NEW IDEAS, new ter­rain

An­gela Davis, an icon of the Black Power move­ment, has led a life of re­sis­tance to in­jus­tice. caught up with her to talk Black Power, fem­i­nism and the prison-in­dus­trial com­plex

CityPress - - Voices -

You of­ten talk about the im­por­tance of move­ments rather than in­di­vid­u­als. How can we do that in a so­ci­ety that pro­motes in­di­vid­u­al­ism as a sa­cred con­cept?

Even as Nel­son Man­dela always in­sisted that his ac­com­plish­ments were col­lec­tive – also achieved by the men and women who were his com­rades – the me­dia at­tempted to sanc­tify him as a heroic in­di­vid­ual. A sim­i­lar process has at­tempted to dis­so­ci­ate Dr Martin Luther King Jnr from the vast num­bers of women and men who con­sti­tuted the very heart of the mid-20th-cen­tury US free­dom move­ment. It is es­sen­tial to re­sist the de­pic­tion of his­tory as the work of heroic in­di­vid­u­als in or­der for peo­ple to­day to recog­nise their po­ten­tial agency as a part of an ever-ex­pand­ing com­mu­nity of strug­gle.

What is the Black Power move­ment’s sig­nif­i­cance to­day?

I think of Black Power – or what we re­ferred to at the time as the ‘black lib­er­a­tion move­ment’ – as a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in the quest for black free­dom. In many ways, it was a re­sponse to what were per­ceived as the lim­i­ta­tions of the civil rights move­ment: we needed to claim not only le­gal rights, but sub­stan­tive rights in terms of jobs, hous­ing, health­care, ed­u­ca­tion, etc, as well as to chal­lenge the very struc­ture of so­ci­ety. Such de­mands were summed up in the 10-point pro­gramme of the Black Pan­ther Party. Al­though black in­di­vid­u­als have en­tered economic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal hi­er­ar­chies, an over­whelm­ing num­ber of black peo­ple are sub­ject to economic, ed­u­ca­tional and carceral racism to a far greater ex­tent than dur­ing the pre-civil rights era. In many ways, the de­mands of the Black Pan­ther Party’s 10-point pro­gramme are just as rel­e­vant – per­haps even more rel­e­vant – as dur­ing the 1960s.

How would you de­fine black fem­i­nism and its role to­day?

Black fem­i­nism emerged as a the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal ef­fort demon­strat­ing that race, gen­der and class are in­sep­a­ra­ble in the so­cial worlds we in­habit. At the time of its emer­gence, black women were fre­quently asked to choose whether the black move­ment or the women’s move­ment was most im­por­tant. This was the wrong ques­tion. The more ap­pro­pri­ate ques­tion was how to un­der­stand the in­ter­sec­tions and in­ter­con­nec­tions between the two move­ments. We are still faced with the chal­lenge of un­der­stand­ing the com­plex ways that race, class, gen­der, sex­u­al­ity, na­tion and abil­ity are in­ter­twined – but also how we move be­yond th­ese cat­e­gories to un­der­stand the in­ter­re­la­tion­ships of ideas and pro­cesses that seem to be sep­a­rate and un­re­lated.

What does the prison-in­dus­trial com­plex say about so­ci­ety?

The soar­ing num­ber of peo­ple be­hind bars across the world and the in­creas­ing prof­itabil­ity of hold­ing them cap­tive is one of the most dra­matic ex­am­ples of the de­struc­tive ten­den­cies of global cap­i­tal­ism. The pris­onin­dus­trial com­plex in­cludes not only pri­vate and public pris­ons, but ju­ve­nile fa­cil­i­ties, mil­i­tary pris­ons and in­ter­ro­ga­tion cen­tres. More­over, the most prof­itable sec­tor of the pri­vate prison busi­ness is com­posed of im­mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­tres. One can, there­fore, un­der­stand why the most re­pres­sive anti-im­mi­grant leg­is­la­tion in the US was drafted by pri­vate prison com­pa­nies.

When was the last time you were in Pales­tine, and what were your im­pres­sions?

I trav­elled to Pales­tine in June 2011 with a del­e­ga­tion of in­dige­nous women and women of colour, fem­i­nist scholar/ac­tivists. Even though we had all been pre­vi­ously in­volved in Pales­tine sol­i­dar­ity ac­tivism, all of us were ut­terly shocked by what we saw, and we re­solved to en­cour­age our con­stituen­cies to join the Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment and Sanc­tions move­ment and to help in­ten­sify the campaign for a free Pales­tine.

How would you re­spond if I said the strug­gle is end­less?

I would say that as our strug­gles ma­ture, they pro­duce new ideas, new is­sues and new ter­rain on which we en­gage in the quest for free­dom. Like Nel­son Man­dela, we must be will­ing to em­brace the long walk to­wards free­dom.


Vet­eran hu­man rights ac­tivist An­gela Davis

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