“The Standard of Excellence”

By Kadijah Means

 

Editor’s Note: Kadijah Means, outgoing Pharaoh (President) of the Black Student Union at Berkeley High delivered a powerful speech at Berkeley High’s Commencement. Edited for clarity.

 

I want to talk about the city of Berkeley today: the good, the bad, and the uncomfortable.

 

The illusion of equity is perpetuated in Berkeley. Many believe discrimination is scarce in the Bay Area and issues of race are the rest of the country’s problem. This is not the reality. Segregation, micro-aggressions and implicit bias are abundant here. Berkeley’s 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. I 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 actively or even passively racist.

 

Passive racist? Essentially, it is being a bystander. You make no effort to help or hurt the cause. You just let the world pass you by. You hear someone make offensive jokes and racial slurs and you ignore them. These are all examples of passive racism.

 

Regardless of the label, implicit bias or micro-aggressions are ingredients that make up the poison that is racism. Whether it’s sexism, classism or abled-bodyism, we have to make an effort to walk away from them to make a difference.

 

Every one of us has privilege in varying ways. To demonstrate the abstract idea of privilege, let’s think about some privileges us right-handed people have. Writing from left to write with no ink smudges, school desks are made for right-handed people. Stick shift, scissors, guitars.

 

It’s crazy how right-handed people don’t even have to think about those privileges because they are the majority. There’s something everyday that reminds left-handed people that they’re the minority.

 

We’re from the Bay Area– a place with rich ethnic, income and gender diversity. So it’s important for us to remember that not everyone’s life parallels our own.

 

I know privilege has a generally negative connotation but 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! We can do it. We will do it. Many of us have already started. Student leadership summits, starting radical clubs, advocating for sexual harassment assemblies all challenged you to engage.

 

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.


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