Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Delivers Keynote at Hampshire College’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Delivers Keynote at Hampshire College’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony


I wasn’t going to say this but it’s too hilarious.
I applied to Hampshire College my senior year of high school and didn’t get in so, that was many years ago. It’s good to finally be here. [APPLAUSE] I want to start by thanking everyone
who’s made this day possible including faculty and staff, President Jonathan Lash,
Board of Trustees and most importantly to the students of Hampshire who
invited me to come here. I am truly deeply honored When I received the invitation to deliver
your commencement address a few months ago, I was very moved. I’m a professor in African American Studies and I teach at an elite Ivy League university
but I don’t consider myself an academic. I have always been an organizer who tries
to communicate the urgency of our political moment through the lens of history and the
concerns of ordinary people. That the graduating class here wanted me to speak to you and your
families on this day, is validating for my work and I thank you for that honor. [APPLAUSE] Now for the catch: I did not attend my high
school graduation. And I did not attend the graduation ceremonies when I received my bachelor’s degree. I have never been to a commencement. [LAUGHTER] So I hope I get this right. Let me start by saying I’m not here to tell you what to do with your lives, but I will tell you what I think is necessary to be in this world we live in
right now. Today is recognition of the sacrifices that you and your families have made to finish college, but you are graduating into a world of uncertainty and one that is increasingly
dangerous. These dangers manifest themselves in a variety
of ways. Perhaps the most extreme illustration now resides in the White House. [APPLAUSE] The President of the United States, the most powerful politician in the world, is a racist, sexist, megalomaniac. [APPLAUSE] It is not a benign observation but has meant tragic consequences for many people in this country. From the terror-inducing raids in the communities of undocumented immigrants; to his disparaging of refugees in search of freedom and respite; he has empowered an attorney general who embraces and promulgates policies that have already
been proven to have a devastating impact on Black families and communities; he thinks that climate science is fake and his eagerness to take the country into war can
only be interpreted as a callous disregard for its steep price in both money and human life. This list could continue but suffice to say that Donald Trump has fulfilled the
campaign promises of a campaign organized and built upon racism, corporatism, and militarism. [APPLAUSE] But we would be remiss to think that the new
president has appeared from nowhere, inexplicably into our otherwise fine democracy. Indeed,
it is impossible to understand how we got into this predicament without understanding
the deep wells of bitterness, resentment, and anger that have been bubbling beneath
the surface of our society for some time. This is not just another partisan battle over race or class decided the presidential election, rather, it is recognizing, simply, that the political and economic status quo in this country have failed, over and over again, to deliver
a better way to the vast majority of people in this country. [APPLAUSE] For too long, civility and good manners in
electoral politics have passed as effective governance, hiding the mundane, daily struggles
of ordinary people. For too long, the quietude of the status quo has been misinterpreted
as indifference to inequality and injustice that pervades our country. For millions of
people, the status quo is increasingly intolerable. It gnaws away at the tiny threads
that millions of people are hanging onto in their daily struggles to make the ends meet.
We live in a celebrity culture that glorifies the rich and famous while ignoring the
daily struggles of ordinary people. Their struggles and their lives have been rendered
invisible. Imagine if we had a press, a popular culture, or a political class that was curious
about the lives of regular people. If we did, what would we find about the status quo? We would find the deepening crisis of opioid
addiction as tens of thousands of people risk and succumb to overdose to escape the uncertainty
and pain of life in the world as it is today. The status quo [APPLAUSE] The status quo is found in the suffocating
racism and poverty in Chicago that has created the conditions for debilitating gun violence
in city streets that has taken hundreds of Black and Brown lives; the status quo is found in the shocking reality that life expectancy has declined for working class white women, while
55 percent of Black workers, mostly Black women, in this country live on less than
$15 an hour in meaningless jobs. The status quo is found in the fact that hundreds of
thousands of undocumented immigrants have been deported through raids. It’s found when the US military drops something called the mother of all bombs, the largest non-nuclear weapon in the military’s arsenal, that we have a media that is more concerned and interested in the size of the bomb than the human lives that have been destroyed by it. That is the status quo. [APPLAUSE] It is the normalization of brutality and racism and oppression in our society so much so that it’s expected we have no reaction to the daily atrocities
that are happening in our country. But when our political system, not this or
that party, but our political system is led by a billionaire president and a Congress that is composed
mostly of white men who are millionaires, is it any wonder that many people, most people have been left behind? Given this reality that becomes
more surreal with each passing day, it is easy to be discouraged, but you shouldn’t
be. Now is the time for defiance. And I don’t mean a kind of cheap resistance that
is only about voting for a different party in the midterm elections in 2018. By defiance,
I mean a refusal to accept the world the way it is and instead begin to demand the world
we want. It is the kind of defiance that was on display when three to four million of us around the
country, rose up to demonstrate the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, in the largest
day of protest in the history of this country. [APPLAUSE] But saying no and even defiance in and of itself is not enough. To win the world we want to live in and not just changing the guard from a corrupt
political party to an inept one, there are four things we need: The first is history. History reminds us that
regular people, not the elites, not the wealthy or the well-connected, but regular people
have won against more trying odds than those that we face today. We know that some fifty years
ago ordinary Black people from across the South: students, sharecroppers, women, boys and girls, garbage men and housekeepers organized and led a struggle to bring an end to racial
apartheid in the South. History reminds us that every important progressive reform from
the end of slavery, to the eight-hour workday, to the right to vote and beyond has come from
the struggles of ordinary people. [APPLAUSE] And yes, struggle, is the second thing. The
willingness to engage in struggle is to understand that injustice will not simply wither away because it’s bad or because it’s wrong. Acknowledging the existence of injustice and oppression is not enough.
It must actively be opposed. When Trump’s first illegal Muslim travel ban was attempted,
thousands of ordinary people flooded the airports around this country. And because of those
protests and the defiance they represented, that ban was stopped, not once but twice. It is not enough just to be outraged. Injustice has to actually be defied. Our movements must also be imbued with the spirit of solidarity. What is solidarity? It is the willingness to engage in struggle even when a particular issue might not affect you personally. Most of the people [APPLAUSE] Most of the people who went to those airport demonstrations were not personally affected by the travel ban, but
they were morally outraged. Solidarity means recognizing someone else’s suffering and
taking on the burden of fighting to end it or even recognizing it, not as a point of
difference but as an opportunity for connection. The revolutionary socialist Eugene Debs spoke
most passionately to this when he was being sentenced to prison in 1918 for opposing the first World War, he was going around the country making anti-war speeches And at his sentencing for sedition he said to the judge, “Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with
all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest
on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it,
and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison,
I am not free.” That is the meaning of solidarity. [APPLAUSE] And perhaps most importantly, we need hope.
Hope is not blind faith. Instead, it is the deep desire and belief that our world can
and should be better and different, than what currently exists. Hope comes from having some knowledge
of history that we have struggled before and we won and we can do it again. But it isn’t
based on knowledge and facts alone; it Is also about imagination and dreams. We have never
lived in a world of justice, peace, and freedom. We can only imagine what that world would
be like. This is why hope is important. Because in our various movements and struggles it is all too easy to define what we oppose and what harm we wish to end. But we also have to take the time to think about what it is that we want, and not just as an immediate demand, but fundamentally, what do we want for our planet, what do we want for our species. In 1965, Martin Luther King gave the
commencement address at Oberlin College and he said to the students the following: “There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that
a great revolution is taking place in our world today. It is a social revolution, sweeping
away the old order of colonialism. And in our own nation it is sweeping away the old
order of slavery and racial segregation. The wind of change is blowing, and we see in our
day and our age a significant development. Victor Hugo said on one occasion that there
is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come. In a real
sense, the idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and human dignity.
Wherever men, wherever men and women are assembled today, the cry is always the same, “We want to be free.”
And so we see in our world a revolution of rising expectations. The great challenge facing every individual graduating today is to remain awake through this social revolution.” Within [APPLAUSE] Within any social awakening there are ebbs and flows. Within the last five or so years we have experienced
the highs of the Occupy Wall St. movement and the emergence of Black Lives Matter and
the heroic native struggle in the Dakota plains against the Dakota Access Pipeline. There are many others. We are now living through the lows of Donald Trump as president. He and his supporters claim
to want to “Make America Great Again”, but what they really mean is they want
to take America back to the days when Black people were second-class citizens, when women had
no political voice, and when queer people were in the closet. But going back requires too many people to
forget what their eyes have been opened to over the last several years. And this is precisely why protest and demonstration matters — it forces the mainstream of our society to deal with and grapple with issues that might otherwise be ignored. Occupy Wall St. helped to create
a discussion about structural inequality and poverty in our society. It pushed against
the lie that hard work alone is what determines success or failure. It pushed against the
dangerous idea that poor people live in deprivation because they are culturally inferior; it gave
us the language of the one percent and the ninety-nine percent. The Black Lives Matter movement has not ended
police violence and abuse, but it has certainly gone a long way towards ending the idea that
police brutality is just the cause of a few bad apples. The movement broke through the
veil of segregation that typically hides the abuse and police-state-like conditions in
working-class and poor Black communities. Of course there are those who still ignore
or reject Black people’s demand for justice, but the visibility of the movement has helped
to raise awareness and consciousness about the scourge of police violence in ways that
were unfathomable even a few years ago. These are only two examples but there are
others that point to the importance of active and visible opposition to, not only the autocratic
impulses of the President of the United States, but to the everyday, systemic violence and oppression that grinds away at people regardless of what party is in office. History, Struggle, Solidarity and Hope — unto
themselves they don’t guarantee us a better world but without them we don’t stand a
chance. There are never guarantees that we will win in our movements, but, really, we
have nothing to lose but our chains, be they mental, physical or spiritual. A life of activism
and struggle can be exhilarating, frustrating, challenging but always interesting. Keep reading,
keep questioning, listen more intently, and learn from the experiences and mistakes of
others. Another world is possible, a world free of racism, sexism, transphobia, religious bigotry,
a world free of borders is possible if we are willing to fight for it. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

68 thoughts on “Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Delivers Keynote at Hampshire College’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony

  • What a dolt. Look, Trump is an idiot and a liar, but get a hold of yourself. Your speech is a joke.

  • The surge of religious evangelism inspired hope and optimism in blacks. Instead of folding their arms in resignation, or succumbing to fatalistic ethos, or even escaping to Canada or some safe haven abroad, blacks portrayed themselves as a people with the capacity to assist in transforming America. As white abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison, the Tappan brothers, Arthur and Lewis, Simeon S. Joycelin, Benjamin Lundy, and John Greenleaf Whittier armed themselves with the weapon of moral suasion [the act of advising, urging, or attempting to persuade; persuasion] and nonviolence, and mounted frontal attacks against slavery, blacks felt encouraged to invoke the long-tried tradition of self-help, cooperative activities, and economy that had shaped the reform efforts of eighteenth-century free blacks in New York and Pennsylvania. They officially launched the convention movement and proclaimed moral suasion as their guiding principle. Since the prevailing ideology exalted the individual, blacks, individually and collectively, became actively energized and projected themselves as active agents of change. They hoped to accomplish this, however, by first changing themselves and their communities with the weapon of moral suasion….

    …. By the 1800s, the vast majority of the black American population was American-born, with little recollection of Africa. Whatever knowledge or consciousness of Africa that existed was colored by pro-slavery propaganda and values, which served to alienate many blacks from, rather than endear them to, the continent. Africa was not a place to cherish or with which to desire identification. Many blacks perceived themselves as "negative Americans" or "aliened Americans," people denied any positive self-definition and knowledge." The need to define and assert an identity, therefore, became a central focus of the black abolitionist crusade.

    Though brought together by the desire to organize and fight back in the face of overwhelming adversity, the platform that black abolitionists produced betrayed a deep sense of wanting to be acknowledged as Americans. These early conventions clearly revealed a strong integrationist consciousness. Though some blacks embraced emigration and colonization as avenues of escaping the ugly and harsh realities of their lives, the vast majority refused to give up. Delegates overwhelmingly rejected and condemned colonization and invoked passages of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence in justification of their claims to American citizenship. For most blacks, colonization or permanent relocation to another country was anathema. It was tantamount to a voluntary relinquishing of identity.

    Tunde Adeleke, The Case Against Afrocentrism (Jackson, MS: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2009), 36, 38.

  • The hegemony-subordination binary within which the black American experience unfolded problematized the Self-Other identitarian nexus and consciousness.

    Tunde Adeleke, The Case Against Afrocentrism (Jackson, MS: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2009), 20.

  • History, however, has shown a consistent muddling of the color line. In order to sustain the line, its advocates suggest, blacks must exhibit cohesiveness built on shared feelings of love and confraternity. Some observers contend that the ascendance of racism and the problematic state of black America (measured by economic poverty, social and political subordination and marginalization, problems of drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, the alarming rate of homicide, and so forth) accord legitimacy to the color line. In essence, these negative and destructive circumstances and factors have become unifying elements that authenticate the color line. It becomes incumbent on all blacks to rally behind the line. Actions or movements that seemed to efface the color line, or even compromise its authenticity, were often frowned at and vociferously opposed. For many, therefore, toeing the line, faithfully advancing, and defending, at all times and under all circumstances, the interests and problems of blacks became the litmus test of racial identity. It is this allegiance that establishes one's authenticity as a black person. It is also what distinguishes an authentic black person from an "Uncle Tom."

    The conviction of confraternity evokes anger and resentment toward those who, either through actions or utterances, appear to compromise or undermine the interests and aspirations of the race. Racism is presumed to be of such potency as to obviate any basis for disrupting or muddling of the color line. Intraracial problems and contradictions are expected to be kept within rather than made issues of public discourses that could potentially damage the image of the race and thereby provide the other group (that is, the racial enemy on the other side of the color line) ammunition with which to further malign and mistreat the race. The mandate of racial solidarity stands indissoluble, even in circumstances when the conditions and complexities of the racial group clearly demand critical introspection and self-criticism. In this respect, the color line accents racial censorship and discourages actions or comments that are critical of blacks, especially if such criticisms could become subjects of public discourse. Such self-criticisms, however justified, are discouraged because they present the outside world with the image of a black community in crisis and disarray, thus compromising the struggle at critical moments when the entire race was expected to stand together in harmony and unison. A good illustration is the responses of some black nationalists and scholars to the publication of Keith Richburg's Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa. Published in 1997, the book immediately provoked anger and resentment among black Americans and Africans. In radio and television talk shows and on network news, angry respondents lambasted Richburg, accusing him of maligning and misrepresenting Africa and of displaying ignorance of African history. Many called him a black racist, an Uncle Tom, someone who manifested profound self-hatred and confusion on identity." Members of a group referred to as "mainstream African American middle class" dismissed Rich-burg as "a self-serving Uncle Tom looking to make good with his white bosses." Former chair of the African American studies department, Temple University, Molefi K. Asante, found the book "offensive and obscene:' He described Richburg as someone "caught in the spiral of psychic pain induced by … `Internal inferiorization"

    Tunde Adeleke, The Case Against Afrocentrism (Jackson, MS: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2009), 7-8.

  • Just think The party you are talking about want's jobs to come back. The party you are with all they want to do is give my tax money to the ones that don't work an want something for nothing!

  • it amazes me that there was more poverty in the African American community under Obama. can she even name one statement or action that was racist by Trump.

  • You may have had the balls to crack on our president of country, but you can never, ever be a real man. It is your progressive movement that has become the most racist groups that this country has ever known and is a disgrace to our country and your small and very immature minds our so focused on the one man in the White House, that you missed the true issues in black communities and it's the black leader's failures of our time, which has erased all of the good that the past great black leaders had achieved. So, by trusting in idiots like Eric Holder, Al "this is how I make bank" Sharpten, BLM, the DNC, and the past administration ran by the Marxist Obama couple, you need to look a little more inward and quit pointing the finger at whites and the only one man. Look at the congress, look at the new and lazy culture that was built by entitlement programs for keeping the black American and many others, down…It easy to talk, but what have you actually done to help, except to create more hatred????

  • Another Black Supremacist. You can bad mouth whites and call them racists but if people call you out on your own racist remarks and activities, you call us racists. I am so sick and tired of hearing the word racist. You claim you hate racism yet you fan the flames of racism with this kind of rhetoric. The 'race card' can be played by any race, anytime but, it's not going to end racism so, take your hatred and stow it.

  • This may be one of the most powerful commencement addresses I have ever seen. This really complements her short pieces in Jacobin, and her Haymarket book, From #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation. I think Professor Taylor is going to be providing cutting edge analysis into the state of US politics and its capitalist sub-structures for many years to come. While it is quite specific to the US context, it is certainly relevant for those of us in Canada. Look forward to more of her work.

  • This individual is a living example of what pervades our country in a BAD way. No respect for others beliefs, only your own. Easily one of the most frustrating things to watch in this world is someone who thinks that they are smart, but is not.

  • With all the other things troubling parents, now they have to reconsider sending their children to college due to the dangerous campus wide indoctrination and brainwashing

  • Wow the comments on here are sickening. Thank you Keeanga for a powerful keynote, and for sharing your experiences despite the shameful, hateful vitriol, racism and homophobia that is all too present (especially in our post-Trump world…as represented by the comments on this video).

  • Thank You so much, Keeanga! Your words mean so much to us! I will follow you as will all my friends! Thank You Thank You!

  • Speakers use to offer words of wisdom to students heading off to the work place…. now they spend their speaking time offer hatred towards our leaders and business owners and police

  • Excellent Commencement Speech and the comments make it clear that the truth presented is desperately needed today.

  • I'm sorry to admit that I am a Hampshire College graduate. Many of us feel that her speech was garbage and an embarrassment to both Hampshire and her employer, Princeton University. Can you imagine paying $60,000 per year to hear this horse manure?

  • Thank you, Keeanga, for the courage to speak these words out loud. And for recommending a version of "defiance" that comes from THAT courage. It is based in a willingness to speak and be heard, to debate, instead of needing to strap a gun or other weapon to one's body in order to walk out the front door. Am I talking to you? If you think it's OK to use that weapon to wipe out a life you don't like, you are a terrorist, not a patriot and hate is eating you up from the inside. While those who identify with the right, left (or god-knows-what) are duking it out on this page, the likes of Trump, Ryan, McConnell and Sessions are laughing all the way to the bank and toasting each other as they attempt to destroy your little corner of stability. They don't give a shit about any of us and have, in particular, used those of you who believe the horseshit coming out of tRump's mouth. Wake up.

  • Pretty clear that most of the haters leaving comments did not actually listen to the speech. You may disagree but you are not even addressing the ideas expressed in the speech.

  • If you peruse the comments left on this video you will undoubtedly discover the core of what is truly wrong with this country. You'll find opinions not supported by facts, just nonsensical banter compounded in hatred and ignorance. You'll find racism and sexism holding hands gleaning in bigotry. You'll find the foundation of the trump movement. You find under-educated, hyper-emotional, irrational "people" who have never left their bubble of "intellectual" reflection. "People" who have never asked big questions subjugating themselves to simplicity not complexity. You'll find abounding ignorance of history, you'll find Fox News, BreitBart, and other biased false narratives that feed the fire of illogical fallacy after fallacy. You'll find stupidity in the lack of knowledge of our Constitution and framework that keeps our government working, and the laws that all are subject to. It must be terrible living your entire lives being off-put by people who are smarter than you just because learning is/was hard. It must be awful moving through life with such small amounts of empathy and vocabulary. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to unknowingly be satisfied being the byproduct of ignorance, racism, sexism, hatred, bigotry, militarism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all other adjectives that can accumulated to describe your ideologies, and not to have the aptitude to be self-aware enough to realize such things. Ignorance surely must be bliss.

  • babbling nonsense…and as usual, white people are the ones at fault. Racist talking about racism.

  • your speach is absolutely amazing. It is nothing but the truth of our government! It is nothing but powerfully correct! Thank you for your wonderful words! and congratulations to all them graduates!! other people bashing are little minded!

  • people on this thred are HYPOCRITICAL!!!! BIAS!!! and PREJUDICE!!!! people on this thed act like they know who she is as a person and they know nothing at all of whom she is!

  • Do you WANT a republican super majority? This is how you get a Republican super majority. Democrats please listen this is important. With climate change, international relations, and the global economy on the line it's possible that the fate of the word literally depends on your ability to grasp one simple sentence: DISAGREEING WITH YOU DOES NOT MAKE EVERYONE ELSE RACIST. Please learn that. Quickly.

  • She/he is obviously a very confused mentally handicapped person that's been a product of Political Correctness and leftist indoctrinated education system.

  • If you listen to her speech, she gets many things right until you realize that by “ordinary people” she means people of color. She does not include white people at any point in her ideology. She is just one more racist anti-white zealot.
    “Another world is possible, a world free of racism, sexism, transphobia, religious bigotry a world free of boarders is possible if we are willing to fight for it”
    This world be a world of anarchy and who would pay for this world with no boarders? With religious zealots roaming free to kill the other less deserving religions.

  • Watching her speak the hairs at the back of my neck standing and a shiver went down my spine. Inspirational, eloquent and uplifting in her deliverance, and with so much conviction you cannot but take a paused and concentrate. As for me I had to listen twice and will be saying as a favourite of mine.

  • Trump is a "Racist, Sexist megalomaniac". Please tell me how he is racist? I have seen alot more racism and megalomania from the Obama than from Trump. You can tell this lady has no idea what the real world is like in the middle class.

  • Black supremacy is the same as white supremacy.  We all need to project love toward each other instead of division.

  • I wonder how many of you with the "hate" comments are an established and respected professor as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is, no you are all probably sitting in your trailer trash homes using your food stamps and welfare.

  • Amazing speech! This is very inspiring and very American. True protests and activism have brought our country to where it is today. Her detractors would be wise to remember that. It's shameful anyone would send her death threats just for speaking upon invitation.

  • This is more reason to get a REAL education and learn a trade and be fruitful instead of learning from opinionated professors who replace facts with their own ideas and beliefs while putting yourself in debt.

  • Stirring and inspiring speech by Taylor, one of the most important voices on American culture, history, and politics today. The rousing response from the Hampshire students is one sign that voices against tyranny will be heard, and people will rise to work for a better society.

  • I loved this. Inspirational. People who are feeling attacked by this should understand her point: good things happen when ordinary people unite. We get nowhere by ignoring the problems and doing nothing.

    Even if you don't agree, listen. If you want the right to be heard, listen. Hear. Really hear. And then listen again, and ask yourself: why does this person I don't agree with feel this way? Is it possible they've had experiences I have not that have caused them to see the world differently?

    This is how you grow as a person. You listen when somebody not like you speaks, and you listen not to mock, rebut, or reply, but to digest and think and empathize.

  • I can’t even imagine paying $70,000 a year and listen to this on my graduation day. Colleges and universities are climbing to unbelievable places, they are awful

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