Photo courtesy of J.E. Meyers
Last night, Professor Emerita Angela Y. Davis spoke to an overflow crowd at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her hour and a half presentation, organized by Dr. Michael V. Williams, Director of African American Studies, was thought-provoking, engaging, humorous, and profound. As I took notes on my cell phone, I thought of the many blog posts that could come from her comments. I woke up thinking about one thing she said, however: Universality can come from below.
Dr. Davis spoke of the ways in which white and male are seen as universal and recalled challenge to this by the groundbreaking 1982 book, All Women are White and All Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. Before we knew the word "intersectionality," we lived it, as women, as lesbians, as people of color, as poor people, as immigrants. I remember in the 1970s carrying a sign at a gay pride march in Austin where I had written simply "We are not all white." I doubt many of the participants paid much attention to my homemade statement but as a 20 year-old trying to figure out how to not just live but politically organize a life of intersectionality, it was something I felt I had to state. We are not all white.
What Professor Davis said last night challenges us to take it even further than the "We are not all fill in the blank" of my youth. To understand that universality can come from below is to understand who we are rather than who we are not. To understand that universality can come from below is to uncover the connections among us that link us across our limited identities of members of nation-states and that transcend borders. To know that universality can come from below is to see ourselves in others. It is to honor our ancestors and to take all actions with the generations to come in mind.
I would love to hear your thoughts on universality from below. What do you think? Do you have examples? Does the concept of universality benefit us? I hope to hear from you!
2000 people went to hear Angela Davis at UTEP. This is the crowd waiting for her to appear an hour before the talk.