Kadijah Means, the Pharaoh of the Black Student Union at Berkeley High delivered a powerful speech at Berkeley High’s graduation. Here is a transcript of her message to the graduates.
“The Standard of Excellence”
By: Kadijah Means
I want to talk about the city of Berkeley today. We’ve spent a lot of time here and I want to makes sure we talk about the good the bad and the uncomfortable.
The illusion of equity is continually perpetuated in Berkeley. Many believe discrimination is scarce in the Bay Area and issues of race are the rest of the country’s problem, but I can assure you this is not the reality. Segregation, micro aggressions, and implicit bias are abundant here, so yes, it is true our racism may not always be explicit, but it is no less insidious.
You may be wondering why I’m choosing to speak to you about racism on your graduation day. Or maybe you know me pretty well and are not surprised at all but in any case I am here to speak about this sometimes uncomfortable topic because racism taints our society’s potential to be exceptional. I don’t want any Berkeley high graduates to continue being active or even passive racist.
So what is a being a passive racist? Essentially, it is being a bystander. You are making no overt effort to help or hurt the cause, you are just letting the world pass you by. Sounds harsh but it’s true. When you hear someone make an offensive jokes for example Ebola, or when you hear racial slurs and ignore them. This includes, but is not limited to the n-word you are a bystander.
These are all examples passive racism.
Regardless of the label: implicit bias or micro aggressions are all ingredients that make up the poison that is racism. This applies to some of the other isms whether it’s sexism, classism or able-bodyism we have to make an effort to walk away from them to make a difference. You can support feminism though that’s an excellent ism. I am here to encourage you to end systematic oppression.
We have privilege. Each and everyone of us. All in varying ways. I want to do a short demonstration that I think helps people grasp the rather abstract idea of privilege. Raise your hand if you’re right-handed. Let’s think about some privileges us right-handed people have:
Writing from left to right no ink smudges
School desks are made for right-handed people
It’s crazy how right-handed people don’t even have to think about those privileges because they are the majority. To my Left handed people I’m sure there’s something everyday that reminds left-handed people that they’re the minority. That’s just something to think about as we go out into the world. We’re from the Bay Area– a place with very rich ethnic, income, and gender diversity, so it’s important for us to remember that not everyone’s life parallels our own. We must celebrate our differences while recognizing our privilege.
I know Privilege has a generally negative connotation, especially after that demonstration, but I think the privilege that unites us is pretty great. We’ve all had the opportunity to learn in a tolerant and progressive environment. We went to Berkeley high!! And although we aren’t perfect which I’m sure you gathered from the first half this speech, we are still a dynamic and radiant community.
We can do it. We will do it. Many of us have already started. This year we have proven we our dedication to making a difference. Student leadership summits, starting radical clubs, advocating for sexual harassment assemblies which all challenge you to engage.
We have the ability to change the world. We have been afforded an excellent education at Berkeley High, believe it or not.
I know you care. You’ve proven you are dedicated to change. Student led community service projects, organizing impactful leadership summits, advocating for sexual harassment assemblies– look at us one five we’re impressive. We can be more. I challenge you to engage in the hard conversations and be your best selves.
It’s time for us to take our quirky, radical, and avant garde experiences and teach the world to be a little more like us.