While catching up on my podcasts, I had a chance to listen to Tavis Smiley’s interview with Angela Davis. I immediately recalled my brief encounter with Ms Davis.
She was making a speech on the industrial prison complex at UC Riverside, and my step-father — who knew knew her in her fugitive days — took the opportunity to introduce me to a woman he considered a great advocate for human rights. At the reception after the speech, I was able to ask her a question about being mistreated by a teacher, a teacher I believed to be racist.
Even though the answer to the question altered my view of Davis for years to come, the answer itself was not important. I had this expectation — this idea of a great revolutionary leader — and that idea had been shattered. Not by any fault of Ms Davis’, of course, it was my own naivety and an incomplete picture of Angela Davis the woman. It wasn’t until I learned to understand that people are multifaceted and evolving beings that I was able to let go of my idea of who Davis was.
When listening to her conversation with Tavis Smiley, I also realized that she too had to come to terms with her own evolution. She talked about her early idea of feminism being something for middle class white women. Eventually, she said, she learned to reconcile the intersection of being a “black woman fighting for freedom” and being a feminist.
“Feminism is a methodology of analysis,” she said. And as such, Davis adds, it is available to everyone. There was this acknowledgement that if you’re really an activist for rights, you have to be accepting and inclusive of all human and civil rights. The movement had to be accepted in totality.
In this way, I was reminded of the ultimate lesson I learned from my experience meeting Davis, a lesson society seems to have forgotten. We are all human; complicated and flawed. Our idiosyncrasies and eccentricities are part of what makes us whole. I was reminded that in order to be whole, we must also let others be whole, even when that person is considered a leader. Quite often it is the wisdom that comes with this wholeness that makes for a great leader.
So today I honor Angela Davis and the wisdom that comes with being human, flawed, complicated and whole.