Question: Why did you decide to leave the United States?
Randall Robinson: I was really worn down by an American society that is racist, smugly blind to it, and hugely self-satisfied. I wanted to live in a place where that wasn’t always a distorting weight. Black people in America have to, for their own protection, develop a defense mechanism, and I just grew terribly tired of it. When you sustain that kind of affront, and sustain it and sustain it and sustain it, something happens to you. You try to steer a course in American society that’s not self-destructive. But America is a country that inflicts injury. It does not like to see anything that comes in response, and accuses one of anger as if it were an unnatural response. For anyone who is not white in America, the affronts are virtually across the board.
When we lived here, we accommodated ourselves to the most extraordinary things. I just didn’t think that was the way to live. I wanted to be in another place.
We also have a daughter who was eleven at the time. We wanted her to have a normal, fun adolescence, and it was just undoable. When we lived here and went to a shopping center or someplace, we’d tell our daughter, do not get out of our line of sight. Now she’s in a place where she can walk around at night and we don’t even have to think about that sort of thing.
I got a chance to be in a society where the barriers between classes—social and economic—are not insuperable, where money is not everything all the time. Americans have been manipulated into a space by those who profit from the arrangements of that system. People feel a conscious disease—a dis-ease or an unease—but I don’t think they know what causes it. We’ve been taught in America that big is best. That’s why people have to believe that they must live in the greatest country in the world, which is absolutely idiotic. ("Randall Robinson Interview," by Amitabh Pal, October 2005 Issue The Progressive Magazine)
Q: Moving on to the subject you’ve been most closely associated with in the last few years: reparations for slavery. Why do you think that’s necessary?
Robinson: Let me give you some conditions that don’t get talked about. The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world: two million people. The country with one-twentieth of the world’s population has one-fourth of those in prison. One out of every eight prisoners in the world is an African American. We are warehousing people as a profit to shareholders or for benefits to communities that get to host federal prisons. It is modern slavery. The whole future of America’s black community is at risk. One out of every three young black men in Washington, D.C., is under one arm or the other of the criminal justice system. These are the continuing consequences of slavery.
We have sustained so much psychic damage and so much loss of memory. Every people, in order to remain healthy and strong, has to have a grasp of its foundation story. Culture is a chrysalis—it is protective, it takes care of you. That’s what cultures are for. You cannot rob a people of language, culture, mother, father, the value of their labor—all of that—without doing vast damage to those people. People need their history like they need air and food. You deprive them of that for 246 years and follow that by 100 years of de jure discrimination, and then you say with the Voting Rights Act: It’s over, you just go take care of yourself!
Average people do not survive that. You plant twenty coconut trees over here, and twenty coconut trees over there, and you water this batch and don’t water that batch. Of the batch you water, nineteen will survive and one will die. Of the batch you don’t water, nineteen will die and one will survive. And then we have somebody like George Bush. I can’t think of a more mediocre human talent than George Bush. He obviously is a product of family advantage, and he’s the worst American President of all time.
Anyway, in my arguments for reparations, I’m not talking about writing checks to people. The word reparations means to repair. We’ve opened this gap in society between the two races. Whites have more than eleven times the net worth or wealth of African Americans. They make greater salaries. Our unemployment rate is twice theirs. You look at the prison system and who that’s chewing up. Now we’ve got the advent of AIDS. Fifty-four percent of new infections are inAfrican Americans. Many infected men are coming out of prison and infecting their women. So when I talk about reparations, I say there has to be a material component. It has to have a component of education that is compensatory. It has to have a component of economic development that’s compensatory. But in the last analysis the greater damage is here [points to his head]. So I’m not really talking about money. And I’m not really talking about the concerns of people who say, “I didn’t benefit from slavery.” Nobody said you did.
It’s important for white America to be able to face up. Far beyond its relations with the black community, it is important for white Americans. It’s important in helping us in our approaches to the rest of the world, and in being sensitive to Islam, and to look at the way other cultures handle their management of themselves, and to look at it with respect, with the possibility that you even might learn something. We’ve got a country that never takes any responsibility for anything. It forgets its role and makes everybody else forget what happened, too. And that it is not just dangerous for the victim, but also for the perpetrator. ("Randall Robinson Interview," by Amitabh Pal, October 2005 Issue The Progressive Magazine)
The Departure of a Black Man from His Native Land
The Departure of a Black Man from His Native Land
Sonoma State University presents Randall Robinson. Filmed February 10, 2006