Colorization | lifestyling, social and capital realism

This is one of several posts where I share quotes and food-for-thought from Chang’s book – Who We Be: The Colorization of America.*
(earlier posts: on Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2)

WhoWeBeCh 3_Imagine-in-a-season-of

This quote is from Chapter 3 of Who We Be, for which Chang describes the first airing (July 8, 1971) of the Coca-Cola commercial, Buy the World. The commercial, if you are not familiar with it, includes the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” (on YouTube).

Not familiar with it? Yes, you are.

Of course, this reminded me of Mad Men. Spoiler: “Mad Men” Finale Renews Spotlight on Creator of ’71 Coke Jingle, from a New York Times (NYT) article about Bill Backer, the writer of the jingle. From the NYT article –

“That was the basic idea: to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be — a liquid refresher — but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes,” Mr. Backer wrote, according to Coca-Cola’s website.

In the third part of this chapter, Chang walks through Backer’s inspiration and Coke’s creation of this commercial. And Chang’s closing paragraph of this chapter begins with this sentence –

“Here was a plausible capitalist realist narrative of multiculturalism.”

About this post. I share some excerpts from Chang’s work in his Chapter 3 – The Real Thing: Lifestyling and Its Discontents, which is one of five chapters in Part One, A New Culture, 1963-1979 of this book. The subsections of Chapter 3 are titled as follows –

– The Lifestyling of America
– The Real (American) Thing
– Yo, What Happened to Peace?

Recognizing many of the advertising slogans of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, it was very interesting to learn about the historical context of several of the slogans. I began to wonder about how, and in response to what, the contemporary slogans have been designed to target audiences.

The Lifestyling of America

Chang provides the landscape of positioning, marketing, branding, and advertising of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, second to Coke, as part of the telling of The Lifestyling of America.

:: In Coca-Cola’s early years, over seven thousand imitation brands tried to cut away slices of its massive market share. There was an Afri-Cola brand marketed to Blacks. And there was also a Klu-Ko Kola brand marketed not just to whites, but the apparently underserved hooded supremacist niche. Advertising helped maintain Coke’s status as “the universal drink,” the market leader for racists, antiracists, and everyone in between.::

WhoWeBeCh 3_capitalism:: The history of consumerism in communities of color is surprisingly tied to the history of aggressive second-place competitors. Like other future upstarts – Nike, Apple, Fox TV – Pepsi concentrated on the market leader’s underserved segments. If at their peaks Reebok, Microsoft, and Coke advertised with broad appeals, challengers needed a different kind of approach. They experimented with the content of their ads and the structure of their staffing.::

:: A paradigm shift in the consumer economy had begun. Pepsi had staked its future on youth, women, and African Americans –  vanguard buyers who embodied postwar optimism and the largest reserves of unmobilized demand. Meanwhile, Coke was still aiming for the median American – the white, middle-aged suburban professional, the mirror image of the image-makers themselves.::

The Real (American) Thing

WhoWeBeCh 3_social capital realismIn this chapter’s The Real (American) Thing, Chang introduces and discusses social realism and capital realism.

:: Where Social Realism conveyed heroic struggle, capitalist realism traded in sentimental acquiescence. Here was what the anthropologist Renato Rosaldo had called “imperialist nostalgia,” that condition “where the people mourn for the passing of what they themselves have destroyed.” Capitalist realism seemed to say, “Things have always been good. We have always been good.:: 

(more on-line about Renato Rosaldo – on Wikipedia, professor at NYU)

:: Walt Disney introduced his last great amusement at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. With funding from Pepsi and using his latest “audio-animatronic” technology, he unveiled an exhibit featuring the children of the nations of the world. … he insisted that each animatronic child be synched to a single jingle – born in America, sung first in English. So the songwriters came up with a melody and line that stood: “Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all.”:: 

Yo, What Happened to Peace?

WhoWeBe3_a-song-that-treated-theIn the chapter’s last section, Yo, What Happened to Peace?, Chang paces through Bill Backer’s inspiration, colleagues, collaborators, creation, and emergence – albeit with interim (and disaster) versions of the filming of the Coca-Cola commercial, Buy the World.

:: The next day [Haskell] Wexler, still angry he had nearly been toppled from the sky to certain death over a stupid Coke commercial, fled the set, never to return. With a different crew and production company, a much smaller cast, and a different Italian location, the spot was finally completed. The “Buy the Word” commercial was released in Europe, mostly to indifference. But in the United States the TV spot found huge success.::

:: Each smiling young person on the Italian hill – marked by their race, nation, and culture – held a market in their hand. It was a primitive picture, to be sure, a couple hundred smiling stereotypes, a stock sheet of misrepresentations. But it was not dishonest. In the eyes of capital, nonwhites and non-Americans represented the last to be brought inside, organized, harmonized. What else did it care for representation?::

* This is sparking ideas in me for colorized improv, environmental communications, and knowledge/ignorance discussions.



Equity | tweets, diversity, othered, self-segregation


Yesterday, Sunday morning, was a treat. Jeff Chang (on Twitter, web, Facebook), author of Who We Be: The Colorization of America, replied to my tweet – my asking if Chang had a general reaction to a New York Times Op-Ed article. Before I jump in, four things –

    • I have not formally met Jeff Chang, having mainly interacted virtually, digitally, and in my imagined (invigorating) conversations that we have.
    • I have read his recent book and am continuing to share quotes and food-for-thought from Chang’s book under the who we be tag.
    • I was hoping for a reply from Jeff Chang, because when I read and re-read the article (as well as the embedded links), I had a reaction that I called cranky pants, where I could not put my finger on what was troubling me or what disconnect I may have had. And in my imagination, we would discuss this.
    • Inspired by a book festival unpanel hosted by Chang – Who We Be: An Un-Panel About Our Colorized Futures, I am continuing to incubate and co-create Colorized Improv – an approach to or philosophy of improvisers and performers to purposely incorporate cultural elements through characters, points of views, narratives, environments, whether it be short or long form.

This is my “connection” to Chang. The point is, I did not expect Chang to reply. And he did. Therefore, a fifth thing –

    • Like my friend Joanne in her Who We Be blog post, I am declaring that I am a Jeff Chang fan.

tweet_OrigNYTop-edAbout this post. That said, in this post I share the main article (the NYT Op-Ed), as well as the other article, referenced in my tweet for context of Chang’s replies.

The twitter exchange is over here, so you can read Chang’s response directly.

My Sunday Morning with Twitter

During my Sunday morning social media catch-up, I came across The Lie About College Diversity, by Frank Bruni. A friend tweeted this article with a reference to the recent Citadel cadets (Washington Post – Citadel cadets who wore KKK-like hoods are suspended). Her comment preceding her sharing Bruni’s article – “We need students to get out of their bubbles, esp. after Citadel event” Interested in her comment, I read the article she shared. Here are a few excerpts from Bruni’s article which begins with this opening –

The Supreme Court listened anew last week to arguments about affirmative action in higher education, and we heard yet again about the push by colleges to assemble diverse student bodies.

That’s a crucial effort.

It’s also an incomplete and falsely reassuring one.

. . .

ONE of the most striking aspects of what we’ve seen and read about recently at an array of colleges, including Yale, Brown and Amherst, is some students’ insistence not just that their viewpoints be acknowledged and respected but that contrary ones be discredited, renounced, purged.

Is that where diversity was supposed to lead us?

I don’t think so, and I think we’re surrendering an enormous opportunity by not insisting that colleges be more aggressive in countering identity politics, tamping down partisan fury, pulling students further outside of themselves and establishing common ground.

During my first read of this article, it was at this point I went back to skim through what I  had already read and then read the referenced Shaiko article, Admissions Is Just Part Of the Diversity PuzzleAnd Bruni shared the following from Shaiko –

“The benefits of diversity do not spontaneously arise merely from the presence of a varied student body.”

Shaiko professed amazement at so much toil “to create diverse incoming classes” but so little to “nudge students into interactions outside of their comfort zones.”

“Without such nudges, students will default to sameness,” he concluded. That’s the human way. We’re clannish. Tribal.

When I finished Bruni’s article, I re-read his article and the embedded links. And as if I was going to coffee/tea with Jeff Chang, I tweeted Chang and was glad to learn he had cranky pants.


What reactions, if any, do you have while or after reading Frank Bruni’s Op-Ed article? Did you have cranky pants?



Colorization | black artists, politics, museums

This is one of several posts where I share quotes and food-for-thought from Chang’s book – Who We Be: The Colorization of America.*
(earlier posts: on Introduction, Chapter 1)


This quote is from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Desegregation and the Future given at the December 1956 annual luncheon of the National Committee for Rural Schools.

About this post. I share some excerpts from Chang’s work in his Chapter 2 – After Jericho: The Struggle Against Invisibility, which is one of five chapters in Part One, A New Culture, 1963-1979 of this book. The subsections of Chapter 2 are titled as follows –

– In the White Gallery
– The Spiral
– Picturing the Struggle
– The Rise of The Southern Strategy
– What Remained Unseen
– Saving America’s Soul

I also share reference to a recent New York Times article, Black Artists and the March Into the Museum  – After decades of spotty acquisitions and token exhibitions, American
museums are rewriting the history of 20th-century art to include black artists, which Chang shared on Facebook.

Chapter 2 provides a historical overview around the Civil Rights Movement era – Black artists, politics, (e.g., presidential campaigns throughout the 1960s), racism, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings, and the growing tension among artists and the museum/gallery entities.

In the Year 1963

Chapter 2 begins with Chang sharing several events from 1963, which included:

Art, Politics

Throughout Chapter 2, Chang weaves between and among presidential campaigns, black artists’ pursuits, the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings and perspectives, and museums and galleries excluding Black artists’ works.

:: The American SpectrumFlag for the Moon: Die Nigger … These works finally secured [Faith Ringgold] the serious attention from critics, peers, and elders that she had sought. Yet the paintings did not sell. “We want to see something that’s restful and nice to the eyes,” one man told her.  “I don’t want your painting screaming at me from the wall.”  But for Ringgold the history of art, the history of generations, indeed the history of America, was the history of lines drawn by color.” ::

NIXON_You-have-to-face-the:: Nixon understood that in the long run he needed to change the entire civil discourse. The civil rights movement had reshaped the national conversation about race. It had begun to build a new cultural consensus that supported the exercise of federal power for racial and economic justice with a capacious morality. The Southern strategy was, by no means, a fait accompli. ::

:: As the sixties roared to a close, Black artists were debating form, content, and social responsibility with increasing urgency. But no matter their politics or their aesthetics, they all shared the condition of invisibility and they were increasingly unwilling to tolerate this condition. They would no longer be unseen. They would demand recognition. ::

NYT Article, November 2015

This morning, I was getting ready to post this above overview. However, I saw from my Facebook feed that Chang posted a link to this New York Times article, Black Artists and the March Into the Museumso I read the article, given my finishing up this post. Chang posted his reaction to the NYT article, which included (excerpt) –

FIRST REACTION: Surprised and happy to see this on the front page of the NYT.

BUT ON SECOND THOUGHT: The more I think about this piece the less happy I am with it.

The piece makes exactly zero note of any of the organizing that Black artists did to try to force museums and institutions to de-invisibilize Black art from the early 20th century to the 1969 Harlem On My Mind pickets (of which Norman Lewis was a co-organizer) to the Yams Collective withdrawal from the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

And there is exactly less than zero note of the relationship between the artists and the activists—many of whom were one and the same—who were living and acting within larger justice and equity movements in their time.
After reading the NYT article and Chang’s comment, I revisited this Chapter 2 to pull one other reference Chang shared in Who We Be

:: While the [Metropolitan Musuem of Art’s Harlem on My Mind: The Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968] featured Black photographers, musicians, poets, and performers, it excluded Black visual artists. Instead the Met only allowed them a panel discussion. The politics of protest had only enabled this absurd arrangement: the artists’ art could not be seen, but the artists could be seen talking about not being seen. ::

* This is sparking ideas in me for colorized improv, environmental communications, and knowledge/ignorance discussions.