Hua Hsu and Jeff Chang on Music, Race, and the Craft of Writing

Jeff Chang and Hua Hsu are among the most lucid and sane guides to the divided world we live in — the world that encompasses both Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump, Beyoncé and Steve Bannon.

How is it that, as American culture becomes increasingly 'colorized,' to use Chang's word, its politics get increasingly polarized in terms of black and white? What are the roots of this divide? How does it tie into other patterns of inequality? Where do Asian-Americans fit in? And how might a Berkeley education — both Hsu and Chang are Cal alums — set up a writer to see the faultlines of this terrain?

These are the questions explored in this C&V episode, which comes from a recording of an event held in October 2016 on the Berkeley campus.

Jeff Chang is the author of several acclaimed books including Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, a synthetic history of the rise of hip hop; Who We Be: A Cultural History of Post-Civil Rights America, which traces how artists of color created new stories of national belonging and new forms of cultural protest; and We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation, a primer on our current political crisis. He is currently executive director of Stanford's Institute for the Diversity in the Arts.  

Hua Hsu has written, capaciously, on music, politics, sports, and books for Grantland, Slate, and most recently The New Yorker, where he serves as a contributing writer. An associate professor of English at Vassar College and a board member of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Hsu is also the author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific, a study of the rivalries that beset those who, during the interwar years, hoped to speak for China in the West.


Resources for this episode

Hua Hsu, "White Plight?," from The New Yorker (2016)

Jeff Chang, "The In-Betweens," from We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation (2016)

Jeff Chang's website and Who We Be website

Hua Hsu's writing for The New Yorker

Music used in the episode

Blue Dot Sessions"Jackbird" (license) and "Front Runner" (license)

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, "I'm Still Here" (Daptone Records, 2016)