An Uncertain Sea

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(Note: This speech was the keynote address delivered at the UCLA African-American Studies Department 2016 Commencement. You may listen to the audio recording below.)


Hello, graduating class of 2016! Thank you to Professor Cheryl Harris, the faculty and staff on the Dept of African-American Studies, and Professor Sarah Haley for the invitation to celebrate this day with all of you—the now alumni of this institution.

Congratulations. How do you feel? This is huge. When I thought about what I could say to you that was worth me being up here for a precious thirteen minutes of your day, hoping to impart some pearl of wisdom, I spent a not insubstantial amount of time googling, “What the hell is the point of a commencement address.”

I thought back to my own commencement. I don’t remember it at all. Read More

A Matter of Character

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(Note: The speech was the keynote address delivered at the Southern Methodist University Black Alumni History Makers scholarship reception on 9 February 2013)


Hello! It is truly an honor and a privilege to speak to you this evening. Allow me to introduce myself: I am Jerrika Hinton and you may recognize me from such seminal works as That Girl In That One McDonald’s Commercial About Football. Or: That Girl That Dies In That One Movie That Keeps Playing On TV One. Or, most recently: That Doctor Girl In That One TV Show About Doctors. Yes, it’s true I’ve done a lot.

Tonight we honor history makers—exemplary women and men who exhibit a remarkable commitment to their field and the lives of others. I’ve often wondered, when I sit where you do, What were the series of events that created  that individual? How can I get myself closer to that? How can I approximate that path in my own life? And I’ve found that frequently it’s a matter of character.

I grew up in the heart of Dallas, right across the Trinity River in a diverse neighborhood called Oak Cliff. Oak Cliff is where I first took the stage in a preschool Christmas production at Tom Thumb Nursery. It’s also home to Margaret B. Henderson Elementary, the place where I wrote comedic sketches for my girl scout troop and even, as a young black girl, danced Ballet Folklorico. Oak Cliff’s breadth of culture and possibilities provided a fundamental backdrop for the trajectory my life has taken. Read More

Creating a Center Part

By | Personal Essay, Wander | 3 Comments

Do you know how hard it is to find a black girl with hair like yours?

Ten years ago I was in a stand-off with my southern parents in my ultra-conservative hometown. I had just informed them of my intention to cut off my thick mass of bone-straight hair and never again incur the burden of a relaxer. They were, to say the least, flabbergasted.

Do you know how hard it is to find a black girl with hair like yours?

The question was provocative: not only was I disappointing my parents, but shaving my mane apparently meant failing an entire culture. It was my first peek into the supposition that my hair does not belong to me but, rather, is part of some trenchant responsibility — a birthright, if you will — and deeply engaged in identity politics whether or not the body/mind attached to it desires such.

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