René de Guzman
A Question of Memory: A Conversation with Angela Y. Davis
During a sunny Oakland day on October 1, 2019, Angela Y. Davis spoke with Oakland Museum of California Senior Curator of Art René de Guzman in Davis’ minimalist and elegant home. Looking over the Bay Area with tea in hand, Davis reflected upon her legacy past and future. The interview brings Davis’ personality, ideas, and spirit to this publication and will be shown as a video in all three exhibitions in conversation: Angela Davis: Seize the Time at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the Oakland Museum of California, and 1 Million Rosen für Angela Davis at the Albertinum in Dresden.
By René de Guzman
René de Guzman: How would you describe yourself to someone not familiar with you or your work?
Angela Y. Davis: Well, my name is Angela Davis. I usually include the Y. when it’s written, because there are quite a few Angela Davises and I’ve often been mistaken for other Angela Davises [laughs]. I would describe myself as an educator, an activist, a feminist, an abolition feminist, as someone who’s been involved in movements for social justice for the majority of my life. For people who don’t know who I am, I often point out that I was once on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, and ended up spending time in jails in New York, Marin County, and in San Jose, after which I became active in movements for prisoners’ rights, prison abolition movements. I continue to be active to this day. I should also say, though, that I have taught at various universities. I was fired from my first job at UCLA. I’ve also taught at Stanford, I’ve taught at Mills College in Oakland and I have taught at San Francisco State University. I’ve spent the majority of my academic career at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
René de Guzman: Most people know about your activism in the prison abolition movement, but your concerns cross into a lot of other things. Recently you attended a feminist conference in Reykjavik, Iceland. Would you talk a bit about your thoughts around feminism?
Angela Y. Davis: I have long been interested in the role of women in social justice movements. I published a book some decades ago, entitled Women, Race, and Class, that looks very specifically at Black women’s contributions to the movement for Black liberation.
At that particular time, I don’t think I would have referred to myself as a feminist because my first encounter with the term feminism linked it with the concerns of middle-class white women. We also used to talk about white bourgeoisie feminism. I saw myself as a revolutionary, and therefore as linked more with women of color and with working-class white women. But over the last period, women of color, radical women of color, working-class women more broadly, have redefined feminism. I think that today if one asks, especially on a university campus, what is the term you most associate with feminism, the answer would be intersectionality. That is to say, the inclusion in our analytical frame not only of gender, but also class, race, ability, the environment, etc. That is why I have no problem today identifying into feminism.
René de Guzman: Your archive was recently taken into the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. Would you tell us what is in your archive? How much involvement did you have in shaping the archive? How do you hope the archive will be used?
Angela Y. Davis: I have friends who have given their papers to various institutions, so this is something that I thought about for a while. I was not a person who was very meticulous about keeping and organizing my papers and other objects. But I did hold on to quite a few papers from the past. When I decided to give them to the Schlesinger, I think they ended up with more than 150 boxes. I had a rental storage space, papers in the basement [laughs], and papers in my office and more in my study. Some of the oldest papers consisted, for example, of my work as an undergraduate and graduate student. I have a really wonderful binder of notes I took when I was attending Herbert Marcuse’s classes at UC San Diego. I had a lot of material from the late 1960s and, well actually, not so much from the late 1960s, because many of my papers were destroyed in a fire in LA We think that maybe the FBI had something to do with that. This is while I was in jail.
I did have papers related to my activist work. In the immediate aftermath of my release from jail, I worked with the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. We worked on the cases of quite a number of people who were in prison, political prisoners such as Ben Chavis and the Wilmington Ten, the Soledad Brothers, of course, Carlos Feliciano, the Attica Brothers, Joan Little and many, many other cases. I had boxes of materials from that period.
Another interesting part of my papers had to do with organizing the Critical Resistance Conference, which took place at UC Berkeley in September of 1998. This conference marked a turning point in movements around prison issues. We called for scholars and activists and artists and advocates to come together to talk about what to do about what we decided to call the prison-industrial complex.
We were concerned that people were influenced by the prevailing ideology of crime and law and order. So we decided to try to disarticulate crime and punishment. Instead of thinking about punishment only in relation to crime, we urged people to think about punishment in other contexts—in the context of racism, in the context of global capitalism. Why is it that so many prisons emerged in the 1980s? What else was happening in the 1980s? Global capitalism was on the rise. Deindustrialization was happening. The workshops we were organizing addressed such issues and the papers consist of many of the materials regarding the workshops that took place during the conference. We wanted to have interdisciplinary conversations. So, we insisted that every panel, every workshop involve cross-talk across the kinds of boundaries that usually separate us. We didn’t want a panel consisting entirely of lawyers. We didn’t want a scholar panel. We didn’t want a prisoner panel. We wanted to facilitate conversations across disciplinary, professional, and activist boundaries. Moreover, all of the panels had to have a feminist dimension. It was a very interesting experiment of organizing a conference.
We also didn’t charge any fees for the conference. The conference was free, but we asked people to donate whatever they could toward the conference, and probably ended up with far more funds than we would have had if we had charged individuals. All of that information is in the archives. Perhaps these materials will assist someone to write a book about the conference we decided to call Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex and how it helped to shape twenty-first century movements against prisons, and specifically the contemporary abolition movement. Today, of course, the popular discourse about criminal justice has changed significantly, and even the right wing wants to reform prisons and to engage in what we call decarceration. But, of course, many of them propose carceral solutions. Therefore, abolition remains a very important perspective, for moving forward. And there are [laughs] all kinds of other papers. We would be here for the next two days if I were to describe in detail what the archive is like.
René de Guzman: Why the Schlesinger Library? Why Harvard and not any other university?
Angela Y. Davis: Of course, many other institutions inquired about my papers. I decided to give my papers to Harvard for a number of reasons. The most important of which is the fact that my papers would be in the company of good friends, close friends. June Jordan’s papers are at the Schlesinger. June lived in Berkeley for the last years of her life, and she and I became very close friends. I remember when she decided to give her papers to the Schlesinger and when she organized them for the handover. Pat Williams, the scholar and attorney, is also an old friend and her papers are there. The Black lesbian poet Pat Parker, who is from Oakland, and who played such an important role in generating feminist ideas and movements in this city, gave her papers to the Schlesinger. So, I thought that my papers would be in very good company.
René de Guzman: At the 2016 Open Engagement Conference at the Oakland Museum of California you spoke eloquently about the relationship between art and politics, primarily on radical imagination. Can you talk a little bit about that? And would you comment on artists taking direct action, as for example, the controversial events at the 2019 Whitney Biennial in New York?
Angela Y. Davis: Well, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between art and politics. I know that movements are often driven by music, by poetry, by visual art. I think that art is able to reach people in a way that didactic conversations often don’t.
As a graduate student, I studied extensively the philosophical relationship between aesthetics and politics. As an activist, I’ve always been concerned about the fact that in social movements, the artistic dimension is most often treated as entertainment, and therefore as an aside. When you organize a rally you ask, “Well who’s going to provide the entertainment for the rally?” not taking into consideration the epistemological dimension of art, the ways in which art can produce knowledge, knowledge of the sort that does not occur with a simple political speech. And of course, art involves the imagination. And if we believe that revolutions are possible, then we have to be able to imagine different modes of being, different ways of existing in society, different social relations. In this sense art is crucial. Art is at the forefront of social change. Art often allows us to grasp what we cannot yet understand. It seems that over the last decades, the separation of art and politics, which was assumed for so long—art for art’s sake—has defined art that has anything to do with politics as inferior art. We’ve heard these ideas expressed over and over again. But over the last few years—especially since the last US election —artists have been more expressly, more overtly, political, and have begun to give us a sense of the ways in which art enriches our ideas about social change, about revolution.
I was impressed when I attended the 2019 Whitney Biennial to see the political dimension of art being expressed in new ways. I was especially impressed by the controversial piece by Forensic Architecture, the film about tear gas canisters and how they were used against demonstrators all over the world. It was amazing as a film, as an exhibit in the Biennial. As it turns out, a member of the board of directors of the Whitney museum was the CEO of the parent company of Safariland, that produces those tear gas canisters. As a result of the insistence on including this film, in the Biennial, along with protests and demonstrations, Warren Kanders was compelled to resign from the Whitney’s board.
René de Guzman: Would you talk a little bit about your connection to places such as Oakland, Rutgers University which is in New Jersey, and Dresden?
Angela Y. Davis: So, the question is my relationship to place and time, and specifically, Oakland, where I live, Rutgers in New Jersey, and Dresden in the former German Democratic Republic. Well, maybe I’ll start with Oakland because this is where we are and where the Oakland Museum is located, and this is where I have lived for the vast majority of my life. For me, Oakland is home.
I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and of course lived there for the first fifteen years of my life. I still retain a very strong relationship to Birmingham. I have friends in Birmingham. I was recently given a human rights award by the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, which was then rescinded and now they want to give it to me again. That’s another story. But it’s interesting that they now have an entirely new board of directors. The issues that caused them to rescind the award are being dealt with in a way that reflects a greater understanding of civil rights, and human rights in the international context, and specifically human rights for the Palestinian people. So Birmingham is where I was born.
Oakland is where I’ve lived for a vast majority of my life. I actually ended up in the Bay Area because I was charged with murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy in relation to the prisoner rebellion that took place in the Marin County Civic Center in 1970. When I was arrested and eventually extradited to the Bay Area, I spent time in jail in Marin County, in San Rafael, and then afterwards in San Jose. When my trial was over and I thought about where I wanted to settle, there was no question about Oakland. You know, Oakland was the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. In 1972 when I was acquitted, there was a great deal going on in the city of Oakland. I felt an affinity with Oakland that I did not necessarily feel with San Francisco, even though I do like San Francisco, especially its music and culture. In fact, I taught at the San Francisco Art Institute and San Francisco State University. Currently, I am a member of the Board of Trustees of SFJazz. In many ways Oakland is a city that represents change, that represents the call for change, a city that represents the future and is a site for imagining different futures. I love the fact that the population of Oakland is so diverse—although not as much as it once was and not as much as it could be. There’s a substantial Black population in Oakland, there’s a substantial Latinx and Asian American population.
And I love the fact that the dockworkers in Oakland have such a long history. When one looks at the city Oakland from the vantage point of the Bay Bridge, one sees the cranes and the containers on the docks. Embedded in those objects is the history of the ILWU, the International Longshore Workers Union and the part they played in propelling the anti-apartheid movement in the Bay Area when they refused to unload ships from South Africa. Later they also refused to unload ships from Israel. Moreover, in 1999 the ILWU shut down the docks on the entire West Coast, calling for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal. I could continue, but Oakland has an extraordinary history, and I love this city. I love living here. As for thinking about Rutgers, I’ve spoken at the university many times. I associate Rutgers with the name of Assata Shakur, who is living in Cuba now and has been designated as one of the Ten Most Wanted, quote, terrorists in the country. I’ve been involved in the campaign to free Assata Shakur since the 1970s.
My most dramatic memory of Rutgers has to do with an event that was held at the university in order to raise money for Assata Shakur’s legal defense. It must’ve been during the late 1970s, and the fundraiser was held at the Rutgers alumni house. Her attorney, Lennox Hinds, who is a founder of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and who played an important role in my case, was there. We were leaving the event, after raising a sizable amount of money for a legal defense, to go to his house. On the way we were stopped by police for no reason at all. They insisted that there was a warrant out for my arrest and they were going to take me in. But they were lying and their story was really messy. In any event, they pulled out their guns and when Lennox came over to the car where I was, one of the cops pulled a gun out on him, even though he had told them he was my attorney. The reason I mention this is because Assata Shakur had been stopped by New Jersey state police in the same way. And in a sense, the events that led to her arrest were being repeated at this moment when we were trying to support her. They finally allowed us to leave, but once we had gathered at Lennox’s house, the police arrived literally surrounded the house, guns drawn.
Lennox Hinds was a professor in the law school at Rutgers until very recently. He is now retired. Just recently I attended a retirement ceremony for him. So, to me, Rutgers represents resistance, but New Jersey continues to represent a kind of political backwardness that led to the arrest of Assata Shakur and others.
René de Guzman: How does Dresden resonate for you?
Angela Y. Davis: If I were to talk about Dresden, I would point out that my awareness of Dresden dates from the period when I was studying in Germany. I studied in what was then West Germany, in Frankfurt, but I did visit the German Democratic Republic several times. I remember going to Berlin for the express purpose of buying the Collected Works of Marx and Engels, because each volume cost the equivalent of what was then about $1. I still have the forty or fifty volumes of that set. After my trial was over, I visited many of the countries where there were influential movements calling for my freedom. One of those countries was the German Democratic Republic.
It was in that context that I first visited Dresden. I think about Dresden and the GDR in relation to the campaign launched by schoolchildren, who sent me postcards on my birthday when I was in jail. The campaign was called “A Million Roses for Angela,” Eine Million Rosen für Angela. I received cards from schoolchildren who lived in Dresden and other parts of the German Democratic Republic. There were probably more than a million postcards sent to me while I was in jail.
René de Guzman: You mentioned all the international communities calling for your freedom, while you were in prison. I’m curious, what was that like for you?
Angela Y. Davis: Well, when I was in jail, I was aware of the fact that there were people organizing for my freedom all over the world. I knew that there were people supporting me in Cuba, especially, and Chile and France, in Germany, in the German Democratic Republic, in the Soviet Union, in Somalia, in Prague, in Ethiopia, in Brazil, and indeed in countries all over the world. On the one hand, I was really overjoyed to learn that there was so much support developing everywhere, but on the other hand, I asked myself, “Why me?” I was in jail with many other women. In New York, I was held in the largest women’s jail in New York at that time, the Women’s House of Detention. I was also held in the Marin County Jail and finally in a small jail in Palo Alto. I was always aware of the fact that there were many, many other people, in jail and prison. And I asked myself, “Why can we not generate support for all of them?”
And, so my response was to ask the organization that had come into being around the demand for my freedom, the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis, to change their name to the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners. When I was freed, we immediately began to think about how we could harness all of the resources that had been generated around the demand for my freedom, to continue to work to free others who were in prison and to address issues relating to racist and political oppression. Immediately after my trial ended, we began to create the foundation for an organization that we called the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. And that organization exists in some form to this day. There is a chapter in Chicago and there’s one in Louisville, Kentucky. As a matter of fact, in the fall of 2019, there was a conference in Chicago, designed to regenerate the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, because, like the era of the 70s, this too is also a period in which we need an organization capable of defending those who are subject to political and racist repression.
René de Guzman: Angela, I’d like to ask you to speak about your relationship to your past. How do you keep memories productive? How do you save your past from nostalgia and regression?
Angela Y. Davis: Well, my relationship to the past, which includes my relationship to my own past, is a complicated one... I have always been interested in history. I’m convinced that—Faulkner said the past is not dead, it is not even past, right?—the past has shaped us. The past is always present. We are always inhabiting the vestiges and the sediments of the past. As a matter of fact, when we began to do work around the prison-industrial complex, we talked about the role that slavery had played in shaping the forms of punishment that still exist today. I think that on a macro level, it’s very clear that our past informs where we are or who we are, what we can aspire to.
I think about myself as an individual having been shaped by the fact that I grew up in the most segregated city in the US. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, at a time when Black people there were considered absolutely inferior and were barred from almost all of the cultural institutions. I still have very vivid memories of wanting to go into the museum in Birmingham, but I did not visit that museum until many, many years later. I have memories of my elementary school, which was located not far from a white elementary school. I remember looking at that school and being aware of the fact that we got the books that had been used by the white kids, and that had been written in by them and torn up by them. We always got secondhand books from the white school system.
It’s very important for me to retain those memories. First of all, because we need to know the past, we need to know where we came from. But, perhaps most importantly, because we need to be able to acknowledge our victories. We need to be able to point to ways in which change has happened, largely due to the fact that people have come together and protested and demonstrated and demanded change. There are those who often say that nothing has changed. Of course, sometimes when we look at the current political predicament, and the degree to which racist statements and actions proliferate, we might think nothing has really changed in this country.
But I think that what we are witnessing now is a reaction to the change that has happened, and that our struggle is to preserve those victories and to move forward, and to use them as launchpads for achieving further victories. So, I think the past is always relevant. The past helps us define what we want in the future. I think that even those struggles that did not conclude successfully, that were not victorious, help us to develop agendas for the future. I think that the past and the future are very much on a continuum that defines who we are in the present.
René de Guzman: Would you talk a little bit about your relationship to your own past, in terms of the imagery from the late 1960s, early 1970s that is largely the material for these projects (books and exhibitions)? And, how do you connect the representation of yourself in these images? These images of 1969 to 1972 have fixed you in amber, so how do you keep moving ahead?
Angela Y. Davis: Well, you know, I once found it very difficult to develop a relationship to politics of representation, where my own image played a role. Because I knew that the images of me, while they had something to do with me and who I was and what I had done, produced expectations that far exceeded my capacity as an individual to live up to them. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that, while those images are definitely of me, a younger me, they don’t necessarily represent me as an individual. They represent the movement that was generated around me, the demand for my freedom. You know, there was a time when I felt embarrassed to face these images. I really didn’t know how to respond in the presence of those images. Now I’m pretty comfortable, because I recognize that they represent the demands and aspirations of millions of people. The campaign around the demand for my freedom was absolutely amazing. At the time I was charged with three capital crimes and even people who knew that I wasn’t guilty did not understand how it was ever going to be possible for me to extricate myself from that situation, because all of the existing powers, the president of the US, the governor of California, the head of the FBI, were all arrayed against me. I was a member of the Communist Party. In every country where there was a Communist Party, there was also a campaign to free Angela Davis. So, I see those images as symbolic of harnessing the power of masses of people and achieving what was then considered to be impossible.
René de Guzman: To return to 1989, and the collapse of the Soviet Union and fall of the Berlin Wall. Did that historic moment have an impact on you, and if so, what?
Angela Y. Davis: Well, of course. The fall of the Berlin Wall represented the beginning of the collapse of the Socialist Community of Nations, not only the GDR, but the Soviet Union and Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia and Poland, etc. and I would say that, on the one hand, it was clear that there were serious problems in what was then called existing socialism. But I’m also concerned that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and that we do not forget some of the accomplishments of the GDR, of the Soviet Union, such as free health care, housing, and education. As a matter of fact, I had a friend from the US, a young white woman, who was very smart, but was on welfare here and had a child, and had aspirations to go to the university, but she couldn’t. She was involved in the Communist Party. I was a Communist at that time. She moved to the Soviet Union, and almost immediately she was able to enroll in the university. She had free childcare. She had everything that she needed to assist her in pursuing her dreams of attending university. Eventually she became an anthropologist. That would have never happened in the US.
My concern is that people celebrate the coming down of the Berlin Wall as the beginning of the end of communism, of socialism, but they don’t ask what capitalism has to offer. They don’t ask how, since that period and the rise of global capitalism, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few has become far greater. Or the ways in which structural adjustment in the global South has led to the impoverishment of populations that had previously enjoyed a certain level of social services and social relief.
I think it’s very important not to assume that capitalism is the only way and that capitalism represents the future. If capitalism represents the future of the planet, we will not have a planet. Climate change is so dangerous now. Our current path can only lead to the destruction of the planet because capitalism is only interested in profit. Profit is the driving force of capitalism. I think it’s important for us to look at the histories of these countries, and discover what it is that we need to save in order to begin to imagine a better future.
René de Guzman: You talked a bit about political memory. There’s an image of you in East Germany. It looks like you’ve just arrived, and you’re being received very happily by East Germans. One in particular is a young East German woman who brought her child. Do you remember that moment? What do you make of moments like that, because memories like that are beautiful?
Angela Y. Davis: Yes. When I went to the German Democratic Republic in the aftermath of my trial, it was because I wanted to visit places in the world where impressive campaigns had been organized. I wasn’t able to visit all of the places, but I did visit the German Democratic Republic, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Cuba, Chile, France, and I visited many cities all across the US. So for a while I was on tour thanking people. It was in that context that I visited the GDR. I remember the enthusiasm with which young people in the GDR greeted me. I know that the campaign around my freedom in the GDR represented not only a demand for my freedom. It also represented, from their vantage point, a way to focus the energy of young people in the GDR who did not necessarily want to conform to the existing political status quo—let me put it that way. For them, I represented something radical and revolutionary, but at the same time, I represented anti-imperialist energy, anti-capitalist protests. I have a very special place in my heart for all of the young people, in what was then the GDR. I’ve talked to some of them in the last decades. Of course they’re adults, they’re old now [laughs], as I am. I remember in particular talking to one person who so appreciated being able to participate in that campaign, because she said it made her feel a part of something that was huge, something that was planetary. I can imagine that for people living in the GDR, isolated as it was at that time, to be able to help generate that kind of feeling of being a part of something global, is really important to me. I love reading all of the postcards that are now, well most of them are now in the archives at Stanford, with children’s drawings of roses and greetings to me on my birthday.
René de Guzman: You once said that we are in community with people not yet born. I believe you also said that our problem is impatience: we expect our impact to show up in our lifetime, but in fact we have to think about our impact five generations down the line.
Angela Y. Davis: Exactly.
René de Guzman: How can we shape a world five, six, seven generations from now?
Angela Y. Davis: Well, to answer this question regarding our relationship to the future, I think that we might also consider the past. We might also ask ourselves who is responsible for where we are today? How is it that we are the representatives, incarnations, manifestations of what people fought for decades and centuries ago? Therefore, we have a relationship to those who fought against slavery, to those who fought against genocidal colonization that continues in many ways to affect indigenous people today. I think it’s our job to do the work today that is not so much going to achieve the goals that we might be imagining, but that will keep those goals alive so that we’ll be able to pass them down from one generation, to the next.
Oftentimes when people ask me why Black history in particular is important, I say that in many ways people of African descent in this hemisphere, in the Americas, are an inspiration to people fighting for freedom all over the world, because after four hundred, five hundred years the struggle is still continuing. And it has been passed down from one generation to the next. Of course sometimes there are lulls, there are ebbs, but at other times it erupts; it has erupted in Brazil, for example, it has erupted with Black Lives Matter a few years ago in this country. It seems to me that it is so important to imagine a future that we will never be able to actually witness. But we will be a part of it if we do the work that keeps these goals, these aspirations alive. Some cultures cultivate this protracted sense of the self. Indigenous cultures have a very different temporality. Capitalist culture, on the other hand, measures time with the lifetime of a single individual, and the inheritance of money, of capital. I think that we should all be inspired by the fact that it’s possible for us to do work today that people will be grateful for one hundred years from now, or two hundred years from now. Certainly, the climate movement, the young people’s call for an end to climate change, represents their awareness of the fact that they will have no future if global warming continues to happen. They will have no future if they are not able to put a stop to the exploitation of the environment. I think that we have a great deal to learn from their ability to imagine themselves as adults and to imagine their children, and their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children.
René de Guzman: Many people, myself included, are fascinated by your resilience. How do you keep things hopeful? Are there sweet successes that help you along the way?
Angela Y. Davis: Yes, there are successes that help me along the way. I think my own resiliency, and resiliency of those who are my age, my comrades, my friends, has emanated from an awareness that freedom is a constant struggle. That if we are serious about being advocates of freedom, we have to be willing to struggle. As Toni Morrison said, freedom consists in fighting for the freedom of others, so it makes no sense to define freedom as applying only to individuals. One cannot feel free alone. I know that people believe in individual freedom, but freedom substantively involves expanding the possibilities for ever larger numbers of people. I’m very happy that I’ve participated in movements that have done that. I’m happy to be a witness, to bear witness for those who are not here, because I’ve lived for three quarters of a century, and many people have not able to make it this far. I see myself as standing in for them, as bearing witness for others. I get very excited when I see young people, who so effortlessly engage in the kind of discourse that took us so long to figure out.
I mean, the metaphor of one generation standing on the shoulders of the other generation is apt, because they are stronger, they’re taller, they can see further. I’m not one of those older people who says to young people, “You’re doing it wrong. This is the way you should be doing it.” I’m happy to see young people experimenting. I’m even happy to see them make mistakes, because we learn from mistakes. I would say that my resiliency has come from a continued interaction with younger generations, and the recognition that they are the ones who are the leaders now, and that it’s my role to learn from them.
René de Guzman: Would you describe, if you can, the moment when you felt the most free?
Angela Y. Davis: I think that I feel most free when I am in the presence of great art with others. When I’m at a concert, hearing amazing music, and aware of the fact that I’m in community with others who are having pretty much the same feeling. I think art teaches us how to feel free, how to feel free even as we are compelled to live under conditions of un-freedom.
René de Guzman: Is there anything we’ve covered, or haven’t covered, or anything that’s come up in our conversation that you’d like to speak further about, with the thought in mind that this record will last a long time, and so you may be speaking to future generations?
Angela Y. Davis: I guess what I would say is, what excites me is that change always happens. I mean, I’m thinking about the fact that, say, ten or fifteen years ago, when you mentioned transgender communities there was hardly any response at all! And people were so burdened with this binary notion of gender, and the impact of ideology, that it was very difficult to have a serious conversation about trans people and their rights. Then within a relatively short period of time, we’ve changed enormously. We recognize how important it is to think critically about what it is we imagine as normal. That means that we have to think about everything else we also consider to be normal, because it’s in the accepted sense of the normal that we discover the greatest challenges to change. I would like to consider myself as someone who continues to be critical of what is considered normal, even with respect to myself. I know that I have a great deal more to recognize in order to change. And I hope that a massive community of people will join me.