“Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?” asked both Kristina Williams ’16 and Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon, quoting Martin Luther King’s 1967 book in their remarks at the January keynote address of the MLK, Jr celebration on Monday, January 18. The two of them asked the same question, yet the answers they demanded were starkly different. President Hanlon took the diplomatic route, perhaps as a man in his position should, yet agreed that we are not in a post-racial society. Kristina bravely called out the hypocrisy of a white-washed MLK Day celebration that primarily served to reduce white guilt. She questioned the way in which Dartmouth uses black bodies and stories and buzzwords like “inclusivity” and “diversity” to up its ranks, yet wavers to provide support to the black students on campus when racist slurs are sprayed onto anonymous platforms like Bored@Baker and YikYak in the name of free speech.
As I sat there waiting for the keynote speaker/performance to start, Kristina’s words slowly sinking in, I wondered what Rohina Malik would be up to. What kind of performance could serve as a keynote on a day like today?
Malik did not disappoint. Weaving stories of her personal experiences and of those close to her with a sip of tea in every act, Malik brought forward the question of what it meant to be a Muslim in the Western world. In a short performance she tackled issues of Islamophobia, of colorism, of the post-colonial racial imperialism, and of love and heartbreak. Her vulnerability on stage did not leave those of us in the audience untouched either. “Do you know what it feels like to not be treated as human?” she asked at one point, and all of her pain washed me over in a waterfall of tears. With a blend of monologues and hip-hop, Malik shared the most poignant and also uplifting stories. And I, in the audience, was enamored because I had never seen someone on stage be so honest.