“Some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name. If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassible with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”– Letter from James Baldwin to Angela Davis, in The Autobiography of Angela Davis
It took me a while to figure out that the Angela Davis with the big afro and the Angela Davis who writes academic texts are one and the same. Angela Davis experienced more in the first 26 or so years of her life than most people do, and in this autobiography Davis talks about her upbringing in the racist South, her membership in the Communist Party and racism in the prison and court systems. I always think I’ve read enough books on these topics to be immune from shock but I’m always proven wrong.
Davis’ writing was very clear and poetic at times. In this book she is a lot more engaging and approachable than she was in her other books.
Davis has incredible insight into the prison system having been imprisoned herself. Her descriptions of her time spent in prison were very poignant. Regarding the prison system, Davis says:
“Jails are thoughtless places. Thoughtless in the sense that no thinking is done by their administrations; no problem-solving or rational evaluation of any situation slightly different from the norm. The void created by this absence of thought is filled by rules and the fear of establishing a precedent.”
“All its elements are based on an assumption that the prison system will continue to survive. Precisely for this reason, the system does not move to crush it.”
How true, especially when we hear of countries actually shutting down prisons in some European countries
Reading this book it’s not difficult to see the parallels in today’s world. 18 year old Gregory Clark’s murder by the LAPD in the 1960s was very reminiscent of 17 year old Trayvon Martin’s murder just a couple of years ago.
This book is a call to arms, figuratively, a call to do something about the racism that is still embedded in our societies. Reading this made me angry, sad, frustrated and hopeful all at the same time. How can we turn a blind eye to all the racism that is still occurring in our world ? Even I, sitting here in the liberal city of Vancouver feel the indignation of what black people are still experiencing in the States and elsewhere. When we have people saying that diversity= white genocide, it’s obvious there’s work still to be done.
“Nothing in the world made me angrier than inaction, than silence. The refusal or inability to do something, say something when a thing needed doing or saying, was unbearable. The watchers, the headshakers, the back turners made my skin prickle.”
I think reading this book at the same time I’m taking a Global Politics class was great timing. I still can’t get over the “Red Scare”, to be honest. It’s just a difference in ideology but that difference was seen as incredibly threatening and caused so much violence. I think most conflicts come from a fear people have of things they perceive to be threatening. The media definitely plays a role in this. I make a promise to myself to do my own research before I react to something.