pages of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), is really the precursor to the very multimedia strategies that Dyson manipulates contemporarily.
back in 2005, it was clear that there were few within the academy who could effectively circulate in such disparate spaces. I make this point to suggest that Dyson is the contemporary embodiment of the best of the black tradition of public intellectualism.