Return of the Welfare Queens: Feminism, Secularism, Anti-Racism

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The percentage of white feminists who are concerned about racism is still a minority of the movement, and even within this minority those who are personally sensitive and completely serious about formulating an activist challenge to racism are fewer still.  Barbara Smith, Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology

In the American imagination, Black women are the poster children for disreputable irresponsible motherhood and Latina “illegals” a close second.  From birth to adolescence every girl of color must navigate a political climate in which Ronald Reagan’s racist welfare queen caricature casts long shadows.  Ending its noble boycott of covering black women, the L.A. Times recently served up some red meat for welfare queen watchers.  The front page featured an extensive profile of 27 year-old Natalie Cole, a jobless unmarried unskilled black mother with four kids.  Entitled “Caught in the Cycle of Poverty” the article trots out an expert from Harvard who sagely proclaims that “poverty is bad for kids”; offering no further analysis on how the richest most militarized nation on the planet pimps out its children.  Instead, we are regaled with Cole’s hot mess of personal failure and pathology.  Coming from a long line of young single mothers, by the time she was 17 she was raising two children.  She can’t be bothered to do a résumé or use birth control to avoid having a fifth child.  The prayer “God in heaven, hear my prayer keep me in thy loving care” is taped to her bedroom wall.  Needless to say she will not be getting her Oxygen, TLC or Lifetime reality show any time soon.

The article was especially timely, tragic, and enraging because I recently found out that one of my most inquisitive students is pregnant at 16.  Several of my Women’s Leadership Project alums, who worked their asses off to become the first in their families to go to college, speak of friends that have had children shortly after graduating from high school.  As budding feminists they are overly familiar with the “validation” pregnancy supposedly provides working class young women of color inundated with media propaganda that hyper-sexualizes black and Latina bodies and demonizes abortion.

In this South Los Angeles school-community only a small fraction of the student body goes on to college and many youth are in foster care, often having to raise themselves.  Small evangelical store front churches grossly outnumber living wage job centers, God and Jesus are touted as some of the biggest “cultural” influences, and high teen pregnancy rates are a symptom of the expendability of “other people’s children” (to quote education activist Lisa Delpit).  Thirty years ago scoring a living wage job with benefits was still a possibility for a South L.A. teenager with only a high school diploma.  Now, having a college degree is the bare minimum for getting a decent paying job.  However the regime of mass incarceration has made the barriers to college-going even higher for youth of color.  One in six black men has been incarcerated and in some instances whites with criminal records elicit more favorable responses from employers than do black or Latino applicants with no records.  Mainstream media focus on the staggering unemployment rates of men of color has eclipsed attention to the economic downturn’s equally devastating impact on black women.  Deepening segregation, diminishing job prospects due to the gutting of public sector employment (23% of black women are employed in public sector jobs) and mental health crises have pushed more women of color into the church pews, or, alternative spirituality, with a vengeance. [Read more...]

Shift in Black American opinion on gay marriage?

By Frederick Sparks

After President Obama expressed personal support for marriage equality, pundits wasted no time pondering the effects on the upcoming presidential election, including whether or not the president’s “evolved” position would alienate African-Americans, the President’s most loyal voting bloc.

And indeed there has been negative reaction from the black clergy.   Maryland based anti-gay preacher Harry Jackson stated “Obama laid down the gauntlet on black leaders..the question we are being forced to address is ‘are you going to be black or be godly.’” (Being godly of course means being homophobic)   And a group of African-American pastors, the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP),  led by Memphis based “Reverend Doctor” William Owens soundly condemned the president’s statement, with Owens asserting that there was no doubt that the president would lose black votes:   “Absolutely it will and especially among the black churches where the conviction against same-sex marriage is so strong…”I think many black Christians feel somewhat betrayed by the president on this – this is something that black churches have always stood firmly against.”

Yet there are suggestions that the views of these “leaders” may be increasingly disconnected from the masses.   Polling conduct by Public Policy Polling on a Maryland referendum that would keep the states marriage equality law in place showed a dramatic swing in opinion among black voters; in March 56% were opposed to the new law, now  (following Obama’s statement) 55% are in favor of marriage equality.  This also tracks an ABC News/Washington Post Poll showing 59% of African-Americans nationwide in support of marriage equality.  While other polls of African-Americans on the gay marriage issue have yielded mixed results,  presidential election polling so far has shown no real shift in African-American support away from President Obama.

Following the President’s statements, Black entertainers and athletes have also expressed support for gay marriage or made gay positive statements, including music mogul Jay-Z and Heisman winner and No. 2 NFL draft pick Robert Griffin III.  For better or worse, entertainers and athletes hold sway in influencing public opinion.  

Perusing the website of this Coalition of African-American Pastors, one sees that the group’s mission is the breaking down of church/state separation, and opposing marriage equality and reproductive rights.  No mention of the myriad of important issues that contribute to continued African-American economic and social disadvantage.  This is a prime example of the increasingly irrelevant and out of touch yet stubbornly entrenched phenomenon of blowhard black religious leadership that finds itself increasingly opposed to progressive social change and largely impotent or uninterested when it comes to real issues of social justice.

We Say No More: End Murder & Mass Incarceration

“We Say NO MORE”

The following statement is being circulated for signatures and to influence broad public opinion:

“We Say NO MORE”

The killing of Trayvon Martin and 2.4 million in prison make clear that there is a whole generation of Black and Latino youth who have been marked and treated as a “generation of suspects” to be murdered and jailed. This is not an issue for Black people alone but for all who care about justice; it is not a random tragedy. We say NO MORE!

Initial Signatories

Ron Ahnen, President of California Prison Focus
Charles Alexander, director of the Academic Advancement Program at UCLA
Rene Auberjonois, actor
Eleanor J. Bader, freelance journalist
Dan Barker, co-president, Freedom From Religion Foundation
Kathleen Barry, author Unmaking War, Remaking Men
Missy Comley Beattie, peace and justice activist, Counterpunch contributor
Ken Bonetti, educator
Robert Bossie, SJC 8th Day Center for Justice
Herb Boyd, author/activist/journalist/teacher
Elizabeth Cook, activist in New Orleans
Chris Crutcher, author: Whale Talk, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Deadline
Colin Dayan, author, The Law is a White Dog, How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons
Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Niles Eldredge, Curator Emeritus, American Museum of Natural History
Eve Ensler, Tony Award winning playwright, performer, activist, founder of V-DAY
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president, Freedom From Religion Foundation
Frances Goldin
Kathleen Hanna, musician
Chris Hedges, author, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning
Lyn Hejinian, Professor, Department of English, University of California, Berkeley: poet
Merle Hoffman, founder, president and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center
Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys
Sikivu Hutchinson, editor, blackfemlens.org, freethoughtblogs.com/blackskeptics, author Moral Combat: BlackAtheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars
Ron Jacobs, author and journalist
C. Clark Kissinger
, Revolution Books, NYC
Vinay Lal, university professor and social critic
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun and chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives
Dennis Loo, author, Globalization and the Demolition of Society
Robert Meeropol, Rosenberg Fund for Children
Leo Mintek, Outernational
Tom Morello, Nightwatchman
Florence M. Rice, consumer advocate
Cindy Sheehan, peace and justice activist
Tavis Smiley, talk show host and co-author of The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto
Dr. Donald Smith, past president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators
Sunsara Taylor, Revolution newspaper
Saul Thomas
Cornel West
David Zeiger, filmmaker, director of Sir! No Sir!

Organizational and institutional affiliation provided for identification purposes only.

To add your name, contact: [email protected]

Debunking La Buena Mujer: Latina Atheist Diane Arellano

Diane Arellano

 

 

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Bitch, ho, honorary mammy, Buena mujer.  When it comes to images of Latinas in American mainstream media it’s either Sofia Vergara jiggling out of her shirt channeling Charo or caregiver/maid extraordinaire Lupe Ontiveros clutching her rosary beads, eyes rolling heavenward.  Similarly, the range of casting opportunities for African American women is just as limited, with over 70% of TV roles still going to whites.  Cultural and historical stereotypes about hypersexual women of color continue to define public perceptions of black and Latina women.   And while African American and Latina women have some of the highest poverty and intimate partner violence rates in the country they are also two of the most “churched” groups in the U.S.

Over the past decade the number of Latinas involved in Pentecostalism has skyrocketed.  Many Latinos are breaking away from the pedophile culture, scandal, and hierarchy of the Catholic Church in  a quest to find religious traditions that offer greater community involvement, accessibility, and social connection.  According to the U.S. Latino Religious Identification Report, authored by Juhem Navarro Rivera and colleagues, “Latino religious polarization may be influenced by a gender effect, as in the general U.S. population, with men moving toward no religion and women toward more conservative religious traditions and practices. Two traditions at opposite poles of the religious spectrum exhibit the largest gender imbalance: the None population is heavily male (61%) while the Pentecostal is heavily female (58%).”  Given these challenges it’s not difficult to see why fewer Latinas can publicly risk coming out as atheist or find safe humanist spaces that are culturally responsive.  Until there are secular community-based social, cultural, and economic institutions that redress systemic racism, sexism, patriarchy, and economic injustice secularism will be hollow, abstract, and white-identified for the majority of working and middle class people of color.  Addressing these issues, Los Angeles-based feminist artist and undocumented youth advocate Diane Arellano breaks down the politics of being a Latina non-believer in a reactionary misogynistic era:

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’m a Mexican. I was raised in a de facto secular household. We were peripherally Catholic. Our observance of the Christmas season was more aligned with American mainstream consumerism than the traditional Mexican/ Mexican-American holiday rituals (Posadas, attending Christmas Mass, Christmas donkey song, etc.). We did and still do observe the Christmas tamales or pozole traditions though.

Somewhere in college, I felt the need not to proactively counter the general assumptions that as a Mexican woman, I must be a Catholic or Christian. This is conscious shift in my identity was informed by my interests and participation in activism. When I searched for models of Latino activists, I was very disappointed to see or read about “seeking strength” from “La Virgen” or claiming their work is the work of “God.” I thought about how oppression functions in communities of color and asked myself, “isn’t there a good argument that can be made about the Church’s role in institutionalizing the oppressive gender, race, class, and sexuality paradigms that these activists are fighting so hard against?”

How have atheism, free thought and/or secular humanism shaped your world view?

I don’t feel the shame or guilt that many of my religious women of color peers carry on their shoulders.  In my experience, my religious friends often feel the pressures of complying with “good womanhood.” These pressures include having children that they aren’t at the very least economically ready for at an early age. Another pervasive cultural pressure is “where to find a good man?” This quest for “Prince Charming” is a burdensome weight on many young women, who often attach themselves to men not worth of any kind of attention. I used to feel those pressures too but at this juncture in my life I want to focus on things that matter to me. Leaving my religious identity has allowed me to do that.  In essence I believe all women, but especially women of color, are policed so heavily that we seldom ever question or see beyond gender roles and gender expectations. Few of us ever think about what it would be like to pursue our own dreams vs. supporting “our man” or catering to the best interests of the family. What kind of world would this be if women were provided with the same encouragement, interest, and networks that are provided when a boy or man talks about his dreams and goals?

As an atheist/freethinker what are some of the main issues you’re concerned with?

I’m primarily interested in addressing violence against women of color (sexual abuse, emotional, and physical); the quality of educational opportunities in communities of color; job opportunities and promotion for people of color; and access to non-religious community resources for communities of color (day care, quality schools, food banks, shelter, Narcotics Anonymous).

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

I believe that having non-religious community resources can help people shift from a church-dependent consciousness into a secular or humanist one. I think, especially in communities of color, we tend make the assumption that if you do work helping people, then you must be a “Good Christian.” I can’t tell you how many times the parents of students have told me they include me in their prayers or “God bless me” for helping their children. [Read more...]