Lead Story West Edition

Author Dyson critiques Obama presidency

EXPOSITION PARK — Eggs, bacon, orange juice and a hearty discourse on President Barack Obama’s time in the Oval Office were served at the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum Feb. 25 at the California African American Museum.

Georgetown sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson discussed the issues and circumstances surrounding the presidency of the nation’s first African-American head of state, while detailing themes from his new book, “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America” to a crowd of 300 listeners at the museum.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, managing director of the forum, said the event was an engaging discussion on the hypocrisies and criticisms of Obama’s seven years as president.

“While he did offer criticisms in his book, Dyson’s criticism comes out of love,” said the co-founder of the 19-year-old forum. “At least he gave Barack Obama the opportunity to do some things before he criticized him. Whereas, many of the president’s critics essentially never gave him a chance. Dyson talked about the obstructions of Congress; from day one they sought to oppose Obama.”

A famed social and cultural critic, Dyson is known for his commentary on issues that affect the black community.

Forum attendees ate breakfast, listened to Dyson speak and peppered the author with questions.

It was Dyson’s second appearance at the forum. He attended the event in 2008 while promoting his book, “April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King’s Death and How It Changed America.”

The Washington, D.C. academic has penned nearly 20 books including the American Book Award-winning “Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster.”

The “Black Presidency” was released on Feb. 2, and is Dyson’s second on Obama.

Samad praised Dyson’s newest work.

“Dyson’s book will be around 100 years,” Samad said. “It is probably the most honest portrayal of the circumstances in which Obama’s presidency existed.”

More than 100 copies of the “Black Presidency” were sold at the forum, and Dyson signed many copies of the book for fans. Dyson also signed copies of the book during a book-signing event at Eso Won Books in Leimert Park later in the day. A store employee said almost 125 people met with Dyson.

Samad said it was important for members of community to hear an intellectual like Dyson’s opinion about Obama, who has less than a year left in his term as the nation’s leader.

“Most of the conversations as it relates to Barack Obama are driven by anti-intellectuals,” said Samad, a published author and scholar. “Anti-intellectualism is driving our society these days. You can’t have an intelligent discussion with anti-intellectuals, who basically from jump street have taken the position to how they feel. That is one premise we operated off of — having a conversation amongst intellectuals, driven by intellectuals.”

More than 200 Breakfast Forums have been held since the late 1990s. The event’s goal has always been to discuss relevant urban social, economic and political issues.

A bevy of newsmakers have held court at the event including civil rights activist Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., actor and director Bill Duke, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, musical artist Charlie Wilson and Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Samad said having key public figures appear at the forum is important because a lot of the times, African-Americans have to go outside the black community to hear important officials.

“If we are in someone else’s space we don’t get a chance to ask questions — one black person might get a chance to ask a question — and everyone else is dominating the conversation,” he said. “At the forum, we have the conversation on our terms and around the topics we want to talk about.”

Samad said he hopes attendees at the most recent forum learned it is all right to criticize Obama if the criticism is honest and all the circumstances forming the criticism have been examined.

“One of the most legitimate things that Dyson said was, ‘We don’t have a clue of all the things the president is dealing with,’” Samad said. “He talked about the assassination threats Obama gets — more than all the presidents combined, the bubble that he lives in.”