Angela Davis spent more than a year in jail in the 1970s. She has been a member of the Black Panther and Communist Party. She fought UCLA in court after she was fired in the 1960s for her association with communism. But the political activist and author views the present as the most “bizarre” era that she can recall.
This perspective aligns with the theme of this past weekend’s Western Regional Honors Council conference: the age of uncertainty.
The conference, hosted by the honors program at Chapman, featured Davis, 74, as the keynote speaker in Memorial Hall April 14, where she spoke about activism during Donald Trump’s presidency – who she said “really shouldn’t be there,” earning applause from the
audience – intersectional feminism, global capitalism and wealth inequality.
“I think about women on the rise, but let us not forget that women have always been the backbone of social justice movements,” Davis said during the event. “Here in the U.S., we associate movements for racial justice with male figures, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X … but these movements would not have existed without the pivotal contributions of women.”
Davis spoke to a crowd of at least 250 people, comprised of Chapman students and faculty and those visiting the campus for the conference.
For some, Davis’ presence on campus is meaningful, given Chapman’s demographics. Less than 1 percent of Chapman students, 117 of 7,020, identify as black or African American, according to a student headcount in the fall. Some students told The Panther before the event that Davis is their role model. One said she’s a living legend. Another called her a badass.
Quaylan Allen, a professor in the Attallah College of Educational Studies, feels the needs to fill a leadership role at Chapman, as one of the few black faculty members. Hearing what Davis had to say about social justice work during her talk has encouraged him to engage more in “real activism” – including protests, marches and looking critically at policy change.
“I know I have a role and a purpose (at Chapman),” Allen said. “My role here is to contribute to diversity of thought, to be a role model, to be a leader, to be a voice, to be in spaces where many black people are not allowed to or have access to, to advocate for the change that is necessary.”
We can be included within an institution that remains as racist and as patriarchal as it was before we were included.”
Davis also touched upon the controversy surrounding the National Rifle Association – adding that other countries believe “we’ve lost our minds” when it comes to gun control – and argued that the issue of gun violence should not be separated from sexual violence.
“What greater example do we have of toxic masculinity?” she questioned.
Davis also spoke about the relationship between racial dominance and sexual dominance, emphasizing that the two influence each other. But sending abusive and racist men to jail isn’t the answer, she said – the problem will continue no matter how many men we “get rid of.” Davis added that electing a Democrat president still would not have alleviated all of the country’s issues.
“If we fail to perceive connections, relations, intersections, junctures, coincidences … we will be forever imprisoned in a world that
appears to be white and male and heterosexual and cisgender and capitalist,” she said.
People have a tendency to believe that diversity and inclusion are enough, and that because someone is included or accepted somewhere that previously had marginalized them, anti-racist goals have been achieved, Davis said.
“But what about justice?” she said, causing the crowd to erupt in cheers. “We can be included within an institution that remains as racist and as patriarchal as it was before we were included.”
The evening ended with a 30-minute Q&A session, in which about a dozen people lined up to ask questions about diversity in their personal lives, white supremacy in college and how to enact policy change in the professional world.
“Even when it appears unlikely, it is important to maintain a sense that sometime in the future – it may not be soon – but we have to act as if it were possible to transform the world,” Davis said. “And we have to do it now.”
Gracie Fleischman contributed to this report.