Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: What do you see as the difference between vision, philosophy and style? Can you describe the interaction of these three for you — vision, philosophy, style? How do these, if they do, interact for you?

DAVIS: Well, yes, I think they do. My vision has always been that of a better, more just, more egalitarian world and, of course, I spent many years as an activist in the Communist Party. I’m no longer in the Communist Party but I still imagine the possibility of moving beyond capitalism to some kind of democratic socialist arrangement. I don’t know if I can succinctly describe what my philosophical approach is, but I will say that it is — if I were to try to succinctly describe it, I would talk about a critical posture towards everything. Learning how to raise questions, even about that which one assumes is unquestionable and that this is what I’ve learned from my philosophical studies, from critical theory, that we have to be willing to test even that which— even those categories we use to try to understand the world.

And style — that’s the one I’m having problems with. I don’t know whether it’s possible to cultivate a style, I can — and I’ll tell you a short story. I can remember getting out of jail and people having these ideas about me from the photographs they had seen. I was supposed to be this militant revolutionary ranting and raving and so forth. And so some people were disappointed when they heard me speak and they said, "What did they do to you when you were in — ?" And I said, "Well, this is the way I’ve always been. This is the way I’ve always spoken." And I had to finally recognize that if I was not true to myself, if I did not have the kind of style that most reflected my upbringing and my character, my training, then I definitely would not be able to make a difference in the world so no matter how much people wanted me to rant and rave, I opted for my own, you know, sort of more quiet style.