Former Black Panther and Communist party vice-presidential candidate Angela Davis captivated a capacity crowd at the Pratt Institute this week with a message that racism is still as ingrained as ever in the United States.
Five hundred students and faculty members filled Pratt’s Memorial Hall on Tuesday night to hear Davis — who gained notoriety as a fugitive Black Panther in the 1970s accused and acquitted of smuggling guns to a prisoner — deliver the art and design school’s annual Scholar in Residence lecture.
The visiting professor from the University of California–Santa Cruz focused her remarks on racism, arguing that the most-egregious examples of past racism — segregation, slavery — prevent people from recognizing the bigotry that is prevalent in today’s world, as when students hung a noose in a schoolyard tree in Jena, Louisiana last year, or when celebrities like Michael Richards and Don Imus utter racial epithets.
“[People want to believe that] these are personal, private irregularities,” Davis said, but they are actually the result of deeply embedded discrimination — an omnipresent facet of American life that also reveals itself in the disproportionate numbers of minorities who are in jail, uneducated or without health care
“Why is so difficult to name these practices as racist?” Davis wondered.
A trickle of people left the hall during the lecture, but most people sat in rapt attention for two hours and were buzzing with excitement after the event.
“It was amazing,” said Devin Rochford, who attended the lecture because a friend recommended it.
Others were digesting their first serving of Davis on an even keel.
“She’s a well-known figure that I’ve always known a little bit about,” said Julia Cocuzza, who agreed with much of what Davis said. “I was pretty open-minded.”
Former Communist Party leader and Black Panther Angela Davis came to Pratt Institute on Tuesday night. Here’s what she said:
“Why are the presidential candidates reluctant to talk about why we are where we are? Obama would get slightly higher marks than Hillary, but there are some major problems here. … When [President Bush] actually speaks about democracy and freedom, he’s really talking about capitalism. … Dr. [Martin Luther] King is represented as someone who just appeared and waved his wand and the civil rights movement appeared. … [In the 1960s] we were certain the revolution was right around the corner. … Capitalism is very seductive. … Everything is going to be commercialized. Why are we surprised about that?”