Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Need for Open Dialogue About Race

BOND: Well, let me shift gears again. How does race consciousness affect your work? Do you see yourself as a leader who advances issues of race or of society or both? Is there a distinction in your mind between these?

DAVIS: Well, I don’t think we can talk about U.S. society without talking about race. Race is in our history. It has affected all of us regardless of what racial ethnic backgrounds we come from and I am very sad that we haven’t found a language to talk about that. And it’s not about black people. It’s not about white people. It’s about understanding what made us all who we are and I’m very interested nowadays in the ways race or racism is congealed in the structures of institutions, so that it is unhooked from any individual racist perpetrator or motivations of racism that exist in educational institutions. It exists in the prison system. And I think we all have to learn how to talk about that so this is — my relationship to issues of race is somewhat different from what is usually meant.

Unfortunately, in this country, the media assumes that race, the very mention of race, opens up a Pandora’s box and there’s always attempts to close it down. "Let’s not let this chaos overwhelm us" — and it will become more and more chaotic until we can find a language to talk about the degree to which race has influenced our histories and our psychic histories, as well.

BOND: Why do you think we have such a resistance to talking about these things?

DAVIS: I think it’s because the assumption is that it’s about racial superiority and it’s conceptualized in terms of individuals and so people feel — feel attacked when we talk about affirmative action, for example, white people often feel assaulted without being able to see that something like an affirmative action strategy will make us all better, will make us a better community, because it’s not about advancing one individual as opposed to another individual. It’s about advancing an entire community that has been so devastated by the consequences of slavery. And I think that there’s such a reluctance to talk about this because people don’t necessarily want to learn how we continue to inhabit a history that is structured by slavery, which affects all of us, regardless of what racial or ethnic background we come from.