“[…] Those who benefit most from the inequalities of racism and supremacy that we continue to live in today are, in Dr Martin Luther King’s words, more efficient and effective with the limited time that they are afforded.
“That leaves us—who are progressive, who dream of a better world—with the challenge of waking up everyday to be intentional in our actions, to be intentional in who we are and how we want to shape this world…”
The following is the acceptance speech by Shaka Hislop, former Trinidad and Tobago World Cup player, England Premier league goalkeeper and co-founder of Show Racism The Red Card, as he received an honorary degree from Newcastle University on 13 July 2022 for his anti-racism work:
The day is here. My wife and I have five kids—Maalana, Khazia, Talia, Nia, and Luka—and I’m delighted that they could be here to join me in this most celebrated moment of mine.
As I sat there getting ready to give this talk it dawned on me that this was a lot like major holidays and birthdays in our household—you know they’re coming but you’re never quite ready for them when they arrive. But here I am.
As per the introduction, I knew that Dr Martin Luther King Jr received this very degree, four months short of exactly 55 years ago to the day. That’s a daunting ask for someone to stand in those shoes.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to say when I got here, and in preparing for that I decided to sit with my kids and look over Dr King’s speech on that day: 13th November 1967.
(Editor’s Note: Before Dr King, degree recipients did not speak. However, Newcastle University wanted the civil rights leader to give a speech, which he did, unscripted, to great effect. Hislop’s speech was also largely impromptu.)
I wondered if I could just give the same speech, but I realise that that kind of thing is frowned upon, at universities especially. One of my kids suggested, just play the audio and you can lip sync, and I thought, alright that makes a lot of sense.
In recognising Dr King’s speech on that day, he spoke about the challenges of racism, of war and of poverty back then—three social issues which still plague so many of us today. So much has gone into eradicating the world of those challenges, yet we can have that very talk, and it will be just as relevant some 55 years on.
It brought to mind two of Dr Martin Luther King’s quotes. The first is, “the arch of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”
The bending of the moral universe is intentional. It has been done so with the purpose of those who have felt the sting of injustice and those who have worked to rid the world of its consequence.
The second is, “time is neutral—it is neither constructive nor destructive.” This is to say that it is neither progressive nor regressive.
Those who benefit most from the inequalities of racism and supremacy that we continue to live in today are, in Dr King’s words, more efficient and effective with the limited time that they are afforded.
That leaves us—who are progressive, who dream of a better world—with the challenge of waking up everyday to be intentional in our actions, to be intentional in who we are and how we want to shape this world.
The challenge in today’s world, a world that knows the immediacy of social media, is recognising, understanding and accepting that we will not live in that Utopian world we dream of. But there is no greater calling of our humanity than to plant the seed for someone in the future to enjoy the cool shade of equality—for some to savour a world without racism.
There was no more noble calling of us then. There is no more noble calling of us today. That is what Dr Martin Luther King tasked us with 55 years ago.
In accepting these degrees, that is the promise we (the graduating students from the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences) make to the University today.
It’s tough work. Time, experience and a certain level of achievement has taught me that there are days that you don’t feel worthy—the days that you do not feel enough are more than you’d care to admit.
But on those days, it’s okay to lip sync.
Editor’s Note: Shaka Hislop was conferred with the Freedom of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne on 13 May 2022 for his anti-racism work.