Revisiting Pat Parker (1944–1989)

June 2020: 50th anniversary of LGBTQ+ Pride Month and Traditions. 

June 2020: America again fought racism and police brutality. 

In these turbulent times, being non-racist is not enough. The words of Angela Davis are being immortalized—whether it be on placards or on social media posts—with voices rallying and urging for global awareness on anti-racism. By turning to literary sources, people are educating themselves about the systemic racism and the white privilege and supremacy that continue to reign today. 

In the wake of this enlightenment, it is only befitting to shine a light on Pat Parker, one of America’s most prolific activists and poets, who was not only black but also a lesbian. 

Parker published a total of five works, Jonestown & other madness (1985), Movement in Black (1978), Woman Slaughter (1978), Pit Stop (1975), and Child of Myself (1972). In 2016, Sapphic Classics published The Complete Works of Pat Parker which was edited by Julie Enszer with an introduction by Judy Grahn. The poem, “My Lover is a Woman”, from Pit Stop explores the dynamics of being in an interracial relationship with sharp commentary on the ostracization of queer, black women in society. 

The opening lines of the poem: “my lover is a woman/& when I hold her/feel her warmth/I feel good/feel safe” gives the underlying tone of warmth and tender love. This tone especially stands out when juxtaposed against the lines “never think of the policemen/who kicked my body & said crawl/never think of Black bodies/hanging in trees or filled/with bullet holes/never hear my sisters say/white folks hair stinks/” (Parker). It is notable how in just these few lines, Parker packs the complex themes and events of oppression, discrimination, and prejudices that caused immense anguish in her life. 

There is also the extensive use of refrain in the poem which lends almost a musical quality, and one can very well imagine this being sung by a church choir. For instance, there is the repetition of the words “I feel good/feel safe” which reflect the solace sought by Parker while also encompassing the depth and understanding of their love. In contrast, the melancholic refrain of “never hear my mother cry/Lord, what kind of child is this?” (Parker) brings out the lack of acceptance from her family of her identity as a lesbian in a time when even being black was a struggle. 

Despite all this trouble and turmoil, Parker still accepts and chooses to be with her lover. It matters not whether her lover’s eyes are blue and hair is blonde, for love itself trumps all. And isn’t love and acceptance what we all crave and deserve in the end?

Pat Parker was born in Houston, Texas, and after high school, she moved to Los Angeles, California where she earned her bachelor’s from Los Angeles City College in 1962. In the late 1960s, after two divorces, she identified herself as a lesbian and was soon actively involved in civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements. At these events, she performed pieces of her poetry and soon, she joined the ranks of great poets like Judy Grahn, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and more. 

Bibliography 

Parker, Pat. n.d. “My Lover Is a Woman by Pat Parker – Poems | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org. Accessed June 19, 2020. https://poets.org/poem/my-lover-woman

 

Amala Reddie

 

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