Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reaching Different Groups

BOND: Speaking of ethnic backgrounds, do you have a different leadership style when you’re talking to groups or you’re dealing with groups that are all black or mixed or all white? Are you different before these groups?

DAVIS: No. My message is the same. My message is absolutely the same. No, I don’t — I haven’t developed a style that is going to be different in a black audience. I just recently spoke at — for Emory at Ebenezer Baptist Church and, of course, the audience — there were 3,000 people there, the place was packed and the audience was largely black, but I talked about the same issues in the same way and the response was really incredible.

BOND: In Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment, the authors quote William Allen, and he writes about the danger in continually thinking in terms of race or gender. “Until we learn once again to use the language of American freedom in an appropriate way that embraces all of us, we’re going to continue to harm this country.” Is there a danger of divisiveness when you focus on the concept of black leadership as we do here?

DAVIS: Well, I think the most effective black leadership will be leadership not simply for black people but leadership for all people and I’m convinced that engagement with issues of race, of gender, which is a lot more complicated today than it was because we not only have to talk about people who identify as men or women but transgender expression and issues of sexuality. What has been so fulfilling, I think, in terms of my own history has been the awareness that we’ve developed ever-more capacious visions of what it means to be free, and so in the beginning, if we thought about race as the barrier to freedom or racism as the barrier to freedom, we had to learn that racism doesn’t exist on its own, that it’s connected with and crosshatched with sexism and gender discrimination. And then we have to learn that it’s more complicated than that — that there’s class there, and then we learn that gender is not binary, you know, that there’s much more there than we ever thought and then we learned about sexuality. So it means that our sense of freedom becomes vaster and more interesting. And rather than go backwards and talk in terms that excluded people of color, that excluded women, that excluded transgender people, that excluded LGBT communities, then I think we have to find a language that is all embracing.