Angela Davis was the keynote speaker for a recent social justice conference at Oregon State University. The Your Voice, Your Conference: Awareness, Solidarity, and Action explored “how systems of oppression impact our lives and communities.”
I think I have a social justice crush on Angela Davis. More than 1,000 people attended her talk at Oregon State. Two professors from OSU had the privilege of being her students at UC Santa Cruz. Angela Davis could have talked for a week and I think we all would have listened.
Angela Davis‘ talk covered many topics including: historical memory, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Condoleeza Rice, George Bush, Affirmative Action, Diversity, Marriage, Activism, Racism, Critical Awareness and Prison Systems.
Davis talked about the importance of “historical memory” and the Civil Rights Movement. “The figure of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been set aside and isolated and represented as the lone historical figure, so everyone else who participated in the Civil Rights Movement falls away.”
Davis mentioned that she took umbrage with the term “diversity.” She said that “Diversity is difference that doesn’t make a difference.” Her comments were extremely relevant for institutions of higher education. Enrolling students of color, women, students with disabilities, lgbt students, and students with high financial need does not mean that racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia/heterosexism, and classism will simply disappear. However, “diversity” is thrown around as if it’s a magic anti-oppression elixir. Without social justice oriented, anti-oppression oriented, anti-racist oriented educational efforts, diversity cannot affect change amongst members of the dominant paradigm.
Apparently, both Condoleeza Rice and Angela Davis grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Davis mentioned that people often attempt to refer to Rice as her “homegirl” (cue laughter from 1,000 people) because they share the experience of growing up in the Jim Crow south.
According to Davis, “Rice narrates her life as triumph over racism.” Davis said she needs to constantly “disassociate her story” from Rice’s story. “How can I claim my story is a triumph? We’ve won some victories..some important victories…, but from the time I was quite small, I learned from my mother that it was about collective victory…community triumph, not about an individual rising above the rest. Affirmative action was a strategy designed to enable communities to move forward, collectives to move forward.”
I attempted to record her entire talk, but my pda wasn’t working correctly so I have over an hour of audio that I pieced together from 40 audio snippets.
The fidelity isn’t the greatest but the message is amazing.
“The victories that we win are not always the victories for which we fought.” — Angela Davis