Jeff Chang examines resegregation in “We Gon’ Be Alright”

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Picador

Thousands have marched in Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. while “Alright” by rapper Kendrick Lamar has played triumphantly in the background — the unequivocal protest song for the movement.

Although the chorus finds hope in community, each of Kendrick’s verses detail the realities of police brutality and racism. “We Gon’ Be Alright,” a series of essays by Jeff Chang, gets its name from the chorus of “Alright,” similarly recognizing the growing antagonism between the police and black youth as well as the growing worries concerning overall race relations in the U.S. 

Jeff Chang, executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University, focuses on topics ranging from affirmative action to student protest to Beyoncé in the seven stellar essays of “We Gon’ Be Alright.” Chang will talk about his recent publication Nov. 6 at the Texas Book Festival. 

Chang opens the book by detailing the cycle of crisis that has plagued this nation since its inception. 

“Race makes itself known in crisis, in the singular event that captures a larger pattern of abuse and pain,” Chang writes. “We react to crisis with a flurry of words and, sometimes, actions. In turn, the reaction sparks its own backlash … The cycle turns next towards exhaustion, complacency, and paralysis. And before long, we find ourselves back in crisis.”

Following this stark realization, Chang’s essays analyze this crisis cycle and act as a call to action for all who have remained silent and complacent. They each provide ample history, context and detailed analysis told in Chang’s concise yet powerful voice.

In the first essay, “Is Diversity for White People?”, Chang explains how those in power have exploited the idea of diversity while at the same time justifying inequality. Chang retorts that although it is “a bit vibe-killing,” we must face the reality that Hollywood remains overwhelmingly white and diversity has been cheapened and used by corporations and colleges who push ads that feature happy, diverse consumers. 

Chang’s last essay, “The In-Betweens: On Asian Americanness,” is notably different from the previous essays in the fact that it is written in second person. It emulates Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” a second-person narrative about Coates’ experience with blackness in America. Chang honestly wrestles with his own privilege and identity while relaying his relationship to being an Asian American.  

“Here you are, the evidence of American warfare and familial risk and survival,” Chang writes. “A tiger clan, a model fucking minority, a blueprint for multicultural democracy … so innocuous that teachers and policemen and figures of authority allow you the benefit of the doubt.”

At times the essay topics in “We Gon’ Be Alright” feel fragmented, but Chang’s beautiful prose and strong command of the subject matter make up for any shortcomings. Chang’s work is best read an essay at a time so that the reader can digest and grapple with the reality that Chang depicts. Although it is small in size, “We Gon’ Be Alright” is enormous in its captivating and compelling content. 

Chang concludes with a question readers must ask of themselves: “Can we, given all the pain that we have inflicted upon us and that we have inflicted upon others, ever learn to see each other as lovers do, to find our way towards freedom for all?”

“We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation” 

  • By: Jeff Chang
  • Genre: Social Science
  • Pages: 192
  • Rating: 4/5