Randall Robinson is an African American lawyer and an originator of the reparations movement in the United States. He was born on July 6, 1941 in Richmond, Virginia. His parents, Maxie Cleveland and Doris Robinson Griffin, were both schoolteachers. His brother was the late television journalist Max Robinson (1939-1988), the first black news anchor to appear on network television.
Randall Robinson graduated from Virginia Union University in 1967 with a B.A. in Sociology. He subsequently earned a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School, where he was active in student-organized protests against the South African government’s apartheid regime. Following his graduation in 1970, Robinson received a Ford Foundation fellowship that permitted him to work in Tanzania.
After returning to the U.S., Robinson served as Community Development Division Director of the Roxbury Multi-Service Center, a social justice organization in Massachusetts, from 1972 to 1975. He then relocated to Washington DC, where he found work as a staff assistant to Democratic Representative William L. Clay, Sr., co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus. In 1976-77, Robinson also served as a staff attorney for the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
In 1977 Robinson established the TransAfrica Forum, a global justice organization focusing on social and economic conditions in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. TransAfrica is known for its consistent attacks on American foreign policy (particularly “as it affects Africa and the Diaspora in the Caribbean and Latin America“), and for supporting Marxist revolutions (as in Fidel Castro‘s Cuba) around the world.
Robinson was TransAfrica’s President from its creation until 2001. During that 24-year period, he engaged in many high-profile direct actions, such as: organizing an anti-apartheid sit-in at the South African embassy; staging a hunger strike to urge U.S. intervention to restore the rule of Marxist President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti; and dumping a ton of bananas on the steps of the U.S. trade representative’s office to protest American trade policy vis a vis the Caribbean.
As a principal architect of the black reparations movement in the United States, Robinson traces African Americans’ contemporary social and economic ills directly to the transatlantic slave trade of past centuries. He believes that modern-day blacks are entitled to receive, from the federal government, monetary compensation not only for the subjugation of their ancestors, but also for slavery’s after-effects on later generations:
“The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world … We are warehousing [disproportionately black] 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…. These are the continuing consequences of slavery.
“We [African Americans] have sustained so much psychic damage … 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 in African Americans…. So when I talk about reparations, I say there has to be a material component…. It’s important for white America to be able to face up…. We’ve got a country that never takes any responsibility for anything.”
In his 2000 book, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, Robinson blames slavery for nearly all the social and economic problems facing the modern-day black community. “Solutions to our racial problems are possible,” he writes, “but only if our society can be brought to face up to the massive crime of slavery and all that it has wrought.”
In Robinson’s calculus, reparations ought not consist solely of a one-time, lump-sum payment, but rather should come in the form of multiple disbursements extending over several generations. “Let there be no doubt,” he writes, “it will require great resources and decades of national fortitude to resolve economic and social disparities so long in the making.”
Princeton University professor Cornel West has called Robinson “the greatest pro-Africa freedom fighter of his generation in America.” Similarly, The Nation magazine, in its review of Robinson’s best-selling reparations manifesto The Debt (2000), lauded the author for his “sweeping historical vision” and his “convincing” arguments in favor of reparations.
In his 2004 book Quitting America: The Departure of a Black Man from his Native Land, Robinson details how his ever-growing disillusionment with the U.S. finally led him to decide, in 2001, to relocate to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, where his wife was born. The author insists that a racist white majority persecutes blacks within the United States while it crafts an imperialistic foreign policy to kill Arabs abroad. But in his new island home, he says, people are friendly, crime is virtually non-existent, and whites are largely absent. “Life [in St. Kitts] is lived much as it has been lived,” writes Robinson. “With quiet decorum and unassuming passion.”
In an October 2005 interview, Robinson elaborated upon his decision to leave the United States:
“I was really worn down by an American society that is racist, smugly blind to it [its own racism], 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…. America is a country that inflicts injury…. For anyone who is not white in America, the affronts are virtually across the board.”
Though he no longer resides in the U.S., Robinson still maintains a home in Virginia, to which he makes frequent visits.
Robinson detests not only America, but also white people generally. He contends that “the mere contact with whites invariably … has produced for us all [nonwhites] one plague or another: slavery, colonialism, plunder, conquest, massacre, economic globalization, culture transplantation.” “Western whites,” he elaborates, “once [they get] well inside the place of another’s different, less pugnacious, more welcoming culture, destroy it, root and branch. For inexplicable reasons, they are seemingly constrained by some aberrant force of nature to disparage all culture, all history, all religion, all memory, all faces, all life not theirs.”
Moreover, Robinson sees no reason to expect that white people — whom he describes as “little more than upper primates” — will ever shed their purportedly inherent bigotry. “Whites don’t give a sh-t what we [blacks] think,” he proclaims. “Never did. Never will.”
Demanding intellectual conformity within his own “race,” Robinson holds in contempt conservative black scholars such as John McWhorter, Shelby Steele, Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell. He similarly despises Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell for having served as Secretaries of State in the George W. Bush administration, thereby becoming, in Robinson’s view, race traitors: “As for the two of them that are ours,” Robinson writes, “I am all the more ashamed…. They are killers, remote perhaps, but killers nevertheless, like all the others, but more cowardly than the ordinary street types.” He characterizes Powell as a “Ronald Reagan rectal success of a conscience-dead black man.”
A harsh critic of the Iraq War, Robinson blames the conflict entirely on what he views as America’s imperialistic foreign policy, its “arrogance,” and its inability “to notice anybody else in the world.”
Robinson has been a candid and enthusiastic supporter of Fidel Castro‘s dictatorship in Cuba. In his 1998 book Defending the Spirit, Robinson asserted that Afro-Cubans “are demonstrably better off under Castro than they were under the Batista dictatorship.” In The Debt, he recounted some highlights of his 1999 meeting with Castro: “His eyes shone with intelligent intensity”; “He tugs on a beard that is ungovernable…. Though he was not a young seventy-two, the failing body gave glimpse through the eyes to an inferno of intellect and determination.”
Robinson similarly mythologizes an Africa that he says once outstripped the rest of the world in scientific and cultural progress. For instance, in Quitting America he hails Africa — not Greece and Rome — as the birthplace of democratic civilization. Insisting that Europe before 1500 was a vast wasteland of ignorance, he tells how a friend of his had visited a Timbuktu library and read “a fourteenth-century African rejoinder to Machiavelli’s The Prince“; when he wrote these words, Robinson was apparently unaware that Machiavelli did not write The Prince until 1513 (the 16th century).
Over the years, Robinson has lent his name to numerous political statements along with other vocal leftists. In June 1987, for instance, he was a signatory to a “social justice” document demanding an end to international financial aid to Chile. Other signers included Edward Asner, Ronald Dellums, E.L. Doctorow, Robert Edgar, Allen Ginsberg, Todd Gitlin, Michael Harrington, and Alice Walker.
Robinson today writes occasional blogs for the Huffington Post. In one notable September 2005 entry, he claimed that in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, starving black victims in New Orleans — purportedly ignored by an unconcerned federal government — were resorting to cannibalism in order to stay alive:
“It is reported that black hurricane victims in New Orleans have begun eating corpses to survive. Four days after the storm, thousands of blacks in New Orleans are dying like dogs. No-one has come to help them…. This is what we have come to. This defining watershed moment in America’s racial history…. My hand shakes with anger as I write. I, the formerly un-jaundiced human rights advocate, have finally come to see my country for what it really is. A monstrous fraud.”
Robinson later issued a retraction of the cannibalism claim after it was proven to be false. He maintained, however, that he stood firmly and “without reservation” behind everything else he had written.
Over the years, Robinson has received a number of honors for his work, including: the Africa Future Award (from the U.S. Committee for UNICEF); the Drum Major for Justice Award (from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference); the Hope Award (from the National Rainbow Coalition); the Humanitarian Award (presented by the Congressional Black Caucus); the National Association of Black Journalists’ Community Services Award; and the Trumpet Award for International Service (from the Turner Broadcasting System).
Part of this profile is adapted from the article “Randall Robinson: Smooth-Talking Racist,” written by Anders Lewis and published by FrontPageMag.com on February 11, 2004.