Pat Parker

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Pat Parker (born Patricia Cooks; January 20, 1944 – June 17, 1989) was an African American, lesbian, feminist, poet and activist from a working class background.


"The 1987 March on Washington: The Morning Rally"[edit]

In The Complete Works of Pat Parker (2016)

  • In 1970, I and a few other women had made forays into the male-dominated gay liberation movement. The goal was unity and coalition. The result was frustration, anger, and rage. There were certain factors that we as lesbians had not considered. One, that men-not unlike women-come to the gay life for different reasons: some because they love their same sex; others because they hate the opposite sex. Two, that a white gay man in the closet enjoyed all the privileges of this patriarchal society, and he was not about to give them up easily. So we found ourselves exhausting valuable time and energy in arguments over the rights of drag queens, the word "girl," and numerous other issues that brought us no closer together-and in fact sent the lesbians out the door angry and disgusted, swearing that the male gay movement was "not ready."
  • Although I feel more visible today, I still believe that no minority can make major change alone; when we join together we create power blocks and become a force to be reckoned with.
  • A major criticism that can be levied against our movement today is our glaring failure to teach our history to those who follow, and to honor those who stood alone. I was honored to share the stage with early activists such as Morris Kight and Buffy Dunker.
  • I am buoyed by the knowledge that lesbians in the Bay Area are forming blood drives to give blood to AIDS patients; still I have to ask my gay brothers some questions. Instead of organizing and marching for people with AIDS or ARC, why not instead organize and march for a national health care system so that any person needing medical care can get it in this country? And if tomorrow I call for a march to raise funds to fight cancer-which is decimating my lesbian community-will the gay men be there?
  • So, where have we come since the March? Not nearly far enough. We are still fighting the same battles, because we have not studied our history enough to avoid making the same mistakes. We are still not demanding political integrity from our brothers and sisters and especially our lovers, and so we are still victims to those people who believe that "gay rights" means that they have the freedom to open businesses to exploit us just as much as their straight counterparts. We still have gay people who refuse to vote because "all politics is the same," while the neo-fascists continue to put amendments on the ballot in every election to reduce even further any rights gay people may have. Yet, there is still hope. We have young gay people, like singer-songwriter Faith Nolan, who came and spent a day with me because she wanted to know what it was like before. We have young people who know that their ability to go to women's music festivals and bars was won by the struggles and deaths of people who came before, and who realize that if they do not pick up the mantle, all that has been won can be lost again.

"Gay Parenting, Or, Look Out, Anita" (1987)[edit]

In The Complete Works of Pat Parker (2016)

  • No matter how much preparation, education, and counseling, sixteen-year old children are not ready for childbirth.
  • In recent years, I have seen several white women raising half-Black children white. I definitely wanted no part of that phenomenon.
  • People, get ready! If you are racist, sexist, classist, or homophobic, my child is going to think you are strange.

“Poetry at Women's Music Festivals: Oil and Water" (1986)[edit]

In The Complete Works of Pat Parker (2016)

  • It is not difficult to understand the resistance to the idea of poetry as a performing art. For years our concept of poetry and its presentation has been dominated by male academic ivory towerites. We have been conditioned to find poetry isolated and secluded from the masses of people, a pursuit only to be understood and especially enjoyed by those who possess trained minds and favored breeding. It has long been touted as an art form to be admired for its stylistic machinations with severe limitations on its concepts and subject matter.
  • In the 1960s, things began to change. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and began voicing other concerns. Concerns that touched our lives: a war in a far-away pace with an unknown people; the separateness of America's ethnic minorities and inequality of her perceptions of them; the role of women and the rape of our minds and bodies. The poets and poetry also changed. The concerns voiced by people in the streets appeared on pages clutched by angry hands. The audiences and the forums also began changing. Women poets started leaving the university reading rooms and coffeehouses and began going to women's centers. The move toward consciousness had created a different need and a new way to approach poetry and its presentation. Women's centers, which in many instances were represented by a single night allocated to women in the backroom of a coffeehouse or YWCA, started sponsoring poetry reading. Women began applying the lessons learned in consciousness-raising work and to their approach to other writers. The competitiveness and the one-upmanship of the male poetry scene was replaced by a joyful sharing of ideas and a commitment to sisterhood. The antagonistic discussions between poets regarding who was published and who was not and by whom; how many chapbooks poets had to their credit; and who should read last (the honored position) in a reading were replaced by discussions about the need for more presses, feminist publishers, and women's spaces to promote the work of all as opposed to a few.
  • It is not easy even with consciousness to discard the environmental trappings that accompany most art forms. Most of us still expect to see classical musicians in white blouses and long black skirts-but we are changing and growing.
  • I was also not surprised by the reactions of women following my performance in Bloomington. One woman in the stage crew ran up and exclaimed, "They're standing up; they're giving you a standing ovation." the surprise in her voice told me that she had never seen a poetry performance; she had never felt the energy reverberate through a room with the Audre Lordes, Adrienne Richs, and Judy Grahns of this world. The glow in her face also told me that she would do so in the future.
  • to those who would still doubt the mix of poetry and music, I would remind them of the ingredients needed for Good Seasons salad dressing mix: spices, vinegar, oil and water.

Speech at BASTA Conference (1980)[edit]

In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981) edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa

  • We are in a critical time. Imperialist forces in the world are finding themselves backed against the wall; no longer able to control the world with the threat of force. And they are getting desperate. And they should be desperate.
  • We are facing the most critical time in the history of the world. The superpowers cannot afford for us to join forces and work to rid this earth of them, and we cannot afford not to.
  • The people of Iran were exploited in order for Americans to drive gas guzzling monsters. And that is perhaps the difficult part of imperialism for us to understand. The rest of the world is being exploited in order to maintain our standard of living. We who are five percent of the world's population use 40 percent of the world's oil.
  • As anti-imperialists we must be prepared to destroy all imperialist governments; and we must realize that by doing this we will drastically alter the standard of living that we now enjoy. We cannot talk on one hand about making revolution in this country, yet be unwilling to give up our videotape records and recreational vehicles.
  • An anti-imperialist understands the exploitation of the working class, understands that in order for capitalism to function, there must be a certain percentage that is unemployed.
  • We must also define our friends and enemies based on their stand on imperialism.
  • At this time, the super powers are in a state of decline. The Iranians rose up and said no to US imperialism; the Afghanis and Eritreans are saying no to Soviet-social imperialism. The situation has become critical and the only resource left is world war between the US and the Soviet Union. We are daily being given warning that war is imminent.
  • The Klan and the Nazis are our enemies and must be stopped, but to simply mobilize around stopping them is not enough. They are functionaries, tools of this governmental system. They serve in the same way as our armed forces and police. To end Klan or Nazi activity doesn't end imperialism. It doesn't end institutional racism; it doesn't end sexism; it does not bring this monster down, and we must not forget what our goals are and who our enemies are. To simply label these people as lunatic fringes and not accurately assess their roles as a part of this system is a dangerous error. These people do the dirty work. They are the arms and legs of the congressmen, the businessmen, the Tri-lateral Commission.
  • And the message they bring is coming clear. Be a good American-Support registration for the draft. The equation is being laid out in front of us. Good American equals Support Imperialism and war. To this, I must declare-I am not a good American. I do not wish to have the world colonized, bombarded and plundered in order to eat steak.
  • Each time a national liberation victory is won I applaud and support it. It means we are one step closer to ending the madness that we live under. It means we weaken the chains that are binding the world.
  • In order for revolution to be possible, and revolution is possible, it must be led by the poor and working class people of this country.
  • We know and understand that our oppression is not simply a question of nationality but that poor and working-class people are oppressed throughout the world by the imperialist powers.
  • We as women face a particular oppression, not in a vacuum but as a part of this corrupt system. The issues of women are the issues of the working class as well. By not having this understanding, the women's movement has allowed itself to be co-opted and misdirected.
  • The reality is that revolution is not a one step process: you fight-win-it's over. It takes years. Long after the smoke of the last gun has faded away the struggle to build a society that is classless, that has no traces of sexism and racism in it, will still be going on. We have many examples of societies in our lifetime that have had successful armed revolution. And we have no examples of any country that has completed the revolutionary process. Is Russia now the society that Marx and Lenin dreamed? Is China the society that Mao dreamed?
  • Before and after armed revolution there must be education, and analysis, and struggle. If not, and even if so, one will be faced with coups, counterrevolution and revision.
  • The other illusion is that revolution is neat. It's not neat or pretty or quick. It is a long dirty process.
  • Another illusion that we suffer under in this country is that a single facet of the population can make revolution. Black people alone cannot make a revolution in this country. Native American people alone cannot make revolution in this country. Chicanos alone cannot make revolution in this country. Asians alone cannot make revolution in this country. White people alone cannot make revolution in this country. Women alone cannot make revolution in this country. Gay people alone cannot make revolution in this country. And anyone who tries it will not be successful. Yet it is critically important for women to take a leadership role in this struggle.
  • let us reclaim our movement. For too long I have watched the white middle class be represented as my leaders in the women's movement. I, for one, am no longer willing to watch a group of self-serving reformist idiots continue to abort the demands of revolutionary thinking women. You and I are the women's movement. Its leadership and direction should come from us.
  • The nuclear family is the basic unit of capitalism and in order for us to move to revolution it has to be destroyed…As long as women are bound by the nuclear family structure we cannot effectively move toward revolution. And if women don't move, it will not happen.
  • As to the question of abortion, I am appalled at the presumptions of men. The question is whether or not we have control of our bodies which in turn means control of our community and its growth. I believe that Black women are as intelligent as white women and we know when to have babies or not. And I want no man regardless of color to tell me when and where to bear children.
  • We do not have an easy task before us. At this conference we will disagree; we will get angry; we will fight. This is good and should be welcomed. Here is where we should air our differences but here is also where we should build.

Quotes about Pat Parker[edit]

  • We have never needed Pat Parker's work more. It is absolutely immediate, searing, salving, saving, and NECESSARY.
    • Kazim Ali, The Complete Works of Pat Parker (2016)
  • The poetry of Pat Parker reaches out to us anew and shakes our consciousness-fiercely.
  • The Complete Works of Pat Parker historicizes Pat Parker's significance to black women's literary traditions, lesbian erotics, to black queer struggles and black feminisms, and to global social justice movements.
  • In this time of resurgent political engagement, Pat Parker's hard truths, clarity, passion, and vision remain relevant and needed to take on the challenges of our still new century.
  • Look at how many Black Lesbian writers there are whose names are not known. Why isn't Gloria Hull a household name because of the research she's done on women of the Harlem Renaissance? What about Pat Parker? She's a really powerful poet. Norton is probably one of the finest poetry publishers in this country but I'm only one Black dyke and I'm greedy. I want more of us read and seen. Alice Walker is not a Lesbian. She has made very positive and sympathetic statements of "solidarity" with Lesbian sisters but she has made it perfectly clear that she is not a Lesbian and I think that's a real factor in her acceptability.
  • Certainly, in the Black literary community in particular, those of us who are Black Lesbian writers are frequently, as Barbara Smith recently said with her characteristic wit and pointedness, "the 13th Fairy." Who's the 13th Fairy? That is the godmother who is always forgotten, who is not invited to the ball, or invited too late. Black Lesbian writers are very frequently the "13th Fairy" of Black arts. For example, look at the writers invited to present at the recent Black Arts Festival held in Atlanta...The Black Lesbian-bashing that takes place in the Black Arts Movement is notorious, and I don't have to discuss that here, or discuss the origins of it, but the fact that it still exists when our communities need cultural workers of vision so much is terribly wasteful. When I talk about battling silences, battling invisibility, battling trivializations, I am not only speaking about fighting them in the white literary establishment. If establishment Black male writers cannot see that Barbara Smith and Cheryl Clarke and Pat Parker and I are their sisters in struggle, and that we fight on the same side, then the question is, "What are we fighting for?"
    • 1990 interview in Conversations with Audre Lorde (2004)
  • the Gay and Lesbian community contributes to this invisibility. What do you think it means when Lambda Rising, Washington D.C.'s Gay bookstore, that says it "celebrates the Gay experience," takes a full page ad in Blacklight and does not include one single title by a Black Lesbian? Should Barbara Smith, Pat Parker, Ann Shockley, Cheryl Clarke and others, laugh or cry? It's not only the literary establishment that renders us invisible.
    • 1984 interview in Conversations with Audre Lorde (2004)
  • What courage and fierce love emanate from the writings of Pat Parker! This anthology is a testament to her determination to write and to work for a better world-a testament to the love that Parker, her family, friends, and community created.
  • All her poems serve as catalysts, summoning the reader to join this poet-speaker on the move.

"Coming On Strong: A Legacy of Pat Parker" by Judy Grahn[edit]

Introduction to The Complete Works of Pat Parker (2016)

  • In her writing Pat Parker developed a fully authentic and revolutionary voice grounded in her experiences growing up Black and female in south Texas of the 1940s, and coming out as a lesbian/dyke in California of the late 1960s. The power of her poetry was profoundly fueled by three murders that directly impacted her life.
  • Pat's quest for knowledge included a respect for forms, precise diction, emphatic idea of content. The voice she chose for her poetry held an unwavering moral compass that would lead members of her community audience to call her "Preacher." She was also a teacher dedicated to instructing her audience in what she had learned about life, oppression, justice, and intersectionality. I need to say here that four, at least, of us feminist poets-Parker, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and me-who were broadly and intensively formative of ideas in the 1970s and beyond, wrote of the intersections of our lives in ways that would later inform what continues to evolve in the academy and within social movements as "intersectionality."
  • Parker's teaching voice, while righteous and fired by outrage, was also meticulous and patient. In "For the White Person Who Wants to Be My Friend," she offers advice, basically: don't put me in a box called "black people are such and such" while at the same time, don't ever forget my vulnerability in a racist society.
  • In the same spirit, and always with a big grin, Pat also liked to speak of the two of us as "poet athletes;" we were proud that we had muscles as well as brains and heart. She wanted, and achieved despite her life being cut short at the age of 45, a very full life, of family, of international politics, of sports, of art, of fulfilling work, and of leadership that continues through her poetic voice.
  • In an interview she did with Pippa Fleming, who co-founded and served as editor for Ache: A Journal for Black Lesbians, Pat said this: “If I died tomorrow and what could be said about my life is 'yes, she wrote books and she wrote poetry and people liked it,' that would not be enough. That's not why I take the risks that I do. A woman wrote a letter to me and the most touching things she said was, 'I'm doing my work so you don't have to do it for me. What she's telling me by this is long after I'm gone, there are going to be women who will continue to do the work."
  • Both historic and prophetic, both contemporary and timelessly accessible, Pat Parker's voice will continue to influence as we all go forward into new challenges and opportunities to lead meaningful lives.

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