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Angela Davis Now : On a Quiet Street in Oakland, the Former Radical Activist Has Settled In but Not Settled Down

March 08, 1989|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

In the book, she condemns the contemporary women's movement for its "exclusionary policies," its failure to address the concerns of women of color and poor women. And she suggests that its emphasis on the nouveau poor--middle class women separated or divorced--smacks of racism. Since slavery, Davis says, black women have been "painfully aware" of economic deprivation.

Case of Welfare Mothers

She debunks as "myth" the idea that "welfare mothers squander taxpayers' hard-earned money on Cadillacs and fur coats," noting that the average monthly payment is $111. And she asks, "Would the withdrawal of welfare payments resurrect dead fathers, annul divorces or cause unemployed husbands to return to their wives and children?"

And she emphasizes that "black teen-age girls do not create poverty by having children" but rather become young mothers "precisely because they are poor" and without access to education, good jobs, creative recreation--and contraception.

Noting the absence of women of color in numbers in the abortion rights movement--a movement that she supports wholeheartedly--Davis points out that banning federal funding for abortions has effectively denied them to poor women while, at the same time, most federally funded involuntary sterilizations are performed on poor women and women of color. During the interview, Davis speaks of a resurgence of racism in America, citing among other incidents the Bernhard Goetz case. (Goetz, a white man, shot four black youths in a New York subway in December, 1984, after one of them approached him for $5. Goetz, who said he feared they planned to rob him, is serving a one-year sentence for illegal possession of a gun.)

And she mentions David Duke, the one-time Ku Klux Klan wizard recently elected as a Republican to the Louisiana legislature. "A metaphor for the trend," she notes.

Both of these things were possible, she believes, because the Reagan Administration "created a climate" that legitimatized racism.

By contrast, Davis points out, many white people supported the candidacy of Jesse Jackson. She mentions citizen groups that have formed to protest racist incidents in their communities and she concludes that "decades of attempting to bring about racial equality have had their effect. Now I think we can say that there is a distinct anti-racist majority in this country for the first time."

Racial Violence

What is needed today, she believes, is legislation to make racial violence a specific crime, with specified punishment, so it cannot be dismissed under such guises as malicious mischief.

When Davis talks about priorities, health issues, both personal and political, are among them. She has kicked a four-pack-a-day cigarette habit, and become a vegetarian and a dedicated runner.

As an activist, she thinks it is "really important to challenge this surrogacy for profit movement" (seven states have made surrogacy-for-pay illegal). Not only does it invite exploitation of Third World women, she says, but with embryo transplants a possibility in the near future, women of means may opt to avoid the inconvenience of pregnancy by hiring poor women and women of color to carry their babies. "And that," Davis says, "to me reeks of slavery."

She is concerned too that new reproductive technologies that offer hope to infertile women are being pushed on women to a degree that "it imposes on them a motherhood compulsion. For centuries we have been challenging this definition of womanhood as synonymous with motherhood . . . now, as apparent progress is being made . . . there's a notion that a woman has to do everything that is available in order to try to be a mother."

Fight Against Social Ills

Davis talks about money to fight AIDS, money for socialized child care, money to create jobs and money for education--and she thinks "there should be additional taxes" to pay for these--equitable taxes on corporations, combined with cutbacks in the military budget.

She has also proposed industrialization of housework, "teams of trained and well-paid workers, moving from dwelling to dwelling" with high-tech equipment, eliminating the need for wives or husbands to do housework, a task she considers "oppressive."

In the past, she has spoken glowingly of the Soviet Union, which in 1979 bestowed on her the Lenin Peace Prize. Is that same Soviet Union now edging toward capitalism?

Visit to Soviet Union

No, Davis says, "they are making some very important and much needed structural changes . . . I find it very exciting."

On a recent visit to the Soviet Union, Davis was impressed by the "enthusiasm" of the man on the street for glasnost. "Of course, there is some confusion," she says, some feeling of abandonment, but "there is more a sense of relief than confusion."

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