21 August 2020 — Black Women Radicals
Screenshot of Patricia Robinson from the documentary, “Pat! A Revolutionary Molecule” by Lupe Family. Retrieved and sourced from Brooklyn College.
By Erika Hardison
Patrica Robinson is an unknown but important radical, Black feminist who advocated for mental health, reproductive rights, socialism, and same-sex adoption in the Black community.
When we think of Black feminists––especially those of more radicalized womanist theories––many of us have similar lists that overlap with the same people: Angela Davis, Zora Neale Hurston, Ida B. Wells, Assata Shakur, Alice Walker, and others. However, there are lesser known Black women who have contributed to the fight against racism, women’s rights, and classism but also societal and intra-community issues such as misogynoir and intimate partner violence.
One of those Black women happened to be Patricia Robinson, who I discovered by accident last year. I ran across two images that really stuck with me. The two images were photos of a correspondence that was a call-of-action to Black women. In one photo, a group known as the Black Unity Party out of Peekskill, NY were urging poor, Black women to reconsider taking birth control pills, arguing it was a form of genocide to the Black race. The letter which was crafted by the men of this particular chapter stated that birth control pills are a way to de-radicalize the Black race and to sterilize Black women. The letter also notes that birth control pills were being issued to Black women who were on public assistance ,which they argued further perpetuated white supremacy by using poor, Black women as its vehicle. The second photo was the response to the letter which laid out a clear understanding on why policing women’s bodies is neither pro-Black or progressive.
“…there are lesser known Black women who have contributed to the fight against not just racism, women’s rights and classism but societal and intra-community issues such as misogynoir and intimate partner violence.”
In the response to the demand of Black men urging Black women not to take birth control pills, Robinson responds with a bold but truthful confirmation about what we still hear and see today: men wanting women to have kids out of obligation to their race as if they are mules. However, when it comes to poor and working-class Black women, it often seems we are not allowed to have agency over our bodies. “Poor Black sisters decide for themselves whether to have a baby or not to have a baby. If we take the pills or practice birth control in other ways, it’s because of poor Black men,” is how the letter starts off. Robinson’s letter also showcases issues Black women are faced with when deciding to carry and have babies such as abandonment and being left emotionally, physically and financially insecure.
She also centers and emphasizes the physical, sexual, and verbal abuse Black women suffer––especially intra-communally from and by militant and patriarchal Black men. She also discusses how many Black women are exploited for political purposes. Moreover, Robinson candidly claimed that taking birth control was indeed revolutionary because Black women could control their bodies and fate if they chose to do so. Robinson penned a two-page letter explaining her position and expounding on her statements, writing that “[s]imultaneously, the poor Black woman did not question the social and economic system. She saw her main problem as described in the accompanying article––social, economic and psychological oppression by the Black man,” Robinson wrote. She further explained why capitalism and patriarchy go hand-and-hand, further detailing how even poor Black men can oppress poor Black women:
“Rebellion by poor Black women, the bottom of a class hierarchy heretofore not discussed, places the question of what kind of society will the poor Black woman demand and struggle for.”
— Patricia Robinson
“In a capitalist society, all power to rule is imagined in male symbols and, in fact, all power in a capitalist society is in male hands. Capitalism is a male supremacist society. Western religious gods are all male. The city basis of ‘civilization’ is male as opposed to the country which is female. The city is a revolt against earlier female principles of nature and man’s dependence on them. All domestic and international political and economic decisions are made by men and enforced by males and their symbolic extension––guns. Women have become the largest oppressed group in a dominant, male, aggressive, capitalistic culture. The next largest oppressed group is the product of their wombs, the children, who are ever pressed into service and labor for the maintenance of a male-dominated class society. If it is granted that it takes two to oppress, those who neurotically need to oppress and those who are neurotic. But awareness in this case has moved to a second phase and exposes an important fact in the whole process of oppression,“ Robinson declared.
Trailer from the documentary, “Pat! A Revolutionary Molecule” by Lupe Family. Retrieved and sourced from the Patricia Murphy Robinson Website and YouTube.
“Rebellion by poor Black women, the bottom of a class hierarchy heretofore not discussed, places the question of what kind of society will the poor Black woman demand and struggle for”, Robinson continued. With this, she demands that poor Black women should have the right to birth control just like middle-class Black and white women. In arguing that it takes two to oppress, she contends that she and other poor people are no longer are submitting to oppression or in this case, genocide. She allied herself with the have-nots in the wider world and their revolutionary struggles. Further, she realizes the cyclical pattern in which poor children exploited throughout history: as poorly paid mercenaries fighting to keep or put an elite group in power. Through these steps in the accompanying analytic article, she questioned aggressive male domination and the class society which enforces it––capitalism. “This question, in time, will be posed to the entire Black movement in this country,” Robinson concluded in her essay, which has been heralded as a critical analysis in Black feminist thought and behavior.
After posting the letter to my Facebook page, I saw a comment from a woman who stated she was working on a book about Robinson’s life—that woman was Dr. Robyn Spencer. Dr. Spencer is a historian whose research focuses on Black feminism and social movements after World War II. I emailed her and she told me she’d be willing to share information about Robinson’s extraordinary life, after I tried to do my own research about Robinson but hit several roadblocks. Most of the information I could find about her was through academic channels. Her work is cited in journals and educational outlets and she’s even mentioned in Wikipedia under the Black feminism entry, but there isn’t much else on her to start from. However, Dr. Spencer fills in many blanks about her life in an exclusive interview about Patricia Robinson on the Dainty Thug podcast. The documentary, “Pat! A Revolutionary Black Molecule!”, by filmmaker Lupe Family, centers the radical activism and productions of Robinson. Family and William Bowles created a website in honor of Robinson to also provide a visual and political archive of the radical leadership, scholarship, and legacy that was and is Patricia Robinson.
“Patricia Robinson is your favorite Black feminist inspiration. While she wasn’t always on the frontlines of protests, she found her calling helping Black women who felt forgotten.”
Robinson was a light-skinned, middle-class woman whose family owned a popular Black newspaper in Maryland. Robinson found her calling and pursued a career as a psychotherapist. She studied many philosophers including Karl Marx. She began working with poor and lower-class Black women because she wanted them to feel heard and seen. Robinson opted to work directly with Black mothers by introducing them to the benefits of mental health, reproductive rights, and political agency. Her approach wasn’t in the tone of lecturing but in a tone of guiding Black women to discover their own epiphanies. Through her anti-capitalism work and her theories on how the traditional Black family model is used as an institution of control, Robinson’s critical social work later became the framework for Black radical feminism theory in the late 1960s throughout the early 1990s.
Patricia Robinson is your favorite Black feminist inspiration. While she wasn’t always on the frontlines of protests, she found her calling helping Black women who felt forgotten. She inspired radical leftist ideologies that poor women could adapt. She helped poor moms educate their children and also advocated for queer Black women to be able to adopt. Her feminism was bold, vulgar, and unapologetic. She used her privileges as a light skinned, middle-class married mother to help Black mothers who were neglected by the Black men in their lives and society as a whole. She saw how the system wanted to paint poor, Black women and she took it upon herself to change the narrative and make the most vulnerable among us the most radical.
Erika Hardison is the founder and creator of Fabulize Magazine, a print and digital destination for the blerd womanist that enjoys art, beauty, culture and style. Fabulize is a platform where #MySuperheroesAreBlack and #BlackGirlMagic collides. You can follow Erika on Twitter and follow Fabulize Magazine on Instagram and Facebook.
For more information about the work of Patricia Murphy-Robinson, please visit the website in honor of her work. Also, please watch and share the trailer for the documentary, “Pat!: A Black Revolutionary Molecule” by Lupe Family.