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A R T I C L E S* &* S P E E C H E S
FAMILY/PARENTING
From Address to the
Feminist Family Values Forum
by Angela Davis

There are so many challenges facing us, challenges which require us to think in feminist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-capitalist ways. As a matter of fact, this evening's theme revolves around new values, feminist values. Those values have to be anti-racist and anti-capitalist values. And the challenge of the women's movement today is to figure out how to turn back this terrible tide of reaction that threatens to overcome all of us. These are dangerous times, very dangerous times.

How can we prevent the attempt to dismantle affirmative action programs all over the country for people of color and for women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. What can we do to stop the rise of immigrant bashing?

I come here from California, I'm sad to say. California is the state where immigrants from Mexico--people from Central America who are called immigrants­are under attack. However, I don't think there is anyone in this country who has the right not to call herself or himself an immigrant, except indigenous people. In California, people from Mexico and Central America are cruelly beaten by the police, such as in the Riverside incident. California has passed Proposition 187, which denies education and health care to undocumented immigrants.

How can we prevent the criminalization and demonization of people who are called non-citizens? How can we prevent the incarceration of ever-increasing numbers of men and of women as well? The rate of increase in the arrest of women is about twice that of the rate of increase in the arrest and incarceration of men. So if you look at the historical trajectory down the line, across the millennium, vast numbers of women­most of them will be women of color--will populate the jails and prisons. We will be facing an exploding punishment industry that will claim large numbers of women as its victims.

How can we prevent the overruling of the educational system by the prison system? How can we bring an end to sexual violence, and how can we integrate a challenge to homophobia into all of the work that we do? I have just listed some of the urgent questions facing us. This is the most complicated historical moment we have ever experienced.

Young, emerging activists, tend to romanticize the 60s. We must totally dismiss the notion that radicalism is a uniquely 60s phenomena. Oftentimes people who moved into social-political activism during the 60s tend to respond nostalgically to the challenges that I've listed, and tend to assume that, "Well, if only we could organize now like we organized back then things would be different."

But during that period, when the student movement swept the country, when the civil rights movement and movements in Latino, Black, Asian American, Native American communities began to develop and become widespread, when the Women's Movement emerged, our notions of struggle were rather simple. We embraced a rather simplistic notion of who counted as the enemy and who counted as a friend. As a matter of fact, we could draw a line and argue that everyone on the other side of the line was the enemy. Sometimes that line was a racial line, sometimes that line was a gender line, sometimes that line was a class line, but we knew who the enemy was! No doubt about it!

In those days, what we have come to call "interlocking oppressions" or a "matrix of domination" or "intersecting oppressions" were unheard of. This notion of a complicated interaction of categories of gender and class and sexuality and race mutually determining one another, had not even been conceptualized. As a matter of fact, if you think back to the Civil Rights period, gender, as we know it, hadn't been seriously considered. Gloria was talking about the ultimate withering away of gender, but during the Civil Rights period we didn't even have the word "gender," within our political vocabularies.

As a matter of fact, as the Women's Movement emerged, we tended to use the word "sex." Sexuality wasn't in the picture; the word "homophobia" hadn't even been invented. But at the same time it is really important for us to understand today that those movements, however simplistic they may have been from the historical perspective of those of us who are situated in the late 1990s, changed many of our common sense notions. They changed the common sense of the entire country­our common sense notions of race, gender; of race and racism, of gender and misogyny.

Since the Reagan-Bush era, what we have witnessed is the rise of a conservative movement that has managed by now to reverse those common sense notions which we transformed through movement and struggle. They have been successful to the extent that today many people assume racism no longer exists. When something like the beating of a black man in Los Angeles takes place, it is interpreted as a horrible hold-over from an era that has long been transcended.

If you look at the assumption on which the arguments against affirmative action are made, it is that racism no longer exists because many of the laws, according to which discrimination was legally authorized, have been changed. However, today racism is more profoundly inscribed in the political economy of the United States than ever before. Racism is more strongly entangled with misogyny than ever before.

 

 

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