Slaves like Us: American Atheists on the Plantation

“Look, A Negro! My body was returned spread eagled, disjointed, re-done, in mourning on this white winter’s day.”  –Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

 

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The black body has always been an object of deep and abiding obsession in the American imagination.  Be it cavorting in “funky” abandon on a dance floor, vaulting off a basketball court in dunk mode, suckling apple-cheeked white babies, trotted out in a police line-up, or greased down, poked, prodded and staged on a slave auction block, the black body occupies that mystical place between corporeality and supernaturalism. Recently, American Atheists, a predominantly white group with a largely white leadership, slapped up a billboard in a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania neighborhood featuring a picture of a shackled naked black slave and a bible quote that said “slaves obey your masters.” The ad was intended to protest Pennsylvania’s boneheaded declaration of 2012 as the so-called “Year of the Bible.”  Much to the “astonishment” of AA reps, the billboard was reviled, defaced, and labeled a hate crime by some in the African American community.  Apparently offended black folk just weren’t intelligent enough to grasp the sage lesson that American Atheists, prominent champion of anti-racist social justice, was trying to teach them. Instead, some “misconstrued” the message as racist, concluding that, in a country where white nationalists have issued a clarion call to take back the nation from the Negro savage/illegal alien in the White House, “slaves obey your masters” probably still means them.

In the 2002 documentary Race—The Power of an Illusion,  Harvard science historian Evelynn Hammonds discusses how much of 19th century scientific inquiry on racial difference revolved around black bodies: “If we just take African Americans as an example, there’s not a single body part that hasn’t been subjected to this kind of analysis. You’ll find articles in the medical literature about the Negro ear, and the Negro nose, and the Negro leg, and the Negro heart, and the Negro eye, and the Negro foot – and it’s every single body part. And they’re constantly looking for some organ that might be so fundamentally different in size and character that you can say this is something specific to the Negro versus whites and other groups.  Scientists are part of their social context. Their ideas about what race is are not simply scientific ones, are not simply driven by the data that they are working with. That it’s also informed by the societies in which they live.”

Hammonds underscores the political “invention” of the black body through the lens of scientific objectivity.  The legacies of slavery and scientific research dovetailed with the popular display of black bodies as the ultimate site of racial otherness.  These legacies shape the experience of walking, driving and breathing while black.  They inform the terror of being a carefree teenager out for a casual stroll in the kind of private gated community where 17 year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed recently by a white neighborhood watch captain in Orlando, Florida.  The case made national headlines due to the “curious” fact that three weeks after the murder, the shooter (who claimed he was acting in self-defense) has not been charged and is still walking around free.  According to Martin’s family Trayvon was found with candy and ice tea on his body. [Read more...]

Sunsara Taylor: Why I’m Marching Against Religious Patriarchs and Woman-Hating Pornographers this Sat.

By Sunsara Taylor

It is no longer deniable by anyone paying attention, that we are living through an all out war on women’s lives, women’s rights, and women’s futures. This is not a minor matter; women are half of humanity. Defeating this war is everybody’s responsibility.

This is why this Saturday at noon I will be out in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City with a rowdy band of others screaming at the top of my lungs. This is the home of Timothy Dolan who spearheaded the recent attacks on birth control, which come on top of decades of attacks on abortion. Nearly 90% of counties now lack an abortion provider.

From there, we will march to the porn stores in Times Square and once again scream at the tops of our lungs. We will protest these stores because pornography has become more violent, more humiliating, and more cruel towards women – even as it has become more mainstream.

In reality, there is no meaningful difference between the Bible’s view of women and pornography’s view of women. Both reduce women to “things” to be controlled by men. The church reduces women to breeders. Porn reduces women to sex objects to be brutalized and degraded. We are neither. Women are human beings. On Saturday, we are shaking off any remnants of our own passivity and launching a new movement that will not stop until the full humanity of all women is recognized throughout society and throughout the world.

By taking to the streets in protest, we are not appealing to those in power, neither to the politicians who are either outright attacking women’s lives nor with those who are “just” seeking “common ground” with and conciliating to those attacks. We are calling out the millions of people who are horrified by this relentlessness but who are sitting paralyzed on the sidelines. We are also calling out to those who have become so acclimated to the unceasing violence and disrespect of women that they aren’t even angry. [Read more...]

An Open Letter to Members of the Secular Community

On THE NATIONAL DAY OF SOLIDARITY FOR BLACK NON-BELIEVERS

By Donald Wright 

I’d like to begin by thanking everyone who supported the second annual National Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers and particularly the Day of Solidarity co-sponsors:

Black Skeptics of Los Angeles led by Sikivu Hutchinson

Black Non-Believers, Inc. led by Mandisa Thomas

Black Non-Believers of Chicago led by Kimberly Veal

African Americans for Humanism led by Debbie Goddard

Black Atheists of America led by Ayanna Watson

Much appreciation to the organizers in each city where an event was held that took on the responsibility for planning and hosting DoS events in New York City, NY; Chicago, IL; Indianapolis, IN; Philadelphia, PA; Orlando, FL; Atlanta, GA; Kansas City, MO; Boston, MA; Washington, DC; Sacramento, CA.; Los Angeles, CA.; and Houston, TX.  They all did an excellent job.  

Many thanks go out to organizations which also posted articles and promos about the Day of Solidarity: American Atheists, the Friendly Atheist, Black Skeptics, African Americans for Humanism, Black Non-Believers of Atlanta, Black Atheists of America, the Hispanic Freethinkers of Virginia, Humanist Institute, Institute of Humanist Values, Humanists of Houston, and Houston Atheists.

Ms. Kimberly Winston of the Religious News Service did an awesome job researching and preparing articles highlighting the Day of Solidarity, the African Americans for Humanism’s billboard campaign as well as presenting an outstanding overview of past and present atheists in the black community.  These articles can be found either in print or online in the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Sojourner website as well.

Black Freethinkers invited me to speak on their internet radio show about the Day of Solidarity along with many other issues of importance to our community. Ms. Charone Padget of WRFG radio station in Atlanta, GA. as well as Mr. Scotty Reid of Black Talk Radio both invited me to speak on their radio shows about the Day of Solidarity.  I am grateful for the generous supporters in the media as well as for the experience of working with them.

A very special thanks goes out to the National Committee for Day of Solidarity:  AJ Johnson of American Atheists; Frank Anderson who helped to plan the event in Chicago, IL; Monica Jones who spearheaded the event held in Philadelphia, PA; Naima Washington of Washington (DC) Area Secular Humanists and American Atheists, and Sikivu Hutchinson with the Black Skeptics of LA who also worked to plan an event in Los Angeles. 

While the Day of Solidarity was a success, it is clear that many groups and individuals in the secular community didn’t support it, and of course, that is their right.  However, I am very optimistic and welcome dialogue on this and any other issue.  But, the fact remains that many of the events that took place on the Day of Solidarity were either planned and/or attended by many black nonbelievers who aren’t active in the secular community.  Until very recently, even ‘out’ black atheists weren’t particularly challenged, inspired, or motivated by the organizations and activities taking place within the secular community.  The Day of Solidarity initiative is unusual because it challenges nonbelievers to engage in activism, reach out to other nonbelievers, and to independently create an event celebrating their freedom from religion!  For many who either helped to plan and/or attended the Day of Solidarity, Sunday February 26, 2012 would have been their first, but hopefully not their last step towards activism.

The critics of the Day of Solidarity may simply need more information about its purpose and we’d be happy to provide it.  Others may wonder why the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers excludes everyone else when in fact it’s an idea whose time has come!  It’s an opportunity to help unite an isolated and fragmented segment of the secular community as well as a chance for our allies in the secular community to stand in solidarity with us.  Those of you who are not African Americans but decided to attend an event have all given favorable reports.  In fact, rather than issuing complaints about exclusion, I’ve had phone calls and e-mails from white atheists expressing appreciation for the Day of Solidarity; they all said they felt welcomed at the events and enjoyed themselves.

A survey recently went out to many people in the secular community especially those who supported the Day of Solidarity.  If you haven’t received a survey, please send an e-mail to [email protected], and be sure to return your survey by March 10th. The surveys will be used to generate a full report on the responses to the Day of Solidarity.  That report will be distributed throughout the secular community including those who completed a survey.  Beyond evaluating the Day of Solidarity events, the survey will be useful in helping to gather ideas in terms of what we need to do in order to get more people involved in the community and to determine how we can best work together.  To continue this discussion or for more information, please send an email to aadayofsolidarity@yaho[email protected] , and/or visit the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers Facebook page of the same name. You can also contact the co-sponsors.

What we need in the secular community is more support from each other; more collaboration with each other; and more opportunities to work together as equals.  The Day of Solidarity needs more co-sponsors; more cities filled with Day of Solidarity celebrations that are planned, supported, and attended by all groups and individuals in the secular community.  These things and more can happen, and we look forward to having more opportunities to engage in activism throughout the year. Come out and join in!

Donald R. Wright is the author of The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray: Let My People Go! and Founder of the National Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers

 

 

International Women’s Day: Abortion Rights & Anti-Porn Protests

In light of the continuing Christian fascist assault on women

Support International Women’s Day, Protest and Car Caravan throughout Los Angeles

12 Noon – Rally at Her Clinic, 2502 S Figueroa St. (& Adams)
Support abortion providers. March 10th is Abortion Provider Appreciation Day! Oppose the anti-woman, anti-abortion picketers who harass women at this clinic. 2011 saw the largest spate of legal restrictions on abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973. ALL THIS MUST BE STOPPED! Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.
2 PM – The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 3424 Wilshire Blvd. (1 block east of Normandie) The Catholic Church’s approach to women, gender, science and sexuality – like that of many religions – is a Dark Ages disaster! The Pope has condemned condoms (causing millions of HIV/AIDs deaths). The Church condemns homosexuality and insists that “divorce is a sin” (contributing to women staying in abusive marriages). Recently, Catholic Bishops urged “non-compliance” with new regulations requiring health insurance to cover birth control!
4 PM - Hustler Store, 8920 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood.
Stop the brutality against women in the name of free speech! In recent years, pornography has become increasingly violent, cruel, degrading towards women; women are referred to as “cumdumpsters” and “fuckbuckets”; the “money shot” (ejaculation in a woman’s face) is standard; humiliating cruelty-like violent “ass-to-mouth” penetration-is normalized, and racist bigotry is sexualized. Meanwhile, the broader culture has been pornified: pole dancing is taught at gyms, “sexting” is a national phenomenon among teens, and the strip club is the accepted backdrop to “male bonding.” All this is tied in with, and reinforces, the trafficking of millions of women and girls as literal chattel in the international sex industry. This is NOT society becoming more comfortable with sex. This is society becoming saturated with the sexualized degradation of women. Women are not objects. Women are not things to be used for the sexual pleasure of men NOR are they breeders of children. WOMEN ARE HUMAN BEINGS CAPABLE OF FULL EQUALITY IN EVERY REALM!
Read more here.
Contact [email protected] or for local info: [email protected]

The Bluest Eye Revisited—Again

By Sikivu Hutchinson

During this past weekend’s Moving Secularism Forward conference in Orlando I was on a panel called Outreach and Advocacy with 16 year-old activist Jessica Ahlquist and constitutional lawyer Eddie Tabash.  Ahlquist discussed her courageous activism against religious bigotry in Rhode Island and Tabash issued a call for secular vigilance on church/state separation.  The panel was expertly moderated by CFI’s African Americans for Humanism director Debbie Goddard.  Debbie kept the discussion lively by amplifying the themes of race/gender politics, church/state separation and that we raised during our respective presentations.  At the end of the session I was approached by a young biracial African American woman who spoke passionately about her struggle with self-image, identity and mainstream white beauty standards.  As the only woman of color in the audience (she, Debbie, and myself were the only women of color at the conference as a whole) she connected with my presentation on beauty standards, the cultural construction of femininity, and black and Latina young women’s organized resistance to sexism and misogyny during the modern civil rights movement era and in contemporary battles around educational equity.  Coming from an interracial family in which she and her 9 year-old sister were largely socialized to believe white beauty ideals were the norm, she identified with discussion of my Women’s Leadership Project students’ activism on racist misogynist representations of women of color.  For women of color, humanism can’t be understood outside of the historic context of black and brown women’s enslavement, sexual exploitation, and colonization.  This legacy continues to shape the way black and Latina women are portrayed in a global image industry in which we are either hyper-sexualized as Jezebel super sluts or domesticated yet again as the noble self-sacrificing god-fearing “Help” to white women.  Moreover, anti- abortion and family planning public policy (such as race-selection abortion legislation and GOP crusades to repeal birthright citizenship steeped in propaganda that demonizes undocumented Latinas as “anchor baby” breeders) targeting black and Latina fertility/reproduction institutionalizes this regime of dehumanization and invisibility.  The psychological damage inflicted on young girls of color is played out in the multi-million dollar consumption of white Barbies, white princesses, and scores of TV shows featuring white girls as lead character heroines while girls of color (if present at all) add “spice” as the wisecracking/level-headed/sassy sidekick.

Four decades after the publication of Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye these cultural biases are also manifest in Americana’s obsession with missing white women and girls.  In a climate where girls of color lap up the Bad Girls reality show and covet cheap dangerously unhygienic colored contact lenses sold on the street, Morrison’s meditation on the violent disfiguring of black girls’ psyches is nakedly relevant.  Western paradigms of rationality, individual liberty, citizenship and objectivity were and continue to be articulated through the debased othered racialized bodies of women of color.  And as I said at the Orlando talk, in all of my years of K-12 education no one ever handed me a book written by a black woman like Morrison and said that what she wrote is universal truth.  Or that civilizations rose and fell on the power of her words. Or that entire belief systems sprung from her ideas and teachings.  And no one ever taught me to believe that some of the world’s greatest intellectuals came from plantations, reservations, barrios and “ghettoes.”  Instead, white male secularists were the heroes, leaders, intellectuals, and “creators” of all that mattered in American history.  This is the life and death humanist struggle that women of color are spearheading—one that says that laying claim to our own bodies, destinies and right to self-determination is still a radical revolutionary concept.  One that my students and the young biracial sister at the conference continue to fight everyday of their lives.

What Not to Say to Radical Atheists/Humanists of Color

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Preliminary observations from this weekend’s virtually all-white Moving Secularism Forward conference:

  1. We are all Africans—so don’t you (people) know that race is just a social construct

People of color say this all the time to:

a. The white police officers who stop them, frisk them and/or beat the shit out of them because they (five foot two and dark skinned) look like the identical twin of some black or Latino (six feet and light skinned) person suspected of criminal activity in the area

b. The white salespeople who follow them around in stores or the host/hostess who seats them and their families in the back of restaurants

c. The school administrators who suspend them for being “defiant” in the classroom while their white peers get a slap on the wrist for more serious offenses like theft, fighting/assault or drug use

d. The counselors of all races/ethnicities who don’t program them into AP or honors classes because everybody knows black kids can’t cut it in an academically rigorous environment

e. The film studio heads who don’t hire black, Latino, Native American or Asian directors, producers and casting agents due to corporate insider politics that keep them draining the same pool of connected white power brokers; thus giving the impression that the U.S. is a lily white nation in which only white heroes/action figures/politicians/historical figures/professionals/freshly scrubbed or dysfunctional middle American families and romantic heroes and heroines define American culture.

f. Add your favorites to this list

2. I don’t see color

 

3. How do “we” diversify the “movement”

If you are not willing to do the serious work, reading, re-education and organizing then don’t go there. Diversity in and of itself is a bromide. Anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism and destroying white supremacy—that is what this work is about for many radical humanist/atheists. Trotting out “diversity” is guaranteed to make ears bleed rivers of pus when posed by the umpteenth clueless individual not willing to put the work into coalition building across issues with non-secularist organizations with a social justice, gender justice and/or LGBTQ orientation. Homelessness, reproductive justice, educational equity, and prisoner re-entry, and scholarship development are all intersectional issues that secular humanist groups can get involved in if they simply got up off the privilege of not seeing these as pressing daily bread and butter concerns.

4. I don’t understand why black people identify with the religion of the oppressor

And I don’t understand why white working class people (according to liberal-progressive theorists) supposedly vote “against” their economic interests and support Christian fascist oligarchs like Rick Santorum. This must have something to do with the very real economic interest of white race/class privilege or what DuBois termed the wages of whiteness. Number 4 is the rhetorical equivalent of non-black people saying the “N-word” out of either racism or because its hip/cool/cute and everybody else does it. When poor people of color need shelter, utilities’ assistance, computer access, etc. they don’t trot down to the local “inner city” humanist foundation of reason and science or, for that matter, the local community center. The former is an oxymoron. And due to the systematic dismantling of social welfare resources in urban communities of color the latter doesn’t exist. So don’t say this shit unless you have some nuanced historical grasp of the institutional and historical factors that inform black religiosity as a function of segregation, cultural identity formation, resistance to white supremacy and adoption of capitalism, heterosexism, patriarchy and sexism.

5.  There are no legal barriers to equality anymore

21st century de facto segregation, in which people of color have been virtually denied equitable access to living wage jobs, housing, and education, is more pernicious now than during legal segregation. A recent Brown University study reports that residential segregation is greater now than it was 20 years ago. Even black and Latino middle class people still live in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods that are more economically depressed than are the neighborhoods white working class people live in. The most segregated cities are in the more enlightened secular “north” and post Brown v. Board public schools have re-segregated in this so-called era of post-racialism. The criminal justice system disproportionately convicts and assigns harsher sentences to black juvenile offenders who are more likely to land in adult prisons than white juvenile offenders accused of identical crimes. Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book the New Jim Crow chronicles how a perfect storm of racist perceptions, racially disparate sentencing and discriminatory prisoner re-entry policies have effectively disenfranchised generations of black and Latino youth.

6. “We” still have a lot to do on “race” but “we” are mostly anti-racist

See above

 

I’m not here to talk about the great aspects of religion

By Frederick Sparks

I’m especially not here to talk to black people, an important target audience of mine, about how great religion is, and specifically, how African-Americans took a religious paradigm that was a significant factor in justifying enslavement and encouraging complacent acceptance of a repressive status quo and flipped it into a liberation theology. That narrative is already ascendant within my target community.  How Jesus has been good for black folks is still largely un-debated, and those who have debated it in the past have had their words whitewashed in historical revisionism or wholly ignored. I and others are here to provide a much needed counter narrative.

And as much hoopla and prominence as the new atheist movement has received, it’s still not the ascendant narrative generally.  So I view many of the critiques of new atheism with a mixture of bemusement and annoyance, in part, because I think some of the critics are simultaneously pissed they didn’t write the End of Faith or The God Delusion first, while at the same time owing whatever attention they receive to the very phenomenon they critique; because of course where would they be without defining themselves in contradistinction?  Wouldn’t it be just as easy to proselytize the ecumenical atheist vision of “interfaith” cooperation without tearing down other atheists?

Those of us who are atheists/secularists and interested in issues of social justice (many of the bloggers here on freethoughtblogs) are fully aware of and engaged in the struggle to bring these issues to the forefront of the “secular movement”, facing resistance from those who think such subjects are not in the purview of skepticism, or those who feel that raising issues of race, gender or class inequality is too “political” and risks alienating those neoconservative neo-libertarians who might otherwise be attracted to the conversation. We are fully aware of the need to provide avenues of community support that religion at its best provides.  And we don’t appreciate accomodationist straw man construction that ignores our efforts and awareness, particularly when the straw man constructors turn victim when called on their intellectual dishonesty.