Black Non-Believers Billboard Campaign

 Ad Campaign Highlights Rise in Religious Skepticism among African Americans


Amherst, New York – January 31, 2012 – African Americans for Humanism (AAH), a program of the Council for Secular Humanism that supports nonreligious African Americans, has launched a national multimedia advertising campaign showcasing religious skepticism in the African American community. Coinciding with Black History Month, the campaign features prominent African American humanists from history along with contemporary activists and organizers.

 Ads began appearing January 30 and January 31 in New York City; Washington, DC; Los Angeles; Chicago; Atlanta; and Durham, North Carolina. On February 6, the campaign will be launched in Dallas. Advertisements will be placed on roadside billboards and in public transit sites. The Stiefel Freethought Foundation provided substantial creative and financial support for the campaign.

 African Americans may be the most religious minority in the United States, but many feel that the churches don’t speak for them. AAH hopes that the campaign will bring attention to the presence of and increase in religious skepticism within the black community, encourage those who have doubts about religion to share their concerns and join other freethinkers in their local communities, and educate many about the history of black freethought.

 All of the ads display the same message: “Doubts about religion? You’re one of many.” On the ads, images of writer-anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, poet-activist Langston Hughes, and social reformer-publisher Frederick Douglass are paired with contemporary freethinkers. Representing their respective hometowns are activists leading the way for African American nonbelievers, including Mark D. Hatcher of the Secular Students at Howard University, Mandisa L. Thomas of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. (Atlanta), Kimberly Veal of Black Nonbelievers of Chicago, Jamila Bey of African Americans for Humanism–Washington, DC, Veronique Matthews of the Triangle Freethought Society, Leighann Lord of the Center for Inquiry–Harlem, Alix Jules of the Dallas–Ft. Worth Coalition of Reason, and Sikivu Hutchinson of Black Skeptics Los Angeles.

 “African Americans who question religion often feel rejected by religious family and friends, and by the greater black community,” said Debbie Goddard, director of AAH. “But there is a rich heritage of religious skepticism and humanism in black history. By featuring the historical faces as well as the modern in our ad campaign, we show people that questioning religion is not new and that there are many of us here.”

Be Scofield, Greta Christina, and New Atheist racism

By Frederick Sparks

Given that I may have talked to more atheists and religious people of color than even Be Scofield, I thought it appropriate to add my two cents.

I’ve observed a few the written exchanges between Scofield and Greta Christina and agree with the assessment that he is either sloppy or downright dishonest in his characterizations of what she says.  And Greta of all people least deserves to be a target of criticism on the issue of diversity and the “atheist movement.”

Scofield quotes from Sikivu Hutchinson’s critique of the New Atheists blind spot with respect to social justice issues, and the interplay between African American religiosity and these issues of social justice. Yet if he bothered to read the rest of the book besides the passages criticizing new atheism, he’d see that Hutchinson hardly argues for walling off god belief and African-American religious institutions from criticism. Her critique is aimed at presenting atheism/secularism to African-Americans in a way that makes it relevant because it addresses issues of racial and economic inequality. Specifically she states:

“Those seeking to forge the same kind of community resonance and interpersonal connections as faith-based institutions (without the element of fear, superstition, profiteering and exploitative charismatic leadership)have a long uphill but winnable battle….Humanist community based organizations can provide…social welfare resources that have traditionally been delivered with supernatural strings attached by faith-based organizations.”

In referring to Dr King and the civil rights movement, Scofield also falls into the trap of “the Civil Rights Movement, Brought To You By Black Church”…a bit of historical revisionism that ignores, as professor Anthony Pinn points out, the secular philosophical influences, and that King himself complained that most the black churches were not involved and were not supportive. When Scofield, in a follow-up comment says “Imagine if much of the passion and fire that characterizes much of the New Atheist community could be directed towards the racial, class and patriarchal oppression that believers experience rather than their beliefs about God or heaven”, he appears ignorant of the degree to which specific beliefs about God or heaven reinforce racial, class, heterosexist and patriarchal oppression. When he speaks approvingly of the work of the Metro Community Church with respect to AIDS, he misses the other side of the coin, in which the black church virtually ignored the AIDS crisis unfolding in its own choir pews.  African Americans are most likely to believe in literal interpretations of the Bible; this phenomenon buttresses homophobic and sexist dynamics within the black religious community.  The beliefs are therefore not separate from the social justice issues, they are part and parcel, and challenging them is most definitely relevant.
Yes African Americans have to some degree adapted religious institutions to positive purposes. At the same time,  the $65 million West Angeles Church of God in Christ monstrosity on Crenshaw Boulevard has hardly brought $65 million worth of improvement to the lives of the residents of South Los Angeles.  The presence of churches on every corner in black communities certainly hasn’t done much to cure the social ills. And this phenomenon, and the beliefs that undergird it, are most definitely appropriate targets of criticism.

When the Scofields and Karen Armstrongs of the world talk about how the new atheists just aren’t aware of the liberal, tolerant, sativa smoking, feminist, genderqueer god concept, my response is “I don’t believe in that motherfucker, either.” She’s just as poorly evidenced as the old fashioned patriarchal god. She’s also not the predominant god concept impacting the African American community.

I don’t see an either or proposition between advocating for rational thought, where beliefs are based on evidence, and confronting issues of social justice. The idea that black people should be left alone in their clinging to Jesus due to their history of oppression smacks of just as much paternalism as what Scofield accuses the white new atheists of here.

Return to Mammyville & Godless Women

By Sikivu Hutchinson


The Help, the latest entry in the white woman pining-for-Mammy-atonement series, has garnered scores of accolades.  Following in the venerable tradition of Hollywood favorites Gone With the Wind (best supporting actress for mammy prototype Hatty McDaniel), Ghost (best supporting actress for New Age-mammy Whoopi Goldberg), and Precious (best supporting actress for pathological welfare queen mammy Monique), it is poised to snag Academy Awards for its two black maid playing leads.  In one emotionally charged scene, faithful god-fearing servant Aibileen (Viola Davis) describes evil white woman antagonist Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) as a “godless woman.”

Do tell.

Dear God: I Say A Little Prayer to You, 

Last we spoke, summer of 1980, all your apple-cheeked savior missionaries had been safely dispatched to the freshest nooks and crannies of the third world. Rumor had it amongst the cherubs that there weren’t enough of them to service this corner of the ghetto; that that old time inner city anthropology, with a special serving of gangsta, was a poor way station for the whorishly bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Belatedly then, I say a little prayer to you, in the hope that this time the bloody din of crickets won’t drown out my plea for my own private mammylicious Aryan nation refugee; a hair flipping no-drop anti-diva who’s wicked with a wooden spoon and the arcane funk of cooking oils, a maven empathetic who’s only got the fear of you, Crisco, sweaty make-the-blind-see tent revivals and wayward baby dust weevils plotting in the bottom of a mint julep glass. 

Of course God, this prayer, this petition is only a humble salvo in support of the sistahood, the intimate ties that bind all women regardless of the long dusky shadows of Tara, the mutant bones of Monticello slave cabins, the phantom molecules of rape beds dancing on a feather quill, a pedestal. So it shouldn’t be too much to ask that your fair candidate be versed in forbearance, have a Ph.D. in the province of black pathos, be a Zen master in the fine art of dewy eyes cast heavenward after days of wiping butt cracks and burnishing dirty dishes to a radioactive gleam. Lawdy, give me an Aunt Missy Anne or Uncle Cracker Remus whose world turns on my every utterance and peccadillo, whose practiced snout can sniff out any hint of “man trouble”, whose spider sense tingles at the most abject of feminine woes and ample bosom heaves to harbor all God’s chillun at their most trifling snotty-nosed and godforsaken. Send me some Coolade grinning zip a-dee-do-dah wand waver swaddled in a magical cashmere do rag who can conquer the deep dark wilderness of unbleached roots and lend a soft pale shoulder to slobber my hard luck on. A whole psychic friend network slick as moonshine in Mississippi starlight, sassy enough to anticipate my next petty grievance, my weepy unravelings months before with the mother wit necromancy of rolling pins crushing a hot O’Keefe and Merritt down to cornbread dregs, blessing them with the true grit of the buck dance and the inscrutable ways of white folk.

Black Atheists in the Pulpit: Dialogue with Zion Hill Baptist Church







On February 1st, Black Skeptics Los Angeles will join with Zion Hill Baptist Church in South Los Angeles for a historic Black History Month presentation and roundtable.  The event will feature Moral Combat author Sikivu Hutchinson and author Donald Wright.  The Houston-based Wright is the author of The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray and founder of the February 26th Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers.  Last year, members of Black Skeptics L.A. met with Zion Hill and posed probing questions about the state of the Black Church, the role of black humanism in African American social thought, and the Religious Right’s influence on contemporary politics.  Zion Hill Pastor Seth Pickens has been with the church since 2009 and is a Morehouse College alum with a deep commitment to social justice in South Los Angeles.

Defending Our Mother’s Gardens: In Observance of Roe v. Wade

By Sikivu Hutchinson (reprinted from blackfemlens, March 30, 11)

In her landmark work In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Alice Walker wrote: “What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmother’s time? Our great-grandmothers’ day? Did you have a genius of a great-great-grandmother who died under some ignorant and depraved white overseer’s lash? Or was her body broken and forced to bear children (who were more often than not sold away from her)—eight, ten, fifteen, twenty children—when her one joy was the thought of modeling heroic figures of rebellion?” Many of my students do not know who Walker is. But as they listen to me read her words during a discussion of Women’s History Month they are quiet as death, contemplative, and, perhaps, newly enflamed. As students of female sacrifice, many of them know the savage politics behind her canvas. They are intimately aware of the blood price women of color must pay to be free in this so-called post-feminist society in which white male lawmakers trivialize sexual assault with dangerous tautologies like “forcible rape.”

Recently, the mainstream media buzzed with news reports that a Libyan woman had reported being gang-raped to a group of foreign correspondents. A MSNBC reporter described the victim as middle aged, well-spoken and respectable (the victim was actually estimated to be in her 20s or 30s), implying that her credibility was beyond reproach. As a “respectable,” upstanding woman, her rape would surely be an affront to her community. Preemptive reference to rape victims’ social station is a now familiar device in the rape reporting game. Over the past few weeks, the gang rape of an 11 year old Latina girl also made headlines, eliciting controversy over the girl’s portrayal in both mainstream media and in the community where the assault occurred. Whenever a rape case becomes high profile, the inevitable questions about the victim’s reputation, race, whereabouts, and alleged complicity in the assault are trotted out. Yet seldom is there any analysis of the sociopolitical conditions that legitimize rape and the connect- the-dots rape reporting game. And seldom is there any analysis of what gives men license to violently occupy women’s bodies. There is never any connection made between this kind of sexual terrorism and state power. Hence, these connections are especially urgent now given the unrelenting wave of anti-choice anti-abortion legislation that has swept the nation since the midterm elections. [Read more…]

A Call to Atheists and Secularists to Defend Women’s Right to Abortion and Birth Control

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In observance of the January 22nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Sunsara Taylor and I have drafted the following statement seeking signatories.  We also call on bloggers to write, post and speak in support of abortion rights this Sunday.  Please follow this link to the petition to add your signature:

Atheists and secularists generally pride themselves on respect for science, opposition to harmful religious myths, and a fierce defense of the separation of church and state.  Yet there is a critical need for atheists and secularists of conscience to collectively challenge the current moral, cultural, and political siege upon women’s right to self-determination.  Flowing from each of these principles, we call on atheists and secularists to make public their support for women’s right to abortion and birth control. Due to the insidious climate of anti-abortion propaganda and legislation these basic rights are being viciously imperiled.

 Nearly 90% of U.S. counties have no abortion provider.  2011 saw 92 new abortion restrictions enacted throughout the states, shattering the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005 under President Bush.  Doctors who provide abortion are terrorized and killed.  In many communities, Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), funded by powerful Religious Right foundations and staffed by non-medical personnel, outnumber legitimate reproductive health facilities.   Due to this climate of misogynist persecution the moral stigma and shame cast on women who get abortions is as great as ever.  Women of color and working class white women who live in communities without adequate reproductive health care are disproportionately impacted by these policies.

But that is not all.  Birth control is also under attack.  Pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions.  “Personhood” amendments threaten to criminalize miscarriages and ban all contraception.  And President Obama openly upheld Kathleen Sebelius’s unprecedented decision to overrule the FDA, thereby banning over-the-counter distribution of Plan B (emergency contraception).

All this constitutes an affront to science.  Fetuses are not babies.  Women are not incubators.  Abortion is not murder.  Fetuses have the potential to become babies but until they are born they are a subordinate part of a woman’s body and they are not independent biological or social beings.
All this is rooted in harmful religious myth. More @ Defend Abortion Rights

Ethnic Studies, MLK and Great Men

claudette colvin

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In one of the first scenes of the 2006 film Walkout, the day-glo radiance of L.A. suffuses a group of Lincoln High School seniors discussing their future prospects. It is 1968, and most of them have been told by their school guidance counselor that secretarial or vocational school is their best bet after graduation. Walkout is a flawed, yet rousing dramatization of the “Chicano Blowouts” of the late 1960s, a series of student-led anti-racist protests in East Los Angeles schools that are routinely omitted from mainstream portraits of the civil rights era. Watching the film with a rapt group of high school students this past week reinforced the travesty of the recent suspension of Mexican American Studies in Tucson, Arizona. The suspension is part of broader restrictions on Ethnic Studies programs that supposedly foment the “overthrow of the U.S. government” and “resentment” against other racial groups. Forty four years later, the “back-in-the-day” scenarios the Lincoln students faced are nakedly relevant to black and brown students nationwide; textbooks with no Latino historical figures, minimal access to college preparation classes, low college-going rates, high drop-out rates, a school-to-prison pipeline, and a yawning economic gap between the sun-kissed neighborhoods of the tony white Westside and their own.

What resonated most strongly with my students was the divide between the models of youth resistance they saw on the screen and the narrative of invisibility rammed down their throats in overcrowded classrooms day after day where they learn that white people, and a few exceptional individuals of color, generally male, made history. For many of them, civil rights activism is something that outsized icons like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks “did” long ago in a galaxy far far away. In most K-12 classrooms there is no engagement with King’s radical stance on capitalism, the American war machine and Western imperialism, nor contextualization of Parks’ and the Montgomery bus boycott’s significance for women’s liberation.

For my predominantly female class, learning about teenaged civil rights activists like Claudette Colvin and former Lincoln High organizer Paula Crisostomo was eye-opening, not only because of the revelation that teenaged young women were on the frontlines, but because of their battles with sexism and misogyny. In 1955, the fifteen year-old Colvin preceded Parks in refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated Montgomery bus. On the way to the police station white officers reportedly took turns guessing her bra size. After her arrest, Colvin was deemed to be an unsuitable civil rights role model because she was dark-skinned, working class, and had become pregnant by an older man. As a leader of one of the most important educational equity protests in Los Angeles, Crisostomo was at the epicenter of an essentially nationalist Chicano movement that viewed sexism as a marginal concern. In her book Black, Brown, Yellow,and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles, researcher Laura Pulido notes that, “Most nationalisms are fundamentally masculinist projects predicated on redeeming the male subject.” Sexism in K-12 education and the nationalist ethos of many social movements of color have precluded the inclusion of women of color feminism in social science curricula.

As my twelfth grade students prepare for the next phase of their lives, many of them express outrage over “just having learned” that women like them, from communities like theirs, organized against white supremacist patriarchal systems of so-called democratic “opportunity.” They are better able to make connections between the constant sexual harassment that they experience and the tokenization of women of color in American history. Stoking this rage toward critical consciousness and politicization is why K-12 Ethnic Studies based on intersectionality has enduring academic and intellectual value. It is as much a part of King’s and Parks’ legacies as mainstream public education’s “I Have a Dream” bromides.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of the Women’s Leadership Project and author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars and the forthcoming Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.


Latinos Beyond Belief

Los Angeles-based Social Studies teacher Sergio Ortega-Rodriguez talks to Black Skeptics about the complexities of being a Latino atheist and parent, bucking cultural traditions, the need for humanist educational centers, and becoming active in freethought community circles.

What is your cultural/religious background (i.e. were you raised in a religious household) and when did you make the shift to your current belief system? I have considered myself an atheist since birth and have always been open about it with relatives, neighbors, co-workers, and even strangers.  My parents tried to raise me Catholic, but I have never been a believer. Of course I had doubts when very young, but they dissipated in my mind since I was about three years old, and completely when I was about six.

How have atheism, freethought and/or secular humanism shaped your world view? I have always been a free thinker which brought me the gift of being an atheist. Atheism has helped me see the world and people the way they really are. It has made me understand how cultural traits can become so engrained in people’s minds; they cannot detach themselves from such ideas. Too often I see religious people being too naïve when it comes to interacting with others and about issues. Being an atheist has also helped me realize education is essential in understanding the world and make rational choices that benefit others, not only a small group as is the case with religious groups.

How can atheism, freethought and/or secular humanism be promoted to appeal to larger numbers of Latinos?

Most Latinos I have spoken to fear retaliation or rejection if they “change” their views. Interestingly, this does not always occur if they change from one religion to another; but it will if a member expresses atheist concerns. I have people tell me they could not tell their parents, mostly their mother, they do not believe in god. When asked, I have told them being honest is a positive trait, but they still fear hurting their parents’ feelings. One told me he does not want his 80 year-old mother to die thinking he has doubts about god’s existence.

As a coordinator of the Atheist United Spanish group, I know Latino parents are interested in their children’s and in their own education. I would suggest we use terms that denote precisely this. If I were to add a term, it would have to include the word education. An educational site, or a cultural center, or an education center would do. [Read more…]

Supreme Court reaffirms churches right to discriminate

By Frederick Sparks

In their infinite wisdom, the Supremes have decided that the long recognized “ministerial exception”, which bars employment discrimination claims by ministers against churches, also applies to anyone within a church who “holds a title representing a significant degree of religious training followed by a formal process of commissioning”, has “accepted the formal call to religious service”,  and has  “job duties reflected a role in conveying the Church’s message and carrying out it’s mission.”

The plaintiff in the case was a Lutheran school “called Teacher” (distinguished from lay teachers)  who developed narcolepsy and took a medical leave.  At the end of the leave she notified the school that she would be returning and was told her position had been filled by a “lay teacher”.  She subsequently filed claim with the EEOC under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The school/church raised the ministerial exception, with which the District Court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the school.  After the 6th Circuit claimed the ministerial exception was applied to the plaintiff in the lower court too broadly, the supreme court “clarified” the issue in favor of the school.

In addition to this troublesome expansive definition, the ministerial exception in its previous form rested on a specious Free Exercise basis.  Understandable if a minister (or minister-lite) questions or contradicts the tenets of the faith.  But to bar discrimination claims on grounds not having to do with religion is another example of excessive deference to free exercise.


Jim Crow Hollywood 101

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Powerful master of the universe filmmaker George Lucas spoke recently to John Stewart about how even he was unable to get his new film “Red Tails” on the Tuskegee Airmen made.  Red Tails took two decades to produce. Despite the film’s “jingoistic” patriotic American brio Hollywood didn’t want to back or distribute a film with an all-black cast and no white male savior.  According to Lucas, major studios balked because the absence of white characters would translate into minimal overseas box office.

Lucas’ experience is no revelation.  The American film industry remains among the most segregated in the country.  When white America settles into its seat at the local multiplex on the weekend it’s generally met by the comfortable image of middle American heroism, romanticism and drama–safely scrubbed of any black, brown, Asian or Native American faces.  As one of the most powerful mediums of cultural propaganda on the planet, the film industry is still an empire of white corporate control. A 2002 study by UC Santa Barbara professors Denise and Bill Bielby concluded that rampant cronyism, arbitrary hiring practices and the racial biases of bottom-line oriented foreign investors have kept both the film and TV industries bastions of whiteness. Further, the absence of studio heads of color exacerbates the exclusion of people of color from the old boy networks that often dictate hiring, promotion and the green lighting of films in the industry. This includes development and apprenticeship programs. According to the online journal Diverse Issues in Higher Education, “Of the 2,057 entertainment companies contracting with Hollywood’s Writers Guild…only 12 offer writing programs targeting people of color.”


Lucas on the John Stewart show 

But now that the U.S. has transitioned to post-racialism and colorblindness maybe we can bring back minstrelsy (officially that is; Tyler Perry notwithstanding)  and have white actors like Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise play patriots of color in full blackface regalia to lure the heartland and racist global audiences to “black” movies.