Book Review | The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues, by Angela Y. Davis

Book review header imageI’m giving away this book in my Black History Month Giveaway! Entry details are on the previous post, linked here. If you’re in the United States, I encourage you to enter every day! 41p9ogaqz3l-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Two hundred years after the formal abolition of American slavery, Angela Davis stood before a crowd to give a speech entitled “The Meaning of Freedom.” Consistent with her other speeches, “The Meaning of Freedom” implores her audience to broaden their understanding of slavery, servitude and institutionalized marginalization. She guides her listeners in understanding how incomplete definitions of freedom allow for the continuation of other types of injustices. Davis illustrates how democracies fail to reach their potential when populations are subject to mass incarceration and indentured servitude.

In this speech, the one for which the collection is named, Davis asks her listeners to imagine. For her, visualization is the first step to defining victory. Imagine, she says, the wholeness of a democracy in which people were not persecuted for their differences. Imagine, she says, the potential of a democracy which is no longer inherently violent toward its imagined other. 

In imagining, people find a way to actualize. They find direction in their struggle.

“How do we imagine and struggle for a democracy that does not spawn forms of terror, that does not spawn war, that does not need enemies for its sustenance.”

-Angela Y. Davis, “The Meaning of Freedom”

This is only one of the numerous essays in‘The Meaning of Freedom’ and Other Difficult Dialogues, which is a compilation of Davis’ most impassioned speeches. For those who have read Davis before, but have yet to see her speak, you’re in for a treat. One of the most intersectional scholars of our time, Davis covers a diverse range of subjects, including (but certainly not limited to) mass incarceration, transgender rights, and civil engagement. The sum of these varied talks embodies her very specific brand of intellectualism; one which ties together seemingly unrelated sociopolitical dynamics.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. Angela Davis is the truly type of woman I idolize– strongly convicted, and consistently vocal on the issues she finds most important. These characteristics are emphasized in ‘The Meaning of Freedom’ and Other Difficult Dialogues, as readers discover and rediscover her views on various subjects. The only drawback of this book is one that is inherent to a solid book of speeches: it’s incredibly repetitive. I don’t recommend reading this on one sitting, because the beliefs in one speech will be constantly reinforced in others. It could conceivably be trying for readers, but is the mark of a consistent intellectual, of which Davis is the prototype.

I decided to do something new this time, and provide a couple questions for people who are interested in reading this as part of a group. I think this book would be great for a book club, so here are a couple discussion questions for The Meaning of Freedom that I hope would help get your group going:

1.) Davis quotes Paul Robeson, who attested to the fact that racism informs immigration policy. In what other ways does Davis discuss the linkages between prejudice and policy, and what recommendations does she give to combat this?

2.) Intersectionality is a major facet of Davis’ discourse, particularly in the speeches chosen in this book. Discuss the concept of intersectionality, and whether Davis is persuasive in her assertion that all types of oppression are intricately linked.

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  1. […] Dialogues, by Angela Y. Davis I reviewed this book the other day, and the review can be seen here. It’s a fantastic compilation of Angela Davis’ speeches, making it a great bookshelf […]


  2. Ditto. I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Davis speak as a student at NYU . She talked about abolishing the prison system. I was impressed that it wasn’t a rant, but a feasible proposal with practical, less expensive, more effective alternatives. Complete with examples of how well those alternatives were working in other societies. She was an intellectual breath of fresh air that didn’t hover over her audience in a self absorbed cloud of high intellectual discourse. I was somewhat disappointed that I had not sought her out sooner. I saw myself as a progressive member of our community. But apparently still needed to go further. Eventually, I forgave myself after promising I wouldn’t let it happen again. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I heard her at Yale’s Black Solidarity Conference a few years back. She was a joy to listen to and seemed like such a kind person in the short amount of time I was able to see her afterward. I appreciate her, like how I appreciate Audre Lorde, both of whom seem to have a better grasp of the “big picture” effects of marginalization than I do. I think she’s definitely radical in a sense, but her radicalism is incredibly necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

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