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Angela Davis: Toppling of Confederate Statues Reflects Reckoning with Slavery & Historical Racism

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The destruction and removal of racist monuments in cities across the United States during recent weeks is part of an overdue reckoning with “historical racisms that have brought us to the point where we are today,” Angela Davis says. “Racism should have been immediately confronted in the aftermath of the end of slavery.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Angela Davis, about the monuments to racists, colonizers, Confederates, that are continuing to fall across the United States and around the world. In St. Paul, Minnesota, Wednesday, activists with the American Indian Movement tied a rope around a statue of Christopher Columbus and pulled it from its pedestal on the state Capitol grounds. The AIM members then held a ceremony over the fallen monument. In Massachusetts, officials said they’ll remove a Columbus statue from a park in Boston’s North End, after it was beheaded by protesters early Wednesday morning. In Richmond, Virginia, protesters toppled a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from Monument Avenue Wednesday night. In the nearby city of Portsmouth, protesters used sledgehammers to destroy a monument to Confederate soldiers. One person sustained a serious injury, was hospitalized after a statue fell on his head. In Washington, D.C., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined other lawmakers demanding the removal of 11 Confederate statues from the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol.

Meanwhile, President Trump said he will “not even consider” renaming U.S. Army bases named after Confederate military officers. There are 10 such bases, all of them in Southern states. Trump tweeted Wednesday, “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” unquote. Trump’s tweet contradicted Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mark Milley, who suggested they’re open to discussion about renaming the bases. And a Republican committee in the Senate just voted to rename these bases, like Benning and Bragg and Hood, that are named for Confederate leaders.

Meanwhile, in your hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, Angela, comedian Jermaine Johnson is pleading not guilty to charges of “inciting a riot” after he urged protesters at May 31st rally to march on a statue of Charles Linn, a former officer in the Confederate Navy.

Did you think you would ever see this? You think about Bree Newsome after the horror at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, who shimmied up that flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina Legislature and took down the Confederate flag, and they put it right on back up. What about what we’re seeing today?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, of course, Bree Newsome was a wonderful pioneer. And I think it’s important to link this trend to the campaign in South Africa, Rhodes Must Fall. And, of course, I think this reflects the extent to which we are being called upon to deeply reflect on the role of historical racisms that have brought us to the point where we are today.

You know, racism should have been immediately confronted in the aftermath of the end of slavery. This is what Dr. Du Bois’s analysis was all about, not so much in terms of, “Well, what we were going to do about these poor people who have been enslaved so many generations?” but, rather, “How can we reorganize our society in order to guarantee the incorporation of previously enslaved people?”

Now attention is being turned towards the symbols of slavery, the symbols of colonialism. And, of course, any campaigns against racism in this country have to address, in the very first place, the conditions of Indigenous people. I think it’s important that we’re seeing these demonstrations, but I think at the same time we have to recognize that we cannot simply get rid of the history. We have to recognize the devastatingly negative role that that history has played in charting the trajectory of the United States of America. And so, I think that these assaults on statues represent an attempt to begin to think through what we have to do to bring down institutions and reenvision them, reorganize them, create new institutions that can attend to the needs of all people.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think should be done with statues, for example, to, oh, slaveholding Founding Fathers, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, you know, museums can play an important educational role. And I don’t think we should get rid of all of the vestiges of the past, but we need to figure out context within which people can understand the nature of U.S. history and the role that racism and capitalism and heteropatriarchy have played in forging that history.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about racism and capitalism? You often write and speak about how they are intimately connected. And talk about a world that you envision.

ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah, racism is integrally linked to capitalism. And I think it’s a mistake to assume that we can combat racism by leaving capitalism in place. As Cedric Robinson pointed out in his book Black Marxism, capitalism is racial capitalism. And, of course, to just say for a moment, that Marx pointed out that what he called primitive accumulation, capital doesn’t just appear from nowhere. The original capital was provided by the labor of slaves. The Industrial Revolution, which pivoted around the production of capital, was enabled by slave labor in the U.S. So, I am convinced that the ultimate eradication of racism is going to require us to move toward a more socialist organization of our economies, of our other institutions. I think we have a long way to go before we can begin to talk about an economic system that is not based on exploitation and on the super-exploitation of Black people, Latinx people and other racialized populations.

But I do think that we now have the conceptual means to engage in discussions, popular discussions, about capitalism. Occupy gave us new language. The notion of the prison-industrial complex requires us to understand the globalization of capitalism. Anti-capitalist consciousness helps us to understand the predicament of immigrants, who are barred from the U.S. by the wall that has been created by the current occupant. These conditions have been created by global capitalism. And I think this is a period during which we need to begin that process of popular education, which will allow people to understand the interconnections of racism, heteropatriarchy, capitalism.

AMY GOODMAN: Angela, do you think we need a truth and reconciliation commission here in this country?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, that might be one way to begin, but I know we’re going to need a lot more than truth and reconciliation. But certainly we need truth. I’m not sure how soon reconciliation is going to emerge. But I think that the whole notion of truth and reconciliation allows us to think differently about the criminal legal system. It allows us to imagine a form of justice that is not based on revenge, a form of justice that is not retributive. So I think that those ideas can help us begin to imagine new ways of structuring our institutions, such as — well, not structuring the prison, because the whole point is that we have to abolish that institution in order to begin to envision new ways of addressing the conditions that lead to mass incarceration, that lead to such horrendous tragedies as the murder of George Floyd.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to come back to this discussion and also talk about President Trump going to Tulsa on Juneteenth. We’re speaking with Angela Davis, the world-renowned abolitionist, author, activist and professor emerita at University of California, Santa Cruz, author of many books, including Freedom Is a Constant Struggle. Stay with us.

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Angela Davis Slams Trump Rally in Tulsa, Massacre Site, on Juneteenth Celebration of End of Slavery

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