We Gon’ Be Alright

Jeff Chang

Essays on race arguing that inequality impacts everyone. Jeff Chang whittles big concepts down into a manageable book — it’s a petite volume, but I marked it up a lot. I’m gonna be lazy and just share a bunch of excerpts here since I took so long to get around to writing something up, and his words are more succinct than mine would be.

In “Is Diversity for White People?” Chang questions who the notion of diversity serves, at one point stating:

Diversity allows whites to remove themselves while requiring the Other to continue performing for them.

“What a Time to be Alive” is about student protest, where he quotes from Mari Matsuda before digging into some ideas on resegregation:

“Tolerance of hate speech is not tolerance borne by the community at large. Rather it is a psychic tax imposed on those least able to pay.”

· • ·

Resegregation happens through design and through apathy. It also grows through our blindness — whether willed, imperceivable, or fixed through the best of our intentions — to the deep connections between us all. Silence over resegregation has led us to this historical moment.

“The Odds” on cultural equity:

Hollywood may indeed be run by the most liberal whites in the country — some of them have written and acted and produced with the deepest of empathy. But they can never be a substitute for people who can tell their own stories best.

“Vanilla Cities and Their Chocolate Suburbs” goes further into analyzing the forces of resegregation; Chang argues that gentrification is only part of the story in the geographic shifts in racial inequality:

Cities are cauldrons of change, it’s part of their very allure. The tech economy has turned “disruption” into a value, an unqualified good. Cities have also been havens for economic and cultural diversity, which at their best become engines of dynamism. But these times beg the question of whether disruption and diversity are really compatible. They also force us to look beyond the boundaries of the city, into how entire regions are being reshaped into new geographies of inequality…. Gentrification is key to understanding what happened to our cities at the turn of the millennium. But it is only half the story. It is only the visible side of the larger problem: resegregation.

“Hands Up” on Ferguson, a recounting of Michael Brown’s death and the protests that followed.

By now, even the children had seen the body and blood of their neighbor and friend. Dozens more cops were assembling to secure the scene — a white policeman’s killing of an unarmed Black man — as if this street was theirs, as if the young man’s body had never been anything but a mere stage prop in a performance of racial authority. None of these facts were lost on the crowd.

“The In-Betweens” on Asian Americaness:

Gloria Anzaldúa, George Helm, and Jessica Hagedorn all realized that in-betweenness can create the stuff of epics. It is the mental geography through which we make the crossings that define us. It can also be a place of refuge. In Hawai’i, pu’uhonua were sites of mercy, where a warrior on the wrong side of the battle might find safety, where fugitives might find absolution. There, in between the space of the gods and the space of humans, they might rehabilitate the redeem themselves through moral, spiritual, and physical work. But these places were never meant to be places of permanent separation of disengagement. You did not go into a pu’uhonua to leave the world but to someday return to it. Unearned sanctuary is not a home.

Concluding with an essay on the Making of Lemonade in which he responds to Carrie Mae Weems writing on grace:

Finding grace is an individual process that changes the social. It is about seeing each other in the world and seeing one’s own place in the world anew. In that way grace can counter the lies, refusals, and aggressions that drive us toward segregation. We live in serious times, in which we need to be roused to the inequity in our neighborhoods, our schools, our metro areas, our justice system, our culture. Ending resegregation is about understanding the ways we allow ourselves to stop seeing the humanity of others. It is about learning again to look, and never stopping.