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
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.