Angela Davis Taught Me To Rethink Fear

Educator, activist, and author Angela Davis turns 76 on January 26. She’s helping me reconfigure my relationship with fear.

Communism* scares people. The very mention of it petrifies most, even when they don’t fully understand the concept. Maybe it’s rooted in xenophobia, since communism is closely associated with the Soviet Union. Or it could be because the unknown often horrifies, instead of inspires. But these phobias and anxieties gained a face, better yet, a target, with the existence of a singular person — former Communist Angela Davis.

Fear has played a significant role in Davis’ life, but it has not stopped her from becoming the wind beneath the wings of liberation movements striving for economic, governmental, and racial justice. Whether it was the fear of those who misunderstood her steps for revolution, or the fear Davis felt as she went on the run from the FBI, nothing halted her journey. She reminds me that fear is easy, and that it is human, but it ultimately must take a backseat to purpose.

The fear of what an educated, socially conscious Black woman was capable of was enough for Davis to be granted a spot on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. In 1970, Davis, who was associated with the Black Panther Party, was arrested and charged with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Firearms that she sold were used during a courtroom shoot out/failed escape plan, and she was forced to go into hiding for a few months to avoid arrest.

She was imprisoned for a year as she awaited trial, but, ultimately, she was found not guilty in 1972. In her autobiography, Davis details how nerve wrecking living in hiding was, and also the wretched conditions of the prison she sat in. Suffice it to say that both spaces instilled a great fear in her. She wondered about being found, and she agonized over the thought of never seeing her family again. It was a time defined by fear, but Davis rose above it.

“Yes, I was afraid. Of course I was afraid … but one doesn’t have to be immobilized by one’s fear. You can be afraid and you can continue to do the work.” -Angela Davis

I, too, have fears. They sometimes keep me up at night, and there are moments when anxiety makes me feel like I’m wearing a skintight body suit that I don’t remember putting on. I know I—or, rather, my beliefs—have instilled fear in others, too. But I can’t be bothered by my fears or the fears of others. Angela Davis has shown me that no matter what the road may look like, you have to keep walking to be the person you’re meant to be.

*Communism is a political ideology that calls for the end of class, the government, and money. The working class (proletariat) is urged to seize the means of mass production (i.e. factories) and use them to benefit the collective, as opposed to the wealthy. Communism realizes the fundamental flaws with the intersection of the societal pillars of cash, political power, and social classes. It seeks to remedy them by reminding the proletariat of their power.

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