Ani DiFranco and white feminist gate-keeping to the point of absurdity.

Of course many white feminists get that advocating for gender equality is valueless if you don’t include equality for people of color too. Supporting women of color is a no brainer. Then there are a few with blind spots, who ostensibly get this idea, but then in practice fail to question their own internalized racist ideas.

This is Ani DiFranco, singer, poet, equal rights activist, and to some feminist icon in words on economic and gender equality…

If you’re not angry
you’re just stupid
or you don’t care
how else can you react
when you know
something’s so unfair
the men of the hour
can kill half the world in war
make them slaves to a super power
and let them die poor

Here she is using slavery as a metaphor for fascist, capitalist, patriarchal oppression by imperialists. Yet here she is in deed...

 

June 25 – 29
Nottoway Plantation – White Castle, LA
http://www.righteousretreat.com/An Invitation from Ani…LOVERS OF SONGWRITING, POETRY & PERFORMANCE!Allow me to invite you down to Louisiana to learn and play with me and some of my friends,
exploring these and a few more of our favorite things!We will be shacked up at the historic Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, LA, for 3 days and 4 nights exchanging ideas, making music, and otherwise getting suntans in the light of each other’s company. During the day, myself, Toshi Reagon, Buddy Wakefield, Hamell on Trial and others will lead workshops and lessons that focus on developing one’s singular creativity. In the evenings we will perform for each other and enjoy great food in a captivating setting.

Why doesn’t she get that the Nottoway Plantation is the largest former plantation in the South?

Nottingham Plantation

From the Plantation’s website slavery apologetics…”It is difficult to accurately assess the treatment of Randolph’s slaves; however, various records indicate that they were probably well treated for the time.”

Mark Faulk points on his blog what the problem is..

 Here’s the problem: Nottoway Plantation is the largest plantation mansion in the South, literally built by slaves who had to carry the huge logs over (as Nottoway’s own website puts it) “miles of plantation ground to the construction site”. The owner, John Hampden Randolph, built his fortune on the backs of slaves. He even signed over 46 slaves as collateral to build his 53,000 square foot dream house.

To date there has been no official response by DiFranco to answer the criticism about the appropriateness of the venue or to cancel this event. People make mistakes, and sure this one is a huge oversight in the most charitable light. But when people call it to your attention that you’re holding your folk songwriting event in a symbol of oppressive capitalism such that 46 human beings were used as capital to build it -just maybe you should reconsider. And too, going with what should be becoming more painstakingly obvious upon further reflection -the place is also an oppressive patriarchal monument.

More importantly, DiFranco and other non-black feminists can’t feel the injustice done here as keenly as black feminists do, but they can do the work required to empathize. I am not black and I haven’t really experienced the racism directed at black people in America. Even though my son is black, I can only listen and empathize. If you inadvertently step on someone’s toes; apologize and listen so you can make things right. Admittedly the price tag of this event is prohibitive to most people of any color, but who wouldn’t want to be welcoming to all women?

Although there are people calling DiFranco out as racist for this event, what it looks more like to me is a disconnect between words and deeds in regards to racial equality. Where the absurdity of this venue would have been immediately obvious to a black feminist; these things can be overlooked by some white feminists because institutionalized racism doesn’t target them. Indeed popular fiction like Gone with the Wind  glamorizes the Old South for young girls. The appeal of this plantation is that of a whitewashed bygone era of Southern gentility.

In absence of DiFranco’s answer to criticism there is a comment war going on between DiFranco’s defenders of her choice of venue and rational people on her facebook, who don’t get why people don’t get this.  The defenses range from minimization and telling black women what they should feel about this to outright absurd, racist gate-keeping as documented by For Harriet  . Get your oven mitts ready to facepalm…

righteousretreat Mandi

 

The post as is, is patronizing and has a badly, misunderstood idea of what it means to “reclaim” something. What if a man told her to attend an event at a “historic” and “captivating” remodeled Magdalene laundry owned by Hobby Lobby because the baby stealing era is over and “reclaim” it and give a symbol of brutal, dehumanizing oppression a “new meaning ? She could rightly tell them where they could go!

The post was bad enough, but in an absurd effort that would be funny if she wasn’t serious she posted this…

Mandi as LaQueeta 1

This post doesn’t resemble the speech pattern of any black feminist that anyone knows. The name LaQueeta Jones on top of this may be a clue that she doesn’t know any real, black people apart from hackneyed stereotypes. She goes on embarrassing herself, and illustrating the need for some whites to get out more especially if they are toting equality until someone busts her.

Mandi as LaQueeta 2mandi as LaQueeta3

 

Who are these people? Seriously. Who gets this personally invested in defending reprehensible, regressive ideologies? It would be funny if these types of ideas don’t pop up in every earnest discussion about racial injustice. When you find yourself telling people that they should just adopt the right attitude about the racist things that happen to them -just stop.  Even less obvious racist crap like this, like Di Franco’s decision of an exclusionary venue for songwriting about gender and economic equality have the net effect of marginalizing people of color’s voices.  Equal means everyone should ideally have an equal place at the table. Do the work and put more thought into it DiFranco.

However, as frustrating as the whole thing is, you can take heart in the fact that most of the posts are calling for Di Franco to do something about this on the event page. They are posting this same statement to her facebook.

“I stand in solidarity with the Black women calling Ani Difranco out for this decision to hold the Righteous Retreat at the site of a former plantation.”

And now there is a petition to sign.

[notice]About 15 min ago, DiFranco replied to the criticism on her facebook. You can view it in its entirety here. I’m still weighing her words, before I decide. I am glad though that she canceled the event and gave it more thought. [/notice]

Reaching the choir

Much discussion has focused on bringing women and minority groups into the secular fold.  Considering the gender gap in secular communities (these numbers are from America) this is a laudable goal.  Conversely, in religious communities there is an inverse relationship in the ratios of women and ethnic minorities. From Protestant communities where there are 8 percent more women than men to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Historically Black Churches where there are 20 percent more women than men. There is a real disparity in the secular community between gender and ethnic minorities and white males. In fact atheists equal the Mormon Church, a racially segregated community until the 1970s, in disproportionate ratios of whites to ethnic minorities with 86 percent white adherents to 14 percent ethnic minority adherents.

Why is there a gap between women and ethnic minority participation in the secular community? That’s the million dollar question.

Some charts with data collected by the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Survey…

table-gender-by-tradition

table-ethnicity-by-tradition

Unfortunately often when these sorts of questions are asked; there are superficial answers that affirm the status quo rather than brainstorm solutions to the problem. To paraphrase some have speculated that women are less likely to be secular because they aren’t “intellectually active” enough. On the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities; I’ve sat in presentations where whites have asked black speakers why blacks are Christian because of slavery in the Bible. There is a bit of lazy thinking that comes with stereotyping and overgeneralizing going on. Especially by secularists who aren’t members of these groups, and lack the personal experiences or they haven’t taken the time and thought required to educate themselves to understand a different point of view.

One often neglected piece of data on the topic of secular diversity is income.

table-income-by-tradition

Christians still hold an eroding majority at 78 percent of the US population. About 30 percent of Protestants and Catholics, the largest sects of Christianity, live under the poverty line. In comparison atheists and agnostics are about 4 percent of the population, and about 20 percent of them live under the poverty line. If you look at the numbers for historically black churches the number jumps to 47 percent. Another church with a high level of minority participation are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Half of the JWs are black and latino and 42 percent of their members live beneath the poverty line.

It’s true that at about 40 percent college graduates atheists and agnostics are better educated than the average Protestant and far exceed churches with majority minority populations. Education is definitely a factor in religiosity. However the list of most educated adherents also reads like which groups have better access to education in this country by culture or income. Not just for women and minorities, but for everyone affected by poverty including whites. So you still can’t tease income out of the equation.

Religious institutions have traditions in place that support the poor. However, the support can often come with ideological beliefs that trap their adherents in the cycle of poverty. The Catholic Church’s stance forbidding birth control is a good example of this.

My experiences growing up in both the Catholic and the Southern Baptist Church doctrines limited my choices as a woman. I was told early and often that my role in life was to be subservient to a man. These doctrines condition women to accept patriarchal authority without question. Looking back on it now deciding who’s in charge of important decisions by genitals rather than critical thinking was not a good idea. Studies have shown that educated, empowered women make better life choices that fight the cycle of poverty.

Some organizations in the secular community are working to close the income gap by offering childcare and low cost and free admissions. Skepticon every year is supported by donations. It is an example of an organization that saw a need and stepped up to fill it. Low cost regional conferences like FreeOK help to alleviate problems caused by the cost of travel. Internet conferences like  FTBCon and internet resources like podcasts, blogs, and youtube help to close the income gap too.

One of the most interesting findings of the Pew Forum’s study is that the “Religiously Unaffiliated” is the fastest growing population of them all. The Catholic Church is losing the most to attrition, but they are staying even by immigration. Although Protestants still have the most adherents in the US especially in the South, it too is in decline. The young are where churches are losing the most adherents to us. If the trend continues most people will be unchurched. Secular organizations will hopefully rise to the occasion and welcome the newcomers.

One group that interests me that could use more focus is evangelicals. They are most often from the South. I live in the South, and was raised in a Southern Baptist Church. So I have had a front row seat to the havoc they wreak on public policy in education, reproductive rights, poverty and so on. Can they be reached? The answer sometimes is surprisingly yes. Matt Dillahunty and Beth Presswood of the Atheist Experience and Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist are examples of evangelicals gone rogue. Their media outreach has helped other evangelicals to see the light of reason.

It is one area where me and Aron Ra are different. He doesn’t understand why believers believe because he never really had strong religious beliefs. There is a disconnect between unchurched and lifelong disbelievers and former believers that gives rise to generalizations just like with any group that is prone to being misunderstood. The secular community can always find new ways to welcome former believers, and that can only be improved with greater understanding.

Towards that goal, I have asked Tasa Proberts, former believer and musician for the GUTS megachurch In Oklahoma to chat with me and Shanon Nebo on The Nones about her deconversion from evangelical Christian to atheist. Part of what helped her deconvert is the outreach of The Atheist Experience. We’ll be joined by the Atheist Experience’s Russell Glasser and Jen Peeples. We will also have Recovering from Religion Tulsa facilitator Rhonda Dorle on. It should be interesting if you want insight into former believers to have a greater understanding of them, or if you are a former believer too and want to help, or if you are an evangelical looking for a way out.

[important]The show will be on Thursday December 19th on our youtube channel. I will also post a link to watch it here on the day of the show. Visit our facebook for updates.  You can also PM us there with story ideas or questions.[/important]

[notice] This is the link to watch the show directly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IExEG9dKzdg[/notice]

Showing Solidarity with Black Nonbelievers when you aren’t Black

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character.  In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned.   My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram. Read the comment policy before posting.

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character. In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned. My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram. Read the comment policy before posting.

Last weekend, Aron and I went to a presentation about the history of Black Freethought by Alix Jules hosted by Houston Oasis.  Right now the Houston Atheists boast the largest group of freethinkers in Texas with a population of 2,078.

Salute!

We happen to know Alix from being members of DFW’s Fellowship of Freethought the largest group of freethinkers in Dallas at 1,127.  If you have never heard of him, he is in charge of DFWCOR Diversity Council.

This billboard placed in a historically black section of Dallas earned Alix much scorn. It started a dialogue about how atheists don't really do good things like the neighborhood churches. In response to a pastor's challenge Alix and friends picked greens for the needy.

This billboard placed in a historically black section of Dallas earned Alix much scorn. It started a dialogue about how atheists don’t really do good things like the neighborhood churches. In response to a pastor’s challenge Alix and friends picked greens for the needy.

We happened to be in Houston because Aron was giving a speech for the Humanists of Houston, another sizable group of Texas freethinkers, about the supposed coexistence of dinosaurs with people. Yes. People still do seriously believe that.

If you’re from Texas, you know that many freethinking Texans are actively interested in seeking the community of other nonbelievers because we can feel isolated and lonely. Two words…Rick Perry, if he’d been elected president -you’d all be feeling our pain right now. However terrible the pain freethinkers feel here, it can’t be directly compared to being a black freethinker.

As many of us already know, African-Americans are the most religious ethnic group.

While the U.S. is generally considered a highly religious nation, African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole, including level of affiliation with a religion, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and religion’s importance in life. Compared with other racial and ethnic groups, African-Americans are among the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation, with fully 87% of African-Americans describing themselves as belonging to one religious group or another, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Although black nonbelievers exist somewhere in the 12 percent of the African American population that is religiously unaffiliated, they earn the distinction of being triple mavericks from the American status quo as they are not white, religious, and disproportionately economically disadvantaged. Few people really set out to alienate themselves from society, but black nonbelievers are often double alienated. As Alix says

I remember the feeling of abandonment when grappling with the realization that it was my belief (or lack of it) that caused the rift in my relationships. I recall receiving a text: “write back when you’ve found Jesus.” There’s no more belittling feeling than being told that your lifelong congregation had been asked to pray for your safe passage and deliverance from Satan, yet watch the church say nothing to condemn priestly pedophilia.

 I noticed during the Q&A that non-blacks can have difficulty identifying with what black nonbelievers go through. More importantly, they struggle with how to help support blacks coming out of religion. The first question for Alix was why blacks are Christians because of slavery in the Bible.  Alix had a good answer that they identify with the bondage of the Israelites.  I want to add that black slaves like the poet Phillis Wheatley took an unintended lesson to heart from their white slave owner’s religious indoctribation.

But how presumptuous shall we hope to find

Divine acceptance with the Almighty mind

While yet o deed ungenerous they disgrace

And hold in bondage Afric: blameless race

Let virtue reign and then accord our prayers

Be victory ours and generous freedom theirs.

How could they be worthy of salvation, but unworthy of their own freedom? Unfortunately. Wheatley fell prey to the rationalization that salvation was the purpose of slavery that still exists today.  It is exactly the same type of rationalization that plagues women believers of any race.  How can women be believers with the overt misogyny in the Bible? Anyone can cherry pick among the hateful verses in the Bible to try to find a higher purpose.

Another questioner asked how one could help when for example their attempt at volunteering to register black voters was met with seeming coldness from the local black community, In some ways a better question is how can I as a non-black show solidarity or support with black nonbelievers?  The greatest voices of  African Americans have been black voices like Martin Luther King.  Alix was a bit dismayed that even today many prominent black voices are reverends.  And too, he pointed out that he originated from Haiti, a colony with a rich, cultural history of Black Freethinkers before Christian regimes governed there.

It should be self evident that Blacks are perfectly capable of speaking and leading themselves.  As an Eurasian, I would find who already has a strong voice in the community and support their efforts.  When, I was a child I went to a predominately black school.  I could sing along with the “Black National Anthem” and learn black history because it is the history of fellow human beings. So, we can join our fellow human beings in Solidarity this weekend and support them as freethinkers because their feelings of stigmatization from leaving religion are not of an unrelated category to our own. “Out of the many one” is definitely a better motto than “In God we trust”.

Aron and I will show our solidarity this weekend at an event where Alix Jules will be speaking at to kick off the newly formed Black Nonbelievers of Dallas. This is a post by Mandisa Thomas that might help you hook up with a local event.