Book Review: We Gon’ Be Alright by Jeff Chang

Author: Jeff Chang 
We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation
Publication Info: Picador (2016)

Chang’s book is a collection of essays on current events in the United States focusing on racism an inequality in the United States.  Topics include:

  • the real meaning and misuse of “diversity”
  • student protest movements
  • resegregation of American communities
  • a detailed breakdown of the police murder of Michael Brown and its aftermath in Ferguson
  • the in-between state of Asian Americans between privileges and prejudice
  • an examination of Beyonce’s album Lemonade

Chang is a talented and observant writer and I intend to look for more of his writing.

Favorite Passages:

Over the last quarter century of student protest against racism, the act of calling out so-called political correctness has become a standard strategy of silencing. The legal scholar Mari Matsuda reminds us that racial attacks and hate speech, as well as the “anti-PC” defense of them, are proof that free speech is not a neutral good equally available to all. “The places where the law does not go to redress harm have tended to be the places where women, children, people of color, and poor people live,” she has written. “Tolerance of hate speech is not tolerance borne by the community at large. Rather, it is a psychic tax imposed on those least able to pay.

Protest of moral and historic force begins with people facing extreme vulnerability. For those who have been silenced, rising to the act of speaking is a perilously high climb indeed. For them, protest is not an expression of fear and doubt, but an overcoming of fear and doubt. And when it comes from those at the bottom, it can often be a profound proposition about how to make the world better for all. That’s the difference between the mob whipped into a frenzy by a demagogue and the protesters demanding that institutions address harmful conditions that negate their very existence. One excludes, the other raises up.

By itself, gentrification can’t explain the new geography of race that has emerged since the turn of the millennium. It has almost nothing to say about either Hyphy or Ferguson. Gentrification is key to understanding what happened to our cities at the turn of the millennium. But it is only half of the story. It is only the visible side of the larger problem: resegregation.

It was this way all across the country. Neighborhoods where mostly people of color lived were more than twice as likely to have received subprime loans as mostly white neighborhoods. The foreclosure crisis revealed that high-income Blacks were not protected from racist and predatory housing and lending practices. Nor were Latino and Asian American home purchasers. So when the crash came, Blacks and Latinos were 70 percent more likely than whites to lose their homes to foreclosure.

What does it mean to be the evidence that racism is not real? To be fetishized by colorblind liberals and white supremacists alike? To be so innocuous that teachers and policemen and figures of authority mostly allow you the benefit of the doubt? To be desired for your fluid, exotic, futuristic, yielding difference? What does it mean to be the solution?

Migration is always a choice to live. The opposite of migration is not citizenship. It is containment, the condition of being unfree shared with all who are considered less than citizens. The migrant reminds the citizen of the rights that they should be guaranteed. Nations are made of papers. Papers make the border. Papers also turn the migrant into the immigrant. The word “immigrant” is a formal legal term. It centers not the person, but the nation in which the person hopes to become a citizen. “Migration” centers bodies. “Immigration” centers bodies of law. The immigrant is therefore always troubled by the question of status: “legal” or “illegal.” When the immigrant is between the migrant and the citizen, their freedom—and others’ freedom, in turn—depends upon the answer.

Recommended books: