We dont need succes. We need Change
On july 1st Clarice Gargard was invited to hold the commencement speech at Amsterdam University College (UvA).
Good afternoon everyone.
It is such an honor and privilege to be amongst you and speak here. Even though being back in college slightly brings back the traumas of deadlines and midnight cramping.
But all of you will soon also know the relief of being free.
Just not between nine to five.
I’m kidding (mostly).
I hope you find occupations as fulfilling and meaningful as I find mine to be. Speaking of which. A couple of weeks ago I was invited to speak at Lustrum, the celebration of university of Groningen 405th anniversary. And they organized a conference on diversity and inclusion in tribute to that. Terms that are often strewn around freely, but don’t always hold content or meaning. Well, at this conference they did hold meaning.
The honorary keynote speakers were American lawyer and professor Kimberlé Crenshaw who coined the term intersectionality about how overlapping marginalized identities can cause multiple levels of exclusion and social injustice.
For clarity: meaning, how when you’re a woman in current society, you’re discriminated against. And when you’re a poor, black woman with a disability for example, you’re screwed.
Dutch professor Philomena Essed was also present and Sonya Renee Taylor who is what I like to call, the OG body positive activist. Inspiring to not only radically love the body on the outside but nurture the spirit that houses it.
I have a point; I’m not just talking about this impressive conference to incite jealousy. Or to pressure your university into organizing a similar event.
Although, feel free to do so.
But Sonya Renee Taylor reminded me of a very important feat in her keynote lecture. Before she started, she introduced herself extensively. And I don’t mean stating her name and occupation. But actually, who she is, where she comes from and what drives her to do what it is, she does. Because so often in the professional field we are expected to be our productivity, instead of actual humans. We become numbers and cog-wheels in this capitalist society where our worth is tied to the financial merit we supply. Particularly when you’re a woman, person of color, lgbti, working class or in any way not part of the norm or elite, your worthiness is proven by blending into the cubicles carved out for you.
Not making any noise.
Not being a disturbance.
Not making your presence known.
So, that is why I believe it is indeed necessary to introduce ourselves properly. Take a moment to stand still at who we are as persons, because sometimes and in some spaces, our very presence is a protest.
That was a long build up into introducing myself.
My name is Clarice Massa Dequin Gargard.
Daughter of Nellie Coleman Murrell & Sayyuo James Martin Gargard.
Who is the son of late King Giayu Gbozuah Gargard.
The last tribal ruler in Liberia before the country became a republic.
Yes, you may call me princess, if you so wish.
I actually prefer Clareesi. Game of Thrones fans will understand.
Legend has it my grandfather, the warrior king, mounted his trusted dragon to lay siege upon rivaling kingdoms, as he flew over Liberias clear blue coast and vast rainforest.
He was as much feared for his strength, as he was revered for his wisdom. This is why some call me the Daughter of Dragons. And by some, I mean myself because it’s the title of my upcoming book.
My father left the village at a young age and studied in Monrovia, France and the United States, where I was born.
South West Philadelphia. Any other Philadelphians present?
He went back to Liberia with us to serve his country. And so, he did, for a couple of decades. He was employed as an engineer and head of telecommunication and worked with the government diligently, peaceful rulers and dictators alike.
In 1992, the deafening sound of mortars directed at the capital, announced the second civil war. My father seized the opportunity to bring my eldest sister and I into to safety in the Netherlands. He eventually returned to Liberia alone as to not abandon his country and people. That’s how I came to be here, in the Netherlands, from the age of four.
As we moved from big bustling cities to quaint villages I learned to speak Dutch, went to school, college, failed, got back up, received chances and took them. Now I work for several mainstream media as a journalist, columnist. I am the UN Women’s Representative and started my own feminist media platform alongside Hasna El Maroudi called Lilith.
This country has warmly embraced me like a long lost relative, but it has also attempted to stifle the parts of me it could not fit into the traditional family. As a black, queer, immigrant woman it has been difficult to fit in, to find my place. But maybe the point is not fitting in these already too narrow spaces but broadening them to make more room.
The outsiders, the misfits, the inexplicably alien are the ones who change the world or at least the way we perceive it and the people in it.
As it is Pride Month, I think of the trans women of color like Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Riviera, who threw the first stone at the police who harassed them at the inn they frequented. Creating the start of World Pride.
And closer to home one of the first radical lesbian feminist group Paarse September and Black Orchid, one of the first community organizations where migrant women who loved women came together. Yet, many Marsha’s and Sylvia’s of today are demonized and ignored.
As it is Keti Koti, I think of the former enslaved upon which backs parts of this country and perhaps even the grounds we’re standing on today was built.
Yet, many. Of their descendants are still demonized and ignored.
I would like to ask you to take a moment of silence please in remembrance.
Wan Switi Manspasi.
We all have our own success stories, coming from different backgrounds and places. Our own obstacles we’ve had to overcome.
In the face of adversity, simply surviving becomes a virtue.
But, although, I think we should celebrate our success from strife, I long for the day that strife in itself is no longer necessary in order to gain success or a semblance of a humane life.
Sometimes people call others like me a success story. Like Rob Jetten, the leader of D66 recently did in his speech about education.
He spoke of Dutch politicians of Moroccan descent like Ahmed Aboutaleb, mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Marcouch of Arnhem and white Dutch politician Wouter Koolmees who started with ‘just’ a vmbo-diploma and made it to minister of Social Affairs.
And while those accomplishments are indeed commendable and possible here in the Netherlands.
I think I’d rather be a cautionary tale.
Obviously, or maybe not so obviously, I have a wonderful life, so that is not the thing to be cautioned about.
But in a world rampant with poverty, lack of education, catastrophes from the Anthropocene as parts of our world are being flooded, racism, sexism, islamophobia, queerphobia, transphobia and xenophobia,
with heroic humans being arrested for attempting to save other heroic humans who dared cross the oceans in search of a better life.
Like, let me say her name, Carola Rackete, captain of the Sea Watch who attempted to rescue drowning migrants and was arrested for it.
We do not want only individual successes.
We do not need only individual successes.
What we are looking for is Change.
You are going to be our next generation of thinkers, educators, creators, philosophers, artists, academics, professors, leaders maybe even bankers.
No judgement there. Some of my best friends are bankers.
But, when you are a part of these important, influential institutes.
When you are in some way responsible for shaping the world.
It is not enough to say you want to be better.
I am not only speaking to you as you are the future, but also to everyone here who is the present -
including Amsterdam University College, as I believe it is easy to ask me to come and stand up here and speak to you about these things.
But do you also listen to dissident voices in your own university?
Change does not happen where we are comfortable, but at the end of our comfort. If you’re feeling comfortable, you’re not doing change right.
I want to end by reading an excerpt of a poem of one of my favourite writers, Audre Lorde. A Litany for Survival
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So, it is better to speak
We were never meant to survive
I hope as you set out on this bold journey into the next phase of this adventurous thing called life, you are not afraid to be who you are and create the Change that is needed.
And that you are also not afraid to become who you need to be do that
So that we may not only survive in this world where dissidence, creativity and otherness is disapproved.
But pave the road for others to do the same and thrive.
Do it as graduates,
as human beings
that actually have the means to contribute,
and are looking to leave the world better than they found it.