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May 7, 2013

Angela Davis: institutions must “unlearn racism”

Historian and activist Angela Davis, infamous for appearing on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List in 1970 for her involvement with the Black Panther movement and the Communist Party USA, spoke about the the new demands of feminism and gun control at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on Friday night.

Davis urged audience members to question the accepted logic of terrorism labeling, pointing to 63 deaths she claimed were caused by CPD officers in the past four years.

“We have to learn how to think against that which [is] ideologically constituted as normal,” she said.

The University of California, Santa Cruz professor also spoke more broadly about 21st century feminism and its discontents, underlining the need for feminism to continue to stretch its categories of inclusion.

“The category itself has to change so it does not just reflect normative ideas,” she said. “[Black, incarcerated, and transgender women] have to fight to be included in the category of women, like black women in the 70s did who were assigned their gender at birth!”

While admitting to a collective need to “unlearn racism,” she pointed out that the more powerful legacies of racism are institutionalized, such as police violence and the “industrial prison complex.”

In a twenty minute question-and-answer session following the lecture, a friend of the deceased Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year old student who was killed by indiscriminate gun violence in Kenwood in January, asked Davis how Chicagoans can bring an end to gun violence. The activist admitted to being a gun owner in the ‘70s, but ultimately came down firmly on the gun issue.

“In this era, we have to say no more guns; we have to remove all guns. And this includes disarming the police.”

Davis has lectured in Rockefeller Chapel on multiple occasions in the past fifteen years, prompting various student responses. In a commemorative Martin Luther King Day address in 1998, campus College Republicans handed leaflets outside the event to protest her appearance. Student publications, including the Chicago Maroon, criticized the choice of speaker in their editorial sections. There was no visible protesting at Friday’s event.

The lecture was organized by the Center for the Study for Race Politics and Culture (CSRPC) and the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality (CSGS). It was the last of this year’s CSGS Classics in Feminist Theory series and also re-inaugurated the CSRPC Annual Public Lecture series, according to Political Science Professor Cathy Cohen, who introduced Davis.

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