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So Says

Angela Davis

March 02, 1986|LEROY WOODSON JR. | LeRoy Woodson Jr. is a Long Beach writer / photographer

Angela Davis, 42, is a feminist, author and perennial vice presidential candidate on the Communist Party U.S.A. ticket. She first drew world attention when the Free Angela campaign emerged after her arrest for murder in connection with a 1970 shoot-out at the Marin County Courthouse. Today she teaches ethics and women's studies at San Francisco State. Q: When "The Color Purple" had its premiere in Los Angeles, various black groups picketed the opening. Have you seen the movie? A: Yes, and I think (director Steven) Spielberg saw "Color Purple" as a vehicle to win his Oscar. Some of the acting was too stereotyped. I don't think there was an attempt to seriously portray some of the male characters. Harpo, for example, was treated as a comic figure. He had no backbone and was totally exploited by his wife. There was a lot more depth to that relationship in the book. Q: In real life, do you think that American black culture, in which 60% of the households are headed by women, is matriarchal? A: I don't think one would call it matriarchal, because matriarchy implies the presence of some kind of political or religious influence. Even though black women may predominate as single heads of households, they don't have the predominate economic influence; they don't have the predominate political influence. Q: They still have influence over the children they raise. A: I think there's too much of a focus on the specific question of the family. Although the family is suffering and the family is in crisis, it is not by intervention in the family that things are going to change. One of the reasons for the high divorce rate (between black men and women) is economics. When neither men nor women can find jobs, it creates a terrible strain on the relationship--especially if the man is unable to find a job. The unemployment rate is soaring for black men. As a matter of fact, as the number of single-parent households involving women has gone up, there's been a corresponding increase in black male unemployment. There's a direct correlation between the two. I don't think we should lose sight of the impact society at large is having on us. I think it's important to place the blame where it belongs. The one issue of unemployment is creating tremendous dysfunction and strain within the family. Q: How can the black family find itself in this culture? Where can it fit in? In what direction should it be headed? A: First of all, we need to devote our attention to the children. Children suffer the most from this crisis. Black children have never had it as bad as they have it today. Black children are twice as likely to have unemployed parents as white children. Between the ages of 14 and 19, a black child is five times as likely to go to prison. I think we need to talk about creating institutions that allow children to develop and flourish. That means developing the educational system. It means free child care and free health care. Black children have marasmus and kwashiorkor in the United States. These are malnutrition diseases that we almost always associate with famine areas. So I believe we have to think about restoring the programs cut by the Reagan Administration just to be able to catch up with ourselves. Q: What are your thoughts on free choice and the abortion issue? A: Women of color--Chicanas, blacks, Puerto Ricans--must have access to abortions. The federal government must provide funds for their care. The Reagan Administration just exacerbates the problem by blocking funding for child-care and contraceptive programs. Q: Are there major differences in the perceptions of white and black women within the feminist movement? A: In the early '70s, many black women felt that the thrust of (the white women within) the movement was distinctly anti-male. We could not go along with this. Black women were more directly concerned with improving economic conditions for all women of color--blacks, native Americans, Chicanas. Q: Should women in the military go into combat? A: It makes no sense for women to go out killing people in combat. We should be working toward peace. Q: How was the United Nations Decade for Women conference last summer in Nairobi? A: It was really a powerful, emotional experience to be among so many women of color from all over the world, and to be in the majority. Q: Which countries best serve their citizens? A: The socialist countries--Cuba, Nicaragua, the Soviet Union. East Germany is the most advanced industrially. Everyone has a job, free health care and a place to live. It is a shock to travel around the major cities of the United States and see the thousands of homeless people. Q: What would you do if you were President of the United States for a month--with a stack of unsigned executive orders on your desk? A: (Laughing) I would guarantee everybody a job, free health care, free education and raise the minimum wage. I would nationalize major industries, like steel and the utilities--the phone companies and gas and electric companies. It's terrible. These companies, driven by profit motive, cut off services to people--the poor and the elderly--who are unable to pay their bills, especially in the winter. I would severely cut the military budget and move toward abolishing the military altogether. Q: What kind of role do you think the Rev. Jesse Jackson will play in the 1988 Democratic convention? A: Well, hopefully he will continue to play a progressive role. Certainly the last Democratic convention will be remembered for the address Jesse Jackson gave. Q: What do you think of Minister Louis Farrakhan , leader of the Nation of Islam ? A: Well, Farrakhan--there's a lot of things he says that I agree with and a lot of things I very vehemently disagree with. He has made anti-Semitic remarks. I'm totally opposed to any expression of anti-Semitism. But at the same time, he makes some important points about Israel. I think that people tend to confuse those who are anti-Zionist or opposed to the policies of Israel with anti-Semitism. There's been a propagandistic effort to create the impression that the one is equivalent to the other. But there are Jews in Israel who demonstrate against the policies of their government, just as we demonstrate against the policies of the U.S. government in this country. What I would say about Farrakhan, basically, is the focus on him has developed largely as part of the effort to discredit Jesse Jackson. If Farrakhan hadn't been used to discredit the Rainbow Coalition campaign, I don't think there would be so much noise being made about him today. Q: Surveys show that the Democratic Party is concerned about losing white men to the Republican Party. It is believed these men feel threatened by women and other minorities who are vying for leadership positions within the Democratic Party. A: White men feeling threatened? So what if some white men are lost, as long as the Democratic Party has the right position on the issues? I think the conservative tendencies within the party that are coming out are really a capitulation to issues rather than questions of whom we're going to lose. These kinds of excuses are being given in order to justify a process of backsliding. Q : Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated? A: I remember it clearly. I was running off posters at SNCC's ( Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee ) office in Los Angeles to protest the killing of a young man by the L.A. cops. After Dr. King's death, the cops wanted to provoke confrontation. They had beaten up another young black man and dropped him off--his head bleeding and bashed in--in front of our offices. Q: How do you like Tom Bradley's chances in the gubernatorial race? A: That's going to be very important, because Bradley should have won last time. Had there been a movement around Bradley such as the forces that united around Jesse Jackson, to bring out the entire black population, Bradley would have won. I don't want to give the impression that I think Bradley's the answer for California, because I have serious problems with some of his positions, the ways he sometimes represents himself, particularly with respect to the police in Los Angeles. This city still has one of the worst police forces in the entire country. I know the police, having worked with the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression on issues relating to police brutality and police crimes. People have been killed. Battering rams have been used to destroy people's houses in the black community. Unfortunately, Bradley is not critical in the way he should be. And, of course, Bradley was a policeman himself, and that tends to turn people off. Q: What are your plans in the future? Are you going to be on the Communist Party's ticket in 1988? A: That remains to be seen. I usually don't make the decision alone. I haven't really seriously considered it. When there is discussion within the party about the election, then I'll begin to think about it.

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