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Student Speech by Unique Robinson

THIS IS FOR MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER, LILLY MCGHEE, WHO SHARECROPPED DAYS ON END ON A NORTH CAROLINA FARM, and never acknowledged the term poverty. For my grandmother, Virginia Singletary, who lived through world wars and riots, whose voice never echoed in rallies, whose feet never walked the corridors of college, who never adhered to the term FEMINIST, but SURVIVED and raised four children in Baltimore, Maryland, for me to be here. This is for my mother, Ms. Carla Singletary, who showered me with unconditional love and optimism, and took me out of as many schools just to get me to the ONE that would lead me on the path to know that I AM CAPABLE, regardless of standardized test statistics, for me to be here.

Thank you to my God, and the God that is within me, for allowing me to shine daily, and granting me a life with no limits.

Thank you to my father, Michael Robinson, the Robinson family, the Singletarys, my sisters, my phenomenal homebase crew, my Hampshire crew, all my beautiful fearless queer and POC and international folks and allies that have traveled with me since first year, and those who I've shared time with and have been blessed with their beauty along the way.

Thank you for being patient with my path, and for allowing me to grow confidently into this black queer woman.

But enough with the shout outs. Let's get real.

We exit Hampshire College in times of immense fear and doubt. The pressure's on for what's next. How can we live through a recession? How can we iron out everything Bush wrinkled up? And YAY for Obama, but he's not all we can depend on. We've spent four years working up to these moments, and some of us are still puzzled at what these concentrations can even translate to, as far as employment. But I'm here to tell y'all, these are not times to fear. These are times to ACT.

The LAST thing we can do in a downturn is be downtrodden. We CANNOT get comfortable. Let that phrase marinate. We've been on a comfy college couch, but the world is waiting for us. The world needs our voices to shout, our hands to fight, our minds to enlighten.

We've spent four years trying to convince every soul on this campus of our individual privileges—white, male, middle/upper class, hetero, able-bodied, U.S. citizen, and the like, and the fact that we each must own this privilege and seek to be allies to those who do not have it. We've had countless conversations and confrontations regarding those who simply just "DON'T GET IT," and how much we want to choke them until they do. But lemme tell y'all, these folks aren't the folks we're after. These aren't the ones we have to convince. Some white person who touches my hair without my permission, tells me "I'm playing for a white audience" when trying to dj at a party, makes a YouTube post about being scammed by "Nigerian scumbags," or starts a campaign for Darfur so they can have a grave story to tell to their friends, surprisingly, aren't the ones we're after. We need to relay the message of who we've grown to be, and the work that we seek to do, to the folks that think since Obama is our president, that racism is officially abolished in this country. Even beyond individual racism, that because he's in office, every systematic and institutional racist and classist issue—under-education in every U.S. city, soaring incarceration rates amongst people of color, the bodies of women of color being seen as disposable, and even worth $1,000 to get their tubes tied, and the continuous silencing of queer voices and bodies—especially queer voices of color—will suddenly disappear.

This nation demands that we complicate how it sees itself. And we cannot sit comfortably, with all of our Hampshire exuberance and angst, while these voices from the mainstream right permeate through the nation's airwaves. We need to burst through the mainstream school of thought that thinks it's perfectly acceptable that low-income black homeowners are shamed and blamed for a foreclosure crisis, and NOT the banks that give the loans. The nation where the voices of the victors dominate how we even see ourselves, our beauty, our worth, and our existence, but never wants to adjust its lens to include us in the grander scheme. And y'all know the victors, cuz we all either benefit, directly or indirectly, from their ideas and values, or suffocate underneath the weight of normalcy. But we are not a normal people. We do not have normal conversations. This nation is far too comfortable without our voices, and would rather dispose of our bodies than ever listen to what we have to say. Truth is, we're scary.

 We're made up of folks that would never get media airtime, unless it was for shock value and ratings. We're folks who will try our dearest to tell you our full identity in four paragraphs or less, folks who exist outside of the gender binary, folks who wanna know your pronouns on the first date, folks who speak each of our native languages without avail, folks with self-made tattoos, folks with natural hair...(cuts), folks who wear booty shorts and could care less what you think...folks who understand that we are beautiful just existing in our bodies, and not feeding into the fears that crumble this nation on a daily. But we are also folks that need to take care of ourselves before we, too, crumble underneath the weight of our own identities, and that of our communities.

And on that note, this nation could give a damn about "community." That's evident from the nationwide epidemic of gentrification. I urge y'all to watch where you move, cuz in your hopes to bring Hampshire sunshine or shaking up the soil to a community, you could be participating in the very system that you're striving to speak out against. It's comfortable to live in a neighborhood because it's cheaper, but that's just it: don't get comfortable. This is not even to say that I'm exempt, none of us are—it's about making decisions that, in the long run, will benefit each of us, and not swallow us or keep us isolated from the world that we all exist in. And trust, you don't want deja vu of the Hampshire bubble.

And to my peoples still trying to breathe and maintain sanity within this bubble: Action Awareness week happened for a reason, to preserve the community that we speak so passionately about, and live so passionately in. You showed the school, the Valley, that they cannot deny our force, or our demands. Folks can pretend it didn't happen, wipe it behind their ears, but this movement will forever be woven into Hampshire's fabric, for every student that enters this campus. But please, I urge you, DO NOT GET COMFORTABLE either. Moreover, pleeeease don't get burned out by this place. There is a larger community that awaits, and thirsts to hear your cries, your qualities, and your strengths, and plenty more organizations that could use your work.

Each time we silence ourselves, we downplay our beauty and our intelligence to make other folks feel more comfortable about their racism, homophobia, transphobia, and reinforce the power that they psyche themselves to believe they have over us. This work is exhausting, but challenge yourself. Each time someone sees us, trust they're already thrown for a loop by virtue of walking past them. We've already sent a shock through their systems. Carry that shock a little further.

But also, don't get self-righteous. Hampshire trains us to use "I" statements, and some folks take that advice and run with it. A conversation is only the beginning of the work that we must do. Jargon will not translate to every community, nor will it give undereducated school districts more funding. And to my folks that think the revolution will not be sanitized, conserving water and dumpster diving...thank you for your efforts, but that's not gonna get the stench of garbage out of communities. Local and organic farming won't bring that Whole Foods any closer to the 'hood. Freedom is an endless meeting. Put your hands, your bodies, your minds to work until they hurt. But on the real, have fun while doing it. Laugh a little, y'all! I don't know how many times I've walked past people and the Debby Downer cloud is over their heads heavy. I know Hampshire gets us down at times, but I'm like, "dag, is it even a pleasure to be who we are anymore? Can we have fun in these movements?" The answer is, of course. We are born survivors. We are warriors. We would not come to such a place if we did not think we could be molded, if we did not think we could withstand, if we didn't already have the strength and passion blossoming in our chests. If we did not think we could be uplifted, and align with folks like us, to go forth with our missions.

Let the world see your beauty. Be beautiful in your own skin. Don't stunt your growth and faith in yourself, because you think someone else won't respect you. The world is waiting. You feel that anxiousness in your chest now? Yeah. That's you already feeling uncomfortable. Good. You're ready to roll outta here. And trust me, you won't fall. Whether you comin' from where I'm from, the first places shot down and the last picked up, or paying full tuition, we all made it this far. And life definitely does not end here; no matter what it looks like, this is the beginning. Thank y’all for letting me huff, puff, and blow this house down with you for four years. Shout out to the Class of 2009, I love y'all!

 
 

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