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Jeff Chang

To achieve racial justice, we must reckon with our long history of violence against Asian Americans.

Social Historian | Author of We Gon’ Be Alright and Can't Stop Won't Stop | VP of Narrative, Arts, and Culture at Race Forward

Contact Jeff For Booking
Jeff Chang | Social Historian | Author of We Gon’ Be Alright and Can't Stop Won't Stop | VP of Narrative, Arts, and Culture at Race Forward
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Since the dangerous labeling of the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus,” rates of anti-Asian violence have sky-rocketed, and birthed the contemporary movement to #StopAsianHate. But historian and cultural critic Jeff Chang—author of the We Gon’ Be Alright—says the complicated history of Asians and Pacific Islanders in relation to America goes back much further. Since their arrival in the U.S., Asian Americans have played an ‘in-between’ role in the racial hierarchy of the country—spanning from the model minority myth, to stereotypes of impurity and contamination. Chang offers powerful insights about this unprecedented moment in history, and how we can move beyond damaging stereotypes, racial segregation, inequity, and injustice to create a multiracial community.

“There is no more fitting writer to chronicle an unprecedented moment in American history than Jeff Chang. We Gon’ Be Alright is a seminal work about now, about who we are and who we are becoming.”

— Jose Antonio Vargas, Founder and CEO of Define American

Jeff Chang has written extensively on the intersection of race, art, and civil rights, as well as the socio-political forces that guided the hip-hop generation. In the wake of the coronavirus, he’s become a key commentator on the growing unease towards Asian-Americans, joining the massively popular Vox podcast to talk about the surge of anti-Asian hate—and the long history that preceded it—; writing a viral op-ed for The Washington Post following the mass murders in Atlanta; and appearing on PBS’ documentary film series Asian-Americans.
He even co-wrote the script for a powerful #StopAsianHate video—featuring celebrities such as Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong—in an effort to condemn anti-Asian violence and amplify and uplift AAPI voices. As a speaker, Chang brings fresh energy to the essential American story, offering an invaluable interpretation at a time when race defines the national conversation. His most recent book,We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation, questions why we keep talking about diversity even as American society is resegregating, both racially and economically. It was named the Northern California Nonfiction Book Of The Year, The Washington Post declared it “the smartest book of the year,” and Chang and director Bao Nguyen created a four-episode digital series adaptation of the book for PBS Indie Lens Storycast. In his forthcoming project, Chang explores the life of kung fu legend Bruce Lee life from the perspective of how his work disrupted racial politics of the time, inspiring movements in both the Asian- and African-American communities.

His previous book, Who We Be, is a powerful, challenging, and timely cultural history of the notion of racial progress, tackling pertinent themes of multiculturalism, student and political activism, the state of the arts, and the politics of abandonment. His first book, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, is only ostensibly about hip-hop: actually, it’s a cultural and social history, and a provocative look at the end of the American century. It has garnered many honors—including the American Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award—for its radical historicism and academic chops. In 2019, Slate named it one of the Top 50 Nonfiction Titles of the Past 25 Years”. Chang has also edited Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop—a look at the genre’s true pioneers and mavericks—and is now at work on two book projects: Youth (a Picador Big Ideas/Small Book) and a biography of Bruce Lee (Little, Brown).  

 

Jeff serves as a Senior Advisor at Race Forward. He was formerly the Vice President of Narrative, Arts, and Culture there, and the Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University. Previously, Chang has been a USA Ford Fellow in Literature, and was named one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” by The Utne Reader. He also co-founded CultureStr/ke and ColorLines magazine, and was a Senior Editor/Director at Russell Simmons’ 360hiphop.com. Recently, Chang was named to the Frederick Douglass 200 as one of “200 living individuals who best embody the work and spirit of Douglass.” He has written for The Nation, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, Foreign Policy, N+1, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Buzzfeed, and Medium, among many others.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i, he is a graduate of ‘Iolani School, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at Los Angeles. He formerly served as the Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University. 

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UScellular Inclusion Summit

Speech Topics

Race
The In-Betweens Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the 21st Century
The horrific massacre in Atlanta may have shed light on the rise of anti-Asian violence, but the history of Asians and Pacific Islanders in relation to America goes back three centuries. Asian Americans first came to the U.S. to serve as inexpensive labor after the abolition of slavery. Since then, they have played an ‘in-between’ role in the racial hierarchy of the country, says social historian Jeff Chang. “You find yourself in relationship to whiteness or in relationship to Blackness, because that's how the racial hierarchy has been set up,” he explains. This in-between status—characterized by the model minority myth—can be harmful, dangerous, and obscure the inequality that AAPI’s face, even among themselves. On one end of the spectrum, you have the Crazy Rich Asians stereotype, while on the other, there are poor and under-employed Asians and Pacific Islanders. The model minority myth, or this idea of Asians as “surrogate whites,” also hides long histories of solidarity between AAPI’s and other communities, which have shaped the history of the U.S.
 
With the coronavirus drumming up racial animus—“the chinese virus” being an update on a very old trope of uncleanliness and contamination—Chang draws upon his vast body of work to offer us much-needed historical context for this racially-charged moment in history. We don’t want to emerge from this crisis more divided than before, he says. And while change won't happen overnight, this knowledge will empower us to move away from racial segregation, inequity, and injustice, towards a multicultural future.
Race
We Gon’ Be Alright Race and Resegregation in Today’s America

After so much unrest and tragedy—in Dallas, Minnesota, Baton Rouge, Charlottesville, and across the nation—how can our communities heal? And in the aftermath of the Trump administration, what can we expect for race relations in a changing, polarized America? In this talk, Jeff Chang further explores the thoughts and ideas set out in his new book We Gon’ Be Alright, which The Washington Post calls “the smartest book of the year.” Police violence, mass incarceration, and issues of race and representation in Hollywood plague us. The idea of a diverse and inclusive society is besieged from the Midwest to the White House to Twitter. And resegregation—the increasing division of Black and white people across housing, education, and more—is quietly pushing us back to pre-Brown-vs.-Board-of-Education days. But to Chang, not all is lost. If we can unseat policies of resegregation, which activist groups like Black Lives Matter are helping to do, we join the great fight of our time—the fight to establish America as a thriving, prosperous, equitable place for all.

Social Justice
Who We Be The Colorization of America

Race. A four-letter word. The greatest social divide in American life, a half-century ago and today. During that time, the U.S. has seen the most dramatic demographic and cultural shifts in its history, what can be called the colorization of America. But the same nation that elected its first Black president on a wave of hope—another four-letter word—is still plunged into endless culture wars. How do Americans see race now? How has that changed—and not changed—over the half-century? After eras framed by words like “multicultural” and “post-racial,” do we see each other any more clearly? In this talk, Jeff Chang remixes comic strips and contemporary art, campus protests and corporate marketing campaigns, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Trayvon Martin into a powerful, unusual, and timely cultural history of the idea of racial progress. He brings fresh energy, style, and sweep to the essential American story.

Music
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

Jeff Chang traverses continents and decades to show us how hip-hop came to crystallize a multiracial generation’s worldview. How does it define the lives of millions around the world? How has it transformed politics and art? And how did it redefine the portrayal of race in popular culture? He draws on economics, social theory and demographics to trace the tumultuous period in which hip-hop came to life—a time when the post-civil rights generation moved from out of the margins and into the mainstream. He speaks with passion, tempered with a critical understanding of pop culture, to tell students that this important history is actually their history.