Community & Government

Consider the Humanity of the Enslaved

Black Liberation Movement icon Angela Davis speaks to the importance of thinking about enslaved people as people much like us—and not objectifying them strictly as victims of a violent, inhumane economic system.

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Topics include: Consider the Humanity of the Enslaved

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] ANGELA DAVIS: I'm Angela Davis. I've been a University professor for many years. I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. I was actually reared under conditions of absolute segregation and I think my political consciousness came largely from my parents and specifically from my mother, who was a major activist before I was born and during the time I was very young. I do remember thinking about slavery a great deal, even though at that particular time there was not a great deal of material. I remember looking at my grandmother, who I thought was very old and she was probably younger than I am now, but I imagined her as having a connection to slavery because I had seen images of Black people who were enslaved and they reminded me of my grandmother. And I'd often ask her about slavery. Of course, she had not experienced slavery herself, but she was the daughter of slaves and that was the topic she did not want to talk about. There was an absolute reticence on her part and I discovered that to be the case among many older Black people. It was almost as if bringing up the topic of slavery would have the magical effect of bringing slavery back and that's something I'll never forget. But it made me want to know more about the nature of slavery. And as soon as I was capable of reading the materials that did exist at that time, I did. (SINGING) No soul, no site, nobody to wash my clothes. Nobody to wash my clothes. - Oftentimes it is assumed that when we evoke slavery we're only talking about violence and repression and the worst forms of oppression inflicted on Black people. And of course that's true. We all know that that's true. But for a very long time, we imagine slavery without having the capacity to imagine the subjectivities of Black people who were enslaved. The objectification of slaves simply as objects of violence managed to destroy the very possibility of our imagining a people who were enslaved as being just like us, with an interior life that is, of course, historically situated but similar to our own interior lives. Oftentimes what's missing is the resistance and the numerous ways in which Black people managed to create lives and to create beauty and to experience love in the process of fighting this horrendous racist system of slavery. I'm actually often quite critical of films, for example, that assume that if you want to represent slavery you represent the violence, the whippings, the whip, the scars. And that's one part of it, but the most important part of it is the way in which Black people manage to create beauty and love in the very process of fighting this system. And I want to pay tribute to Toni Morrison, who really began to shift the ground in writing about "Beloved," of course. We get to participate in the processes of thinking and feeling and loving and hating and we'd never had access to that kind of material on slavery. And I think it's ...

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From critical race theory to the 1619 Project, Black intellectuals are reshaping conversations on race in America. Now seven of those preeminent voices share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future. Gain a foundational understanding of the history of white supremacy and discover a path forward through the limitless capacity and resilience of Black love.

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Angela Davis, Cornel West, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, and John McWhorter

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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