Davis Redux

May 23rd, 2008

In his account of Angela Davis's Martin Luther King Jr. lecture, Lawrence Goodman drastically reduces Davis's thinking to "her Marxist roots," a "1960s radical and one-time FBI fugitive" whose only notable contribution to U.S. political culture was to run for vice president on the Communist Party ticket in the early 1980s ("Today's Racists," Elms, March/April). In fact, her dozens of publications have definitively transformed the fields of critical race theory, feminist theory, and the relationship of incarceration to U.S. democracy

Similarly, Davis's critique of the relationship between contemporary modalities of racism and neoliberalism—articulated with complexity and precision in several of her recent books—is, in Goodman's telling, drained of its critical edge. Chalking up her analysis to "anger" alone lazily reproduces old racist tropes, with black women and black radicalism marginalized for their affective taint. That professor of economics Glenn Loury is treated to such an evocative, subtle, and sympathetic narrative in the very same issue—and whose work arguably requires that of Davis for its critical purchase—merely underscores the disturbing qualities of Goodman's piece.

Davis's lasting commitment to thinking through the ways in which racial slavery imbues the contemporary landscape would, it seems to me, be more accurately represented by an institution like Brown. To whom exactly, then, is Goodman's title referring?

Keith Feldman '00
Seattle, Wash.


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May/June 2008