USF Course: Whiteness, Power, & Privilege
Assignment: Craft a reading response to the assigned chapter (Introduction of We Gon’ Be Alright by Jeffrey Chang). The purpose of these is to use writing as a way to reflect upon the issues you found most salient, challenging, disturbing, intriguing, as well as to consider how these texts inform your work as a researcher and educator. These are thinking papers and not intended as refined essays.
In the introduction to his book We Gon’ Be Alright, Jeffrey Chang highlights the reality that white Trump-supporters don’t care about truth in relation to the words Trump speaks about our country. What they care about are their feelings, and he speaks to those feelings.
It left me pondering: if facts don’t matter, what are we to appeal to in the fight for social justice?
This led me to consider what strategies might be more effective in bridging the divide of the “culture wars” and triggering white awareness. Facts, which seem to be the dominant tool of persuasion from the left in refuting Trump’s political foolishness, are null. Chang detailed this phenomenon in the book:
“And so even as Trump kept an army of fact-checkers well employed—fully 77 percent of the Trump statements that PolitiFact had investigated were rated “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire!”—the last thing his supporters cared about was the facts. They had feelings, and no one else understood them like Trump did.
One supporter told Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, “The birth certificate stuff, I loved. I watched all the YouTube videos on it, and what he was saying made sense.” She added, “I’m dead set [on voting for him] unless I find out something down the line. But I’m not going to believe what the media tells me. I have to hear it from him. The media does not persuade me one bit.”
While I feel we’ve known for a while now that fact-based claims hold less power among this group than feelings-based claims, Chang’s statement of this truth in context truly drove the point home.
The blatant disregard for reality in that quote made me contemplate the way the rules can always change in favor of whiteness.
For centuries, the feelings and outcries of people of color were ignored, under the pretense that these mere “feelings” needed to backed by fact to be valid.
Distortion of facts (with an example being the over-inflation of “Black on Black crime”) has also been used to invalidate the experiences of people of color for centuries. To me, this can’t be separated from the historical reality of people of color being un- or under-educated in America. It is ironic, if not predictable, that now that people of color are more highly educated than ever, a shift from facts (which can be easily refuted) to feelings (which are slippery, intangible, and thus more easily protected) is being employed to protect white interests.
So, if Donald Trump can successfully appeal to feelings, how can social justice and human rights-minded individuals employ that strategy for good?
I talk a lot with friends and colleagues who code-switch frequently for educational or employment needs about the “dance” we must often do. Being Black in America often means having to endlessly explain and educate others on our experience, but there is a point where it begins to feel dehumanizing to constantly have to assert our experiences as valid. The Black students at my predominantly white school, for example, often report feeling drained and angry—they are exhausted of having to share intimate parts of themselves just for others to see them as worthy.
However, I remain of the belief that personal narratives are an essential part of the process when it comes to prompting a white awakening. People of color cannot be the ones doing the grunt work, no. The burnout is real! The challenge for Black and brown activists, then, will be balancing the truth of that burnout with the reality that our stories are needed to provide the feeling and humanizing elements that bolster social justice movements. It is only through that feeling and humanization—not just intellectualizing or fact-checking—that we are likely to bridge today’s divides.