Munich American Peace Committee (MAPC)
Radio Lora, 6. Juni 2008
Rassismus damals und heute
University of Washington, Seattle, WA 17 April 2007
Angela Davis ist eine Ikone, eine Symbolfigur. 1972 wurde sie in einem Aufsehen erregenden Prozess wegen Staatsfeindlichkeit verurteilt. Die weltbekannte Wissenschaftlerin ist Verfasserin zahlreicher Bücher u.a. von „Women, Culture and Politics“, „Blues Legacies and Black Feminism“ und „Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons and Torture“. Ronald Reagan, damals noch Gouverneur von Kalifornien, schwor nach ihrer Entlassung von der Universität von Los Angeles, dass er dafür sorgen würde, dass Angela Davis nie mehr an einer staatlichen Bildungseinrichtung unterrichten wird. Heute hat sie einen Lehrstuhl an der University of California in Santa Cruz.
Zuerst möchte ich den Angehörigen und Freunden der Opfer der Schießerei auf dem Campus der Virginia Tech University mein tiefes Mitgefühl aussprechen. Dieses traurige Ereignis zeigt, wie sehr Gewalt zu einer geradezu normalen Ausdrucksform emotionaler Probleme geworden ist. Ich befürchte, dass diese Tragödie dazu benutzt werden wird, den Bürgern noch mehr Angst zu machen, nur um die Sicherheitsmaßnahmen zu verschärfen und einen Überwachungsstaat aufzubauen. Weil wir uns vor Terroristen fürchten, willigen wir in einen weltweiten Krieg gegen den Terror ein. Als man sich vor Kommunisten wie mir fürchtete, bescherte uns das den Kalten Krieg, die McCarthy-Hysterie und den Vietnamkrieg, den die Vietnamesen den „amerikanischen Krieg“ nennen. Weil wir uns vor Verbrechen fürchten, gibt es immer mehr Gefängnisse und immer mehr Todesurteile.
Warum fürchten wir uns vor Terrorismus, aber nicht vor Rassismus, Sexismus oder Hass? Warum fürchten wir uns nicht vor einem Präsidenten der uns im 21. Jahrhundert in ein amerikanisches Imperium treiben will, warum nicht vor der Verstümmelung unserer Demokratie oder vor der Privatisierung? Dabei gäbe es viel zu sagen über die Privatisierung der sozialen Aufgaben und des Krieges und über das, was Naomi Klein den „Katastrophen-Kapitalismus“ nennt. Nach dem Hurrikan Katrina machte ich noch Witze, dass Haliburton bald in New Orleans auftauchen würde – und schon waren sie da! Doch mein Thema heute sind die Bürgerrechte, die Menschenrechte und der anhaltende Kampf für gleiches Recht für alle in den USA und den sich daraus ergebenden internationalen Konsequenzen.
Wenn Politiker und eine Mehrheit der Richter des Supreme Courts heute fordern, dass man angesichts der bestehenden Rassengleichheit den Bonus für Minderheiten, (affirmative action) abschaffen soll, erscheint es mir umso wichtiger, darüber nachzudenken, was gleiche Rechte für alle bedeutet. Nur Farbenblinde können den allgegenwärtigen Rassismus übersehen. Der Rassismus von heute unterscheidet sich von dem, den die Bürgerrechtsbewegung bekämpfte. Heute versteckt er sich hinter dem Krieg gegen den Terror und dem Irakkrieg.
Außer über die Schießerei in Virginia berichteten die Medien auch kurz über den Irak. Fünf Soldaten sollen dort getötet worden sein. Ob es sich um einen oder um100 Tote handelt, es sind immer menschliche Tragödien. Warum aber hören wir nie etwas über die irakischen Toten? Es gibt Schätzungen von 500 000 bis 700 000 irakischen Opfern, einige sprechen sogar von 1 Million. Das zeigt, wie rassistisch wir sind, denn. Rassismus manifestiert sich nicht nur in Rassendiskriminierung, Rassismus spielt auch eine wichtige Rolle bei der Frage, wen der Staat bestraft und wen nicht. An jedem beliebigen Tag eines Jahres sind in den USA 2,2 Millionen Menschen eingesperrt - in Landesstrafanstalten, Staatsgefängnissen, Arrestzellen in Reservaten, Militärgefängissen und staatlichen Abschiebelagern. Das bedeutet, dass im Laufes eines Jahres über 13 Millionen Menschen erfahren, was es heißt, eingesperrt zu sein. Das sind 13 Millionen Menschen ohne Rechte, ohne Freiheiten, ohne Wahlrecht, ohne Bürgerrechte.
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In Florida will sich Gouverneur Crist jetzt für das Wahlrecht für Strafgefangene einsetzen. Warum wohl hat man das nicht in schon vor den Wahlen im Jahr 2000 gemacht? 950 000 Gefängnisinsassen hatten damals kein Stimmrecht. Und das nur, weil sonst der heutige Präsident die Wahlen verloren hätte, Gewonnen hat er sie ja sowieso nicht. Warum lassen wir zu, dass Gefangene kein Wahlrecht haben und von politischen Entscheidungsprozessen ausgeschlossen bleiben? In anderen Ländern stellt man in Gefängnissen Wahlurnen auf. Es gab Zeiten, als auch Studenten nicht auf dem Universitätsgelände, sondern ausschließlich in ihren weit entfernten Heimatgemeinden wählen durften. Ist das nicht eine interessante Parallele zwischen Universitäten und Gefängnissen? Haben Gefangene keine Bürgerrechte, nur damit wir sehen, wie frei wir sind? Wir leben also in einem Land, das sich durch Gefängnisse definiert. Ist Ihnen schon einmal aufgefallen, wie oft das Wort „Gefängnis“ in unserem Alltag, im Fernsehen, in Filmen und Illustrierten auftaucht? Und deshalb glauben wir, dass wir darüber informiert sind, was in diesen Anstalten vor sich geht und wir uns nicht weiter darum kümmern müssen. Es gibt Kriminologen und Strafrechtler, aber gibt es auch eine kritische Gefängnis-Forschung? Ich fordere die völlige Abschaffung von Gefängnissen. Denn auch kritische Studien bergen die Gefahr, dass man sich mit seinem Studienobjekt identifiziert und Bürgerrechte nur mehr im Zusammenhang mit ihrer Abschaffung sieht. So war es schon bei der Sklaverei, denn auch Sklaven hatten keinerlei politische Rechte. Wie kann man Sklaverei per Gesetz abschaffen? Artikel 13 unserer Verfassung verbietet Sklaverei und erzwungene Dienstleistungen, trotzdem wurde meinem Volk lange Zeit nur eine Staatsbürgerschaft 2. Klasse zugestanden. Wenn die Sklaverei völlig abgeschafft worden ist, warum dauerte es dann noch 100 Jahre, bis die Schwarzen im Süden das Wahlrecht bekamen? Als ich mich zum ersten Mal in die Wählerlisten von Birmingham, Alabama eintragen lassen wollte, wurde mir das verwehrt, weil ich – die Hochschulabsolventin- angeblich nicht ausreichend lesen und schreiben konnte! Ich habe die Erniedrigungen, unter denen die Schwarzen zu leiden hatten, am eigenen Leib erfahren: getrennte Schulen, getrennte Nachbarschaften, getrennte Kultureinrichtungen, getrennte Clubs, getrennte Jobs, getrennte Gewerkschaften. Außer bei ganz besonderen Anlässen trafen wir nie mit Weißen zusammen. Auch diese seltenen Zusammenkünfte unterlagen einem strengen Protokoll. Schwarzen und Weißen war jeder gesellschaftliche Umgang untersagt.. Ich durfte nur bestimmte, markierte Straßenseiten benützen, nur auf Klos gehen, die für „Farbige Frauen“ vorbehalten waren, ich konnte mir nur bei für Schwarze bestimmten Bibliotheken am Stadtrand Bücher ausleihen. Nie hätte ich davon zu träumen gewagt, an der für Weiße reservierten Universität von Alabama zu studieren. Doch dank der Bürgerrechtsbewegung gibt es das alles nicht mehr. Heute darf ich wo immer über die Straße gehen, darf jede Damentoilette benützen, jedes Museum besuchen und Bücher im Stadtzentrum ausleihen. Ich kann Vorlesungen an der Universität von Alabama halten, bei deren Betreten ich früher verhaftet worden wäre. Aber es wäre übertrieben zu behaupten, dass es in meiner Heimatstadt Birmingham in Alabama keinen Rassismus mehr gibt, denn noch heute ist Armut vorwiegend schwarz, ihre Schulen sind schlechter, wenige von ihnen schaffen es auf die Universität oder gar auf die ehemals weißen Hochschulen.
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Die legalisierte Rassentrennung ist abgeschafft, aber die institutionalisierten, rassistischen Strukturen bestehen weiter. Warum sprechen wir von verstecktem Rassismus? Sehen wir nicht, wie wenig Schwarze, Latinos und indigene Amerikaner studieren, aber wie viele von ihnen in Gefängnissen sitzen? Als man im Süden noch an allen Ecken und Enden die Zeichen der Rassentrennung sehen konnte, war uns der herrschende Rassismus bewusst. Heute sind diese Zeichen verschwunden, aber die Diskriminierung hält an. Warum verschließen wir unsere Augen vor dem Rassismus, der unserer Gesellschaft und der ganzen Welt so schadet und großes Unheil über sie bringt? Auch Chancengleichheit schließt Rassendiskriminierung nicht aus. Welcher Bürgerrechtler hätte je gedacht, dass eine schwarze Frau einmal Außenministerin werden würde. Ich persönlich würde einen weißen Mann Condoleezza Rice vorziehen, sofern er – im Gegensatz zu ihr - gegen Rassismus und gegen Krieg ist. Anders als ich, geht sie davon aus, dass sie ihren Erfolg ausschließlich ihrer eigenen Leistung verdankt.
Nicht immer fielen die Siege der Bürgerrechtsbewegung so aus, wie wir es uns erhofft hatten. Doch unser Kampf war nicht vergeblich. Auch wenn wir die Welt nicht ändern konnten, den Kapitalismus nicht überwanden und der Sozialismus nicht siegte, haben wir viel bewegt.. Aber für soziale Probleme gibt es keine dauerhaften Siege. Morgen schon kann wieder alles anders sein. Das gilt auch für die Bürgerrechte von Nichtweißen und Frauen. Viele der schon immer privilegierten weißen Männer betrachten sich plötzlich als schutzbedürftige, diskriminierte Minderheit. Das führt dazu, dass Menschen glauben, sich dafür schämen müssen, wenn sie von der Affirmative Action, dem Minderheitenbonus, profitiert haben.
Ich beobachte auch einen gefährlichen Hang zu Individualismus, der mit dem kapitalistischen Streben nach persönlichem Besitz einhergeht und droht, Einzelnen die Leistungen der Gesellschaft zuzuschreiben. Justizminister Alberto Gonzales, Richter Clarence Thomas und Außenministerin Condoleezza Rice sind dafür gute Beispiele. Auf diese Weise kann man jedoch keine sozialen Strukturen verändern. Was wir brauchen, ist Fantasie und Vorstellungskraft. Vor nicht allzu langer Zeit hielt man jeden für verrückt, der sich eine Welt ohne Sklaverei und ohne Rassenschranken vorstellen konnte. Genauso müssen wir uns eine Welt mit gleichen Rechten für Frauen und Männer, ohne Kriege, ohne Rassentrennung, ohne Fremdenhass und ohne Grenzzäune, die Mexikaner und Zentralamerikaner zu Feinden machen, vorstellen. Es darf weder staatliche noch häusliche Gewalt geben, keine Gefängnisse, keine Folter, keine Todesstrafe. Ich verlange nicht von Ihnen, dass Sie aufhören, Ihr Leben zu genießen, aber ich flehe Sie an, engagieren Sie sich, damit sich dieses Land und diese Welt zum Besseren verändern.
Racism: Then & Now
University of Washington, Seattle, WA 17 April 2007
Angela Davis is one of the iconic figures of this era. She was acquitted of conspiracy charges in 1972 after one of the most famous trials in U.S. history. She went on to become an internationally regarded scholar and writer. She is the author of many books, including "Women, Culture and Politics" and "Blues Legacies and Black Feminism." Her latest is, "Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture." Governor Ronald Reagan of California vowed when he fired her from her position at UCLA that she would never again teach in the state system. Today, she is a tenured professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Before I begin this evening, I would like to acknowledge the tragic events that happened at Virginia Tech University yesterday morning. I'd like to say that I know that all of us deeply empathize with the families and friends of the people who were killed on that campus. This was the worst mass shooting, apparently, in the history of this country. But I think as we symbolically express our sympathies to the families and friends of the dead students, we should reflect on the extent to which violence has become a normal mode of behavior in this country, made easily available as a mode of expression for a range of psychological or emotional disorders. I'm beginning this way because I'm very concerned about the interpretive context that has been created for us.
I say this because I checked my e-mail just before coming this evening and discovered a message from I won't say whom, but from some higher-up on my own campus, regarding security measures on the campus. I'm concerned that we're now being asked to accept as a solution to that horrible tragedy increased security measures. I'd like us to reflect on what it means to witness the growing development of something we might call the security state, a security state that relies on our collective fear. We fear terrorists, and therefore we assent to a global war on terror. We feared Communists, or I guess I should say they feared Communists because I was one of the Communists they feared, and therefore the Cold War, the hysteria of McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, or what the Vietnamese call the American War. And, actually, I think now might be a good time to change that and refer to the American War from the vantage point of people in Vietnam. We fear crime, and therefore more prisons, ever larger numbers of people incarcerated, ever larger numbers of people put to death.
This horrible tragedy in Virginia has made me wonder what it is that instructs our fear. How do we learn how to fear terrorism but not racism, not sexism, not homophobia? I wonder why we don't fear a president who is at the helm of a 21st century drive for global American empire. I wonder why we don't fear the distorted way in which democracy is being defined under the auspices of the current administration. And I wonder why we don't fear privatization. We could talk about all of the social services that have been privatized. We could talk about the privatization of war as well. We could talk about what Naomi Klein has called "disaster capitalism." It was really interesting, when Katrina happened, in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, I was joking with some friends, and I said, "The next thing you know, Halliburton is going to be in New Orleans." I was laughing about it. And then, of course, there they were.
I think it might be important for us to reflect on what it is that shapes and elicits and defines our fear. This evening I've been asked to talk about civil rights, human rights, the unfinished work of the struggle for equality here in the U.S., its connections with other struggles, the transnational dimensions.
I'll begin by saying that we are, at the beginning of the 21st century, continuing to live the history that we often relegate to the past. At a time when many of the political leaders in this country and the majority of the Supreme Court justices argue that precisely because racial justice has been achieved, affirmative action is no longer necessary to achieve racial or gender equality, I think it might be important to think about the meaning of justice, the meaning of racial justice, the meaning of gender justice, and to talk about race. The principle of color blindness has so saturated our ideas about race that we now tend to believe, at least those who voted to eliminate affirmative action in California, here in Washington, and just recently in Michigan, that the only way to achieve racial justice is to become blind to the work that race does, which means that racism itself gets ignored.
I would like us to think deeply this evening about the extent to which we live with, are influenced by, and in large measure accept racism as a fact of social life. And I would like us to think about what questions we might ask about the various ways racism transforms and becomes something quite different from the racism against which the civil rights movement struggled. That leads me to ask, where does race live? Where does racism live? Where did it reside in the past? And how do we shrink the spaces haunted by racism in order to begin to send it on its way? So we want to talk about something like the migrations of racism. We might ask, to what extent has the so-called war on terror and the current war in Iraq transformed the way racism manifests itself? And why do we have trouble perceiving that racism? Why do we have trouble perceiving the war in Iraq as a racist war?
Of course, yesterday, as I was watching the news about the events at Virginia Tech, there was a brief report on what happened yesterday in Iraq. Apparently, there were five solders killed yesterday. We learn every day what the death toll is, right? Of course, numbers can't begin to capture the fact that anytime anyone loses his or her life, it's a major tragedy, whether it's 5 or whether it's 100. But I'm interested in the fact that we rarely hear the numbers for Iraqi people. Why is that? As difficult as it might be to move beyond the barrier of those numbers, at least we would have something to work with. And, of course, estimates range from, what, 500,000 to 700,000, and some people say that 1 million people have been killed during the war in Iraq. I wonder why it is that we can't even have a conversation about that.
That has a lot to do with the way in which our emotions have been trained by racism, how our emotions have been taught by racism. This is not only the case for-I'm not talking about racism as something that cannot affect those whose bodies are racialized as the target of racist discrimination. You see what I'm saying? All of us sustain these ideological influences. We learn to think in racist terms. How many black women in this lecture hall have ever walked to the other side of the street if they see a young black man with baggy pants, the stereotype?
Racism plays a major role in determining who is subject to state punishment and who is not. The prison population-and how many people are in prison now? Over 2 million. But that is only on a given day. Those of us who don't work with numbers as a matter of course, we use numbers because we always think of numbers as the hard evidence, right? If you have the figures, you know exactly what's going on. But we often fail to think about the mystifying power of numbers. So, yes, there are 2.2 million, according to the census that the government performs of jails and prisons. There are 2.2 million people incarcerated in a county jail, state prison, federal prison, jail in Indian country, military prison-am I missing any?-federal detention center, particularly for immigrants, on any given day. But that means that over the course of a year, you have over 13 million people who have had that experience of being incarcerated. We're talking about a huge number of people. And when you consider the disproportionate number of people of color, and the ideological role that imprisonment plays in our lives, I want to suggest that the prison population in this country provides visible evidence to us of who is not allowed to participate in this democracy, that is to say, who does not have rights, who does not enjoy liberties, who cannot vote, who cannot be a part of the body politic, who is subject to civil death.
In Florida, Governor Crist has decided that he's going to push for a change in the laws regarding felony disenfranchisement. Have you heard about that? Why didn't someone do that before the 2000 election? Because it is clear that of the 950,000 people who are disenfranchised in Florida, had a small fraction of them voted, there would have been no question about the defeat of the current president. There is a question about the victory, right? I won't say that he was elected, because he wasn't elected. But there would have been no question about the defeat. Nine hundred fifty thousand people. Florida has the largest population of former felons who are disenfranchised in the entire country.
But still, people in prison cannot vote. I think it's really strange that we don't question that, that we just assume that because you are incarcerated, you should not have the right to vote, you should not be a participant in the political arena, you should be banned, barred. I wonder why that is, because there are quite a few countries where people vote when they're in prison. They just put polls up and let people vote. It used to be that students couldn't vote, and they didn't have polls on campuses. If you didn't go home, where you were registered, there was no way you could vote. Do you remember that? There are actually are similarities between universities and prisons. We could pursue them if we wanted to.
But the point that I'm trying to make right now is that prisons tell us that we are free. We are able to recognize ourselves as rights-bearing subjects, as participants in a democracy because we get to look at this institution that has walled off those who are not. And because there are those who are not, by comparing ourselves to them, we know that we are. In a sense, you might say we know that we are alive, at least politically or civilly alive, by looking at those who have been relegated to civil death.
I guess the point that I'm making is that this institution we call the prison, that serves as a receptacle for so many of the things we don't want to talk about, don't want to think about-it's really interesting that here in this country, at least, we inhabit an image environment that is saturated with representations of the prison, if you think about how many times during the course of one day or one week you encounter some reference to a jail or prison. It would be interesting to keep an account, especially people who watch TV, of how many television programs, movies, and magazine articles, whatever. And the saturation of the image environment leads us to think that we actually have some knowledge about this thing, that we could kind of take it for granted, that we know what it is. But, as a matter of fact, this institution has been marginalized in terms of our own consciousness and so marginalized in terms of our own intellectual engagement, marginalized in the sense that there are these disciplines that are supposed to deal with the institution. There is criminology, of course, penology. Increasingly, there has been more of an interdisciplinary attempt to understand the institution.
But I should say parenthetically that the field that is tentatively called critical prison studies-have any of you heard of that? -It's funny. Of course, you put "critical." "Critical" is supposed to make anything okay, as long as you say "critical." I mention this because I for one have been very reluctant to identify into that field, even though a lot of the work that I do is around these issues. And that is because I consider myself an abolitionist, because I want to see the abolition of this institution which constitutes now the dominant mode of punishment. And I'm really afraid that by establishing this field, critical prison studies, you have this sort of relationship to the field that becomes the source of your research and your reputation, and you become kind of parasitically attached to it. So a question I've been really struggling with is, how do you define a field that would itself go out of existence in accordance with its object?
Why was I saying that to you? I was actually talking about the central role that prisons play in our lives that we don't recognize, and how the very notion of civil rights is very much predicated on the assumption that these civil rights can be negatively perceived by looking at those who have been relegated to civil death. In a sense you can say that this started with-didn't necessarily start with, but slavery played a role in establishing that dialectic, because slaves were very clearly relegated to political death, social death, civil death.
I'm concerned about the fact that when the Constitution putatively abolishes slavery, how can a constitution abolish slavery? I think we treat law as our religion. We believe what the law says. But how can the law abolish an institution that had played such a role in shaping the destiny of this country in so many ways? And then we think the Thirteenth Amendment, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted"-it's interesting that the parenthetical remark is even longer than the declarative remark-"shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
But that makes me believe that the authors were largely talking about involuntary servitude. As I was having a conversation with a group of students just before this and was talking about some questions that one might ask about that Thirteenth Amendment, that plays such an important role in the history of civil rights in this country, and we take it for granted. We take for granted that that institution called slavery ceased to exist. And we give this agency to the law.
So we could ask, what did the authors of the Thirteenth Amendment mean? Were they talking about slavery as human property? Is that what they were talking about? Were they talking about forms of punishment, corporal punishment, all of those forms of punishment associated with slavery? Were they talking about the fact that slavery is noncitizenship? What were they talking about? What is it that they wanted to abolish? My people continued to have what we all refer to as second-class citizenship for long time, right? So I don't think that was what was meant. Or if the meaning was there, it actually didn't happen. If slavery had been abolished in its entirety, why did it take another 100 years for black people in the South to achieve the right to vote? I can tell you that when I first registered to vote-I actually tried to register to vote because I'm from the South-I wasn't allowed to because I was not literate enough. Was this after I had graduated from college? I didn't pass the test. Birmingham, Alabama. I suppose I'm arguing that we still live with the vestiges of slavery, which is one explanation for the failure to accord equal rights to all people who live in this country.
But then I want to talk about what it means to have equal rights, because I think that we take that notion for granted. As I said before, we implicitly compare those rights with those who do not have rights. So the prisoner becomes the negative measure of what it means to be a participant in civil society, what it means to enjoy civil rights.
Since I was asked to talk about civil rights, I was actually going to talk a little bit about growing up in the South, but I think I'll just summarize it, because I see I'm only on page 6 of 17. Maybe I'll skip it.
Maybe I should just talk faster. I'm from the South. That's my problem. And I grew up under what you might call the visible vestiges of slavery, the enforced inferiority of black people: separate school system, separate neighborhoods, separate cultural institutions, separated clubs, segregated jobs, segregated labor unions. Our lives were actually such that we never encountered white people except in highly structured circumstances. And the circumstances were always governed by a protocol that we had to learn. It was illegal for black people and white people to have social interaction with each other. I can remember several times when I was a teenager, I would be driving with some friends, we would be stopped because somebody in the car, one of my friends, was very light-skinned so the cops thought she was white. It's interesting to me now that all we had to do was to tell the white cop, "Oh, she's not white. She just looks like she's white." And that was an explanation. He said "Okay." But I had to learn the protocol of racism. I couldn't cross the street because there were racial zoning laws. I could not enter a rest room unless it was marked "Colored Women." I very early had to learn how to read. Seriously. I could not check books out of the public library unless it was a branch specifically designated for black people. I could not imagine attending the University of Alabama, which was reserved for whites only.
But, of course, as we know, the civil rights movement successfully challenged racial segregation. So now when I go back to Birmingham, I'm not encumbered by this protocol, by these zoning laws. I don't have to worry that there might not be a colored ladies' room, or I can walk into any museum in the city, or I can visit the main library downtown. I can be invited even to speak at the University of Alabama, where I once would have been arrested if I tried to enter the campus.
But I would be grossly exaggerating the contemporary circumstances of my hometown, Birmingham, Alabama, if I generalized by saying that racism has been eliminated. Poverty is still concentrated in black communities. Schools in black communities are still substandard. Black people are still much less likely to attend college, especially the historically white institutions. And the numbers of black people behind bars are far greater today than anyone could have ever imagined during the civil rights era.
It's true that particular manifestations of racism, legal racial segregation, have been eliminated. But we have become so fixated on segregation as constituting the heart of racism that we cannot see the deep structural and institutional life of racism. Here we are, more than 50 years after the beginning of that civil rights movement, and we have people like Ward Connerly, and I don't even want to start talking about him. It seems that in the mid-20th century we understood the impact of racial segregation, first of all, because it was inscribed in the law. People could be arrested and sentenced to jail for violating the segregation statutes. Segregation also was not only a system of separation, it was a system of surveillance, a system of surveillance that was supported by extralegal violence, by state violence. Of course, we know the names of some of the people who were executed or sentenced to death by the state, like, say, the Scottsboro Nine, and we also know the names of some of the people who were victims of extralegal racist violence, like Emmett Till or Viola Liuzzo or Schwerner, Goodman, Chaney.
But the thing is, there are so many names we do not know. One of the things that happened when they were looking for Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner was that they found bodies and bodies and bodies, anonymous bodies, bodies of people who had never been looked for. I know that there are people currently working on the question of-maybe you might call it some kind of reparations, connected to the civil rights era, not slavery. Because, again, we talked about the law. The subject of the law is always an individual subject. And if you think of reparations as collective, reparations as institutionally based, it's very difficult to achieve this through the law. But there are some people who are trying to play the law's game by arguing that there are people who participated in the civil rights movement who are still alive and who can stand before the law.
I suppose the point I was trying to make is that we tend to think that racism was overt. Isn't that the word we use when we talk about segregation, when we talk about that era of legalized racism? Don't we tend to talk about it as being overt? And now we tend to think that it's hidden. I wonder why. Maybe it's because we have again learned not to notice it, because we have been persuaded that the only way to eliminate it is by pretending that it doesn't exist, that the only way to eliminate racism is to pretend that race doesn't exist. Therefore on, a college campus, we don't notice the dearth of black, Latino, Native American students. If we ever enter a prison, it's not evident that we encounter a situation that is exactly the inverse of what we encounter on a university campus. In the segregated South, the signs of racism that were everywhere, the literal signs, made us pay notice to it. But now that the signs are gone, discriminatory practices continue under the sign of equality. So why do we not see the damage that racism is doing to our society? Why do we not see the damage that racist policies are doing to the world?
I'm not going to say racism is an equal-opportunity proposition here, but what I am going to say is that it does not necessarily coincide with the bodies of the people who are either explicitly or implicitly agents of racism Look at our government. Look at Condoleezza Rice. Who could have imagined? When we were fighting for civil rights, who could have imagined that there would have been a black woman secretary of state, and then that's not all. It would have been hard for me to imagine that I could say in the 21st century, I would much prefer a white man to be secretary of state if he were opposed to racism and opposed to war. Because a lot of times I think her policies, her thinking is even more belligerent than-anyway, don't let me get started.
One of the things I've said about her in the past is that, because we come from the same place, I started to get worried, because I notice these remarkable similarities in the way we narrated our own histories. And I said, how can this be? But then I realized that-I'll just summarize it-she narrates her story as a story of individual triumph. As a matter of fact, one of the things she said in an interview was that when she was growing up in Birmingham, everybody told her that in order to make it, a black person was going to have to run five times as fast as a white person in order to get the same thing. And she said, "But some of us ran eight times as fast." I would do a whole analysis of the uses of biography and all of that, but I think you get the point.
I wanted to say something about the civil rights movement and how the victories that we win are not always the victories that we thought we were fighting for. I don't think we should regret those struggles. Those struggles were absolutely important. But, of course, many of us thought we were changing the world. Many of us, if you move on from the civil rights movement and you talk about the liberation movements-the black liberation movement, the Chicano liberation movement, the Native American movements-we really thought that we were joining the revolutionary impulse that was happening around the world. There was Cuba, but also the liberation movements in Africa and in Latin America. Unfortunately, we didn't quite do that. A lot of us were persuaded that we were going to bring capitalism down, that we would have some kind of socialism. And we didn't.
But it doesn't mean that nothing has changed. A lot has changed. One of the things I've learned is that victories are never permanently engraved in the social landscape. What they mean at one point in history may be entirely different and even contrary to what they mean at another moment. We should be especially aware of how the notion of civil rights, especially for people of color, for women especially, has now been redefined in a way that contradicts its collective impact in favor of an individualized interpretation that pits individual white men, members of a class that has been a bearer of historical privilege-although not all white men have been privileged, there have been poor white men-but the class as a whole, pitting them against groups and classes that have suffered historical discrimination. But this doesn't mean that the struggle for affirmative action was a mistake, since it's now so often described as reverse discrimination. And even people who were the beneficiaries of affirmative action think of themselves as not deserving what they have. A lot of them are even ashamed to admit that they had a scholarship or a fellowship from an affirmative action program. Do you know what I mean?
What that indicates is that social meanings are always socially constructed, but that we cannot leave it up to the state to produce these meanings, because we are always encouraged to conceptualize change only as it affects individuals. There is a dangerous individualism that is not unrelated to the possessive individualism of capitalism. And it is bound to transform the collective victories we win. If we imagine these victories as community victories and they are transformed into individual victories, then what happens is that we seek heroic examples, we seek individuals. There is a whole array of those individuals. Gonzales, Thomas, Rice. And then what happens is that we forget about the structural changes that were actually intended by those struggles.
I'll conclude by alluding to the importance of imagination. I always say, I'm not a nostalgic person. I try hard not to be one of those people who thinks of herself or himself as a relic, although I have to admit that I know I get perceived in that way, as a historical relic. But at the same time, I like to draw from my historical memory. Historical memory is important.
Just as it was once important to imagine a world without slavery-and many people may have been thought insane for imagining a world without slavery, to imagine a world without segregation. I can remember when I was growing up in Birmingham, so many people took for granted that this was just the way things were supposed to be, or at least they were going to be this way forever. To imagine a world in which women were not assumed to be inferior to men, to imagine a world without war, to imagine a world without xenophobia. And the fenced borders designed to make us think of people from Mexico and Central America as the enemy. It is important to imagine a world in which binary conceptions of gender no longer govern modes of segregation or association, and one in which violence is eliminated from state practices as well as from our intimate lives, heterosexual and same-sex relationships. And, of course, it is important to imagine a world without war.
This is just the beginning of a very long agenda for social change. If we are to fashion ourselves today into agents of social change, we will have to do a lot of work, a lot of work on ourselves, a lot of work with each other, and we have to try to make sense of what appears to be a really depressing world.
I think that we've learned how to respond to what appears to be a morass that we are facing as, oh, it's just too much. Nobody can do anything about it. Let's go back and enjoy our-what? Listen to our music on our iPods. What else do we do? Shop, play video games. We have all of these individual modes of distraction now. I think we have to figure out how to build community. I love music and I listen to my iPod all the time, so I'm really not criticizing anyone, but I want to feel that there is an enormous community of human beings who share a vision of the future. I want to know that we're committed to taking into account all the things we've learned over the last decades, the relationship between state violence and intimate violence, violence not only individualized and domestic but also violence committed by the state. State violence, war, prison violence, torture, capital punishment are some of the forms of violence that help to constitute a whole spectrum. While we can't effectively try to eliminate each aspect simultaneously, we can develop an awareness of the connections. But this is the beginning of a notherlecture.
So let me just conclude really now with a simple, final message that is a plea. Please get involved. Please try to make a difference. Please try to turn this country and the world around. Thank you very much.
Other AR Angela Davis programs -
Liberty and Justice for All?
Report from Harlem
The Prison Industrial Complex
Race, Crime & Punishment
What Will You Say in 2030?
Race, Power & Prisons Since September 11th
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