BLM leader makes us think about race relations
By Neil Khilwani
On Thursday January 23rd, 2020, Fordham University had the privilege of hosting Janaya Khan, Co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement in Canada, for an enlightening talk about the current state of race relations in the United States and the need for greater social activism in society. Khan opened their speech with an anecdote about a past travel experience in which a fellow white male passenger questioned their flying first class on an airline. A few gasps emerged from the crowd. Khan assured the audience, stating that they could sense no malice in the man and described how he suddenly realized the ignorance of his comment. He apologized and made up for his comment by putting their luggage in the overhead compartment. Khan’s story provided for the audience an example of something that all minorities in this country have to deal with: a justification of belonging
They then transitioned into a recount of the racial confrontation that occured last year at the Lincoln Memorial. The discussion focused on how the boys involved were hailed as heroes by the GOP, when they should have been disciplined for shouting racist remarks and throwing tomahawks at a Native American. Khan questioned where this kind of contempt comes from, explaining that although these kids were around 17 years old, their type of mindset is a learned one.
A deeper discussion of race relations in the United States and the current state of the Black Lives Matter movement followed. There were many periods of time in which the topics of discussion became very heavy, but Khan materful use of humor to de-escalated any tension in the room. At every moment, they had us intently listening, laughing and contemplating. Near the end of the discussion, there was an emphasis on what the audience could do to advance civil rights. Khan assuaged the crowd’s doubts of being incapable of change because the time to do great things has passed or that there are simply not extraordinary people like the icons of the past such as MLK or Malcolm X. They also thought like this, but once they entered into the field of social justice, they realized that it is never “too late” and that those legends such as MLK and Malcom X were ordinary humans just like us. They emphasized that it was these Civil Rights leaders’ actions and commitments to fight for change that enabled them to achieve greatness. A few moments that particularly stuck out was when Khan pointed out that they and any minority in the room, know everything about their oppressor, but their oppressor knows so little of them. Another strong moment was when Khan recounted a story of when they had to make a temporary alliance with the Nation of Islam, an organization that they deem deeply anti-semitic and homophobic, but an one that has stood the test of time and has done a great deal for Blacks in America. They described how though they had a difference of opinions on many things, they had a common goal and used this commonality to effectively achieve what they needed. Khan highlighted this as a key failure with the Left because there are various groups with a common goal, but no unity in how to accomplish these goals. Janaya Khan urged the audience to rise up and act in order to achieve the social change that we want to see in our world. But at the same time, we need to set a concrete plan that all of us can strive together to achieve. It is not enough just to express discontent with society.
At the end of the talk, Father McShane held a few closing remarks, recounting a story that one of his mentors from the University of Chicago shared about a dinner with MLK. McShane elaborated on how MLK asked to sit facing the entrance to the restaurant. Apparently, MLK could sense that his assasination was imminent, but he wanted his attacker to know that he would not die a scared man. Father McShane also went on to express his utmost admiration for Janaya’s mastery of Eloquentia Perfecta, commentating on their ability to touch every single person in the audience with their words. It was clear that Father McShane was very moved, as was every person who attended the talk. I will try my best to hold onto what Janaya Khan shared with us that day. I will leave you with some wise words from Khan. They meant to describe social activism, but also described the type of person that they believe we should strive to be in order to reach our true potential: “Activism is being the person you need in your most vulnerable moment.”