Don’t Ask Us About Freedom: Stories Of Gender And Injustice In The Cases Of Afeni Shakur, Angela Davis and Assata Shakur
Arielle Garden Cribb
Thesis DT 3.5 2009 C753
vii, 114 leaves; 29 cm.
This thesis examines issue of race, politics and gender through the dissection of the trials of three political activist women of the late 1960s and early 1970s: Afeni Shakur, Angela Davis and Assata Shakur. Each of them represents a different facet of the Black Power movements of this era, and each was arrested, imprisoned and tried for highly politicized charges. Afeni Shakur was a young grass roots activist, while Angela Davis personified the intellectual turned political activist, and Assata Shakur's activism turned her into a political prisoner leading to eventual exile in Cuba (where she resides to this day).
The examination of race, gender and politics is explored in three ways. The first method places these women and their trials in their historical context. By examining their treatment within the Black liberation movement and in contrast to that of their male comrades, we can see how their trials and treatment exemplified and perpetuated the racist and sexist oppression of Black women political activists in American society. This also illustrates the way that these women reflect the long history of Black women throughout the African Diaspora who fought for freedom, justice and equality alongside their male counterparts.
Next, these women's stories are explored through external contemporary commentary such as newspaper articles from the time of the trials, jurors' statements, government briefings, historical retrospectives, and socio-political anthologies. The exploration of these works illuminates the culture in which these women made their choices to become politically active and in which their trials took place. It also exposes the different biases and prejudices of those involved directly in the cases, whether the police, lawyers and judges, jurors, or journalists.
Finally, these women's experiences are examined through their own autobiographical writings, which give a first-hand perspective on the motivations and experiences of these Black female political activists. Each was written at a different stage of life. Afeni Shakur's recent autobiography is a work that revisits and reflects on her earlier life with the wisdom of hindsight. Angela Davis wrote her autobiography shortly after her trial ended. It captures the essence of the woman that she was during her trial, exposing her raw emotions and unresolved feelings surrounding the events leading up to and around her imprisonment and trial, alongside the analytic examination of the academic intellectual. The third autobiography was written by Assata Shakur once she was in exile. It embodies the experience of someone still living and dealing with the unresolved issues and difficult repercussions of having chosen to speak up and out about one's place in society. Together these memoirs create a multifaceted image of the political and personal challenges facing Black women determined to participate in social change on their own strength.
By examining the historical legacy of these women, the contemporary commentary about them, and the self-images presented in their own writings, we see the direct effect of racism and sexism on their treatment as politically active Black women in the criminal justice system. A dual form of sexism is apparent, in that Black women are denied the protection of female stereotypes when it would help them and are the victims of stereotypes when it would hurt them. Essentially, Black women are ascribed masculine, aggressive qualities to dehumanize their image, while conversely the most negative female stereotypes of romantic weakness and subservience are applied, further alienating them from receiving any sympathetic treatment and empathetic feelings from the larger society.
In conclusion, these women continue in the vein of many Black women before them in their efforts to build their own image while simultaneously the greater society tries to silence them!