Angela Y. Davis, honorary doctorate by the UPF: "Gender cannot be separated from race and class, we need to address the systemic causes of exploitation!"
After an atypical 8th of March, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra has awarded an honorary doctorate to Angela Y. Davis, professor emeritus of the University of California Santa Cruz and North American activist. The investiture ceremony, telematically held between Barcelona and Los Angeles, took place on the day that the trial for the murder of George Floyd by the US police began. A threefold coincidence that makes it clear that Davis' thesis and her defendance of an intersectional feminism as an agent of both social change and the movement for civil and social rights are more necessary than ever. "Gender cannot be separated from race and class, we need to address the systemic causes of exploitation!", she said.
"For the first time in human history, large groups of people around the world are seriously thinking about the structural consequences of colonialism and slavery", Davis declared during her acceptance speech. A situation that causes "great pain and suffering in the world", but which also represents a "moment of hope and optimism for the future", as a collective conscience is "emerging in defence of freedom, of caring for the planet and of a kinder world for all".
"For first time in human history, large groups of people around the world are seriously thinking about the structural consequences of colonialism and slavery. It is a moment of hope and optimism for the future as a collective conscience is emerging in defence of freedom"
This statement was made in front of an auditorium on the Ciutadella campus without an audience due to the security measures for COVID-19, but with the presence of the Rector of the UPF, Jaume Casals, as well as Professor Linda G. Jones and Full-Professor Tània Verge, who were reading the 'laudatio' of the new honorary doctor, and with more than 500 people following the ceremony remotely. During the manifesto reading, both professors highlighted Davis' academic contributions and activism which, in Verge's words, "constitute a powerful legacy that of dismantling the false dichotomy between theroy and praxis; a legacy that continues to inspire many of us both within and outside academia". "Davis literally calls us into the knowledge of history, by proving the movement by walking", said the Rector. The event was enlivened by the performance of The Sey Sisters and the play "Angela y los ocho mil policias", by M.A. Campany, performed by the Aula de Teatre and Sa Nau Dansa with the interpretation of "Allemande" from Suite 1 for cello by Johann Sebastian Bach by Mariona Ferrer.
A trajectory of intersectional and radical struggle
With this honorary doctorate, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra wishes to give a double recognition to Angela Y. Davis. On the one hand, because of the worldwide impact of her work and, on the other hand, for her active militancy in defence of civil rights, justice, equality and freedom. In her foundational text, Women, race and class (1981), the American activist exposed the paradox that mainstream feminism could make racialised women invisible. This idea was also taken up during her acceptance speech, in which she called for "an evolution of the mainstream (white, liberal) feminism towards an activism that is not afraid of academic interdisciplinary, nor as movement". In short, a feminism that "is not afraid of gender, class, race or the environment" and that recognises the interrelationship between these struggles.
According to Jones and Verge, one of the most significant intellectual contributions of Professor Davis is the way she has systematically integrated gender, class and race into her academic analyses"
One of her most significant intellectual contributions, Professor Jones said, is the way she "has systematically integrated gender, class and race into her academic analyses". This is something that Verge emphasised by recalling that 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".
Davis, who was born 77 years ago in a Birmingham, Alabama, neighbourhood known as "Dynamite Hill" because of the number of attacks perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, has criticised the patronising paternalism with which we acclaim "Black Lives Matter". "When we say that black lives matter, we are not saying that black people need equality and freedom. It is a collective bid to improve our society, for everyone. It is a radical race for a better democracy", she said. "It is a mistake to believe that black struggles only affect people of colour". From the Black Panthers to the Black Lives Matter movement, the activist struggled to denounces structural racism within institutions, police forces and prisons, positioning herself as one of the strongest supporters of the abolition of prison systems.
As the autor of books such as Women, race and class (1981), Women, culture & politics (1990) or Blues Legacies and Black Feminism (1999), Davis is the seventeenth person to receive an honorary doctorate from the UPF, since the first award in 1999-2000 to Desmond Tutu, and the fourth women after Maria João Pires, during the 2018-2019 academic year.