We Gon’ Be Alright
Notes on Race and Resegregation
“Culture moves before politics,” says Jeff Chang, who writes on art, multiculturalism, and racial progress in post-civil rights America with the sweeping authority of the best social historians. In We Gon’ Be Alright—his acclaimed essay collection, adapted into a digital series—he explores the meaning of diversity in an era of racial and economic resegregation: telling a lively and tumultuous narrative of modern American life.
“There is no more fitting writer to chronicle an unprecedented moment in American history than Jeff Chang. We Gon’ Be Alright is a seminal work about now, about who we are and who we are becoming.”— Jose Antonio Vargas, Founder and CEO of Define American
Jeff Chang has written extensively on the intersection of race, art, and civil rights, and the socio-political forces that guided the hip-hop generation. As a speaker, he brings fresh energy and sweep to the essential American story, offering an invaluable interpretation at a time when race defines the national conversation. His most recent book,We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation, questions why we keep talking about diversity even as American society is resegregating, both racially and economically—and, it’s been adapted into a digital series by ITVS, premiering on PBS’ Independent Lens. Chang’s forthcoming biography of Bruce Lee explores the kung fu legend’s life from the perspective of how his work disrupted racial politics of the time, inspiring movements in both the Asian- and African-American communities.
His previous book, Who We Be, is a powerful, challenging, and timely cultural history of the notion of racial progress, tackling pertinent themes of multiculturalism, student and political activism, the state of the arts, and the politics of abandonment. His first book, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, is only ostensibly about hip-hop: it’s actually a cultural and social history, and a provocative look at the end of the American century. It has garnered many honors—including the American Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award—for its radical historicism and academic chops. Chang has also edited Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop—a look at the genre’s true pioneers and mavericks—and is now at work on two book projects: Youth (a Picador Big Ideas/Small Book) and an exciting biography of Bruce Lee (Little, Brown).
“Who We Be confirms the singular brilliance of Jeff Chang, and provides a powerful breakdown of the way culture precedes and predicts politics...[it’s] essential reading.”— Adam Mansbach, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Currently, Chang is the Vice President of Narrative, Arts, and Culture at Race Forward, the Center for Racial Justice Innovation, which strives to help people take effective action toward racial equity. Chang has been a USA Ford Fellow in Literature and a winner of the North Star News Prize. He was named one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” by The Utne Reader. With H. Samy Alim, he was the 2014 winner of the St. Clair Drake Teaching Award at Stanford University. Chang also co-founded CultureStr/ke (www.culturestrike.net) and ColorLines magazine (www.colorlines.com), and was a Senior Editor/Director at Russell Simmons’ 360hiphop.com. He has written for The Nation, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, Foreign Policy, N+1, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Buzzfeed, and Medium, among many others.
Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i, he is a graduate of ‘Iolani School, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at Los Angeles. He formerly served as the Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University.
After so much unrest and tragedy—in Dallas, Minnesota, Baton Rouge, Charlottesville, and across the nation—how can our communities heal? And with the Trump administration in place, what can we expect for race relations in a changing, polarized America? In this talk, Jeff Chang further explores the thoughts and ideas set out in his new book We Gon’ Be Alright, which The Washington Post calls “the smartest book of the year.” Police violence, mass incarceration, and issues of race and representation in Hollywood plague us. The idea of a diverse and inclusive society is besieged from the Midwest to the White House to Twitter. And resegregation—the increasing division of black and white people across housing, education, and more—is quietly pushing us back to pre-Brown-vs.-Board-of-Education days. But to Chang, not all is lost. If we can unseat policies of resegregation, which activist groups like Black Lives Matter are helping to do, we join the great fight of our time—the fight to establish America as a thriving, prosperous, equitable place for all.
Race. A four-letter word. The greatest social divide in American life, a half-century ago and today. During that time, the U.S. has seen the most dramatic demographic and cultural shifts in its history, what can be called the colorization of America. But the same nation that elected its first Black president on a wave of hope—another four-letter word—is still plunged into endless culture wars. How do Americans see race now? How has that changed—and not changed—over the half-century? After eras framed by words like “multicultural” and “post-racial,” do we see each other any more clearly? In this talk, Jeff Chang remixes comic strips and contemporary art, campus protests and corporate marketing campaigns, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Trayvon Martin into a powerful, unusual, and timely cultural history of the idea of racial progress. He brings fresh energy, style, and sweep to the essential American story.
Jeff Chang traverses continents and decades to show us how hip-hop came to crystallize a multiracial generation’s worldview. How does it define the lives of millions around the world? How has it transformed politics and art? And how did it redefine the portrayal of race in popular culture? He draws on economics, social theory and demographics to trace the tumultuous period in which hip-hop came to life—a time when the post-civil rights generation moved from out of the margins and into the mainstream. He speaks with passion, tempered with a critical understanding of pop culture, to tell students that this important history is actually their history.