We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation

We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation

by Jeff Chang


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312429485
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 09/13/2016
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 297,943
Product dimensions: 4.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

JEFF CHANG is the author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation and Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post–Civil Rights America. He has been a USA Ford Fellow in Literature and the winner of the American Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award. He is the executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University.

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We Gon' Be Alright

Notes on Race and Resegregation

By Jeff Chang


Copyright © 2016 Jeff Chang
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-11479-2



In December 2015, Donald Trump held a noon rally at an airport hangar in Mesa, Arizona, a largely white suburb in the Phoenix sprawl that had been the spawning ground for the viciously anti-immigrant law S.B. 1070.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, taking a break from defending himself from Department of Justice charges that he had violated a federal court order against racial profiling, kept the stage warm. "You're the patriots," he told the audience. They were the ones worth protecting — with Arpaio's men and guns and jails, and with Trump's grand border wall. The sheriff continued, "One thing about him, I think he'll really do what he says. I really do." The placards that had been distributed read, "The Silent Majority Stands with Trump." In the state of Barry Goldwater, Trump was putting on a display of firepower and nostalgia.

Trump made his grand entrance. His Boeing 757, emblazoned with his name in bold on the side, rolled to a stop in front of the hangar and a crowd of several thousand. From the top of the gangway he waved, then descended the stairs to Twisted Sister's mid-eighties hair-metal hit "We're Not Gonna Take It."

First, he did a live interview with Bill O'Reilly. Large American and Arizonan flags and the enormous crowd served as his backdrop. O'Reilly began questioning Trump almost apologetically, as if recognizing that he had wandered onto hostile turf. When Trump dissed Fox News for "saying untrue things about me" and blustered that he would do "pretty severe stuff" to stop terrorism, the crowd roared.

O'Reilly asked, "Are you gonna tell me tonight on this program that you don't say stuff just to get at the emotion of the voter? I know you do."

"I'm telling you right now that I don't. I do the right thing. I bring up subjects that are important. I bring up illegal immigration," Trump said. "And if I didn't bring it up you wouldn't even be talking about illegal immigration." The crowd started chanting his name.

O'Reilly persisted. "You don't do this to whip up the base, whip up your crowd?"

"I don't, I don't," Trump said. "I say what's right, I say what's on my mind, and that's what's happening."

After the interview he stepped up to the podium to deliver a long speech in his churlish, digressive style, dispensing ample insults to his many enemies. "Somebody said, 'Oh, Trump's a great entertainer.' That's a lot of bullshit, I'll tell you," he said. "We have a message, we have a message, and the message is we don't want to let other people take advantage of us."

In his best seller The Art of the Deal, Trump's advice was to "know your market" and "use your leverage." Trump knew his market. He understood the inchoate white anger cohering in the country well ahead of Republican party leaders and media elites. "Leverage," Trump wrote, "is having something the other guy wants. Or better yet, needs. Or best of all, simply can't do without."

In 2011, Obama, who had become for disaffected whites the image of all fears, provided Trump with leverage. Trump made himself the public face of the bizarre Birther movement, which held that Barack Obama had not been born in the United States. In naming Obama an "illegal alien," conspiracists could attach fantastical narratives to Obama: Chicago criminal corruption, Muslim takeovers, Mexican drug-dealer invasions.

Despite the fact that Obama had already released a short-form certification of live birth, Trump sent investigators to Hawai'i to uncover what he called "one of the greatest cons in the history of politics and beyond." Obama responded by releasing a long-form version of his birth certificate. Outplayed, Trump still declared victory, saying, "I am so proud of myself because I've accomplished something that nobody else was able to accomplish." He had forced the first Black president to become the first standing president in history forced to defend the legitimacy of his birthright. And he had captured the attention and the affection of frustrated white voters. But at that moment Trump retreated, quietly walking away from a presidential bid. The time had not yet come.

By 2015, though, it had. Whites undone by skyrocketing economic inequality, distrustful of big business and media, ignored by elites — the middle and working class, whose fears of falling were being realized — needed someone to vocalize their anger and anxiety. Trump found ready scapegoats. He called Mexican immigrants "criminals" and "rapists," warned that "Islam hates us," and accused China of "waging economic war against us." He pandered to whites' fragility, played on their glory-days nostalgia. His ham-fisted "Make America Great Again" slogan — so prosaic and dull next to Reagan's "Morning in America" — seemed designed for bro-style fist-pumping, not gauzy restorationist dreaming. As one supporter put it: "Trump is a winner and I'm sick of losing."

His candidacy wreaked havoc on the Republican primaries. The party had become calcified with rules, protocols, etiquette. Trump descended from the air and the airwaves to talk shit. He entertained. He created the vibe that he was a billionaire you could share a hot dog and a can of Coors with, even though deep down you knew he never would. You went to Trump; he never came to you. It created a desire, a longing. And so even as Trump kept an army of fact-checkers well employed — fully 77 percent of the Trump statements that PolitiFact had investigated were rated "Mostly False," "False," or "Pants on Fire!" — the last thing his supporters cared about was the facts. They had feelings, and no one else understood them like Trump did.

One supporter told Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, "The birth certificate stuff, I loved. I watched all the YouTube videos on it, and what he was saying made sense." She added, "I'm dead set [on voting for him] unless I find out something down the line. But I'm not going to believe what the media tells me. I have to hear it from him. The media does not persuade me one bit."

For Trump diehards in a time of danger and disjunction, the media's job was not to challenge, but to affirm. So when demonstrators poured into the streets to protest police killings of Blacks, the media was supposed to confirm for them that those chaos makers were actually supporting the killing of cops, that somehow the Movement for Black Lives was a Black version of the Ku Klux Klan. And some pundits — Hannity, the same O'Reilly who confronted Trump — dutifully filled this role. In their telling, "Black lives matter" was not a call to end state violence against Blacks — and in that way, to end state violence against all — it was evidence of hatred against whites, a premonition of racial apocalypse.

White liberal media recoiled. To them, Trump supporters were unseemly, irrational, embarrassing. They looked for an explanation and, by the end of 2015, found it in Angus Deaton and Anne Case's scholarship on the rising rates of white suicide, drug overdose, and premature death. Deaton and Case had helped white liberal media rediscover the steeply declining white middle and working class.

It was not a little ironic that the Movement for Black Lives had opened up a fresh discussion about white mortality. When the conversation in this country is about race, all too often it leads back to whiteness. But as Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, has written, "When Black people get free, everyone gets free." Inequality impacts us unequally. The truth is that we cannot address it without starting from the bottom. But fear is the enemy of truth and division the master key of demagogues. Democracy was just another hustle for Trump, one that he could play best in the scrum of the popular culture, where his skill with the levers of the media was unparalleled. Race would be his shortcut to attention and conversion, and he could figure out the details of the game later.

What Trump understood best was how banal facts could be marshaled to unleash hysterical exigency. After the breakthrough civil rights victories of the early 1960s, it was commonplace to note that each generation was the most diverse in the nation's history. Objectively, the data projected that whites would drop below 50 percent of the national population within a generation. But to Trump voters, coastal pundits and paid experts did not understand what that really meant. Change meant erasure.

Racial apocalypse is the recurring white American narrative in which the civilizers, the chosen people meant to fulfill their destiny, are overrun by the savages, the barbarians who embody chaos and ruin. It's in the stories told about the Alamo, General Custer, Reconstruction, the sixties. It's even there in the fixation on the Civil War, Lincoln's life and assassination, and the common disappearance of slavery from that story. The racial apocalypse is part of the DNA of American pop culture — Buffalo Bill Cody's cowboys-and-Indians show, D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation — but instead of bloodshed and death, we got happy endings. The end of whiteness is one of the oldest, most common stories Americans tell to scare ourselves (even though we don't all scare equally).

So in the Southern heat of 2009, Tea Party activists appeared under Confederate flags bearing signs that read, "Bring Back 'We the People.'" Trump's Birther campaign followed. And by 2015, Trump voters were flipping off everyone who argued that diversity was inevitable — the grabby minorities, their liberal-media apologists, the corrupt Republican party elite — retorting, "Not over me."

When Black Lives Matter and DREAM activists began to demonstrate at Trump rallies, violence erupted. In Birmingham, Alabama, Trump supporters tackled, punched, and kicked a Black protester. In Las Vegas, another Black protester was dragged out of a Trump rally as supporters shouted, "Kick his ass," "Light the motherfucker on fire," "Sieg Heil," and "He's a Muslim guy!" Tensions climaxed in Chicago, as hundreds of demonstrators and supporters clashed in the University of Illinois arena, forcing Trump to cancel his rally at the last minute.

After two brothers in Boston attacked a homeless Latino man with a pipe and then pissed on him, shouting, "Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported," Trump tweeted that he "would never condone violence." But he also said, "I will say, the people that are following me are passionate. They love this country, they want this country to be great again." At times, he seemed delighted by the aggressive physicality of his supporters. After demonstrators interrupted his Vegas rally, he told supporters, "We should have been doing what they're doing for the last seven years because what's happening to our country is a disgrace." No one had any doubt about whom Trump meant when he said "we," "they," and "our."

A few days later, as security at an Oklahoma City rally surrounded a young protester, Trump said, "You see, in the good old days, law enforcement acted a lot quicker than this. But today everyone is so politically correct. Our country is going to hell — we're being politically correct."

He concluded, "We are really becoming a frightened country, and it's very, very sad."

The Picture of Diversity

On an April morning before the New York primary, a group calling itself the National Diversity Coalition for Trump called media to an event at Trump Tower. They intended to demonstrate that their man had broad support from communities of color.

The event did not go well. Organizers — including The Apprentice star Omarosa Manigault, a gaggle of Black pastors, as well as members of Arab Americans for Trump, Muslim Americans for Trump, and Hispanic Patriots for Trump — did not know when Trump would speak. When he did arrive, he talked for less than five minutes, never addressed his campaign's diversity efforts, then disappeared back into the elevator. "What was billed as a press conference seemed more of a photo op and dash," NBC News's Ali Vitali wrote. The Diversity Coalition stood around wondering if the meeting they hoped to have with Trump was still happening.

This tale of Trump's sad little Coalition tells us as much about the story of diversity now as Trump's race-baiting and countenancing of violence do. It's about the ways diversity has been exploited and rendered meaningless in a time when change is thought of in terms of numbers, appraisals, and images.

In early 2000, the University of Wisconsin began preparing its admissions application to send out to prospective undergrads. The proposed cover featured a photo of its student body at a home football game cheering on their team. There was only one problem, which the African American vice chancellor quickly pointed out to the admissions director: the photo featured only white students.

The staff spent the summer looking for photos that might show happy students in Badger red being diverse together. (At the time, the university was 90 percent white.) They could not find one they deemed suitable. Instead the staff found a photo of a broadly smiling Black male student, and cut-and-pasted his head into the picture behind two exuberant white women. Over 100,000 applications were printed and sent out.

One day, that Black student walked into the admissions office. His name was Diallo Shabazz and he was known on campus as an excellent scholar who worked under the vice chancellor to tutor inner-city teens of color in precollege summer programs. An admissions counselor stopped him to tell him he was on the cover of the application. Shabazz stared at the photo. He had never been to a football game.

Soon the story had become a minor national controversy. Some argued that the doctored photo represented the "intellectual dishonesty of racial-preference programs," as if the floating signifier of Shabazz's digitized head were somehow a threat to American meritocracy. But many more wondered about the university's institutional goals. Whom was the image meant to attract? Students of color, who had long been underrepresented at the University of Wisconsin? Or white students and parents who could be assured that the campus was indeed elite and non-racist? Was diversity for everybody, for people of color, or just for white people?

In the coming decade, urban neighborhoods would be marketed for their "diversity," corporations and colleges would appoint chief diversity officers and increase their holdings of assets directed at "diverse demographics," while pushing ads — sometimes also doctored — that featured happy, diverse consumers. The college-admissions industrial complex began using diversity in its rankings criteria, even as the courts continued to chip away at and voters dismantled the affirmative action programs that many whites disliked.

During the 1980s, campuses like the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan tied together notions of diversity and excellence. At the time the link was startling for some. But by the turn of the millennium, diversity and excellence — or perhaps, more specifically, the appearance of each — were bound together. The appearance of diversity signaled excellence, and the appearance of excellence signaled diversity.

The scholar Nancy Leong named this new arrangement "racial capitalism." She argued that white individuals and predominantly white institutions derived "social or economic value from associating with individuals with nonwhite racial identities." She wrote that "in a society preoccupied with diversity, nonwhiteness is a valued commodity. And where that society is founded on capitalism, it is unsurprising that the commodity of nonwhiteness is exploited for its market value."

Remember the strange case of Rachel Dolezal, the woman who was born white, sued Howard University for discriminating against her in part because she was white, but then went on to lead the Spokane NAACP as a "Black-identifying" woman? Or perhaps the story of Michael Derrick Hudson, a white poet who wrote under the name of a high school classmate, Yi-Fen Chou, in an attempt to have his writing recognized by diversity-minded judges? Both seemed extreme examples of racial capitalism — whites who valued diversity so much that they decided to fake it.

Anna Holmes writes that the value of diversity extends to "moral credibility," an idea that captures individualized dimensions of white fragility and points directly to the ethics of white agency. In Dolezal's case, what began as fakery developed into an ultimately failed act of passing, with its complicated, combustible brew of identification, appropriation, and displacement. Hudson, for his part, believed that masking himself in diversity might confer on him relevance and gravitas. If Dolezal felt responsibility for her adopted siblings and her biracial children, Hudson understood that diversity could really be just about optics. These were stories — to borrow the title of Eric Lott's famous book on blackface minstrelsy — of love and theft.


Excerpted from We Gon' Be Alright by Jeff Chang. Copyright © 2016 Jeff Chang. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: The Crisis Cycle

Is Diversity for White People? On Fearmongering, Picture Taking, and Avoidance

What a Time to Be Alive: On Student Protest

The Odds: On Cultural Equity

Vanilla Cities and Their Chocolate Suburbs: On Resegregation

Hands Up: On Ferguson

The In-Betweens: On Asian Americanness

Conclusion: Making Lemonade

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We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Alejandra_D More than 1 year ago
"We Gon' be Alright" is a masterful blend of research and creative writing. Jeff Chang, the author, uses extensive research to analyze and interpret the modern chaos and turmoil we are living in today. Using the information available Chang takes the reader into a tumultuous and shocking journey through modern America. Chang pulls you in deeper and deeper as the pages fly; a darkness lifts from your eyes that you never knew was there and you can see more clearly. Whether you are a Phd graduate or a high school student, an activist or a civilian this book is clear to all and truly speaks to everyone personally as we all form America. Chang address' aspects of modern America ranging from the murals in the Mission District in SF, the Black Lives Matter movement to Beyonce's music video" Lemonade"'. Throughout the book Chang uses "Us", "We", You" to truly draw in the reader and forcefully making them a participant. Overall "We Gon' be Alright" is a powerful and shocking tale that we find ourselves all living in.
English1c More than 1 year ago
Jeff Chang We gonna be all alright has shown that we have a chance to change as society and that with trump bring out the worst in our society white males that hate any one of color or any culture and believe we still have a chance to rid this type of mindset weather that be in daily life or in Hollywood with all the white actors/ actress. I believe this work is useful for people who want to learn more on this subject of how people of color are still being mistreated to this day, I enjoyed reading this book that promotes people to be the change that they want. If you like activists that want to help people see the change that needs to happen and shows what types of things needs to happen this would be a great book to get you into this type work.
Alejandra_D More than 1 year ago
"We Gon' be Alright" is a masterful blend of research and creative writing. Jeff Chang, the author, uses extensive research to analyze and interpret the modern chaos and turmoil we are living in today. Using the information available Chang takes the reader into a tumultuous and shocking journey through modern America. Chang pulls you in deeper and deeper as the pages fly; a darkness lifts from your eyes that you never knew was there and you can see more clearly. Whether you are a Phd graduate or a high school student, an activist or a civilian this book is clear to all and truly speaks to everyone personally as we all form America. Chang address' aspects of modern America ranging from the murals in the Mission District in SF, the Black Lives Matter movement to Beyonce's music video" Lemonade"'. Throughout the book Chang uses "Us", "We", You" to truly draw in the reader and forcefully making them a participant. Overall "We Gon' be Alright" is a powerful and shocking tale that we find ourselves all living in.