Angela Davis has long been a legend in the fight for global justice. Like most prominent activists, she combines passionate advocacy with cool, analytical commentary. She’s lived a rare old life. At one point she was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List; she’s been imprisoned and demonized particularly by Reagan; she was fired by the University of California for her membership of the Communist party, reinstated, and then fired again for inflammatory language; and she’s been a thorn in the side of a host of rotters: racists, homophobes, war-mongerers, and anti-feminists.
This latest work, brought out by the exemplary Haymarket Books, is a mixture of email interviews, articles, and speeches. There’s some occasional repetition as she references Palestine and “intersectionality,” her signature observation about the interconnectedness of various struggles, but there’s also a lot of really excellent stuff here, especially if you’re new to her work.
I found myself regularly scribbling in the margins, taking notes on ideas that, even if she first articulated them decades ago, seem to bear fresh impetus in this time of Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, and now Charlotte (the very day I write this, there have been more police killings of Black men).
Here are some lines that caught my attention:
“… people are afraid to join (the movement) because they say “I don’t understand. It’s so complicated.” The question of how to bring movements together is also a question of the kind of language one uses.” (p. 21)
“… you will always defeat your own purposes if you cannot imagine the people around whom you are struggling as equal partners.” (p. 26)
“Every change that has happened has come as a result of mass movements — from the era of slavery, the Civil War, and the involvement of Black people in the Civil War.” (p. 36)
“Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it’s only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect.” (p. 49)
“Mandela … would have insisted on not being elevated to a secular sainthood, but would have claimed space for his comrades in the struggle … he was remarkable because he railed against the individualism that would single him out at the expense of those who were always at his side.” (p. 52)
“… the very concept of freedom must have been first imagined by slaves.” (p. 67)
“For most of our history the very category “human” has not embraced Black people. Its abstractness has been colored white and gendered male.” (p. 87)
“We have to learn how to think and act and struggle against that which is ideologically constituted as “normal.” (p. 100)
At around 150 pages, this is a slim volume, but in it we get more than a glimpse of a powerful intellect allied with a genuinely radical worldview. Davis deals in ideas that are inconceivable to mainstream thought (abolition of prisons, real justice for Palestinians). Buy it and tell me I’m wrong.