“The Indivisibility of Justice” Angela Davis speech at Gallaudet University


The theme of my talk this afternoon comes from Dr. Martin Luther King’s observation that justice is indivisible, and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And as people on this campus have demonstrated through the defense of the rights of deaf people and the forging of a vibrant Deaf Culture, including a Black Deaf Culture, history reveals history reveals the expanding parameters of justice. We cannot make the mistake, which is the formative error of this country, of assuming that democracy can work if it is confined only to a specific group of people. It used to be the case that affluent white, straight, hearing men controlled the destiny of this country.

The Indivisibility of Justice — Race, and Sexuality

So my next section is on the indivisibility of justice, race, and sexuality. And, of course, we’ve been talking a great deal about marriage equality recently, and marriage equality is important as a civil rights issue, but again, I want us to have a broader framework and to go further than simply arguing that LGBT communities need to have access to the heteronormative institution of marriage because, let me say, first of all, that the Women’s Movement and the Gay Rights Movement were inspired by the struggle for freedom that black people waged for so many decades And what was so exciting about the Gay Rights Movement during its feminist phase was its critique of marriage, especially because this institution was a capitalist institution designed to promote the preservation and distribution of property, and also because this institution had been used oppressively against black people. Slaves were not allowed to marry. Interracial marriage was illegal until Loving v. Virginia. And, of course, Bush. You remember George W. Bush? [Pause] Bush argued that all of the problems of poverty in the Black Community could be solved if only they got married — But it had to be heterosexual marriage, right? So I’d like us to complicate these issues of justice. The indivisibility of justice implies that we cannot separate different causes, different struggles. It is counterproductive and contradictory to choose whether to support justice for people of color — for black people, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans — or justice for LGBT communities It is also wrong to call for justice on the basis of ableism. It is wrong to exclude deaf communities and disabled people from the circle of justice, but this cannot be but this cannot be corrected simply on the basis of inclusion. Social justice movements associated with hearing people should take leadership from the Deaf Community. In this age of neoliberalism, when individualism has reached impressive and unprecedented heights — Everybody is individualistic these days. The individual on the capitalist market — Hearing social justice advocates have so much to learn about the collective and community-based approaches of the Deaf Community.

The Indivisibility of Justice — Immigration Rights

We have to defend the rights of immigrants. If the concept of civil rights is to have any meaning during the 21st century, then we all have to stand up for the rights of immigrants And it is not only about the Dream Act and a path toward citizenship. It is about that, but it is also about welcoming the people who do so much of the labor that fuels the economy — agricultural labor, service labor and this is an issue that black people in particular should take note of, because immigrants are people who perform the labor that black people used to perform. We need to incorporate strategies to minimize Islamophobia and xenophobia. The indivisibility of justice requires us to defend Muslims who are seriously under attack because of ideological efforts to equate Islam and terrorism. Even people who have little to do with Islam are under attack because of this ideological association. Sikhs, for example, who have been killed because their turbans are misread as Muslim. And in this context, let me say that we should reveal the so-called “War on Terror” to be a strategy for U.S. military dominance — U.S. imperialist and militarist dominance —  Guantanamo should have been shut down four years ago, but it is certainly time to say: Shut down Guantanamo now, right now. 

The Indivisibility of Justice — The Prison-Industrial Complex

We understand that in light of the rise of global capitalism, especially during the 1980s — it didn’t end in the 1960s — In the 1980s, we saw the disestablishment of the welfare state, the disestablishment of human services, the transfer of capital to profitable sectors of the economy and the decision to forget about everything else, that is to say, to “privatize” everything else, privatize education, privatize healthcare, even privatize punishment. And so using the racially-charged issue of drugs, the so-called “War on Drugs,” deeply affected communities of color. It established the basis and the framework for what we call the “prison-industrial complex,” and the background is the same as that which led to the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War and the emergence of the convict lease system and the plantation prison system to which I referred. The context was the need to manage, in the 1800s, freed black bodies. The context at the end of the 20th Century is the need to manage unemployed bodies of color, poor white bodies, female bodies that no longer have access to welfare which has been disestablished, deaf bodies that are denied the services necessary to produce democracy and equality. And so now one out of every one hundred adults is behind bars. One out of every thirty-seven adults in the United States of America is under the control of a criminal justice agency. Even though the U.S. consists of five percent of the global population, here in this country we have twenty-five percent of the incarcerated population. We are a “prison nation.” We are a prison nation. Justice is indivisible. Justice for the more than 2.5 million people who are at this moment in jails and prisons and military prisons and Indian jails and federal prisons.

The Indivisibility of Justice — The Internationalization of Justice

And, finally, in my talk of the indivisibility of justice, I want to briefly talk about the internationalization of justice. How do we expand our vision? How do we develop a more capacious sense of justice for the planet? Recently I have been doing a great deal of work on Palestine, having visited the occupied territories last year, and I learned more, not only about the need to support Palestinian people who are simply struggling against oppression — They’re struggling against some of the same measures of segregation that we as black people encountered in the 1960s — But they are also thinking deeply about issues of intersectionality, and I had the opportunity to meet with a group of very young people who are called “Queers for BDS” — and BDS is “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” — and they are trying to challenge the pinkwashing strategies of Israel. How many of you have heard of pinkwashing? Oh, I only see three hands, four hands, maybe five. Not that many. Google “pinkwashing.” Find out what it is. But let me say just very briefly, Israel represents itself as a place where women enjoy equality and where LGBT communities enjoy equality, and Queers for BDS argue that justice is indivisible, equality is indivisible. It makes no sense to argue that the state of Israel is a “haven for gay people” if Palestinians experience their lives as if they were in the largest open-air prison in the world. The critique of pinkwashing reveals the shallowness and the contemptuous character of the democracy that Israel purports to represent, and I would suggest that we can use that approach to develop critiques of the kind of democracy that prevails in this country: the exclusion, the continued exclusion of Native Americans. Why is it that, given the fact that this country was founded on practices of colonization, Native Americans continue to be subject to forms of genocide, even discursive genocide?

And I would like to speak more. I have a lot more to say, but there is not enough time.

The speech was given Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. on February 14, 2013