MLK Celebration 2014: Protesting for Change

On Monday Jalil Bishop ’14, current president of the Afro-American Society addressed the audience in Moore auditorium at the Keynote Address of Dartmouth College’s Annual Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. We have posted the transcript of the speech and a video of the protest which followed below.

I am not here today to be a part of this ceremony. I do not have any experiences on this campus that lead me to believe Dartmouth comes close to embodying the movement that is the Civil Rights movement. I do not believe Dartmouth cares about the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who marched in that movement, who died in that movement, who still live in that movement. If Dartmouth was here to commit itself to a vigorous and positive action then that action would be one of racial justice.

Dartmouth is complicit, we are complicit in failing to uproot the structures that keep so many Black and Brown bodies across this country and world marginalized and that keep so many white bodies benefiting from that marginalization. Do not clap for me, I am not here to celebrate the fact that many of my peers at Dartmouth are not change agents; they can name little of what they have done to fulfill King’s dream. I am not here to give a traditional introduction to President Hanlon, a man who has not taken one stance for justice, when so much injustice flourishes around him.

But today I am here. And I do have a goal. I want to finally let Martin Luther King rest. I want to rip him from the conservative grasp, the reductionist narratives, and the political ploys that turn Dr. King—freedom fighter for my people—into a patient, quiet, almost satisfied person, for white people. We continue to blast his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech while ignoring the five years leading up to his death when he called America the most violent country in the world; said it needed a radical transformation; and that freedom is never given, it must be demanded by force. I will not celebrate King tonight, because we as a generation have to put him to rest. He was a great figure but nevertheless he was one individual in a collective movement that has given us so many tools for radical action. Tools that too often collect dust while we put more time into celebrating him, than into using those tools. Tonight has to be about using the tools, his legacy, and our movement.

Our dream can longer be about little black boys and girls, holding hands with little white boys and girls. That is not how racism works in 2014. There are a lot of white hands in this room, and I bet you at least white one person would let me hold their hand, shit maybe there are even two people. But there will still be mass incarceration of Black and Brown bodies which did not exist during King’s time; there will still be drones bombing families all over the Middle East which did not exist in King’s time; there will still be a Dartmouth college that says it is neutral to Black and Brown bodies being oppressed in Israel. King gave us tools, but we have to rework and reimagine those tools for the power structure we face in 2014. We have to move away from the hand-holding paradigm that is about interpersonal racism, bystanders, bias, or whatever missing-the-point term you want to use.

We have chosen not to understand oppression, racism, classism, transphobia, sexism, and so on as systems of control because we have a collective interest in only seeing them as failed interpersonal interactions. Please note I used the words “collective interest” because whenever we start talking about oppression as more than bias incidents and instead as systems and structures, we give those who benefit from oppression excuses. For example, we say white people cannot understand white supremacy because they are blind to it, they are isolated, they have never met a Black person before, they only have white friends, and they grew up in the suburbs. No, no that is not it. They have a collective interest in ignoring systemic racism because it reinforces their privilege and power in our white supremacist society.

We, who come from the communities that are oppressed in this country and world, cannot continue to believe our role is to educate white, privileged people about our oppression. It is a trap. Since day one on this campus, I have participated, hosted, and engaged white people around race and always 99% of them at whatever “educate white people” event it is, choose not to understand; and yes it is a choice not to understand. Because when you are told you have privilege that is based on the oppression of others and you do nothing to eradicate it, then you have made a choice to support it. When you refuse to even cross the basic thresholds of educating yourself through books, blogs, Google, or YouTube, you do not want to be educated. I think that is what the movement believed when it marched on Washington, it wanted to break away from the permissible methods where Blacks waited for white people and white power structures such as the American government to become educated.

This is not to say all white people are evil. But there is something evil about hearing you benefit from Trayvon Martins who die from Stand Your Ground laws and you benefit from Marissa Alexanders locked away when the same Stand Your Ground law does apply to her. And still you do not look up those two names I gave you. You do not critically engage with the theory and lived reality of so many, that you are a benefactor of white supremacy. Your indifference is what is racist, what is racism’s best friend, and what is racism’s reason to still exist. Your indifference allows you to celebrate in this room right now, clap even when I say mass incarceration, snap when I say white supremacy, but hesitate, fall silent, and disengage when I say protest.

The March on Washington—which the real name is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—has to be understood as a protest. If you are here to celebrate King, then you are to celebrate a protester. Hundreds of thousands of Black people did not come to Washington because they wanted white people to just be nice to them. No, they wanted jobs, which allowed economic self-determination, and they wanted freedom. And they used protest politics to fight for those jobs and freedoms because they knew the American dream was a lie. They did not buy the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” narrative. They did not believe individual tokenized mobility was the same as collective mobility for all people. They were protesters because they knew that protest was a necessity, not just for civil rights but also for democracy. They knew that protest is a legitimate form of discourse. I said, protest is a legitimate form of discourse.

And if you do not believe Civil Rights activists thought the American dream was a lie, if you do not believe those activists understood structural racism, and if you do not believe they understood white indifference as a collective interest in white supremacy, then you have been miseducated. Civil Rights activists were mobilizing for the next campaign, the Poor People’s Campaign and they said, “When we come to Washington, we are coming to get our check.” They without a doubt understood that structural racism and the collective interest of white people in that racism meant there was much owed to Black people and that they were coming to get that check. Not through asking for it, not through permission, but through protest politics that demanded freedom. The Poor People’s Campaign designed what is called the Freedom Budget. And this budget called for a mass redistribution of wealth. The movement wanted hundreds of millions of dollars put into abolishing poverty. The freedom budget was about the power structure fundamentally changing business as usual. The freedom budget was about full employment for all, it was about a living wage not a minimum wage, it was about every American family having a home; and when I say home, I do not mean government warehousing in socially designed slums. The Freedom Budget was King’s dream; it is what we should know by heart, it is what our children should learn in school. The freedom budget is why we should be here today. We all should be sitting in this auditorium because we believe in freedom, we believe in those communities most marginalized finally getting that check.

So I ask us to move beyond King, and get back to the movement. In the context of Dartmouth, what does a movement mean? It means that when Mr. Wheelock, the priest who founded this college came, he also brought 8 slaves. Their names we should know: Archilaus, Brister, Exeter, Chloe, Caesar, Lavinia, Peggy, and Hercules. This is Dartmouth’s beginning. And it means Black people have been here as long as the white men, and Natives have been here even longer. This campus was built off our backs, so Dartmouth is our college as much as anyone else’s. Communities on this campus that are marginalized and oppressed know that Dartmouth reflects the issues in society, always has since it was financed from the slave trade. So people, stop saying Dartmouth has the same problems as elsewhere because that does not mean we are going or should be silent about the issues here.

And it does not mean we are going to only use our voices in the permissible ways Dartmouth allows. Last spring brought so many issues to light that white, privileged people chose to ignore for their collective interest, and since these issues are now NOT being discussed with urgency, again that collective interest has taken priority.

Well, we know now that protest is a necessity on this campus, it is the discourse that disrupts business as usual and demands urgency for issues that should not exist. Protest is the only way that my many peers, who do want to be change agents but cannot get off the Dartmouth conveyor belt to corporate America and Wall Street, can imagine using their abilities to help the world. And for our peers who are determined to join the corporate elites, protest is the only way to show them that there will be resistance to the same old crony capitalism that has devastated people of color all over the world. Protest is the only way to send a message that our Board of Trustees should not be littered with Wall Street junkies who are addicted to the mass accumulation of money and contradict King’s visions. Dartmouth should not celebrate King, but ignore the movement. And then if it is going to celebrate King, it should at least honor his values and his principles. Today is MLK Day and the actual workers on this campus—custodians, DDS workers, and other staff members—do not have the day off nor do they have fair wages, equal healthcare, or job protection. Dartmouth is not about King, and it really is not about the movement.

Protest is the only way to be heard on this campus. Without it, issues will be handled the traditional way, which is do not handle them. Since I have been President of the Afro-American Society, President Hanlon and his administration has not contacted me once to discuss how Dartmouth can eradicate the racism built into the walls of this campus. But if tomorrow someone writes nigger on a chalkboard, then he will contact me and say, “Jalil, let’s host a discussion with the community, let’s educate your peers on their bias, let’s form a committee to see how to fix this.” He does all this for a week, and goes back to business as usual. See, the college has a collective interest in labeling overt racism as biased individuals. But when we ask them about the racism where Black, Latino, and Native students have not increased in enrollment, they do not want to discuss it. When you ask why we do not have more professors of color, they also do not want to discuss it in the framework of racism. Instead they give you a colorblind response that reflects their collective interest. They say students and professors of color do not want to come here, it is too rural. But when you look at the structures and systems, you get a different story.

The first sizeable class of Black students at Dartmouth was in 1969: there were 81 Black students in the freshmen class. Today, in the freshmen class there are 84 black students. Over 44 years, even with the inclusion of women, Dartmouth has grown their Black student enrollment in the freshmen class by three students, even though Black student applicants have doubled over the last five years. Guess what, Black people do want to come here, by the thousands. For Latino students, in the class of 2013 there were 94 students. But that number has dropped every year since, and now there are only 75 Latino students in the class of 2017. That is a 20 percent drop over four years, even though Latino student applicants have almost tripled in the last five years. Guess what, Latino people do want to come here, by the thousands. Furthermore, for a college that claims it was founded to educate Natives, which is ironic and oppressive in itself, they have not even lived up to that claim. It took Dartmouth 200 years just to graduate its first 20 Native students, when they were able to graduate 20 white men in their first five years. And today, Native students’ numbers remain low with only 46 students in the freshmen class. I have been working on faculty of color recruitment/retention since my freshmen year and there has been no true commitment to recruiting faculty of color. This lack of access for students and professors of color is the racist system we face.

So my fellow people who believe in justice, it is time we come get that check. It is time we protest to form a movement based on intersectionality on this campus. A movement that seeks to change the workings of this college so that sexism, transgenderphobia, racism, classism, and white supremacy are eradicated from the systems that exist on this campus.  It is time that we force Dartmouth to implement our Freedom Budget.

I say all this not speaking from just a place of hate because while I do hate injustice with all my passion, I love justice. And I am here for protesting because as Cornell West says, “Love is what justice looks like in public.” If you believe in justice, in making the world’s problems your own, then you must protest. If you believe that your freedom to be who you are, where you want to be, and what you want to be cannot be denied, then you must protest. Because protest is how we remind power structures that we are not here to adjust to them; they are here to adjust to us. Protest forces us to take sides. It destroys that lukewarm middle that Dr. King discussed so much in his writing. Protest illuminates who is standing for justice and who is protecting their collective interest in the status quo.

My speech here today is not just rhetoric; this very moment is about to turn into a protest. We are about to host our own teach-in right now. We are about to force Dartmouth to answer how they can celebrate MLK for a month but not show us one instance where they stand for justice. Gradualism has been chosen over urgency when it comes to sexual assault. This month, we had five student leaders, who were elected to regulate the Greek system, say that the system is so racist, so sexist, and so classist that they morally cannot support sending another woman through it. How did Dartmouth respond to this call to justice? They did nothing, and rush is happening as we speak. There are undocumented students on this campus and beyond who have not found a true ally in Dartmouth advocating for their rightful status as human beings and citizens. But Dartmouth brings a speaker who has studied the plight of undocumented people. There is a financial aid office that does not work for students, an admission office that tricks us into thinking diversity is 60% white people and 40% everything else. Diversity is eradicating an admissions process that privileges and promises rich, white people a spot. This whole ceremony is a ritual to deceive people into thinking Dartmouth supports justice; well, our protest is here to say, “let the traditions fail”. Let the voices across marginalized communities speak; let them be the ones who lead us to justice.

[To everyone in the audience] To all of you, stand if you are here…. for justice, for equity, for ending sexual assault. Stand if you know that Black and Brown bodies are treated as disposable, and stand even taller if you feel that your skin color could determine your fate. Stand if sitting is no longer an option. Stand if we must eradicate white supremacy.

ALL: [Stand]

JALIL: Now is the time for vigorous and positive action. Now is the time

ALL: for vigorous and positive action.

JALIL: Now is the time

ALL: for vigorous and positive action.

JALIL: Now is the time

ALL: for vigorous and positive action.

JALIL: I invite all who are willing to protest because it is a legitimate form of discourse to join me on stage now.

[This is when people will come up with their signs]

JALIL: No justice!

ALL: No peace!… No justice, no peace! [continue until all are on or in front of stage]

JALIL: [ending chant] This is what vigorous and positive action looks like.

As you stand here and they ask you why you protest, tell them you have attended their talks, you have served on their committees, you have allowed your face on their brochures and still they did not honor your voice. You tried be acceptable, you tried assimilation, you tried respectability, but your Black was too Black, your accent rolled to many r’s, your gay was too gay, your gender change was too changed, your poor was too poor, and your sexual assault was too much your fault for them to accept you. Tell them we know assimilation, being quiet, just fitting in, does not work unless we annihilate who we are. And for some of us, we learned through the trenches on this campus and bonds in our communities to love who we are. So we cannot erase it, we cannot hide it. We protest because there is no line between where our individual comfort and the oppression of communities around us, separates. Our lives and our freedom are too intertwined.

When they ask you why you protest, ask them “Who they are to critique our resistance when they were silent during our suffering?”

Today we are here not for one man, but for the movement. We are here to commit ourselves to a radical justice where waiting is no longer an option, and indifference only serves the oppression on this campus. In the words of the great Ms. Ella Baker:

“We are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all of mankind.”

That is the motto of our protest, human freedom that must come from a fight.

AARON: This is not a protest against. We protest for…

ALL: We protest for

JALIL: the end of white supremacy.

ALL: We protest for

JALIL: economic justice.

ALL: We protest for

JALIL: the end of sexual assault.

ALL: We protest for

JALIL: the end to the Greek system as we know it.

ALL: We protest for

JALIL: President Hanlon to take a stance for anti-oppressive change on campus.

ALL: We protest for

JALIL: transformative justice at Dartmouth college, throughout America, in the world….

We protest for the ability to love out loud, publicly, and unapologetically our fellow person so much that injustice knocks at our very soul.

I will introduce our keynote speaker but be weary of injustice being reduced to bias, bystanders, or failed intrapersonal interactions. Ask yourself why Dartmouth has put more time, money, and resources to celebrating so called justice work than it has put into actually doing justice work.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: The AAM

Author:Black Praxis


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One Comment on “MLK Celebration 2014: Protesting for Change”

  1. Daphne
    January 28, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    This is BRILLIANT, so well stated, and incredibly brave. Go Dartmouth Afro-American Society and Jalil!

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