Angela Davis on Racial Reckoning: 'Diversity and Inclusion Without Radical Change Accomplishes Nothing'

Illustration for article titled Angela Davis on Racial Reckoning: Diversity and Inclusion Without Radical Change Accomplishes Nothing
Image: THOMAS SAMSON via AFP (Getty Images)

For any fashion or culture magazine, the September issue is most important, anchoring their fall and winter coverage. This chaotic year, Vanity Fair has used the opportunity much more wisely than their contemporaries. The Great Fire, a special issue of the mag, which was guest-edited by Ta-Nehisi Coates, explores our current moment. Coates wrote the cover story, an interview with Breonna Taylor’s mother, and ideated the construction of the rest, including a Q&A between director Ava DuVernay and political activist Angela Davis about Black Lives Matter, criticisms of the carceral system, and the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, a movement DuVernay labels “a racial reckoning.” The conversation is short, dense, interdisciplinary, and thought-provoking, like any conversation with Davis tends to be—establishing that now is a time where many Americans are finally confronting the fact that “the history of the United States of America is a history of racism,” as Davis explains.

I’d copy and paste the full conversation here if I could, but instead, I’ll stick to the moments I found to be most impactful, such as Davis’ thoughts on the limitations (and inaccuracy) of “diversity and inclusion” as a stand-in for equality:

Virtually every institution seized upon that term, “diversity.” And I always ask, “Well, where is justice here?” Are you simply going to ask those who have been marginalized or subjugated to come inside of the institution and participate in the same process that led precisely to their marginalization? Diversity and inclusion without substantive change, without radical change, accomplishes nothing.

“Justice” is the key word. How do we begin to transform the institutions themselves? How do we change this society? We don’t want to be participants in the exploitation of capitalism. We don’t want to be participants in the marginalization of immigrants. And so there has to be a way to think about the connection among all of these issues and how we can begin to imagine a very different kind of society. That is what “defund the police” means. That is what “abolish the police” means.


Davis also explained how those ideas can be made applicable to the education system—through the understanding that capitalism dictates all, and that capitalism is inherently racist—which has become especially apparent during covid-19:

Capitalism has to be a part of the conversation: global capitalism. And it’s part of the conversation about education, because what we’ve witnessed is increasing privatization, and the emergence of a kind of hybrid: the charter schools. Privatization is why the hospitals were so unprepared [for COVID-19], because they function in accordance with the dictates of capital. They don’t want to have extra beds because then that means that they aren’t generating the profit. And why is it that they’re asking children to go back to school? It’s because of the economy. We’re in a depression now, so they’re willing to sacrifice the lives of so many people in order to keep global capitalism functioning... Capitalism has always been racial capitalism. Wherever we see capitalism, we see the influence and the exploitation of racism.

We haven’t been talking a lot about that period of Occupy. I think that when we look at how social movements develop, Occupy gave us new vocabularies. We began to talk about the 1 percent and the 99 percent. And I think that has something to do with the protests today. We should be very explicit about the fact that global capitalism is in large part responsible for mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, as it is responsible for the migrations that are happening around the world. Immigrants are forced to leave their homelands because the system of global capitalism has made it impossible to live human lives. That is why they come to the U.S., that is why they come to Europe, seeking better lives.

Read the full conversation here.

Senior Writer, Jezebel

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We haven’t been talking a lot about that period of Occupy. I think that when we look at how social movements develop, Occupy gave us new vocabularies. We began to talk about the 1 percent and the 99 percent. And I think that has something to do with the protests today.

I feel like we’re going to look back at Occupy and the first wave of protests in Ferguson as ultimately the two things that pushed Millenials and Zoomers into social justice. And while there’s obviously a correlation between the two being responses to long-standing issues of inequality, it really feels like Occupy was (at least primarily) taken more seriously in the media (no need to ask why, everyone knows why.) Which is why it’s surprising that there haven’t really been any significant follow-ups to Occupy, at least from a mass movement level. BLM is still strong because Black people are still being killed by police on film, but it’s not as if income inequality has gone away. It’s only gotten worse.

Admittedly, Occupy could be considered the reason that Bernie Sanders was able to have two strong runs for the Democratic nomination and I think quite a bit of grassroots energy went into that direction. But it makes me wonder if we’re going to see a resurgence of Occupy protests in the next few years if there’s not another credible presidential candidate running on that kind of platform. Relatedly, I’d also like to know when there’s going to be a major candidate who explicitly runs on a platform that will amplify the message of BLM and police abolition the way Sanders did for mainstreaming the goals of Occupy. My guess is we’ll see the former before the latter.