Monday, February 13, 2017

Jeff Chang: We Gon' Be Alright

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I read a lot of books. I recently heard Michael Eric Dyson speak about his new book, Tears We Cannot Stop, in which, among other things, he speaks about white ignorance. Whenever white people are afraid, he argues, they plead ignorance. Slavery? What slavery? The Civil War was about economics. It is our job to learn about, and intentionally overcome this ignorance. So I decided to start blogging the books I read again. Trump is terrible, but he didn't become the Great Pumpkin in a vacuum. He was elected by people who forget that they are part of a false racial binary, that they are where they are because America is built on a false idea of racial superiority. White America spends too much of its time intentionally ignoring the opportunities to humbly listen to what is going on around them to pay attention to the havoc the system causes to black and brown people. Instead we call on black and brown people to teach us, to explain to us what they mean by systemic racism, or why they are harmed by oppressive police tactics. That's messed up. So I'm going to share what I read, and maybe others can learn a little bit, or will be inspired to pick up some of these books themselves, or to have a dialogue. I'm gonna try out a new format to make this easy to digest.

 What it is: We Gon' Be Alright is a short (168 small pages) book of essays by Jeff Chang, prolific author. The essays are very current- Trump hadn't been inaugurated, but he was about to be president. There's an essay on Beyonce's Lemonade and #blacklives matter, with an emphasis on Ferguson
Why you should read it: The subtitle of Chang's book, "Notes on Race and Resegration," tells it all. You want to know why we are where we are? White flight or gentrification- what happens when black and brown people are forced to the suburbs, and what does it mean that the news writes stories about the tragic tale of no more kids in San Francisco? This is the book.
My "aha" moment: Diversity really is for white people. The first essay, "Is Diversity for White People?" was the most moving, in my opinion. Chang walks the reader through this history of the words and meanings of "diversity" and "affirmative action," and convincingly argues that diversity is not really for people of color at all, but for the benefit of white people. Admissions departments at universities, mayors of diverse cities (Oakland), etc., all use diversity as marketing tools to attract people. As Chang writes, "The appearance of diversity signaled excellence, and the appearance of excellence signaled diversity." What a joke: diversity has become a tool for white people to feel better about ourselves, not a true indicator that things are working.
Rating: Library, or read the essays online. If you buy it, pass it around! Easy to read for your not-that-into-reading friends.


thb said...

I like the new format...Gee, Grandma, you sure are pretty, can I borrow your copy of We Gon' Be Alright?

(though it is pretty damn easy to believe we are NOT gon' be Alright, Gopnik's op-ed this week to lead the NY'ers Talk of the Town is so fuckin' depressin')