Trending Topics:

John Legend derides portrayal of Palestinians as ‘demographic challenge’ in speech at Penn

on 25 Comments

On Monday singer John Legend, who’s number one on Billboard with “All of Me,” returned to his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, to deliver a commencement speech. Here is an excerpt of that speech, featuring his linking of racist attitudes toward Palestinians with racist attitudes towards African-Americans and Iraqis.

Now, I’ve already talked about the power of love in your work and your personal lives. But I also want to talk about how love changes the world. There are 7 billion other people out there. 7 billion strangers. I want you to consider what it means to love them too. What does it mean to love people we don’t know, to see the value in every single person’s life?

Think about that. It’s a pretty radical notion. It means your daughter or son, your neighbor’s daughter or son and the daughters and sons of people who live thousands of miles away, all deserve the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It means we let go of fear and see each other’s humanity. It means we don’t see Trayvon Martin as a walking stereotype, a weaponized human. We see him as a boy who deserves the chance to grow into a man, even if he makes boyish mistakes along the way. It means American lives don’t count more than Iraqi lives. It means we see a young Palestinian kid not as a future security threat or demographic challenge, but as a future father, mother and lover. It means that the nearly 300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria aren’t just their problem. They’re “our” girls too. It’s actually quite a challenge to love humankind in this way.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

Other posts by .

Posted In:

25 Responses

  1. just on May 22, 2014, 11:10 am

    So rich with truth– a gift to those graduates, and to all of us.

    I hope they heard him. Thank you John Legend.

  2. HarryLaw on May 22, 2014, 11:49 am

    The demographic “problem” i.e, the number of Palestinians in areas the Israeli state covets is openly talked about in Israel and by Israeli government Ministers. How would it sound if some groups in New York talked about the demographic problems of New York in the context of there being too many blacks, or too many people of Jewish origin.
    Right thinking people would be horrified. What’s the difference?

    • pabelmont on May 22, 2014, 12:13 pm

      What’s the difference? No difference.

      And what shall we say of that OTHER demographic problem, the millions of Palestinians — stateless, passportless — who are or descend from the exiles of 1948? Israel speaks of a demographic problem in terms of the Palestinians now present (present within Greater Israel = Mandatory Palestine): how much greater would it be if they had not (so shamefully) expelled and/or refused to re-admit all the 750,000 Palestinians exiled in and after 1948? And how much LESS would these so-called demographic threats be if Israel would agree to live on a much smaller territory, say 1/2 of Israel-1948.

    • Zach S on May 22, 2014, 2:43 pm

      Or of too many “Zionists” in Palestine?…

      • Cliff on May 22, 2014, 8:04 pm

        @Zach S

        The Puritan colonists were also a ‘demographic threat’ weren’t they? Those Native American tribes just irrationally hated Christians right?

        It wasn’t because of colonialism or anything. They just blindly hate Christians.

        Poor Christians. They were following Manifest Destiny. The savages were in their way.

      • talknic on May 22, 2014, 9:36 pm

        @ Zach S “Or of too many “Zionists” in Palestine?”

        Zionists? Are they a people or a race? An ethnicity or a religion? Do they have a nationality, skin colour, facial or eye shape? Do they have a national or traditional dress? Are there any traditional Zionist foods? What language do they speak? Is there a Zionist passport or identity papers?

    • seafoid on May 22, 2014, 4:09 pm

      The Nazis had a demographic issue too in Poland- how to get rid of all those Jews.
      Israel is really despicable. And as for the Jewish concern for human rights…

      • on February 23, 2015, 11:17 am

        Talknic. You don’t know what a Zionist is?

    • ckg on May 22, 2014, 10:58 pm

      Twenty five years ago the liberal magazine Christian Century published an article by U.S. Rep.–and Jesuit priest–Robert Drinan describing the “demographic threat” to Israel. The editor James Wall (or perhaps Martin Marty?) was kind enough to print my eviscerating reply. Demographic “threats” or “problems” are best left to Pat Buchanan and his ilk. It doesn’t matter if the Jewish population west of the Jordan is 60% or 40%–it’s still apartheid.

  3. Ellen on May 22, 2014, 12:06 pm

    He gave a great talk. Most all points were met with loud applause and shouts of support. Deriding Palestinians as nothing more than a “Demographic Challenge” was met with more tepid applause. But it is a great start!

  4. Cliff on May 22, 2014, 1:45 pm

    Cue Zionist Jews saying it’s insensitive to link Palestinian agency to African-American agency.

    Zionists love speaking for (i.e., hiding behind) other minorities.

  5. weareone on May 22, 2014, 1:47 pm

    Wow! Thank you John Legend and thank you Phil and Adam.

    This is one of the most powerful and enlightened commencement speeches I have ever heard. I happened to be at another ivy league commencement yesterday and the message was distinctly different, or should I say, more of the same. It went something like: you’ve studied Plato and Aristotle, programming, and anything else we could fill your minds with in 4 years to prepare you to become “leaders” (translation-make lots of money) and to become loyal alumni (give lots of money back to us). But the message was conspicuously devoid of any noble thought that might enrich the soul. It was a stark contrast to John Legend’s talk on the power of love.

  6. Krauss on May 22, 2014, 2:11 pm

    Just as Telhami’s poll of Americans showed: once the 2SS paradigm collapses, Americans will favor democracy.

    And part of that is not accepting language that targets a dispossessed former majority as a “demographic threat”.

  7. HarryLaw on May 22, 2014, 3:40 pm

    Some interesting comments from America’s former peace envoy to the Palestine-Israel negotiations, George Mitchell, has said that the only solution to the conflict is through the two-state solution. Responding to a question from Quds News during a lecture at the National Press Club, Mitchell said that there is no solution apart from two-states. “Palestine and Israel, coexisting in peace and security with each other… All other options are unacceptable and disastrous,” he claimed. He also said Israels security will not be threatened across the borders but said Iran and other players further away, pose a bigger threat

  8. Daniel Rich on May 22, 2014, 3:41 pm

    The USS ‘Let’s Talk’ has long since sailed. When I saw this picture I had to be very honest with myself and was forced to ask myself ‘How would you feel and act after almost 7 decades of brutal occupation? Would you be able to laugh and radiate everything you see in that picture? And then I nearly cried, because I realized that I would most likely not be able to even muster as much as a smile.

    That monster, the naked Apartheid State, has to be brought to its knees and as such, cease to exist. I, for one, am sick and tired of this endless, daily horror show and all of its apologists regurgitating more and more lies.

    Enough already.

    • talknic on May 22, 2014, 9:24 pm

      “That monster, the naked Apartheid State, has to be brought to its knees and as such, cease to exist”

      Indeed. Off with its head and sent to the knackery. There must be a some intelligent, worthy people who can for a change govern Israel, for Israelis, IN Israel

      • radkelt on May 23, 2014, 1:47 am

        ” Off with its head and sent to the knackery. There must be a some intelligent, worthy people who can for a change govern Israel, for Israelis, in Israel”

        One would hope, in despair. Perhaps even comport with international
        norms, UN requirements for inclusion. We can hope and dream and
        eventually despair.

  9. Kay24 on May 22, 2014, 5:43 pm

    Jay Leno, the newest confessed non Jewish zionist, does his country proud, by flirting with Bibi, and making stinging jokes at his own President’s, and John Kerry’s expense.
    Most probably he has been offered a top job with some zionist owned media, and he is working hard for it. I never expect an over the hill comedian, whose wife was known for making a stand for women’s rights in Afghanistan, to show devotion to a brutal occupier, Mavis Leno is totally unaware of women and children suffering under the zionists, and Jay seems ignorant too. No John Legend is Jay Leno.

  10. joer on May 22, 2014, 7:14 pm

    What a world we live in these days: It takes exceptional bravery to suggest it is wrong to kill children.
    …but he said it, which is certainly a sign of changing times. I guess if we compare this struggle with the gay rights struggle, this would put us probably at the Matthew Sheppard point-when there was a consensus that it is wrong to kill someone because he is gay. (The First Intifada would be Stonewall, probably.).

  11. James Canning on May 22, 2014, 7:23 pm

    I doubt many people posting on this site see Palestinian children as a demographic threat to themselves.

  12. bilal a on May 22, 2014, 10:11 pm

    he should debate Israeli comic sarah silverman

    Could Sarah Silverman be joining Israel’s first family?

  13. NickJOCW on May 23, 2014, 6:56 am

    These sentiments have been echoed down the ages from isolated voices many of which have been brutally silenced. They are salutary and ever welcome.

    One thing is baffling me and someone here may clear it for me. The ever growing nisus is towards escalating global BDS. The BDS objectives as I understand them are

    1 Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
    2 Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
    3 Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.s

    They appear unequivocal enough and yet Derfner the other day and many other liberal voices seem to assume that Israel will be able to pick and choose to which bits of the above it will accede. I am thinking particularly of the existing settlements where it seems to be accepted by those voices that some or all will have to remain. Why? Derfner mentioned the difficulty of moving 170,000 but surely many more indigenous Palestinians have been dispossessed, and isn’t that the point. I don’t see why the Palestinians should be expected to compromise but if they do choose to, then surely that should be their decision not Israel’s. Or is it thought that BDS should modify its objectives? If that is the case then should they not be modified now before too many others join the movement only to find themselves sold short and disappointed?

  14. StCuthbert on May 23, 2014, 8:28 am

    The Judaization of Jerusalem is something that should concern everyone.

    • mondonut on May 23, 2014, 12:17 pm


      I am no more concerned of the Judaization of Jerusalem than I am of making water wet.

Leave a Reply