Tag Archives: Jeff Chang

Jeff Chang/Who We Be. Image from

Who We Be Examines the War on Multiculuralism

“Color is not a human or a personal reality, it is a political reality.” – James Baldwin

This is not a book review, because Who We Be isn’t really a book. It’s more of a thoughtful examination of how the United States arrived at this point in racial history.

Long time friend of the blog Jeff Chang is the author of the American Book award winning Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation and editor of the anthology Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop. To say we’ve been waiting for Who We Be is an understatement.

But in the introduction, Chang frames the core of the most recent case of racial backlash. Explaining the outsized reaction by some whites to President Obama, Chang notes:

In the 1830s white minstrels had put on blackface, creating space for the white working class to challenge the elite, while keeping Blacks locked into their racial place. Obama now appeared as a dual symbol of oppression. Because of his Blackness, he was even more of an outsider—and in that sense, even more American—than them. But he was also the president. His Blackness did not just confer moral and existential claims, it was backed by the power of the state.

And there went everything.

As much as we like to talk about the inevitability of America being majority-minority in 2042, the events playing out across the nation show that most places are outright hostile to the idea that people of color are equal Americans, with the same rights, privileges, representation, and agenda setting power bestowed to whites. Chang turns his critical eye to shifts in culture which becomes documentation of rise (and fall?) of multiculturalism. Continue reading

Race, Riot Grrl, the Black Rock Movement, and Nirvana: The Teen Espirit Revisited Overflow

Teen Espirit Revisited

This all started with J*Davey.

The first sunny morning I experienced in San Francisco, right before I went to hang with the Wikipedians, I checked my email and was treated to a free download of Jack and Brook’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit“.

Little did I know that later in the year I would get a chance to try to contextualize the impact of Nevermind, and Nirvana, and I would do it in the pages of Spin thanks to my awesome editor Charles Aaron. (The magazine is on newsstands now, page 45, and in digital form.)

My pitch for a piece exploring the 90s, and cultural angst was accepted, and the opening paragraph of my pitch was so well received it ended up as the opening for the article. But when I sat down to research, I realized I was making some assumptions about writing on culture that weren’t going to bear out. And after interviewing J*Davey, Jeff Chang, Laina Dawes, Allison Wolfe, Simon Tam, Mimi Thi Nguyen, Frannie Kelley, and Felix Contreras, I realized I had an 8,000 word draft that had to fit into a 2,000 word space. So a lot of really amazing thoughts – especially thoughts that veered a bit too far from the angst theme we eventually settled on – ended up on the cutting room floor. What’s the deal with Generation X? What did NWA and Nirvana have in common? How did corporatization impact the grunge movement? Did the grunge movement push out black rockers? I could have written a dozen other articles based on the stories people told me, but alas, print has space limits.

Still, I wanted to share with you all a bit of the overflow. Fun quotes and discussions after the jump. Continue reading

Quoted: Jeff Chang on Libraries and “Our Collective Imagination”

I love libraries and I vote

Enter the collectors, the hipsters, and the DJs. Their rediscovery of musical heritage is a cyclical phenomenon made possible by the deletion of massive amounts of culture. A process we seen repeatedly occurring in Black music, for instance, from the blues to free jazz to funk to disco to hip-hop.

Revivals are what happen at the point where the margin of the marketplace meets the bleeding-edge of hipsterism. It’s lots of fun, but it can also lead to decontextualization and erasure. Where do sagging jeans come from, right? In the cultural economy, in other words, history itself can be deleted.

So on the one hand, you have the market failure that occurs when companies choose to delete records or stop circulating records that have historical or creative importance, music that embodies our human story or music that helps seed new creativity.

Because of market failure, you can’t get De La Soul’s first four albums on iTunes. Nor can you get most of Biz Markie’s albums. You can’t get the complete Def Jam-era Public Enemy boxset Chuck D and the crew put together almost a decade ago. [...]

When I go into a library, I don’t have to worry about who is holding whose copyrights, why this book didn’t sell enough to continue to be available in any marketplace, how many other stories there are out there that I am missing because the storytellers don’t have the money or the property rights to tell them.

In the library, I am in a space beyond the marketplace, beyond consumption, beyond the money censors, beyond the noise. I am in a place where librarians have accumulated the knowledge and the stories important to me and my community.

The library is the embodiment and the refuge of our collective imagination. In the library, we learn just how big and full of possibility the world is and we build the kindling to fuel our creative fires and to change our culture.

—Jeff Chang, “In Defense of Libraries,” a talk given at a rally to save Oakland’s Public Libraries