Jeff Chang’s Meditation on Post-Election Culture Shifts


AUTHOR AND scholar Jeff Chang is the subject of a Q&A in Colorlines that parses the election. He looks the midterm as a harbinger of what’s to come. Culture, he suggests, “always moves before politics’ He cites Jackie Robinson’s Major League integration in the same breath as Ellen Degeneres’ coming-out preceding “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Cultural Change, he says “is often the dress-rehearsal for political change. Or put in another way, political change is the final manifestation of cultural shifts that have already occurred.

The disconnect, Chang explains, “is that progressives —have not yet figured culture into their theory of change. Unlike the right, they have no cultural strategy.”

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.

The full interview here:

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