angela davis and the america problem

January 26, 2019
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The questions are never fit for the circumstances that we’re confronting. That’s just one of the many problems; when the earth is shattering and melting underneath our feet, the conversation becomes about electoral politics. The water is poisoned and the discourse shifts into a conversation about budget approvals. And for Angela Davis in 1972 the problem was the nature of oppression and state-sanctioned brutalization of Black people and transcending such an oppressive phenomenon called white supremacy. The question she was then served, however, was myopic in its inability to not grasp that for Black people to hear about a concern of Black violence from white people is irrelevant and silly, and it’s most powerful is a type of ignorance that can become terroristic. To be white and not know about the violence that white supremacy creates and perpetuates, is to be a molotov cocktail but believe yourself to be a refreshing beverage. The dissonance isn’t just absurd, but dangerous.

In full afro and orange sweater, Angela Davis speaks frankly in the now legendary clip, “From the time I was very small, I remembered the sounds of bombs exploding from across the street, our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposable at all times because at any moment we might expect to be attacked.”

Davis offers the idea that violence can’t just be seen as a physical act, but an action that comes from a place of power. Black people rioting in the street, breaking inanimate objects and destroying pulse-less storefronts can’t be considered violence. It’s not violent to explode when you are under pressure, it’s science.

On the contrast, she helps us engage white violence as not individual acts from individual white people, but a superstructure that goes from the most powerful to the layman. And often the physical brutalization of a Black person is the punctuation — not the beginning — of a lifetime of political and spiritual violences committed over a Black person’s body and mind.

Today on Angela Davis’ 75th birthday, I’m filled with gratitude with the idea that she gave us alternate ways to engage with the absurd questions that domination produces that have nothing to do with the problem, but serves as another way for people invested in domination to distract from the biggest problem we must solve: America.