“Who We Be” author Jeff Chang discusses America’s multiculturalism and race relations

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About 80 SMU students, faculty and members of the public attended a discussion on award-winning author Jeff Chang’s newest book “Who We Be: The Colorization of America.” The assembly was held at 7:30 p.m. Wed., March 18 in the Forum of the Hughes Trigg Student Center on campus.

Award-winning author Jeff Chang explains racial equality and the importance of diversity in his newest book, “Who We Be: The Colorization of America.” Photo credit: Rebecca Ragsdale

The lecture, sponsored by SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, the Embrey Human Rights Program and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, covered the major points of “Who We Be” and how multiculturalism and race have affected America and our relationships with one another.

Attendees were also encouraged to live-tweet during the event, using the hash tags #WhoWeBeSMU and #WhoWeBeDallas.

“These are serious times,” said Chang. “We’re in a war over culture.”

Chang takes a different approach than most writers by incorporating visual pieces from various artists in his work. Some of these consist of civil rights-related comics, advertisements and the covers of magazines. The visuals also depicted during the lecture included quotes and pictures of several influential civil rights activists and intellectuals such as Ralph Ellison, Cornel West, Michelle Wallace and Martin Luther King Jr.

SMU freshman Brigid O’Leary came away from Chang’s presentation with a better understanding of his book and why racial progression is crucial for American society.

“He [Chang] was getting people to focus on how much we have changed and how far we have left to go,” said O’Leary.

Chang, the Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University, has also written works such as “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation” and “Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop.” Additionally, he was awarded the American Book Award, the Asian American Literary Award, and the North Star News Prize for his writing.

Overall, Chang emphasized that America isn’t just made up of one culture and that multiculturalism is continuously emerging. We can either pretend that other cultures don’t exist, or we can accept everyone’s practices and traditions.

“It comes down to this question: How do we see race?” said Chang. “Help us move toward racial justice, toward racial peace.”

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