On October 29th, 2016, Misbah Awan delivered a speech at Bard College during an event on Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the death of Eric Garner, and police brutality. She discusses the importance of educating yourself and speaking against injustice.

“My name is Misbah Awan and I am a first year student at Bard College. I will touch on several points regarding what came before me, what I have reflected on previously, and continue to work on myself.

First, a reiteration of what I said at yesterday’s vigil: “White guilt” is not constructive. The concept of white guilt is burdensome to communities of color because it does nothing for the power dynamics and instead creates more conflict. Yes, you may feel guilt towards what your ancestors did, and you may feel iffy about the space your privilege lets you hold. But the very concept of white guilt needs to be dropped if you are ready to die in the name of eradicating systemic racism. When saying you experience “white guilt,” you’re only aligning yourself back with how you personally didn’t do this, that, or the third. We know you are not inherently evil. You don’t have to continuously reiterate this because we already know.  The narrative of deconstructing whiteness belongs to you when talking about “white guilt.” This, by nature, becomes messy. Recognizing your privilege does not translate to “bearing the blame”, as it isn’t about pointing accusatory fingers. In other words, it’s about deflating inequality, not about imposing guilt.

If white people want to be a catalyst for change, they should use their power as unconditional support and organize in their work places and in their own homes. Use your white privilege during protests to protect your Black and Brown brothers and sisters, call out your friends, and take initiative.  You don’t have to be an “activist” to do this. You are the problem if you just want praise for your sadness, for feeling something. You are the problem if you just let marginalized people and oppressed nationalities to fight tooth and nail for themselves while sitting in silence. If you’re uncomfortable, good. Move past that, don’t sit with with fragility in your laps. Your silence is inherently anti-Black.

This goes similarly for non-Black communities as well. I come from a South Asian and Muslim community, and I don’t see a lot of solidarity that is tangible behind closed doors. Beyond conversation, there’s more that can be done: it’s important to support businesses of communities of color, pressure your local policymakers to sign things into change unapologetically, and insert yourself in conversations with your family about racism and gender and class as long as it’s not harmful to your mental health. Bring your advocacy home!  

There is no amount of sensitivity training, ‘community policing’ initiatives, POTUS speeches, Al Sharpton speeches, hashtags, demands of media coverage, body cameras, demands of Department of Justice investigations that can fix this. The only way to go is to organize.  I know there is recent talk about voting for this presidential candidate or the other, but honestly, the next president won’t have much of an effect and will remain a figurehead if the system and policies in place don’t change.

Fuck the newspapers for ‘spreading awareness’ and pretending they care by using the body of a dead Black man for consumption. That is not and should not be journalism. It is traumatizing. This traces back to when (not too long ago) it was trendy to have postcards of dead Black bodies circulating during and post-chattel slavery. Fuck the people who profit off of Black terror and are all about respectability.

And also you can’t restore ‘trust’ between law enforcement and oppressed nationality communities. There was never trust there to begin with. If you don’t know this already, know that the founding of American policing was runaway slave patrolling and controlling working class poor communities and treating us as prisoners with our neighborhoods as the prison cells and yards. When we say ‘I hate cops,’ we do mean fuck the police but, more importantly, we hate the pattern of police brutality that systematically harasses and kills Black people and other communities of color.  And, this reminds me, you cannot be pro-Black and pro-police simultaneously.

I say death to white supremacy.

I promise to be better and unapologetic and never silent and always active. I promise to be a better educator. For my children and future generations. For our Black brothers and sisters. And for myself.

I don’t want to spend my life in academics without knowing what the hell is going on in the streets. That is my biggest fear. Sitting in a college class learning about racism when there are people out there who are experiencing it first hand. It’s important to have theory with practice and practice with theory. People always ask me “What politicized you?” and that was a question I held close to me but now I prefer “What keeps you in this?” To that, I say pain will politicize us but only love can keep us.

In honor of the revolutionary spirit of Assata Shakur who has found a sanctuary in Cuba from the imperialist purposes of America, we will end with the Assata chant.

    It is our duty to fight for our freedom

It is our duty to win

We must love and protect each other

We have nothing to lose but our chains”

Featured Image by Geetika Kumar

By Misbah Awan

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