© Mark Blinch / Reuters
Angela Davis upon her arrival at the gala presentation of the film on her life, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012.
Emblematic figure of the Black Panthers movement, Angela Davis finds hope in the protest movements that sparked the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. According to her, these movements are at the heart of the fight for democracy, especially in the United States where Donald Trump will seek a second term on November 3. Here she gives her thoughts in an interview with the Newspaper.
In 1970 Angela Davis was on the list of 10 most wanted by the FBI, the American federal police. She was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. Weapons registered in her name had been used during a hostage-taking which she did not attend, but which resulted in the death of four people.
After 16 months in prison and a high-profile trial, Angela Davis had been acquitted of all the charges against her.
Born January 26, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama, Angela Davis was part of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) movement, which took over the struggle for the rights of blacks started by Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and others.
Angela Davis was also a member of the American Communist Party.
Human rights defender, retired professor from the University of California at Santa Cruz and author of several books, Ms. Davis says that although slavery was abolished, its effects are still being felt today.
Starting in California on Wednesday, Angela Davis gave Azeb Wolde-Giorghis an interview in French which will be broadcast on June 25, here is the summary.
What do you think of the movement that started after the death of George Floyd?
Angela Davis – It is the first time that we have seen such an immediate response to such racist murder almost anywhere in the world and it is of course because of the new communication technology. We all collectively watched the last minutes of George Floyd’s life,
But such a response was possible, precisely because of the fact that racist brutality also exists in Europe, in Brazil, and also in Canada. It is a global problem. And I believe that we must develop a global solidarity which can, perhaps, create the basis of a hope for change.
With all these movements on the planet, we start talking aboutstop funding police services, for example, in Minneapolis. Do you think this is the beginning of a change?
A.D. – It’s a start to change, but of course it depends on what we do in the months and years to come.
In the past fifty years, there has been the end of apartheid and also the election of a first african american president in the United States We felt that racism was a thing of the past and there, in 2020, comes the terrible death of George Floyd. Did we rest on our laurels? Is it a brutal awakening?
A.D. – Popular discourse was that racism was already eliminated. Of course, the election of Barack Obama served as an example of the misconception that there was no more racism. But I believe that this conception of racism itself was false. Racism is much more than individual attitudes. The adjective “racistWas used, and continues to be used, to describe individuals, individuals.
Racism is not only rooted in attitudes. Racism is structural, it is systemic. It is institutional. And the murders by the police of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Richard Brooks and the murder by racist militias ofAhmaud Arbery, were the wake-up call, I believe, to structural racism.
I believe that now, in society in the United States, we are recognizing what systemic, structural racism means.
Do you hope it can change?
A.D. – Yes. I have hope, but [ça ne se fera] not in an instant.
It is absolutely extraordinary that the protests continue here in North America, but also in Europe, and in South America to change the institutions. We would need much more than reforms. Prisons and the police have been perpetually reformed. And after these reforms, these institutions became more violent, more racist, more permanent.
This is the reason why I think young activists are calling for the abolition of prisons. They say that the police must be dismantled, that is to say that new institutions must be created. [Prôner] education, not incarceration. Health, especially mental health, work, housing … To abolish is to recreate society, to imagine a new order beyond racial capitalism, global capitalism.
You have been an activist and still are, a feminist, you are part of this generation that fought for human rights. How to explain the election of Donald Trump after that of Barack Obama?
A.D. – Hmm … So … I don’t like to pronounce the name of the man who is President of the United States [rires]. That’s why I hesitate. But I think there are white people in the United States who don’t understand that their problems, especially economic, are linked to the problems of racism. And, then, when someone like the president says to those who really suffer, “you suffer because of immigrants from mexico, because of blacks, because of affirmative action [affirmative action]…It was demagoguery that created and consolidated racism today in the United States.
But it seems to be working for Donald Trump; people are listening to his speech. You have an election in four months in the United States, does it matter that people vote? How do you see the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden?
A.D. – We must vote. The president, who is in the White House today, must go. I believe Joe Biden is not the best candidate. […] I do not want to talk about the Democratic Party because there are problems in the Democratic Party too.
I don’t think we should vote for the candidate who saves the world and who saves the United States, but we have to vote for ourselves. To create more space and movement. And I believe that is what we are going to do in November.
And this change does not necessarily go through the political?
A.D. – I do not believe that electoral politics is the best place to express radical politics. I believe that organizations, Black Lives Matter, young people, demonstrations, that’s what will change the world.
There have been many demonstrations in recent years, what is it that this time there will really be changes?
A.D. – What is important, when we look at the black movement, the movements against racism, for justice […], these movements are really at the heart of the struggle for democracy.
When we say Black Lives Matter, the meaning of this sentence is: when the lives of blacks count all over the world, then at that time, all human lives will count. It is a radical demand for democracy and it is the first time in our history that many people recognize this relationship. It is a radical demand for democracy against racism, against sexism, against homophobia, transphobia, economic discrimination and, for many of us, against capitalism. And especially for the health of the planet.
This is the reason why everyone, everywhere, regards this movement as [étant] everyone’s hope.
Angela Davis, here is a statement you made in 1972. We are in 2020 and we have the impression that we are facing the same problem.
A.D. – Yes, it is the same problem, but I believe that the energy of youth, the lessons we learned during the movements, are not the same thing. We are on a ground which is completely new, we have a vocabulary which is new. That is why I believe that now is the time for real hope.
How do you feel hearing this excerpt?
A.D. – I say yes, it’s true, for black people, Latinos, natives, people whose ancestors are Asian, the problems continue to exist. But I think we recognize that these problems […] are not going to go away just because of individual changes. We need systemic, institutional changes.
Do you think we have reached a breaking point in the United States?
A.D. – Yes, we are at a breaking point, it is the first time that we have reached a consensus which is much more radical than in the past.
We talked about the police, do you think there are other elements in the system that should be changed?
A.D. – Absolutely! Prisons; the concept advocating their abolition comes from activists and researchers who look at the prison system. And education: it must be free and must not be a product, a commodity. And health institutions! All institutions are racist and must be transformed.
W. E. B. De Bois [sociologue et défenseur des droits civiques américain] said problems after slavery that abolition was not only the destruction of a racist institution, but more important is the reconstruction, the reorganization of society so that those who were slaves can be integrated into it. What we should have done 150 years ago, we must do now.
Do you think things have improved for African Americans?
A.D. – Changes have been made and I think it’s good.
But basically nothing has changed. The institutions speak of diversity and, of course, there are more people who represent racialized communities in economic institutions, in universities. But the institutions themselves have not changed. And it’s a contradiction. If you integrate someone who has been marginalized in the past by an institution and the institution remains the same as when there was this marginalization, then that has basically changed nothing.
So now is the time to start changing institutions.
Will these changes be brought about by popular pressure?
A.D. – I believe! I hope.