Dr. Angela Davis Talks About the Effects of Systemic Racism as Part of “Essential Talks: Examining Our Campus”

June 3, 2022

Activist and scholar Dr. Angela Davis asserts that colonization still lingers in institutions today, including universities. However, with the power of activism through collective voices, issues such as racism, mass incarceration, police brutality, and slavery become opportunities for change. She spoke about these matters at the University Student Union’s (USU) program, What Are Modern-day Fuels of Racism? as part of the three-part series Essential Talks: Examining Our Campus.

Essential Talks: Examining Our Campus fostered essential conversations surrounding systemic racism in institutions. The spring semester series featured Challenging Microaggressions and Implicit Biases In and Outside of the Classroom, which was presented in collaboration with the Office of Student Success, and Becoming an Anti-Racist Advocate, featuring Dr. Ibram X Kendi. 

“Fundamental change comes always as a consequence of people coming together, creating people’s power and demonstrating that power,” Davis said.

By generating collective voices, Davis suggests that fundamental change will occur. It is significantly rare that only one person can create an impact on society since we function through communities, she said.  

Davis has devoted decades of activism and scholarship in human rights, social justice and incarceration of minoritized communities. She is most known for her involvement in the prison movement when she was arrested for connection to a murder and spent 16 months in jail as one of the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted Fugitives. Her extensive teaching credentials include University of California, Berkeley, San Francisco State University, Stanford and University of California, Santa Cruz, where she currently teaches Feminist Studies and History of Consciousness. 

Differences within communities are a powerful opportunity to create unity, said Davis. By expressing individuality rather than individualism, harmony will be reached. She said individuality is where everyone brings their diverse ideas and backgrounds together. Individualism is seen when people participate for themselves. Whether it is creating art or people bringing an issue to light through protesting, unity is reached when everyone’s contribution through their gifts and talents is meant for the greater good. 

“Whatever brings you joy should be the basis for your contribution to this collective quest for freedom,” said Davis.

Davis said that ranking the importance of social issues is not productive when it comes to activism because of the overlap of social, environmental and racial issues. She encouraged an intersectional approach that blends, for instance, an understanding of the effects of racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy and its racism, and mass incarceration of Black, Indigenous and people of color population.

Davis said students, particularly Black students, are exposed to misinformation that media outlets present which demonize the efforts of activism. She urged students to apply critical theory when evaluating information and discussing social issues. Because social media is fast-paced and presents much information at once, she said it is difficult to determine what is true and false. Davis referenced media philosopher Marshall McLuhan and his concept of the medium when she said it is not how much information someone knows but understanding how it applies in today’s climate. This is known as deep knowledge, something social media prevents. 

“We not only have to search for the answers and questions, we have to be able to grasp the extent to which…the logic that is inherent in our questions determines what we’re going to find,” said Davis. 

To understand the importance of critical theory, Davis discussed the narrative around imprisonment, policing, and how society has learned that the police are supposed to provide safety. However, she said, individuals with mental illnesses are being confronted by the police and even killed by them, which then brings the discourse to the accessibility of healthcare, especially for mental health. Davis emphasized critical theory sheds light on how each issue intertwines.

In her newly published book, “Abolition. Feminism. Now.” with authors Gina Dent, Erica R. Meiner, and Beth Riche, Davis urgently calls for a feminist approach to abolition. Slavery, for instance, has according to Davis “defined the very warp and woof of the fabric” of the U.S. As a result, it has affected many institutions, so it is important to acknowledge that abolishing slavery was a form of decolonization. 

“Abolition fails if it is so myopic that it only addresses one institution. And so, what we’re doing in the 21st century is taking up the work that [began] in the immediate aftermath of slavery. We’re still living the after lives of slavery,” said Davis.

Internationalism is important when it comes to advocating towards a better future, according to Davis. 

“We cannot think of ourselves as only a single country. We inhabit a world, and our inspirations and our comrades and those who help build a new world are all over the Americas, in the Caribbean, in Brazil and Africa, in Asia...” said Davis.

As students, faculty and staff continue advocating towards a more equitable, anti-racist and diverse future, Davis said it is important to keep abolition and disruption in mind when coming together as a collective for change. 

For more information on upcoming events at the USU and how to be an anti-racist advocate, please visit the USU’s calendar and the Anti-Racism Resources List.