Angela Davis

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Defunding the police is not simply about withdrawing funding for law enforcement... It’s about shifting public funds to new services and new institutions — mental health counselors, who can respond to people who are in crisis without arms. It’s about shifting funding to education, to housing, to recreation. All of these things help to create security and safety. It’s about learning that safety, safeguarded by violence, is not really safety
The reason we have been forcefully compelled to eke out an existence at the very lowest level of American society has to do with the nature of capitalism. ... A few wealthy capitalists are guaranteed the privilege of becoming richer and richer, whereas the people who are forced to work for the rich, and especially Black people, never take any significant step forward. ... The only true path of liberation for black people is the one that leads toward a complete and total overthrow of the capitalist class in this country and all its manifold institutional appendages.
In this country, ... where the special category of political prisoners is not officially acknowledged, the political prisoner inevitably stands trial for a specific criminal offense, not for a political act.
The American judicial system is bankrupt. In so far as black people are concerned, it has proven itself to be one more arm of a system carrying out the systematic oppression of our people. We are the victims, not the recipients of justice.
Prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business.

Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944) is an American political activist, philosopher, academic, Marxist feminist, author, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS).


It is both humiliating and humbling to discover that a single generation after the events that constructed me as a public personality, I am remembered as a hairdo.
  • It is both humiliating and humbling to discover that a single generation after the events that constructed me as a public personality, I am remembered as a hairdo.
    • "Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, and Nostalgia" Critical Inquiry. Vol. 21, No. 1 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 37-39, 41-43 and 45.
  • Where cultural representations do not reach out beyond themselves, there is the danger that they will function as the surrogates for activism, that they will constitute both the beginning and the end of political practice.
    • "Black Nationalism: The Sixties and the Nineties." Black Popular Culture, ed. Gina Dent (Seattle, Wash: Bay Press, 1992), 324.
  • Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.
    • "For a People's Culture." Political Affairs, March 1995.
  • Prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business.
    • "Masked Racism" (1998)
  • The challenge of the twenty-first century is not to demand equal opportunity to participate in the machinery of oppression. Rather, it is to identify and dismantle those structures in which racism continues to be embedded. This is the only way the promise of freedom can be extended to masses of people.
    • From Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (2005), p. 29.
  • The reason I am a communist is because I believe in a total revolution which is going to overthrow the capitalist control of the economy, which will seize the wealth from all of the giant corporations that exploit and control the lives of all working people.
  • When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence; without realizing that the real content of any kind of revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and the goals that you're striving for - not in the way that you reach them. On the other hand, because of the way this society is organized; because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere - you'd have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions.
  • From her involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coorditing Committee during the 1960s to her current leadership of the Institute for Multi-Racial Justice, Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez' work comprises one of the most important living histories of progressive activism in the contemporary era. Furthermore, her writings recording countless struggles for social justice-some won, some lost, some still raging with varying degrees of intensity, and many having international implications-offer us an invaluable reader in the rich history of radical activism in the Americas...Martínez' words are always powerful, never mournful as she addresses the role of U.S. people of color in forging the past, present and future of leftist activism... Her voice is of wisdom gained through a wide range of experiences across a broad spectrum of social movements...Her approach is no-nonsense, yet it reflects the sharp sense of humor that so effectively keeps the weightiness of her subjects from overwhelming...Betita Martinez' life and work stand as a living monument to the possibilities for success that reside in our collective knowledge, commitment, persistence and plain old hard work.
    • Forward to De Colores Means All of Us (2017)

"I am a Revolutionary Black Woman" (1970)

in in Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance, Reform, and Renewal (2000)
  • I am a Communist because I am convinced that the reason we have been forcefully compelled to eke out an existence at the very lowest level of American society has to do with the nature of capitalism. If we are going to rise out of our oppression, our poverty, if we are going to cease being the targets of the racist-minded mentality of racist policemen, we will have to destroy the American capitalist system. We will have to obliterate a system in which a few wealthy capitalists are guaranteed the privilege of becoming richer and richer, whereas the people who are forced to work for the rich, and especially Black people, never take any significant step forward.
    • p. 483
  • My decision to join the Communist party emanated from my belief that the only true path of liberation for black people is the one that leads toward a complete and total overthrow of the capitalist class in this country and all its manifold institutional appendages which insure its ability to exploit the masses and enslave black people.
    • p. 483
  • The American judicial system is bankrupt. In so far as black people are concerned, it has proven itself to be one more arm of a system carrying out the systematic oppression of our people. We are the victims, not the recipients of justice.
    • p. 484

If They Come in The Morning (1971)

  • Political repression in the United States has reached monstrous proportions. Black and Brown peoples especially, victims of the most vicious and calculated forms of class, national and racial oppression, bear the brunt of this repression. Literally tens of thousands of innocent men and women, the overwhelming majority of them poor, fill the jails and prisons; hundreds of thousands more, including the most presumably respectable groups and individuals, are subject to police, FBI and military intelligence surveillance. The Nixon administration most recently responded to the massive protests against the war in Indochina by arresting more than 13,000 people and placing them in stadiums converted into detention centers.
  • Repression is the response of an increasingly desperate imperialist ruling clique to contain an otherwise uncontrollable and growing popular disaffection leading ultimately, we think, to the revolutionary transformation of society.
  • We believe that the most pressing political necessity is the consolidation of a United Front joining together all sections of the revolutionary, radical and democratic movements. Only a united front—led in the first place by the national liberation movements and the working people—can decisively counter, theoretically, ideologically and practically, the increasingly fascistic and genocidal posture of the present ruling clique
  • In the heat of our pursuit for fundamental human rights, Black people have been continually cautioned to be patient. We are advised that as long as we remain faithful to the existing democratic order, the glorious moment will eventually arrive when we will come into our own as full-fledged human beings.

But having been taught by bitter experience, we know that there is a glaring incongruity between democracy and the capitalist economy which is the source of our ills. Regardless of all rhetoric to the contrary, the people are not the ultimate matrix of the laws and the system which govern them—certainly not Black people and other nationally oppressed people, but not even the mass of whites. The people do not exercise decisive control over the determining factors of their lives.

  • Needless to say, the history of the United States has been marred from its inception by an enormous quantity of unjust laws, far too many expressly bolstering the oppression of Black people. Particularized reflections of existing social inequities, these laws have repeatedly borne witness to the exploitative and racist core of the society itself. For Blacks, Chicanos, for all nationally oppressed people, the problem of opposing unjust laws and the social conditions which nourish their growth, has always had immediate practical implications. Our very survival has frequently been a direct function of our skill in forging effective channels of resistance. In resisting, we have sometimes been compelled to openly violate those laws which directly or indirectly buttress our oppression. But even when containing our resistance within the orbit of legality, we have been labeled criminals and have been methodically persecuted by a racist legal apparatus.
  • The political prisoner’s words or deeds have in one form or another embodied political protests against the established order and have consequently brought him into acute conflict with the state. In light of the political content of his act, the “crime” (which may or may not have been committed) assumes a minor importance. In this country, however, where the special category of political prisoners is not officially acknowledged, the political prisoner inevitably stands trial for a specific criminal offense, not for a political act.
  • Nat Turner and John Brown were political prisoners in their time. The acts for which they were charged and subsequently hanged, were the practical extensions of their profound commitment to the abolition of slavery.
  • Racist oppression invades the lives of Black people on an infinite variety of levels. Blacks are imprisoned in a world where our labor and toil hardly allow us to eke out a decent existence, if we are able to find jobs at all. When the economy begins to falter, we are forever the first victims, always the most deeply wounded. When the economy is on its feet, we continue to live in a depressed state. Unemployment is generally twice as high in the ghettos as it is in the country as a whole and even higher among Black women and youth. The unemployment rate among Black youth has presently skyrocketed to 30 per cent. If one-third of America’s white youth were without a means of livelihood, we would either be in the thick of revolution or else under the iron rule of fascism. Substandard schools, medical care hardly fit for animals, overpriced, dilapidated housing, a welfare system based on a policy of skimpy concessions, designed to degrade and divide (and even this may soon be cancelled)—this is only the beginning of the list of props in the overall scenery of oppression which, for the mass of Blacks, is the universe.
  • It goes without saying that the police would be unable to set into motion their racist machinery were they not sanctioned and supported by the judicial system. The courts not only consistently abstain from prosecuting criminal behavior on the part of the police, but they convict, on the basis of biased police testimony, countless Black men and women.
  • The vicious circle linking poverty, police, courts and prison is an integral element of ghetto existence.
  • The pivotal struggle which must be waged in the ranks of the working class is consequently the open, unreserved battle against entrenched racism. The white worker must become conscious of the threads which bind him to a James Johnson, Black auto worker, member of UAW, and a political prisoner presently facing charges for the killings of two foremen and a job setter. The merciless proliferation of the power of monopoly capital may ultimately push him inexorably down the very same path of desperation. No potential victim of the fascist terror should be without the knowledge that the greatest menace to racism and fascism is unity!
  • The eternally repetitive routine, the imposed anonymity and the rigid atomization of numbers and cages are just a few of the dehumanizing, desocializing mechanisms. As for the relationship of prisoners to life outside, it is supposed to be virtually nonexistent. In this respect, the impenetrable concrete, the barbed wire and the armed keepers, ostensibly there to deter escape-bound captives, also suggest something further: prisoners must be guarded from the ingressions of a moving, developing world outside. Disengaged from normal social life, its revelations and influences, they must finally be robbed of their humanity. Yet human beings cannot be willed and molded into nonexistence. In reality the facts of prison life have begun in recent years to bespeak the irrationality of its goals. Even the most drastic repressive measures have not obstructed the progressive ascent of captive men and women to new heights of social consciousness. This has been especially intense among Black and Brown prisoners
    • Chapter 2, "Lessons: From Attica to Soledad"

Angela Davis, With My Mind on Freedom, the Autobiography

  • Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo - obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other. In response, imprisoned men and women will invent and continually invoke various and sundry defenses. Consequently, two layers of existence can be encountered within almost every jail or prison. The first layer consists of the routines and behavior prescribed by the governing penal hierarchy. The second layer is the prisoner culture itself: the rules and standards of behavior that come from and are defined by the captives in order to shield themselves from the open or covert terror designed to break their spirits.
    • Chapter One, p. 53.

Women, Race and Class (1983)

  • Birth control - individual choice, safe contraceptive methods, as well as abortions when necessary - is a fundamental prerequisite for the emancipation of women.
    • Chapter 12, "Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights"
  • “Woman” was the test, but not every woman seemed to qualify. Black women, of course, were virtually invisible within the protracted campaign for woman suffrage. As for white working-class women, the suffrage leaders were probably impressed at first by the organizing efforts and militancy of their working-class sisters. But as it turned out, the working women themselves did not enthusiastically embrace the cause of woman suffrage.
  • If Black people had simply accepted a status of economic and political inferiority, the mob murders would probably have subsided. But because vast numbers of ex-slaves refused to discard their dreams of progress, more than ten thousand lynchings occurred during the three decades following the war.
  • The colonization of the Southern economy by capitalists from the North gave lynching its most vigorous impulse. If Black people, by means of terror and violence, could remain the most brutally exploited group within the swelling ranks of the working class, the capitalists could enjoy a double advantage. Extra profits would result from the superexploitation of Black labor, and white workers’ hostilities toward their employers would be defused. White workers who assented to lynching necessarily assumed a posture of racial solidarity with the white men who were really their oppressors. This was a critical moment in the popularization of racist ideology.
  • Whoever challenged the racial hierarchy was marked a potential victim of the mob. The endless roster of the dead came to include every sort of insurgent—from the owners of successful Black businesses and workers pressing for higher wages to those who refused to be called “boy” and the defiant women who resisted white men’s sexual abuses. Yet public opinion had been captured, and it was taken for granted that lynching was a just response to the barbarous sexual crimes against white womanhood.
  • As a rule, white abolitionists either defended the industrial capitalists or expressed no conscious class loyalty at all. This unquestioning acceptance of the capitalist economic system was evident in the program of the women’s rights movement as well. If most abolitionists viewed slavery as a nasty blemish which needed to be eliminated, most women’s righters viewed male supremacy in a similar manner—as an immoral flaw in their otherwise acceptable society. The leaders of the women’s rights movement did not suspect that the enslavement of Black people in the South, the economic exploitation of Northern workers and the social oppression of women might be systematically related.
  • Judged by the evolving nineteenth-century ideology of femininity, which emphasized women’s roles as nurturing mothers and gentle companions and housekeepers for their husbands, Black women were practically anomalies.

Interview (1993)


With Elizabeth Martinez

  • This is not the first period during which we have confronted the difficult problem of using difference as a way of bringing people together, rather than as incontrovertible evidence of separation. There are more options than sameness, opposition, or hierarchical relations. One of the basic challenges confronting women of color today, as Audre Lorde has pointed out, is to think about and act upon notions of equality across difference. There are so many ways in which we can conceptualize coalitions, alliances, and networks that we would be doing ourselves a disservice to argue that there is only one way to construct relations across racial and ethnic boundaries. We cannot assume that if it does not unfold in one particular way, then it is not an authentic coalition.
  • What is problematic is the degree to which nationalism has become a paradigm for our community-building processes. We need to move away from such arguments as “Well, she’s not really Black.” “She comes from such-and-such a place.” “Her hair is…” “She doesn’t listen to ‘our’ music,” and so forth. What counts as Black is not so important as our political coalition building commitment to engage in anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic work.
  • I want to emphasize the importance of historical memory in our contemporary efforts to work together across differences. I raise the importance of historical memory not for the purpose of presenting immutable paradigms for coalition-building, but rather in order to understand historical trajectories and precisely to move beyond older conceptions of cross-racial organizing.
  • Racism is still a factor both within the gay movement and in the way the gay movement is publicly perceived.
  • As we approach the millennium, we need to demystify the notion that this country is monolingual.
  • There is a way in which the movements of the sixties and early seventies are set up as models of activism for young people today. Incredibly dramatic movements from that era remain etched in our national memory, whether we experienced them or not, the student movement, the Black Power Movement, movements of Chicanos, Native Americans, Asian Americans. Many young people are led to romanticize the participants and the strategies and styles of those movements. You don’t necessarily consider how hard it was to organize.

Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003)

  • Many people are familiar with the campaign to abolish the death penalty. In fact, it has already been abolished in most countries. Even the staunchest advocates of capital punishment acknowledge the fact that the death penalty faces serious challenges. Few people find life without the death penalty difficult to imagine.
    • Chapter One
  • There are now thirty-three prisons, thirty eight camps, sixteen community correctional facilities, and five tiny prisoner mother facilities in California. In 2002, there were 157,979 people incarcerated in these institutions, including approximately twenty thousand people whom the state holds for immigration violations.
    • Chapter One
  • On the whole, people tend to take prisons for granted. It is difficult to imagine life without them At the same time, there is reluctance to face the realities hidden within them, a fear of thinking about what happens inside them. Thus, the prison is present in our lives and, at the same time, it is absent from our lives. To think about this simultaneous presence and absence is to begin to acknowledge the part played by ideology in shaping the way we interact with our social surroundings. We take prisons for granted but are often afraid to face the realities they produce.
    • Chapter One
  • The prison has become a black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison. There are thus real and often quite complicated connections between the deindustrialization of the economy—a process that reached its peak during the 1980s—and the rise of mass imprisonment, which also began to spiral during the Reagan-Bush era. However, the demand for more prisons was represented to the public in simplistic terms. More prisons were needed because there was more crime. Yet many scholars have demonstrated that by the time the prison construction boom began, official crime statistics were already falling.
    • Chapter One
  • The most immediate question today is how to prevent as many imprisoned women and men as possible back into what prisoners call "the free world." How can we move to decriminalize drug use and the trade in sexual services? How can we take seriously strategies of restorative rather than elusively punitive justice? Effective alternatives involve both transformation of the techniques for addressing "crime" and of the social and economic conditions that track so many children from poor communities, and especially communities of color, into the juvenile system and then on to prison. The most difficult and urgent challenge today is that of creatively exploring the new terrain of justice, where the prison no longer serves as our major anchor.
    • Chapter One
  • The prison therefore functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers. This is the ideological work that the prison performs—it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.
    • Chapter One
  • The prison has become a black hole inti which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison
    • Chapter One
  • It should be remembered that the ancestors of many of today's most ardent liberals could not have imagined life without slavery, life without lynching, life without segregation.
    • Chapter Two
  • Because we are so accustomed to talking about race in terms of black and white, we often fail to recognize and contest expressions of racism that target people of color who are not black.
    • Chapter Two
  • Particularly in the United States, race has always played a central role in constructing presumptions of criminality.
    • Chapter Two
  • I am not suggesting that the abolition of slavery and the lease system has produced an era of equality and justice. On the contrary, racism surreptitiously defines social and economic structures in ways that are difficult to identify and thus are much more damaging.
    • Chapter Two
  • Although men constitute the vast majority of prisoners in the world, important aspects of the operation of state punishment are missed if it is assumed that women are marginal and thus undeserving of attention.
    • Chapter Four
  • While jails and prisons have been dominant institutions for the control of men, mental institutions have served a similar purpose for women. That is, deviant men have been constructed as criminal, while deviant women have been constructed as insane.
    • Chapter Four
  • Paradoxically, demands for parity with men's prisons, instead of creating greater educational, vocational, and health opportunities for women prisoners, often have led to more repressive conditions for women. This is not only a consequence of deploying liberal - that is, formalistic - notions of equality, but of, more dangerous, allowing male prisons to function as the punishment norm.
    • Chapter Four
  • Although guard-on-prisoner sexual abuse is not sanctioned as such, the widespread leniency with which offending officers are treated suggests that for women, prison is a space in which the threat of sexualized violence that looms in the larger society is effectively sanctioned as a routine aspect of the landscape of punishment behind prison walls.
    • Chapter Four
  • The criminalization of black and Latina women includes persisting images of hypersexuality that serve to justify sexual assaults against them both in and outside of prison.
    • Chapter Four
  • The call to abolish the prison as the dominant form of punishment cannot ignore the extent to which the institution of the prison has stockpiled ideas and practices that are hopefully approaching obsolescence in the larger society, but that retain their ghastly vitality behind prison walls.
    • Chapter Four
  • The notion of a prison industrial complex insists on understandings of the punishment process that take into account economic and political structures and ideologies, rather than focusing myopically on the individual criminal conduct and efforts to "curb crime."
    • Chapter Five
  • Critiques of the prison industrial complex undertaken by abolitionist activists and scholars are very much linked to critiques of the global persistence of racism. Antiracist and other social justice movements are incomplete with attention to the politics of imprisonment.
    • Chapter Five
  • Both [the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex] generate huge profits from processes of social destruction. Precisely that which is advantageous to those corporations, elected officials, and government agents who have obvious stakes in the expansion of these systems begets grief and devastation for poor and racially dominated communities in the United States and throughout the world.
    • Chapter Five
  • The transformation of imprisoned bodies - and they are in their majority bodies of color - into sources of profit who consume and also often produce all kinds of commodities, devours public funds, which might otherwise be available for social programs such as education, housing, childcare, recreation, and drug programs.
    • Chapter Five
  • Private prisons are direct sources of profit for the companies that run them, but public prisons have become so thoroughly saturated with the profit-producing products and services of private corporations that the distinction is not as meaningful as one might suspect.
    • Chapter Five
  • Despite the important gains of antiracist social movements over the last half century, racism hides from view within institutional structures, and its most reliable refuge is the prison system.
    • Chapter Five
  • If, however, we shift our attention from the prison, perceived as an isolated institution, to the set of relationships that comprise the prison industrial complex, it may be easier to think about alternatives. In other words, a more complicated framework may yield more options than if we simply attempt to discover a single substitute for the prison system.
    • Chapter Six
  • The prison industrial complex is much more than the sum of all the jails and prisons in this country. It is a set of symbiotic relationships among correctional communities, transnational corporations, media conglomerates, guards' unions, and legislative and court agendas.
    • Chapter Six
  • Positing decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment - demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparatuon and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance.
    • Chapter Six
  • To reiterate, rather than try to imagine one single alternative to the existing system of incarceration, we might envision an array of alternatives that will require radical transformations of many aspects of our society. Alternatives that fail to address racism, male dominance, homophobia, class bias, and other structures of domination will not, in the final analysis, lead to decarceration and will not advance the goal of abolition.
    • Chapter Six
  • An attempt to create a new conceptual terrain for imagining alternatives to imprisonment involves the ideological work of questioning why "criminals" have been constituted as a class and, indeed, a class of human beings undeserving of the civil and human rights accorded to others. Radical criminologists have long pointed out that the category "lawbreakers" is far greater than the category of individuals who are deemed criminals since, many point out, almost all of us have broken the law at one time or another.
  • The massive prison-building project that began in the 1980s created the means of concentrating and managing what the capitalist system had implicitly declared to be a human surplus. In the meantime, elected officials and the dominant media justified the new draconian sentencing practices, sending more and more people to prison in the frenzied drive to build more and more prisons by arguing that this was the only way to make our communities safe from murderers, rapists, and robbers

Difficult Dialogues (2009)


Lecture at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Atlanta (12 November 2009), included on p. 189 of the book The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues.

  • For many years and many decades, there have been critiques of, and struggles against, those who insisted that gender as a category was self-contained and self-sufficient and that scholarly inquiry into the construction of gender was possible without attending to race, sexuality, class, disability, and nation.
  • The most important message, which we have also learned from the work of Chandra Mohanty and Jacqui Alexander, is that we can never assume that the category “women” equally represents all women. [There are] hierarchies of race and class, and now that we have begun to challenge the binary assumptions behind gender, we can say hierarchies of gender as well. Where, for example, does a transgender woman figure into the hierarchy?
  • Why can’t it be simple? If we were only to focus on gender, it would make things so much easier. But of course, it has been this yearning toward simplicity that has racialized feminism as white, that has been responsible for its false universals.
  • Feminist methodologies, both for research and for organizing, impel us to explore connections that are not always apparent, they drive us to inhabit contradictions and discover what is productive in these contradictions and methods of thought and action; they urge us to think things together that appear to be entirely separate and to disaggregate things that appear to belong naturally together.
  • Demand for women’s studies, like demand for black studies, Chicano/Latino, Asian American, Native American studies, are linked to larger quest for equality, justice, freedom. We are interested not in race and gender (and class and sexuality and disability) per se, by themselves, but primarily as they have been acknowledged as conditions for hierarchies of power, so that we can transform them into intertwined vectors of struggle for freedom.
  • We fight the same battles over and over again. They are never won for eternity, but in the process of struggling together, in community, we learn how to glimpse new possibilities that otherwise never would have become apparent to us, and in the process we expand and enlarge our very notion of freedom.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Closures and Continuities (2013)


Birkbeck Annual Law lecture at Birkbeck, University of London (25 October 2013). Transcript

  • Islamophobic violence is nurtured by histories of anti-black racist violence.
  • Regimes of racial segregation were not disestablished because of the work of leaders and presidents and legislators but rather because of the fact that ordinary people adopted a critical stance in the way in which they perceived their relationship to reality. Social realities that may have appeared inalterable, impenetrable, came to be viewed as malleable and transformable; and people learned how to imagine what it might mean to live in a world that was not so exclusively governed by the principle of white supremacy. This collective consciousness emerged within the context of social struggles.
  • The historical significance of the Proclamation is not so much that it enacted the emancipation of people of African descent; on the contrary, it was a military strategy. But if we examine the meaning of this historical moment we might better be able to grasp the failures as well as the successes of emancipation. I have thought that perhaps we were not asked to reflect on the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation because we might realize that we were never really emancipated. But anyway, at least we may be able to understand the dialectics of emancipation; because we still live the popular myth that Lincoln freed the slaves and that this continues to be perpetuated in popular culture, even by the film Lincoln. Lincoln did not free the slaves. We also live with the myth that the mid-twentieth century Civil Rights Movement freed the second-class citizens. Civil rights, of course, constitute an essential element of the freedom that was demanded at that time, but it was not the whole story.
  • There is something for which Lincoln should be applauded, I believe. And it is that he was shrewd enough to know that the only hope of winning the Civil War resided in creating the opportunity to fight for their own freedom, and that was the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • In the aftermath of the war, we find one of the most hidden eras of US history; and that is the period of radical reconstruction. It certainly remains the most radical era in the entire history of the United States of America. And this is an era that is rarely acknowledged in historical texts. ... There were progressive laws passed challenging male supremacy. This is an era that is rarely acknowledged. During that era of course we had the creation of what we now call historically black colleges and universities and there was economic development. This period didn’t last very long. From the aftermath of the abolition of slavery, we might take 1865 as that day until 1877 when a radical reconstruction was overturned—and not only was it overturned but it was erased from the historical record—and so in the 1960s we confronted issues that should have been resolved in the 1860s. One hundred years later.
  • The Klu Klux Klan and the racial segregation that was so dramatically challenged during the mid-twentieth century freedom movement was produced not during slavery but rather in an attempt to manage free black people who would have been far more successful in pushing forward democracy for all.
  • There is this freedom movement and then there is an attempt to narrow the freedom movement so that it fits into a much smaller frame, the frame of civil rights. Not that civil rights is not immensely important, but freedom is more expansive that civil rights. And as that movement grew and developed it was inspired by and in turn inspired liberation struggles in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Australia. It was not only a question of acquiring the formal rights to fully participate in society, but rather it was also about substantive rights—it was about jobs, free education, free health care, affordable housing, and also about ending the racist police occupation of black communities.
  • Acknowledging continuities between nineteenth century anti-slavery struggles, twentieth century civil rights struggles, twenty-first century abolitionist struggles—and when I say abolitionist struggles I’m referring to the abolition of imprisonment as the dominant mode of punishment, the abolition of the prison industrial complex—acknowledging these continuities requires a challenge to the closures that isolate the freedom movement of the twentieth century from the century preceding and the century following.
  • All around the world people are saying that we want to struggle to continue as global communities, to create a world free of xenophonbia and racism, a world from which poverty has been expunged, and the availability of food is not subject to the demands of capitalist profit. I would say a world where a corporation like Monsanto would be deemed criminal. Where homophobia and transphobia can truly be called historical relics along with the punishment of incarceration and institutions of confinement for disabled people; and where everyone learns how to respect the environment and all of the creatures, human and non-human alike, with whom we cohabit our worlds.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle (2015)

  • every person in this country, from high school to the postgraduate level, should read W. E. B. Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in America. In the 1960s we confronted issues that should have been resolved in the 1860s. And I'm making this point because what happens when 2060 rolls around? Will people still be addressing these same issues?
  • I also think it's important for us to think forward and to imagine future history in a way that is not restrained by our own lifetimes. Oftentimes people say, well, if it takes that long, I'll be dead. So what? Everybody dies, right? And if people who were involved in the struggle against slavery-I'm thinking about people like Frederick Douglass, or Ida B. Wells in the struggle against lynching if they had that very narrow individualistic sense of their own contributions, where would we be today? And so we have to learn how to imagine the future in terms that are not restricted to our own lifetimes.

  • This is an extraordinary moment. I have never experienced anything like the conditions we are currently experiencing, the conjuncture created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the recognition of the systemic racism that has been rendered visible under these conditions because of the disproportionate deaths in Black and Latin communities.
  • When the protests began, of course, around the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade and many others who have lost their lives to racist state violence and vigilante violence — when these protests erupted, I remembered something that I’ve said many times to encourage activists, who often feel that the work that they do is not leading to tangible results. I often ask them to consider the very long trajectory of Black struggles. And what has been most important is the forging of legacies, the new arenas of struggle that can be handed down to younger generations.
  • Neoliberal logic assumes that the fundamental unit of society is the individual, and I would say the abstract individual. According to that logic, Black people can combat racism by pulling themselves up by their own individual bootstraps. That logic... fails... to recognize that there are institutional barriers that cannot be brought down by individual determination. If a Black person is materially unable to attend the university, the solution is not affirmative action, they argue, but rather the person simply needs to work harder, get good grades and do what is necessary in order to acquire the funds to pay for tuition. Neoliberal logic deters us from thinking about the simpler solution, which is free education.
  • The call to defund the police is, I think, an abolitionist demand, but it reflects only one aspect of the process represented by the demand. Defunding the police is not simply about withdrawing funding for law enforcement and doing nothing else. And it appears as if this is the rather superficial understanding that has caused Biden to move in the direction he’s moving in.
    It’s about shifting public funds to new services and new institutions — mental health counselors, who can respond to people who are in crisis without arms. It’s about shifting funding to education, to housing, to recreation. All of these things help to create security and safety. It’s about learning that safety, safeguarded by violence, is not really safety
    And I would say that abolition is not primarily a negative strategy. It’s not primarily about dismantling, getting rid of, but it’s about reenvisioning. It’s about building anew... And one sees in these abolitionist demands that are emerging the pivotal influence of feminist theories and practices... Abolition is really about rethinking the kind of future we want, the social future, the economic future, the political future. It’s about revolution, I would argue.
  • We have been aware of the need for these institutional strategies at least since 1935 — but of course before, but I’m choosing 1935 because that was the year when W.E.B. Du Bois published his germinal Black Reconstruction in America. And the question was not what should individual Black people do, but rather how to reorganize and restructure post-slavery society in order to guarantee the incorporation of those who had been formerly enslaved. The society could not remain the same — or should not have remained the same. Neoliberalism resists change at the individual level. It asks the individual to adapt to conditions of capitalism, to conditions of racism.
  • I’m not going to actually support either of the major candidates. But I do think we have to participate in the election... in our electoral system as it exists, neither party represents the future that we need in this country. Both parties remain connected to corporate capitalism. But the election will not so much be about who gets to lead the country to a better future, but rather how we can support ourselves and our own ability to continue to organize and place pressure on those in power. And I don’t think there’s a question about which candidate would allow that process to unfold... If we want to continue this work, we certainly need a person in office who will be more amenable to our mass pressure. And to me, that is the only thing that someone like a Joe Biden represents. But we have to persuade people to go out and vote to guarantee that the current occupant of the White House is forever ousted.
Angela Davis, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For half a century, Angela Davis has been one of the most influential activists and intellectuals in the United States, an icon of the Black liberation movement. Angela Davis’s work around issues of gender, race, class and prisons has influenced critical thought and social movements across several generations. ~ Amy Goodman

Conversations with Angela Davis Edited by Sharon Lynette Jones (2021)

  • Progressive Jewish feminists must find ways to express solidarity with their Palestinian sisters, whose families have been cruelly divested of their land and their rights by the state of Israel, and, in turn, all of us who are active in the women's movement must look on anti-Semitism as a priority in our work. Black women in particular must reveal the strong ties between racism and anti-Semitism. (1988)
  • The color line about which Du Bois spoke is not nearly as clear as it was at the time. Racialization processes are now far more complicated. Class is an important category to consider as it intersects with race and gender. The prominence of Black middle classes today combined with the putative eradication of racism within the legal sphere means that we have to think in a much more complicated way about the structures of racism and how they continue to inform US society. We need to develop an analysis that incorporates gender and class and sexuality, as well.
  • There are many versions of nationalism. And I've always preferred to identify with the pan-Africanism of W. E. B. Du Bois, who argued that Black people, say Black people in the new world, do have a special responsibility to Africa and other parts of the world, Asia...not by virtue of any biological connection, not by virtue of any racial link, but by virtue of a political identification that is forged. So that it is not about Africa because Africa happens to be populated by Black people. It is about Africa because Africa has been the target of colonialism and imperialism. And what I also like about Du Bois's pan-Africanism is that it is open to notions of Afro-Asian struggles as well, and this is something, I think, that has been concealed in the conventional tellings of history at many historical gatherings that were designated as Afro-Asian solidarity. So I prefer to think about the kind of political approach that is open, that is not racially defined but that is poised against racism. (2003)
  • In the way we think about past movements, I encourage people to look beyond heroic male figures. While Martin Luther King is someone I revere, I don't like to allow his representation to erase the contributions of ordinary people. The 1955 Montgomery bus boycott was successful because Black women, domestic workers, refused to ride the bus. Had they not, where would we be today? (2014)
  • what the civil rights movement did, it seems to me, was to create a new terrain for asking new questions and moving in new directions. It's not a betrayal that people like Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and the Black conservatives who are the heart of government are where they are. As a matter of fact, the civil rights movement demanded access, right? But I don't think that we can assume that what was done in the 1950s and 1960s is going to do the work of the 1980s and 1990s.
  • past struggles cannot correct current injustices (2003)
  • To this day, in the US it is still said there are no political prisoners. Unlike South Africa, for example, which acknowledged Nelson Mandela as a political prisoner, here we have the guise of democracy. We're supposed to be inhabiting a country in which people have the right to free speech and political affiliation. When I was fired simply for being a member of the Communist Party, I discovered that was not the case. (2012)
  • (Is democracy a good chassis on which to build a political system?) Davis: I believe profoundly in the possibilities of democracy, but democracy needs to be emancipated from capitalism. As long as we inhabit a capitalist democracy, a future of racial equality, gender equality, economic equality will elude us. (2014)

Quotes about Angela Davis

  • It was my experience in the Angela Davis trial that propelled me into a study of Afro-American women's history and, ultimately, into women's studies.
    • Bettina Aptheker Woman's Legacy: Essays on Race, Sex, and Class in American History (1982)
  • The vast majority of Black people are now and have always been workers, first as slaves and then as freed men and women. And, unlike their white counterparts, the majority of Black women have always labored outside the home. Angela Davis described the unique character of the Black woman's experience in the United States, in this way: "[Although] she was a victim of the myth that only the woman with her diminished capacity for mental and physical labor should do degraded household work...the alleged benefits of the ideology of femininity did not accrue to her. She was not sheltered or protected, she would not remain oblivious to the desperate struggle for existence unfolding outside the 'home.' She was also in the fields alongside the man..."
    • Bettina Aptheker Woman's Legacy: Essays on Race, Sex, and Class in American History (1982)
  • I got to be in a conversation with Angela Davis, and she was like, Yeah, we dealt with a lot of the same stuff, but now y’all know how to take care of each other and take of yourselves. And there’s just more tools.
  • if people know about a world historical figure like Angela Y. Davis, it’s because somehow in spite of the dramatic story of her coming to national prominence, arrest, FBI most wanted. And in spite of the actual things that she’s written and said over time, that somehow all Angela Y. Davis was trying to do was get a spot in the university, or become something that would reproduce rather than interrupt the kinds of social relations that made her and her parents radical in the first place. So there’s that. So if we draw forward from when 1970, ’71, when, again, Angela was suddenly catapulted to the global stage and was, as she said, says herself, “Saved by the people.”
  • For more on this historic moment, we are spending the hour with the legendary activist and scholar Angela Davis, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For half a century, Angela Davis has been one of the most influential activists and intellectuals in the United States, an icon of the Black liberation movement. Angela Davis’s work around issues of gender, race, class and prisons has influenced critical thought and social movements across several generations. She’s a leading advocate for prison abolition, a position informed by her own experience as a prisoner and a fugitive on the FBI’s top 10 wanted list more than 40 years ago. Once caught, she faced the death penalty in California. After being acquitted on all charges, she’s spent her life fighting to change the criminal justice system.
  • People, especially young white people, in America and in Europe are aware of what's happening in the ghetto even if their fathers maintain an obstinate ignorance. All over Europe I've seen young people who've studied the methods of the Black Liberation movement, applying those same methods to the job of forcing a bit of humanity into their profit-crazed and economically teetering countries. Of course it's got its amusing sides too and very often one is forced to rush somewhere for a drink after he's seen a group of the blond German youths with hair frizzled and worn in Afros. The parents of these kids have all picked the portrait of the President of the United States as a symbol of what was good in America...But I've been in no part of Europe where there wasn't the picture of a good American--and it was always Angela Davis!
  • When contemporary feminist movement first began, feminist writings and scholarship by black women was groundbreaking. The writings of black women like Cellestine Ware, Toni Cade Bambara, Michele Wallace, Barbara Smith, and Angela Davis, to name a few, were all works that sought to articulate, define, speak to and against the glaring omissions in feminist work, the erasure of black female presence.
    • bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994)
  • Angela Davis has profoundly influenced the discourses on social justice in relationship to race, gender, and class nationally and internationally through her writings and her role in organizations such as the Communist Party and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the past, and her more recent activism through the prison abolitionist organization Critical Resistance, along with being an honorary co-chair for the Women's March during 2017.
    • Sharon Lynette Jones Introduction to Conversations with Angela Davis Edited by Sharon Lynette Jones (2021)
  • As Angela Y. Davis points out, "we have to be consistent" in our analysis and not respond to violence in a way that compounds it. We need to use our radical imaginations to come up with new structures of accountability beyond the system we are working to dismantle.
  • Davis helps us to understand that the PIC itself is a product of various reforms over time, that even the prison itself was a reform. I reiterate to people all the time: We cannot reform police. We cannot reform prisons. We cannot.
  • Part of the problem with policing, prisons, and surveillance is that it's a one-size-fits-all model. Angela Davis says this perfectly-there is no one alternative. There are a million alternatives. And the issue is to figure out which alternative works for what situation. I don't like to use the word alternative, but I will in this case. It's like what works for this particular situation that we're in? What works for these people? How are we going to actually address this based on human needs? These are the things that we're interested in as PIC abolitionists. I think that makes us actually again incredibly creative. Always generative. And also not afraid, again, of failure.
  • Angela Davis says this perfectly; she's like, knowledge is built through struggle. It isn't just built through somebody theorizing an idea. But through struggle, together, we come up with new concepts and ideas: that's the best thinking.
  • Today's mic-hogging, fast-talking, contentious young (and old) lefties continue to hawk little books and pamphlets on revolution, always with choice words or documents from Marx, Mao, even Malcolm. But I've never seen a broadside with "A Black Feminist Statement or even the writings of Angela Davis or June Jordan or Barbara Omolade or Flo Kennedy or Audre Lorde or bell hooks or Michelle Wallace, at least not from the groups who call themselves leftist. These women's collective wisdom has provided the richest insights into American radicalism's most fundamental questions: How can we build a multiracial movement? Who are the working class and what do they desire? How do we resolve the Negro Question and the Woman Question? What is freedom?
  • Women experience oppression distinct from men; but, like men, we always experience oppression within the context of our racial and ethnic identities. As Angela Davis queries, when speaking of violence against women of color, "how do we develop analyses and organizing strategies... that acknowledge the race of gender and the gender of race?" This question is especially salient when considering the race-(or ethnic-) based political movements, or cultural nationalisms, initiated in the 1960s and reemergent today.
  • We identified as revolutionary nationalists' committed to ending exploitation and colonialism. We were inspired by the herstories of women activists in Puerto Rico. We learned about Lola Rodríguez de Tió and Mariana Bracetti, early fighters for the abolition of slavery and the island's independence from Spain; Luisa Capetillo and Juana Colón, working class organizers and women's rights advocates; and Lolita Lebrón and Blanca Canales, Nationalist Party militants imprisoned for their actions to free Puerto Rico. We studied the lives of African American women such as Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women's rights activist, and Harriet Tubman, who freed slaves through the Underground Railroad. Our sisters in the Black Panther Party were diversifying the image of the revolutionary, and we joined the protests to demand the release of Angela Davis from a California prison, and of Afeni Shakur and Joan Bird in New York. The long line of women activists, from contemporary social justice movements, became our role models and mentors.
    • Iris Morales, Through the Eyes of Rebel Women: The Young Lords 1969-1976 (2016)
  • So many things were changing in our world. We looked, and we searched in revolutionary literature. Maybe we found a few pieces, but there really wasn't much because the world had never really dealt with this. We did take as heroines of our struggle Lolita Lebrón and Blanca Canales because they had been in the Nationalist Party struggle in Puerto Rico. We looked to women like Angela Davis. There were two women in the Panther 21 case at the time, Afeni Shakur and Joan Bird, who had been arrested with the brothers. We were proud that women were going on posters. That was real important because this was new. The face of the civil rights movement had been male.
  • The shift that's occurred this time around "wasn't by happenstance," Brittany Packnett Cunningham, an activist and a writer, told me, nor is it only the product of video evidence. "It has been the work of generations of Black activists, Black thinkers, and Black scholars"-people like Angela Davis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Michelle Alexander, and others-"that has gotten us here. Six years ago, people were not using the phrase 'systemic racism' beyond activist circles and academic circles. And now we are in a place where it is readily on people's lips, where folks from CEOs to grandmothers up the street are talking about it, reading about it, researching on it, listening to conversations about it."
  • In our country, literally for an entire year, we heard nothing at all except Angela Davis. We had our ears stuffed with Angela Davis. Little children in school were told to sign petitions in defence of Angela Davis. Although she didn't have too difficult a time in this country's jails, she came to recuperate in Soviet resorts. Some Soviet dissidents–but more important, a group of Czech dissidents–addressed an appeal to her: 'Comrade Davis, you were in prison. You know how unpleasant it is to sit in prison, especially when you consider yourself innocent. You have such great authority now. Could you help our Czech prisoners? Could you stand up for those people in Czechoslovakia who are being persecuted by the state?' Angela Davis answered: 'They deserve what they get. Let them remain in prison.' That is the face of Communism. That is the heart of Communism for you.
    • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Warning to the West (1986) (pp. 60-61).
    • No independent source for Solzhenitsyn's phrasing of Davis' response has been found, but he was probably referring to this open letter from Czech dissident Jiri Pelikan, which includes the following note at the bottom: The only response from Angela Davis to Jiri Pelikan's moving appeal that we are aware of was reported in the London Times where Mr. Pelikan's Open Letter had also appeared. According to The Times, Charlene Mitchell, a close friend of Angela Davis, who claimed that she spoke in her behalf, said that Angela Davis held the view that those who were jailed in Eastern Europe were trying to undermine their governments and that those who went into political exile were attacking their own countries and therefore undeserving of her support.
  • Angela Davis's new book made me think of what dear Nelson Mandela kept reminding us, that we must be willing to embrace that long walk to freedom. Understanding what it takes to really be free, to have no fear, is the first and most important step one has to make before undertaking this journey. Angela is the living proof that this arduous challenge can also be an exhilarating and beautiful one.
    • Desmond Tutu blurb for Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2015)
  • Here is someone worthy of the Ancestors who delivered her, Angela Davis has stood her ground on every issue important to the health of our people and the planet. It is impossible to read her words or hear her voice and not be moved to comprehension and gratitude for our incredible luck in having her with us.
    • Alice Walker, blurb for Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2015)
  • Angela Davis is one of the few great long-distance intellectual freedom fighters in the world...her determination to remain true to her revolutionary vocation in the intense international spotlight-has been an inspiration...She remains after more than fifty years of struggle, suffering, and service the most recognizable face of the left in the US Empire.
    • Cornel West Forward to Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2015)

Dorothy Ray Healey, California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (1993)

  • I first met Angela in 1967 at a meeting to discuss how radicals should respond to the increasing level of violence directed against the Black Panthers. Angela was a young Black woman not yet twenty-four years old, strikingly beautiful, intelligent, articulate, and poised. She clearly had the potential to be anything she wanted to be, a scholar or a political leader. But she was confronted with a dilemma: she had these genuine intellectual gifts, yet had to prove herself at a time when anti-intellectualism was running rampant in the movement, when the only thing that seemed to count was proving yourself a tough street cat, able to stand up to the Man with the gun. Angela had grown up in Alabama and New York. Her mother had been involved in the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930s. Angela had been a brilliant student at Brandeis University, where she studied under Herbert Marcuse, and had then gone on to graduate studies at the University of Frankfurt-all of which had prepared her for a political role as a Marxist intellectual that seemed tame and irrelevant in the heated atmosphere of the late 1960s.
  • From 1969 through the mid-1970s all you had to do was say the word "Angela" and people instantly knew who you were talking about. It was not a role she was ready for, emotionally or politically, nor was it a role she welcomed: as she wrote in her autobiography, "I loathed being stared at like a curiosity object." That in itself distinguished her from many other movement "stars" who fascinated the media in the 1960s, like Jerry Rubin, Eldridge Cleaver, and Huey Newton, all of whom relished, courted, and in the end were corrupted by the attention they received.
  • The Angela Davis defense campaign had been the biggest Party-initiated movement of the entire decade, and it was the one occasion on which the Party was really attuned to the political mood of the younger Left. It had a big effect on the Party and brought in a number of young recruits. Indeed, whatever political credibility the Party has had to draw upon from the early 1970s was largely a product of that campaign. Certainly nothing else it has done since compares with the importance of Angela's defense campaign in terms of image and the ability to interest outsiders. Angela Davis, not Gus Hall, has been the most attractive public face the Party has had to offer. But one of the sadder aspects of the whole episode was the impact it had on Angela herself. She felt that it was the Party and the Soviet Union which saved her life. She became unwilling to consider any criticisms of those she regarded as her saviors.
  • While Angela was on her tour and not always available to western reporters, Charlene and other Communist leaders sometimes put words in her mouth, denying that there was any political repression within the Soviet bloc. Not that Angela was willing to do anything to challenge that view. In fact, within the next few years, she accommodated herself to the stalest clichés in the Party's outlook. She remains to the present an important public figure, able to attract larger audiences than any other Party leader. But rarely if ever in her speeches and writings today will you see evidence of the kind of fresh thinking of which she was once capable. Whether she is capable of breaking free from Party orthodoxy is a question still to be answered.

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