Why Angela Davis has the new generation wrong

Angela Davis

 Angela Davis appeared on Democracy Now on 28 December 2021.

It is with some hesitation that I seriously criticise Angela Davis. She was asked about the younger generations‘ lack of interest in the struggles of the past and dismissals of her as irrelevant.  Of course, she is not irrelevant. 

I still remember my first days at Clare College, Cambridge and choosing how to decorate my room. A poster of ‘FREE ANGELA DAVIS’  was placed in the most prominent place. This caused frissons with some of the fellows but more amusing was when  Prof Boyo deliberately introduced a Black American professor to an unannounced visit to my rooms.  I still remember the look of astonishment on his face as he stared at the picture of Angela Davis staring back at him.

Juan Gonzalez identified the great changes in campus activism and its focus on identity politics. Gonzalez expressed disappointment in the decline of the politics of economic and systemic analysis and concern with the need to grow alliances. Angela Davis then dismissed the concerns with identity and ‘political Blackness’ etc.

Angela reduces all matters to class and imperialism. This is a fundamental fissure in Marxism that never really addressed either race or nation. While she fundamentally focusses on ‘racism’ for her ‘racism’ is merely an economic matter. While she absolutely recognises racism and white supremacy, these terms have no theoretical roots in Marxism and she does not provide one either. Marx never seriously addressed racism or the revolution in Haiti  (Note 1)

What is really hidden behind these disputes that Angela Davis is missing? It is not only Angela Davis but the vast majority of Black activists of left-leaning views or of an older generation. Angela Davis reads racism as a tool of fascism and capitalism, that is to say, a mere epiphenomenon of underlying real forces. The elephant in the room is cultural genocide. There was a physical genocide of native Americans but also a cultural genocide against the Africans. As Lemkin, who developed the concept of genocide clearly stated, cultural genocide was if anything, worse than physical genocide. (Note 2) This cultural genocide is so deep that when Nancy Pelosi attempted to apologise for it, the vast majority of Black Americans did not understand her at all.

With the collapse of general concealed apartheid in US, the consequences of cultural genocide are hitting the younger generation in the face. In the eyes of the older generation, economic and civil equality is all there is and so there is nothing to address. This is a failure to understand that cultural identity is core to one’s life. The Nazi holocaust sought to destroy both Jews and the Jewish identity, the one was part of the other. It had been argued that anti-semitism would go away if Jews stopped being Jewish, the most famous example of course is Napoleon offering the Jews emancipation – they could now become French if they gave up their Jewish identity. This failure to see, let alone address, the fallout of cultural genocide is a huge weakness. If those wise, learned and experienced in the struggle cannot address the issue, they leave a space for those of concealed ill will to take over the narrative.

Notes

  1. see Wulf D Hund ‘Marx and Haiti’ Journal of World Philosophies – vol 6, 2021 no.2.
  2. Raphael Lemkin: Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress. Second Edition by the Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.