“Gender cannot be separated from race and class, we need to address the systemic causes of exploitation!”
“Gender cannot be separated from race and class, we need to address the systemic causes of exploitation!”
Angela Y. Davis, north American political activist and emeritus professor of the University of California Santa Cruz, was invested doctor honoris causa by UPF on 9 March, in a ceremony presided over by UPF rector, Jaume Casals, which could be followed live on streaming. Ms. Davis’s patron was Elena Larrauri, and the laudatio was given by Tània Verge and Linda G. Jones, full professor and professor, respectively, of the departments of Political and Social Sciences and of Humanities.
Angela Y. Davis, American political activist and emeritus professor of the University of California Santa Cruz, was invested doctor honoris causa by UPF, in a ceremony that was followed by over 500 people on streaming via the University website, also broadcast on social networks with the hashtag #DavisHonorisUPF.
The academic ceremony, which was held in the auditorium of Ciutadella campus at 7 pm on 9 March, was held online and was presided over and chaired by UPF rector Jaume Casals. Accompanying him were Tània Verge and Linda G. Jones, full professor and professor, respectively, of the UPF departments of Political and Social Sciences and of Humanities, who gave the laudatio, and Elena Larrauri, full professor of Criminology at the Department of Law, who was Angela Y. Davis’s patron.
UPF showed its recognition of her extensive academic and intellectual career including valuable analysis of the relationship between gender, race and social class, and her active militancy in defence of civil rights, justice, equality and freedom of individuals.
The political activist, who could be seen throughout the proceedings on a large screen installed in the auditorium, was at her home in the city of Oakland, California (USA).
Thus, UPF showed its recognition of her extensive academic and intellectual career including valuable analysis of the relationship between gender, race and social class, and her active militancy in defence of civil rights, justice, equality and freedom of individuals.
She is the seventeenth person to be made honoris causa by UPF, since the first recognition of Desmond Tutu (1999-2000) until the last, received by Gonzalo Pontón (2019-2020 academic year), and the fourth woman, after Maria João Pires (2018-2019).
The event, whose production involved students on the University’s bachelor’s degree in Audiovisual Communication, included a performance by the UPF Theatre Workshop, with the accompaniment of Sa Nau Dansa and Mariona Ferrer playing cello, with an excerpt from the piece “Angela i els vuit mil policies”, by Maria Aurèlia Capmany, and a performance by “The Sey Sisters”.
- Welcome by the rector and reasoning for the granting of the title of honorary doctor
- Laudatio by Linda G. Jones and Tània Verge Mestre
- Performance of “Angela i els vuit mil policies”
- Investiture of the doctorand
- Acceptance speech by Angela Y. Davis
- Performance of “Believe” by The Sey Sisters
- Speech by the rector, Jaume Casals
- Performance of “Gaudeamus Igitur” by the UPF Choir
- Photo album of the ceremony
- Brief biography of Angela Y. Davis, A fighter for human rights and against racial discrimination
- The main works by Angela Y. Davis
The rector, Jaume Casals, speaking from an auditorium on the Ciutadella campus without an audience, opened the ceremony by reminding all that it had been necessary to adapt to the circumstances imposed by the public health situation. First, he mentioned the dual recognition by the University of Angela Y. Davis: on the one hand, for the impact of her academic output, with an inclusive analysis of issues of gender, race and social class, and on the other, her active militancy in defence of civil rights, justice, equality and the freedom of individuals.
The rector highlighted some of the areas and goals around which Angela Y. Davis bases her work: to achieve a fairer, more habitable planet, to be active agents for social change, the raising of collective awareness, the use of the context for transformation, academia as a place to combat political injustice, the fullness of feminism and of women’s contributions, and the liberation of minds and societies to enable such change.
The laudatio was delivered from the auditorium by Linda G. Jones, a professor of the Department of Humanities, and Tània Verge Mestre, a full professor of the Department of Political and Social Sciences. During their speech they made an extensive review of the career and works of Angela Y. Davis.
Laudatio of Angela Y. Davis as doctor honoris causa, by Linda G. Jones and Tània Verge Mestre (pdf)
Excerpts from the laudatio speech
The increase during the 1960s of terrorist attacks by white supremacists against black activists prompted professor Davis to return to the US to continue her doctoral studies at the University of California San Diego, under the supervision of the leftist German philosopher Herbert Marcuse.
The masculinist views of the SNCC and the BPP drove her to leave these groups and inspired her to develop one of her most original and powerful arguments: that the struggle for gender justice need not be sublimated to the general goal of social justice.
Professor Davis furthered the understanding of the indissoluble connection between the struggles for civil rights against racist oppression of the African-American people and the international communist labour movements against capitalism and imperialism.
One of professor Davis’s most significant intellectual contributions is how she has systematically integrated gender, class and race into her academic analyses.
Dr. Davis combined in-depth analysis of specific issues such as black female empowerment and the impact of structural racism on African-American women’s health and physical integrity with a global perspective on the interconnectivity of international feminist struggles of women in South Africa, Kenya and Egypt and elsewhere.
Her subsequent research on prison abolition further demonstrates that the repressive regimes of slavery and what she has dubbed the “prison industrial complex” cannot be fully understand, much less fully dismantled, unless gender, class and race are taken into consideration.
Professor Davis first described the genealogy that directly links the modern American prison system to the legacy of slavery in her Lectures on Liberation and her important essay, From the Prison of Slavery to the Slavery of Prison: Frederick Douglas and the Convict Lease System.
She has increasingly adopted a global perspective by highlighting parallels between the experiences of black people, Latin Americans and Native Americans of systemic racism and the oppression faced by minoritized populations across the globe, from South African apartheid to the second-class status of Algerians in France.
Professor Davis has lived up to one of her most notorious and inspiring statements: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept”.
This requires a commitment to using knowledge in a transformative way to make the world a better place. In her own words, “knowledge does not exist in a dimension of its own, but rather it can be active. It can be practical”, that is, it can be acted upon.
Professor Davis calls upon universities to expose students to critical habits of perception, analysis and imagination of a world without racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, transphobia, war, political persecution of dissidence, or violence against women in the public and in the private spheres. As she so brilliantly puts it, “we have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society”.
We must review the curriculum to provide knowledge about systemic racism and sexism, about white and male privilege, about Eurocentrism and about how economic injustice sustains racial and gender injustice.
Following the laudatio speech came one of the more artistic, symbolic parts of the ceremony. The performance of an excerpt of “Angela i els vuit mil policies”, by Maria Aurèlia Capmany, by members of the University Theatre Workshop, in an abridged version arranged by Pep Anton Gómez, director of the Workshop
In the performance, the UPF actors recited various parts of the text, accompanied simultaneously by the developments, above and below the seats of the auditorium of Ciutadella campus, of Sa Nau Dansa and Mariona Ferrer on cello, in a fusion of the myth of Antigone with the biography of Angela Y. Davis.
The most solemn moment of the ceremony was the investiture of Angela Y. Davis as doctor honoris causa: “You have been appointed doctor honoris causa by the UPF Board of Governors in recognition of your significant merits. By virtue of the authority conferred in me, I award you this medal, a symbol of this title, and the diploma”, said the rector.
Then, Jaume Casals asked Angela Y. Davis wear her honoris causa medal, which she had previously been sent. Donning her medal, and symbolically, the rector sent her a fraternal embrace signalling her becoming a member of the University’s Senate of doctors, and giving a round of applause as a sign of recognition by the entire university community.
Angela Y. Davis gave a forceful acceptance speech with a clear, general idea: we must appeal to the social conscience so that the world we live in can be better, more just and more habitable for everyone. She pointed out that the distinction granted to her individually is not synonymous of an individual task, but it is the recognition of a collective work by many people. And, just as she has upheld for many years, she endorsed intersectional feminism as a means to change the world, with a strong connection to activism for civil rights and social justice.
Acceptance speech by Angela Y. Davis (pdf. format)
Excerpts from the speech
Even though I am the individual recipient, the work that has led you to designate me as being worthy of this high honour has never been the work of a lone individual.
I also thank you for organizing this beautiful ceremony under the very difficult conditions of a global pandemic and a time when you in Catalonia continue your own struggles for justice and equality.
I acknowledge the current historical conjuncture as one of great pain and suffering throughout the world, but at the same time this is also a moment of hope and optimism for the future. I refer to the emerging collective consciousness, of the fact that we in the contemporary world, we who constitute the human population cohabiting this planet along with other animal species, are called upon to prevent the conflagration that is inevitable if we do not discover ways of transforming our manner of living on this planet.
For the first time in human history, vast numbers of people in many parts of the world are seriously reflecting on the structural consequences of colonialism and slavery.
This is a moment of intense suffering not only because of the direct consequences of the covid-19 virus but because the planet is afflicted with this virus at a peak moment of capitalism at a time when the planet’s wealth has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of relatively few people.
And at a time when human institutions that should be devoted to the wellbeing of humans, other animals and indeed of the earth are subordinated to the needs of capital. Therefore, our health crisis here in the US is a crisis produced by the privatization of healthcare.
And to the fact that empty hospital beds are deemed unprofitable by the global capitalist corporations that now dispense medical care.
Our history continues to be haunted by slavery: at virtually every historical juncture when we have collectively considered issues of justice and democracy the question of slavery has arisen.
European countries relied on the wealth produced by the slave trade and they benefited from the racial capitalism that was forged at the intersection of colonial invasions, indigenous genocide and the enslavement of Africans.
The mainstream, white feminist movement in the US has its historical origins in the movement to abolish slavery; many white suffragettes in the 19th century understood their own predicament by comparing the English common law doctrine of couverture that made married women entirely subject to the power of their husbands to the institution of slavery.
Today, when we acknowledge that black lives matter, we are not simply saying that black people deserve justice, equality and freedom. We are pointing out that the positionality of black people in US society is one of the best measures of the meaning of democracy.
Our current efforts to identify and to begin to dismantle structural racism in policing, in prisons, in the healthcare system, in education, in jobs, in housing is a collective effort to ameliorate our society, to break down impediments to democracy.
The history of both prisons and the police has always been the history of efforts to reform prisons and the history of efforts to reform the police.
We would have to be critical of the way in which middle-class white women have come to stand in for all survivors of violence.
Feminist activism must not be afraid to acknowledge its interdisciplinarity, not only academic interdisciplinarity but a movement-based interdisciplinarity.
Following her acceptance speech, Angela Y. Davis enjoyed the live performance from the auditorium of the song “Believe”, performed by The Sey Sisters, Edna Yolanda and Kathy, and the pianist Albert Bartholomé. This piece, which is taken from their album “Rise”, urges having faith, hope, and believing that we can do things better by understanding the situations that have yet to change.
Excerpts from the speech
The subjects studied by Dr. Davis, have been beautifully described in the laudatio by doctors Verge and Jones, and the personality of their author have an effect on me that is not new to me, but it is not common. Without wishing to trivialize it, I would say it is a zoom effect.
In the refined terms of Walter Benjamin: “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism”.
The work of thought and commitment we have before us is proof that the punches were the same, and the heroic struggle against slavery is still somehow here among us in our everyday life.
Dr. Davis calls us to understand that the knowledge of history, be it distant or most recent, belongs to a requirement of a correct knowledge of the present. She literally calls us into the knowledge of history, by proving the movement by walking.
Angela Y. Davis, a graduate of French Studies from Brandeis University (Massachusetts) and of Philosophy from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe (Frankfurt), she has devoted much of her life to defending human rights, feminism, and to combating racial discrimination. Currently, at the age of 76, she is an emeritus professor at the University of California Santa Cruz and continues to fight strongly for her principles, spreading them around the world.
Her childhood was marked by the Jim Crow laws that deprived African Americans of civil rights and imposed racial segregation in public places such as schools and public transport, in the southern United States. From a young age, she witnessed discrimination in the neighbourhood where she lived, called Dynamite Hill (Birmingham, Alabama), due to the large number of African-American families that were dynamited by the Ku Klux Klan.
The daughter of an activist family, she became rapidly involved in movements against social segregation, class oppression and the patriarchy. At university, she immersed herself in the principles of the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, and especially the idea that the individual has the right to rebel against the system.
Davis was a full professor of Philosophy at the University of California, in Los Angeles, until 1970, when she was removed for belonging to the Communist Party. Among other organizations, she has been a member of the Black Panthers, a party that fought for the civil rights of the black population.
In 2006, she received the Thomas Merton Award in recognition of her fight for justice in the United States and around the world.