Top positive review
Buy It, Read It, Do Something Because You Did
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 20, 2016
This book was originally published with the title "Who We Be: the Colorization of America", which I mention because it is emblematic of the work and perhaps of the author, himself. The current title is both less provocative to white readers and much more informative. In keeping with the mission Professor Chang seems to have been given. When I worked with Jeff Chang at Applied Research Center in Oakland back at the turn of the century, we all knew Jeff would become someTHING shiny and noticed, but we could not be sure what kind of someONE he would choose to become. What he is, this book has told me among many other things, is an educator. What an unusual way to be an authentic activist, a true caller of the future into being.
Knowing nothing about music (or much else culturally speaking) post 1978 or so, Chang's first book on hiphop was ignored by me, but my 20-something nephews really dug it. This one I bought to read online because I know the author and am a race fanatic, so wanted to know what "The Colorization of America"/ "A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America" meant. Wow, did I find out! The parts I understood because I lived them he put in a context so much wider that an old adage came to mind: If the answer is too big for the question, change the question. Chang has a bordering-on-brilliant talent for connecting what we might never otherwise have seen as common questions because our answers have been too small.
In my 18 years of public school (not all white, but all well-funded by tax dollars), 18 months at Washington University (before dropping out to join either the revolution or the hippies, whichever seemed more fun when I hitchhiked to San Francisco with a draft dodger in 1968), and three years of seminary (I am an ordained minister), I have met exactly two other people I would call "educator" as an identity rather than vocation or work title. Chang brings even an old, culturally ignorant and irrrelevant white lady like me into his stories. Stories he is telling us so that we can know we are not so very unlike, so very unlikely to do the right thing by one another.
His description of how the Obama/HOPE imagery came to be and morphed in startling ways follows a trajectory that has become familiar by that point in the text. Chang starts at the beginning of a tale only he can predict, and unless the reader is clued in to the esoterica of the topic (an astounding amount of research is evident in this book), s/he is in for a fascinating trip to a destination that, once it is glimpsed, makes sense of all that has been written before. Chang's cadences and fluid transitions from culturespeak to academic prose are a pleasure in and of themselves for any reader. And what a fine way of fleshing out for us the wisdom that "the personal is political" -- to hang most of what he tells us on the skeleton of one life. That way,it is possible for us to see ourselves as individual actors in history/herstory/ourstory. None of us is bigger than our cultural context, and none of us is exempt from the human imperative to act for the wellbeing of that culture. We be, at bottom, WE.
So, of course, read the book. Unless you receive public assistance, please BUY the book (this is how writers keep writing, yes?). Then try to articulate, if only to yourself, what difference what you just learned will make. Because that's how you'll know you've been educated, not just instructed.