Book Review: The Meaning of Freedom

The Meaning of Freedom book cover
I stumbled upon Angela Davis's book The Meaning of Freedom And Other Difficult Dialogues in the basement of the City Lights bookstore. It seemed like a great find at the time - I'd love to hear what Angela Davis has to say! And although something like the "meaning of freedom" is a huge and slippery topic, I'd expect Davis to make some profound contributions.

Unfortunately, this book disappoints. Rather than being one book-length discussion of freedom, or even a progression of inquiries, it is a collection of speeches Davis has made over the last twenty years. Each speech is remarkably like the others, which is fine if you're taking one speech and tailoring it for different audiences and developing it over time as you tour. But it doesn't make for a great book of essays read one after the other.

I'm in general agreement with each essay. Davis problematizes our understanding of freedom by focusing on questions of race, racism, and incarceration in the US. (She also explores a little bit how the US model of incarceration - the prison-industrial complex, we call it - has been exported to the rest of the world.) In particular, she shows how the prison-industrial complex functions to keep black Americans, in particular, as less than full citizens. She speaks often of prison abolition by analogy to the abolition of slavery, and considers incarceration the modern-day incarnation of slavery. She makes a lot of connections between the "civil death" of prisoners and that of slaves.

These are ideas I'd heard before, but it was useful to absorb them laid out the way Davis does. It would have been much better, however, for her to distill her thoughts down in a small booklet, rather than have similar points repeated so many times.

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