SVSU hosted Angela Davis as a speaker for Black History Month, per students’ requests.
The series was arranged by the Organization of Black Unity, Diversity Programs, the Office of Multicultural Services and Student Affairs.
Davis, a political activist, presented to the SVSU community on Feb. 18.
“My advice, if I ever have advice to offer, is that you never set out to do what you want to do alone,” Davis said. “The struggle is much larger than any of us can imagine it to be.”
Mamie Thorns, the special assistant to SVSU President Don Bachand and one of the event’s organizers, explained the importance of sharing Black history.
“Black history is American history, and a lot of times it is hidden, or only certain sections are shared,” Thorns said. “(This month) is also an opportunity to understand Black histories, going beyond stories of racism and slavery to spotlight the amazing achievement by Black Americans.”
Davis focused on the struggle against systemic racism. She suggested that white people need to be more than just allies against racism.
“I think allyship is important … because it allows white people to recognize the important role that they have to play in these struggles against systemic racism,” she said. “The reason I’m a little critical is because it somehow assumes that the real work is being done by the people of color and that white people have a marginal role to play. I want us to develop the kinds of arguments that can persuade White people that it is as much in their interest to bring down structural racism as it is in (the interest of people of color).”
Davis said the power white people have puts them in a position to stand against racism.
“White people have the kind of legacy that can either be a productive legacy or a destructive legacy,” she said. “I think it’s important for White people to choose the legacies [of those] who have been involved in the struggle against racism. The struggle against white supremacy is one that (white people) have to take on as productive in their own futures as well.”
Davis said she takes issue with terms such as “diversity.”
“The whole notion of diversity is problematic,” she said. “Not that we don’t want diverse institutions, not that we don’t want diversity in our classrooms. But diversity has become a type of watchword for those who are trying to find quick solutions to a problem that’s really complicated.”
She explained that the movement toward “diversity” is not enough to fix the root problem.
“One of the reasons why I think deeply about the meaning of that term is because it can infer that you simply want to bring more diverse faculty, more diverse students, more diverse staff into an institution that remains exactly the same as when it excluded people,” she said. “If that’s the case, you are asking people to participate in a culture that continues to be oppressive at its core.”
Although the struggle against systemic racism is far from over, Davis stressed the importance of acknowledging the progress that has been made.
“Even if systemic racism remains a major issue for us, we have to be able to provide the evidence that engaging in struggle can bring about change,” Davis said. “That all the people who marched, or were killed by the Ku Klux Klan, or did voter registration, that their work did not go in vain. If we could accomplish this, then we ought to be able to accomplish a great deal more.”
SVSU has further events planned for Black History Month, including Black @ SVSU and the Hip Hop Icons exhibit at the Marshall M. Fredericks Museum.
“Celebrating Black History Month should not end in February,” Thorns said. “Learning about Black history should be a continual effort. Thank you to our amazing students and sponsors for making this event come to life.”