Thursday, November 20th, 2008

UCLA Education In Action Keynote Speech

Here’s an excerpt of the keynote speech that I gave this past Saturday at UCLA, for the “Education In Action” student conference organized by APC, and a number of other student, staff, and faculty groups on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Asian American Studies.

Schisms over race and generation have defined 40 years of politics in this country.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of the hip-hop generation. It’s the story of the rise of the politics of abandonment and the politics of containment. And the sorry results are all around us.

We have the tragedies of Katrina. The hurricane simply exposed the accumulated horrors this country’s politics of abandonment have visited upon poor people of color for 40 years.

We have the biggest prison-industrial complex in the world, and an entire generation of young men and women of color behind bars in a society that no longer cares about rehabilitation, that’s about locking people up and throwing away the key.

We have an immigration system that is inhumane and out-of-date, that divides families and closes the borders even as the destinies of nations are increasingly lashed together.

We have a nation torn asunder by economic policies that have exacerbated the wealth gap and hastened an environmental collapse.

We have pre-emptive shock-doctrine wars justified by Orientalist views of the world, and a ruthless disdain for its human toll.

Folks, we have issues.

Yet amidst all of this, conservatives wanted to raise the old racial fears in this election.

They returned the election to 1968, an era when racist housing covenants had only recently been made illegal and racial intermarriage had only recently been made legal.

Of course, it was the most ridiculous kind of nostalgia–a battle for a world that was already gone. But at the Republican National Convention, I watched Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin try to hype a newly discovered breed of subhuman: the community organizer.

They blew their racist dog whistles all the way until November 4th, and not without effect. Arab Americans and Muslim Americans were silenced by the loud racist whisper campaigns, until Colin Powell stepped up to ask the right question, “So what if Obama was Muslim?” Authorities foiled at least a half-dozen white supremacist schemes to kill Obama. And when McCain began his concession speech that night by celebrating Obama’s history-making election as the first Black president, his supporters actually booed.

Conservatives all attempted to portray Obama as an unknowable Other. So maybe Obama really is our first API president? He was certainly treated like a stranger from a different shore.

And yet on November 4th, we saw past all of that.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and young people voted 2-1 to elect Barack Obama. In doing so, we became an essential part of the new majority.

Read the whole speech here.

A HUGE thank you to all of the organizers for a wonderful conference.

posted by @ 8:13 pm | 2 Comments



2 Responses to “UCLA Education In Action Keynote Speech”

  1. Mike says:

    Jeff,

    Since graduating from UCLA in 2005, I’ve been doing the law school thing, and at times, it’s absolutely spirit-crushing. I’ve met some good people, but I miss the feeling of camaraderie I had up in LA as a student activist and a community organizer. As usual, your words encourage me and inspire me to keep on going, even when it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for that.

    – Mike Li

  2. Zentronix says:

    Mike, what you do is absolutely critical and important. Keep on doing what you do. There’s a lot of change to be made.

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