Visiting historian lectures on resegregation in the US
As part of Grand Valley State University’s 15th annual Fall Arts Celebration, author and historian Jeffrey Chang spoke as the distinguished academic lecturer Monday, Oct. 9, in the L.V. Eberhard Center on the Pew Campus. Chang focused on the key themes of his recent written work, “We Gon’ Be Alright: Race and Resegregation in Today’s America.”
Beginning with President Donald Trump and ending with Beyoncé, Chang displayed the ways in which recent events and popular culture correlate to resegregation in the U.S.
Chang believes the U.S. has continued, and even worsened, its degree of segregation in education, housing and popular culture. He finds that despite these realities, the U.S. prides itself on its diversity, which Chang believes is a false claim. He thinks that while Americans have focused on diversity for the last 50 years, they really should have focused on equity.
“Diversity and equity are not the same thing,” Chang said. He lectured that the rhetoric of diversity is not enough and described a process of culture wars and the eventual arrival of empathy that is critical toward reaching equity in the U.S. These culture wars, according to Chang, have existed for the past 50 years and have intensified particularly in the last decade.
He described the cycle of culture wars to be a series of crises: a crisis occurs, followed by a reaction to the crisis, then backlash, then people getting exhausted, which leads to complacency resulting in another crisis.
Despite this constant cycle of crises, Chang expressed a means of hope.
“Artists and people working in culture have helped us (over the last half-century) to imagine a better culture of a better nation can come about,” Chang said. “Art allows us to see again and learn how to empathize.”
Chang believes that before individuals can reach empathy, they must first recognize difference. He also explained how culture can be segregated by a popular self-acclamation of "color-blindness" when individuals claim they do not see color, or rather choose to ignore the differences between individuals.
“(As we get older), we become aware of how difference has been sorted into these systems of freedom and slavery, of commitment and neglect, of investment and abandonment,” he said. “While well-meaning people know this history (of divisive systems, they) are going to choose to ignore difference.”
Chang believes that individuals should acknowledge difference. He explained that to see difference enables empathy, and empathy produces community.
“History has taught us empathy is not enough; we need to act,” Chang said. “Our imagination can outlast the darkness and maybe take us to a brighter kind of day. We need that kind of hope now."
Many students, faculty and members of the GVSU community gathered to hear Chang’s lecture.
“I thought it was really interesting," said Mayra Marcos, a junior at GVSU. "I felt like I learned a lot of this during different classes, but having this brought together was reassuring in a positive way and negative because it is what’s going on.
“It was an interesting take on how he discussed specifically artists kind of taking a different view and different stand on resegregation and segregation in general.”
Jennifer Stewart, professor of sociology, had her students read Chang's book for class.
“The lecture was a really good encapsulation of his book,” she said. “His text literally creates a sense of empathy for people who are feeling a little distant or not aware of the reality of many of the events that are going on.”