We Gon' Be Alright by Jeff Chang

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Summary

Jeff Chang's We Gon' Be Alright guides readers as they step back and come face to face with the realities of race and increasing racial tensions in twenty-first-century America. In the face of #BlackLivesMatter, the Ferguson protests, and increasing displacement of communities of color, Chang responds to his previous work on post–civil rights era America with a sense of urgency, directness, and necessity.

We Gon' Be Alright is a collection of essays chronicling not only the roots of hip hop and culture but also the persistent specter of whiteness that pervades American politics, social relations, and definitions of "progress" and "diversity." Looking at the contemporary crisis, Chang assesses the progress and limitations of the extant moment. America no longer defines itself by overt contests of citizenship and belonging. Slavery is a thing of the past. It is assumed that the major victories of the civil rights era have been won. Thus, Chang ingrains himself in the silences and neglects that continue to exercise power over communities of color, their lives, and their futures. He writes,

Institutional neglect of racism and injustice is the exercise of power, the kind of power that refuses to notice and refuses to speak.

Chang's analysis utilizes the contemporary moment to reflect on the necessity of undoing resegregation—and other similarly overlooked power structures—in order to bring about cultural equity, racial justice, and a better nation. Inequality harms everyone, thus the responsibility to fix it lies with all of us, not just those targeted by it.

Chang's first essay ("Is Diversity for White People?") argues that a limited understanding of "diversity" can undermine its intended notion of progress. Most concepts of diversity draw a distinction between a white majority and a nonwhite minority. In being defined only by the absence of a characteristic (that is, whiteness), the nonwhite minority is, therefore, "diverse." This nonwhite minority is then reintroduced into social and political spaces as proof of "diversity." This arrangement, according to Chang, does more harm than good, as it maintains a distinction between whiteness (the key perpetrator of inequality) and nonwhite, "otherizing" communities of color, thus serving to maintain them in positions of less power and agency. The nonwhite group must constantly seek approval and acceptance by whites, reinforcing existing power structures in the name of diversity.

Next, "What a Time to be Alive" critically examines recent contests over the tolerance of hate speech through student protests and free speech debates. College campuses have always been a target for protest and free expression, but with the rise of the far right and other extreme ideologies, the question remains: has America become too accommodating to hate speech? Chang acknowledges that freedom of speech must be protected, but argues that, by tolerating hate speech by labeling it free speech, America provides it with an...

(The entire section is 1,010 words.)