These 10 weeks have certainly played with time in the same way every quarter has so far — at once dragging on interminably, at once rushing by in a flash. As I prepare to study abroad for a quarter (or two), I take time to reflect on the past three months of writing and organizing on such a public scale.
I began the quarter exiting a two-year-long struggle against internalized racism and self-hate from my experiences as a black male in America and as a queer black male on campus. Finding strength in sharing my own stories and hearing how they affected other people (regardless of their own racial, gender and sexual identities) empowered me to work to establish a series examining various perspectives on race and racism within Stanford’s queer communities.
At the same time, I’ve worked through and with Stanford STATIC, the progressive blog and journal, to organize offline events for activist communities and to establish what will hopefully be something of a progressive/leftist/activist coalition that serves to establish relationships between progressive communities and individuals, and that works toward actionable campaigns on a campus-wide scale.
And just as these activist coalition discussions were building, I found myself working with other students to organize a campus response to the Israeli attack on Gaza last month and to encourage students to divest from Israel’s occupation.
These developments did not occur in a vacuum but have come during what has been the most academically and intellectually engaging period of time I’ve had to date, and during what has been my strongest mental health during my time at Stanford.
The ideas I’ve encountered in the classroom — studying the modern black freedom struggle; examining queer-, feminist- and afrofuturist-liberation theory; and discussing the impacts that digital technologies have on our relations to the state, to corporations and to each other–have all interacted beautifully with each other and translated into my work outside the classroom.
So has taking to heart the ideas of an artist who was pivotal in my process of coming to love myself:
“Time’s a wastin’ / Don’t you take your time young man. Keep on drifting / Ain’t no telling where you’ll land,” Erykah Badu sings in “Time’s A Wastin.”
The sentiments behind this line have been at the core of my actions this quarter.
I have felt a sense of urgency since 2009, when, in a span of six months, my favorite aunt and my high school faculty mentor both died unexpectedly, and one of my classmates committed suicide.
For most nights last academic year, I could not fall asleep without first falling into anxiety about when and how the rest of my loved ones might die, about when and how my own time will come and what I will have done by that point. I spent the year convinced (and fearful) that I would die by or around 40, as my aunt did.
Having largely resolved these issues, the impressions that remain are ones in which I can take no day for granted. What concerns me most is that I am not doing all I can to cause even a tremor that might make our world a more equal place.
In the same way that I once felt voiceless to respond to the alienation and racism of the world around me, I have also felt powerless to respond to any of these structures and systems of inequality that are larger than a campus, larger than a nation, larger than a corporation.
But just as I began the quarter proclaiming my suffering in anticipation of external response, I have spent this quarter proclaiming my objections to the actions of our institutions, our nations, our corporations.
Writing is my form of active resistance, and I will spend the rest of my life doing it.
And in the 10 weeks I have had to communicate directly with campus, I have felt a very urgent sense of passion that I don’t see going away anytime soon. Recognizing that not everyone has agreed with me or liked me during this time, I will say that getting people to do so is no longer a goal of mine.
What I hope I’ve done over the past 10 weeks is to get people to think critically about some of the following questions:
What does it mean if some students of color feel alienated within our communities (queer or otherwise)? How do we enact a politics that create a world truly inclusive to all people?
What does it mean for the University to sponsor a trip to a country where students may be denied entry based on their perceived racial or ethnic identity?
Why doesn’t Stanford spend one quarter offering precalculus skills that would help students from under-resourced backgrounds gain more secure entry into STEM fields and the social sciences?
How can we address topics of sexual violence on campus in ways that do not stigmatize or traumatize its victims/survivors?
How critically should we judge our first black president? How do we reconcile conflicting thoughts and actions when the United States authorizes the policies of some oppressive regimes (including itself) while condemning those of others?
How can and do we make informed policy decisions when our American media-entertainment system releases or buries information as it sees politically fit? What constitutes a sufficiently serious social injury for our Board of Trustees to even consider taking investments out of a multinational occupation?
What does it mean for our collective futures if we have no mechanisms to hold our (elite-class driven) governments, institutions and corporations accountable for the ways their actions systematically and disproportionately impact our global poor and our majority of brown bodies?
How much should we expect our campus to care about these topics when we are becoming the world’s elite class (if we aren’t already)? What can or should we demand of ourselves?
There is so much at stake in how and when we answer these questions.
I don’t have a roadmap and the answer key I’m designing is flawed, but that does not mean I have to quietly acquiesce to an oppressive, unequal and unjust status quo.
Again, Erykah gives expression to thoughts and feelings in a way that resonates deeply with me:
“Time to save the world / Where in the world is all the time / So many things I still don’t know / So many times to change my mind,” she sings. “Guess I was born to make mistakes / But I ain’t scared to take the weight / So when I stumble off the path / I know my heart will guide me back.”
All I can hope is that in my reaching for the seemingly insurmountable, my heart will guide me to make mistakes and fail in the right direction.
Kristian is very grateful for your attention this quarter! If you have suggestions for things to do in Cape Town, send him a message at kbailey ‘at’ stanford.edu.