By Len La Rocca
Growing up, her neighborhood was a constant target for Klu Klux Klan bombings. Today, she is a renowned civil rights activist, fighting to stop history from repeating itself.
In honor of Black History Month, civil rights activist Angela Davis reflected on racial justice progress in America, while also emphasizing the need for more change. She spoke to a packed Kendall Hall audience on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m.
Acts of white supremacy infested every aspect of Davis’ young life, down to the textbooks she read in school.
“During those days, [Black history] week was only celebrated in the black schools by black people,” Davis said. “Our teachers were compelled to teach from textbooks that were formulated by white supremacists. I’ll never forget my old elementary school history book represented black people as ‘deeply sorry’ about the outcome of the Civil War… this was in my American history textbook.”
Davis explained the need to celebrate both the black community and indigenous people during black history month, as both groups have faced extreme oppression.
Davis prefers the term ‘black’ over ‘African-American’, as she believes ‘American’ has become an exclusive term used to identify white people in the United States.
“It would be one thing if we used the term American in order to acknowledge all of the Americans,” she said. “That would be North America, South America, Central America… but the U.S. has kind of colonized that term ‘American.’ This is the only country in the Americas where people say ‘I’m American.’”
Davis also touched on why February was chosen for Black History Month, citing the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass.
She posed a thought-provoking question to the audience: when is Fredrick Douglass’ birthday? The exact date is a mystery to historians, as Douglass was born into slavery and his birth records were not kept.
Douglass chose a birthday of his own, which Davis believes is symbolic of a man who escaped the shackles of slavery and wished to abolish it.
“Fredrick Douglass chose February 14th as his birthdate, which in my opinion, reflects an awareness of the link between freedom and love,” she said.
Davis referred to President Trump as “the person whom I promise not to name.” She specifically expressed anger towards his campaign slogans’ implication of regression.
“What was his campaign slogan?… make America white again? Because it seems like that’s what it was about,” she said. “You know, conservatism is always been directed towards the past—toward a time when a smaller proportion of the population had access to material and political and philosophical resources.”
Davis is a former member of the Communist party and explained why she pulled away from the movement. She cited that an understanding of the evolution of the civil rights movement would require challenging Marxist beliefs.
“If we really want to understand how these movements evolve, we would have to challenge the marginalization of communists,” Davis said.
Davis also emphasized the malleability of racism and the need for hope.
“Things change,” Davis said. “Nothing ever remains the same. Racism doesn’t remain the same. Racism is not what it was during the era of slavery or during the aftermath of slavery. It is impossible to understand racism of the twenty-first century without recognizing the way in which it is articulated with the torture and the military assaults and the ideological demension of the so called war on terror.”
Gender violence was Davis’ final topic. While she acknowledged the anger and desire for vengeance against sexual assault, she highlighted the need to stray away from revenge.
“Abolition encourages us to think beyond vengeance, beyond vengeance…toward ways of depositing gender violence into the dustbin of history,” Davis said.
Students gathered in the Brower Student Center room 100 to meet Davis at a book signing after the show. Yanaja Joyner, a senior African-American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies double major was overjoyed with Davis’ lecture. “That woman is so amazing on so many levels, and the fact that she was able to come here and give her unfiltered truth was just great,” she said. “Especially because she is still a little controversial and very progressive—even for our time.”