Angela Davis closed Black History Month with a keynote address Monday night to a packed Thorne Hall. In her talk she compared protests from the Civil Rights movement to Black Lives Matter, discussed inequitable racial representation in pop culture and critiqued mass incarceration in the United States. Davis argued that systems of oppression cannot be fixed and thus must be abolished.
“The constant theme of Black history has been the struggle for freedom,” Angela Davis said. “And therefore, Black history belongs to everyone who believes in the possibilities of freedom.”
Davis’ address finished a month-long series of events celebrating Black History Month, hosted and organized by the Black Student Alliance (BSA). BSA President Diamond Webb (senior) and Vice President Mika Cribbs (senior) introduced Davis and recounted some of the month’s events, from an open mic with Rudy Francisco to a panel with Black Panther and Black Lives Matter activists.
In thanking departments and offices on campus who sponsored Black History Month events, Webb and Cribbs also said that efforts to fund the event emphasized the importance of having a fully funded Diversity and Equity Board.
“Funding was something we were always worried about, because we also had other big name speakers throughout the month,” Cribbs said. “We got lucky because of the amount of support we got from the departments on campus and other orgs.”
According to Cribbs, administrative response to funding requests for events this month was mixed, and some questioned BSA’s ability to draw crowds to their events. Cribbs said turnout at events throughout the month was substantial, with events attracting students and community members from around Los Angeles. When Rebecca Walker visited Feb. 4, both students and non-students filled Dumke Commons to standing room only.
Like prior Black History Month events, Thorne Hall was filled for Davis’ visit. During her speech, Davis discussed the history of Black activism and touched on student activism and intersectionality.
“There is a long history of black student activism in the US,” Davis said. “Students have always been in the forefront of revolutionary struggles.”
In 1925, student protests at Fisk College and Howard University forced the resignation of their presidents. Davis highlighted how closely these protests mirrored the recent activism at University of Missouri and other colleges and universities across the country, including Occidental.
Davis also discussed the importance of continuing to question institutionalized “diversity” efforts on college campuses and elsewhere.
“If what we’re asking for is a diverse society where everybody has an equal opportunity to engage in practices of oppression, I don’t want that,” Davis said to applause.
While there has been a proliferation of offices of diversity and equitable progress, she said that having a diverse community represented does not, in and of itself, do anything to stop the repression and violence; particularly, that propagated by police.
The killing of Black people by America’s police state is not a new phenomenon, Davis said. The difference today is that young people will not allow these deaths to be forgotten. Davis spoke about how the protests in Ferguson have spread globally, finding solidarity in places like Palestine, and about the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement. These organizations are fighting for justice using a nuanced, intersectional and international-scale critique of global power structures that Davis said is essential and notably includes transgender women and indigenous groups.
Perhaps, Davis argued, we need to take an abolitionist approach and completely dismantle the broken power systems that persist in spite of hundreds of years of reform effort — specifically, capitalism and incarceration. She added that it is up to everyone to be aware that fixing ideology is more important that fixing problems, and that even marginalized populations are responsible for perpetuating structures of violence.
Davis’ speech was often met with applause from the audience, and she answered questions from audience members at the end of her talk.
“Angela Davis epitomizes the word progressive,” Karim Sharif (sophomore) said after the event. “Her words are not mere calls to action, but calls for reflection. Where do our own efforts cease, and why there?”