“The masculinist mode of representing history makes it so that, too often, credit is not given where it’s due.”
These words—among an impassioned treasure-trove of others—were delivered by longtime political activist, radical queer feminist, writer and scholar Angela Davis this past Monday night.
On the 43rd anniversary of her release from prison following her acquittal of “conspiracy in the 1970 armed take-over of a Marin County courtroom, in which four people died,” Davis spoke to a full house of students, faculty and general audience members at USC’s Bovard Auditorium.
The event, titled “Angela Davis: A Lifetime of Revolution,” hosted by USC’s Black Student Assembly and the USC Speakers Committee, saw the 71-year-old former Black Panther Party member address issues of pernicious racism in a “post-racial” world; intimate partner violence; and how “diversity is not a synonym for justice.”
“Diversity is a corporate strategy,’” cautioned Davis. “It’s a difference that makes no difference at all.”
Never one to shy away from calls to action, the prominent civil rights figure delved into the ways that we must address how America’s long-established history of “state violence” teaches those most targeted to internalize that aggression. “Where do you think people learn that violence is a solution?” she asked.
In the wake of the extrajudicial killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Davis paid particular attention to new movements like #BlackLivesMatter, and the importance of acknowledging that “many of the leaders of these movements are women,” such as Patrisse Cullors. (To find out more, check out Brittney Cooper’s article about women leading the movement in the latest issue of Ms.)
“The problem with this country is that we are encouraged to forget our histories,” said Davis, speaking of histories often marked by disproportionate violence against women, people of color and other marginalized communities.
Having spent nearly a lifetime discussing her essay, “Violence Against Women and the Ongoing Challenge to Racism,” Davis continues to call for recognition of the inextricable links between many of the social justice issues that we face today:
There can be no great triumph over racism without addressing capitalism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, the environment that we live in and the food that we consume. We have to recognize all of these connections.
Speaking to, what radical feminist writer Audre Lorde described as the lack of “a hierarchy of oppressions,” a major theme of the evening was the call for collective solidarity in an age of increasingly individualistic engagements in what has been deemed “the oppression Olympics.” Focusing on issues faced by South Africans in the second half of the 20th century; Palestinians today; Muslims and Muslim-Americans in regards to rampant Islamophobia; and dismantling the prison-industrial complex in America, Davis encouraged work towards a more intersectional and all-inclusive notion of liberation.
Though she is seen by many today as a singular icon of the Civil Rights Movement, Davis – who recently accepted a teaching position at Stanford University – urged the audience to remember her by “a legacy of collective struggle, of remembering and of imagining the future.”
That future, though papered over and often plagued by the amnesiac effects of “colorblindness” in favor of a “post-racial America” is one made better by the works of Davis and her lifetime commitment to “solidarity, struggle and perseverance.”
Photo of Davis (center) with USC students (including the author, far left) courtesy of Joseph Chen and the USC Program Board