Thanks to Rana Emerson, who hipped me to this well done Q&A by Jamilah King with scholar and Colorlines co-founder Jeff Chang. You may know Jeff based on his book Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation (affiliate link). What I’m excited about is his 2011 book, Who We Be: The Colorization of America, which looks at how cultural change often precedes political change. In the interview, Chang shares his POV on what’s happening in the political sphere and where he thinks things are headed. Here’s an excerpt:
The Roots have infamously called our current moment the “post-hope era.” How can Barack Obama’s campaign narratives around “hope” and “change” be resurrected?
In 2007 and 2008, Obama was the microphone, but he was not the song. He was the page, not the text. He called himself “an imperfect vessel for your hopes and dreams.” And it’s clear that he still does not grasp the significance of the new cultural majority that elected him. The fact is that neither do we. The new cultural majority has not disappeared or shifted to the right. They stayed home this election. Obama did not reach them. We did not reach them.
One thing progressives need to do is to understand the importance of expressing our hopes and dreams in narratives. Progressives misunderstand culture. The right is clear about it—Beck, Brietbart, and O’Reilly were long in the creation; they are the products of a four-decade long conservative movement building initiative. We need to build up an infrastructure that includes cultural strategy. We focus on facts and figures, but stories are what move the country. Culture is where ideas are introduced, values are inculcated, and emotions are attached to concrete change. It is where the national imagination gets moved. So we need cultural strategy.
We also need to take the long view. Electoral politics is episodic, short-term, and transactional. Movement-building must be constant, long-term, and transformative. It is not a cyclical task. It is work that reaches toward the horizon.