Keynote Speaker: Angela Davis – “We Must Lift in Order to Rise”


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Anonymous/AP/REX/Shutterstock (6586164a)
Angela Davis waves to someone in the audience as she arrives the room in San Rafael, Calif. for another pre-trial hearing. At left is chief attorney, Howard Moore Jr of Atlanta. holding the door Miss Davis is Capt. Harvey Teague of the Marin County Sherriffs Department
Angela Davis, San Rafael, USA

“Act as if it were possible to transform the world, because this is what makes the possibilities for the future.” –Angela Davis (4/14/18, Chapman University – Memorial Hall)

Angela Davis was the keynote speaker for the 2018 Western Regional Honors Conference and spoke at Chapman University on April 14th. Initially going into Davis’s speech, I knew I was going to be writing my blog post about it, so I was instantly looking for: What is the main topic? What is her main point? What is her main question? And I was quite overwhelmed at first because she was talking about so many topics. Activism, capitalism, globalization, (not my) president, Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), Israel-Palestine conflict, violence, racism, feminism, challenges to feminism, gun laws, etc. In my mind I was thinking, how am I going to tie all these issues together and explain them in one little blog post?

Her point was, all these concepts are connected. They are linked together and you cannot try to change one concept or discuss one concept without taking others into consideration. She explained the link between slavery and capitalism and the link between slavery and the prison industrial complex. Essentially, the prison system is grounded in institutional slavery and the PIC is rooted in capitalism (Gordon, 1999) (Brewer & Heitzeg, 2008). These links, to me, are pretty well understood. Although complex issues and many students have spent entire semesters writing their thesis on them, try talking to any student on a small liberal arts college campus and they will gladly give you the gist of it. Or if you are seeking some entertainment, try watching 13th on Netflix. But what people do not always understand is that what is negatively effecting the most marginalized people is also negatively effecting the majority as well. Davis gave the example of how when people lost their jobs in the 1980s, certain communities were primed as fuel for the PIC. Other communities that were not targeted by racism also suffered, but suffered more in silence (the drug epidemic). The white majority’s economic suffering is directly linked to black and LatinX suffering.

She also discussed how the issues that are happening on the micro scale have an enormous effect on the macro scale. For example, sexual harassment and intimate violence (micro) is connected to institutional violence (macro). Another example is that racism is not just about individuals’ perspectives (micro), but it is embedded in our institutions and policies (macro). The point (my point and Dr. Davis’s) is that we are all interconnected, and so are all of our issues (on the micro and macro level). If we fail to recognize the little problems, we will fail to fix the bigger problems. Every issue has a connection to another issue and all of these little issues are what contribute to larger issues as a whole. There is no way we can solve the world’s largest problems if we do not pay attention to the smallest problems. Davis pointed out how issues that appear to be minor often have major implications. A person being harassed in the work place has everything to do with violence on a grand scale. So let us focus on these smaller problems and come up with solutions to them so the change that takes place, in the workplace for example, can spill over to make changes in our institutions as a whole.

Where Davis was coming from was through the concept of intersectionality. The term ‘intersectionality’ was first introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw’s (1989) in her article “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” Intersectionality is about how we all have different and multiple identities that make up who we are and have influence on how we experience the world and social justice struggles (Smith, 2013) (Lyke, 2010) (Yuval-Davis, 2006) (Cho, Crenshaw & McCall, 2013). For example: a privileged, white, heterosexual woman may experience oppression through her gender. A LatinX, heterosexual woman may experience oppression through her gender and race. A black, lesbian woman may experience oppression through her gender, race and sexual orientation. Intersectionality approach allows us to look at the ways in which multiple layers of identities intersect and oppress individuals. The modern feminist movement has adopted this intersectionality approach.

Davis explained how the feminist movement today is much different than the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s. Davis stated that “we must lift in order to rise.” The feminist movement of the 60s/70s was more in support of the white bourgeoisie and tended to ignore marginalized women. Women of color, trans women, poor women, to list a few. But today’s feminist movement has begun to be more inclusive of “lifting” all women (although, it is not perfect and there is still much more work to do). Davis stated to the audience, just because one women breaks the glass ceiling does not mean that all women have broken the glass ceiling. But if women want to rise and see the success of the feminist movement, we must lift all women. If you leave behind people who are in a movement, that movement will not succeed. This concept of lifting in order to rise can be applied to any struggle or movement.

The main point of Davis’ speech was, for us to “lift in order to rise,” we must understand the deep connections that link all of the struggles together through the lens of intersectionality. Her speech challenged me to not only stand for a cause, but to make change in our institutions. It is not enough to just have an opinion and it is not enough to just want to make all people feel included. Davis explained that historically we tend to assume that anti-racist goals or anti-sexist goals, for example, are about being accepted into institutions that have previously marginalized individuals who do not fit in. While diversity and inclusion are important, this does not completely correlate with justice. Just because an institution begins to include those who are marginalized does not mean that the society is no longer racist or is less patriarchal. We have to not only stand for a cause, but we must make changes to institutions for justice to occur.


Work cited

Brewer, R.M & Heitzeg, N.A. (2008). The racialization of crime and punishment: criminal justice, color-blind racism, and the political economy of the prison industrial complex. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(5), pp. 625-644.

Cho, S., Crenshaw, K. W. & McCall, L. (2013). Toward a field of intersectionality studies: theory, applications, and praxis. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 38(4), pp. 785-810.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1(8), pp. 139-167.

Gordon, A.F. (Globalism and the prison industrial complex: an interview with Angela Davis. Race & Class, 40(2/3), pp. 145-157.

Lykke, N. (2010). Feminist studies: a guide to intersectional theory, methodology and writing. New York, NY: Routledge.

Smith, S. (2014). Black feminism and intersectionality. International Socialist Review. Issue 91.

Yuval-Davis, N. (2006). Intersectionality and feminist politics. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(3), pp. 193-209.

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