In conversation with Angela Davis and Ilan Pappé
Written by Clara Akiki.
Clara Akiki reflects upon the recent talk (digitally) given by Professor Angela Davis and Professor Ilan Pappé at our university
Two weeks ago, Exeter’s Decolonising Network hosted an online conversation with scholar-activists Professor Angela Davis and Professor Ilan Pappé. The guests discussed a range of pertinent issues from white supremacy to the need for international solidarity to the importance of rethinking spaces of knowledge production in academic and real-world spaces.
Speaking with earnest enthusiasm, hosts Katie Natanel and Asha Ali set the tone for the talk by dissipating the cold façade of our computer screens and forging a truly personal and engaging atmosphere. It was as though we were all really in a room together, encompassed in a restorative space where minds converged and dared to imagine a better future for all.
It was as though we were all really in a room together, encompassed in a restorative space where minds converged and dared to imagine a better future for all.Clara Akiki
First to be introduced was Ilan Pappé, an expatriate Israeli historian, a Professor of History at our very own University of Exeter and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies (ECPS), whose research is renowned for reframing the history of Palestine in a settler-colonial context. Attention was then drawn to Angela Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita of the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz. Professor Davis was a leading activist in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement whose wide corpus of writing and fearless commitment to activism continues to inspire many today.
The discussion emphasized the indispensable nature of solidarity in movements seeking an end to oppression and inequality. When we destabilise systems which depend on other people’s exploitation and discrimination, and achieve meaningful equality and value, we all benefit.
When we destabilise systems which depend on other people’s exploitation and discrimination, and achieve meaningful equality and value, we all benefit.Clara Akiki
As the communal nature of the struggle against oppression was discussed, the guests expanded on existing examples of international solidarity. Professor Davis recalled the historic connection between anti-black racism and anti-Semitism, as well as the Jewish community’s long-standing involvement in the fight against racism. As Professor Pappé remarked on how the Palestinian flag has become universal symbol against oppression, the two interlocuters emphasized consistent Palestinian solidarity with Black movements.
Despite this, the still pressing urgency of international solidarity was made clear. Highlighting the need for ‘a stronger agenda that connects struggles, locally and internationally’, Professor Pappé asked: ‘will we be able to do this with the opportunity history has given us?’
Mentioned in the conversation, one essential means by which to achieve meaningful progress involves the revaluation of our interactions with spaces of knowledge production. Emphasizing how locations of knowledge production are not limited to our lecture theatres, Professor Davis equally reminded us that the University is not unlike other terrains of struggle. For ‘even as we are critical of existing structures of education, including higher education, education matters, knowledge matters, we cannot engage in successful efforts for radical transformation without knowledge.’
Thinking along these lines, the exchange between both Professor Davis and Professor Pappé reinforced the pivotal role of the new generation in dismantling oppressive structures of injustice. White supremacy is very much alive, as was made clear with the storming of Capitol Hill just over a month ago. For this reason, it did not come as a surprise that when Professor Davis was asked about her hopes for the future, she replied that they ‘lie in the young people, the movements, in the pressure we can put on governments’. As a young activist and student, hearing these words felt pivotal and monumental, like the passing down of a torch or a gauntlet from one generation to the next. It was a moving moment; one I will not forget.
As a young activist and student, hearing these words felt pivotal and monumental, like the passing down of a torch or a gauntlet from one generation to the next. It was a moving moment; one I will not forget.Rupali Naik
On the whole, to be present in this discussion was to witness passion, relentless power, inspiration and vision. Facing the reality of issues of such huge scale and consequence was a solemn reminder of the urgent need for radical change. Equally, the discussion bore witness to the fact that transformation was not only possible, but truly achievable. As the event concluded, the collective feeling of an audacious, unrelenting, and restorative hope for the future was lasting.