By Sikivu Hutchinson
Word on the street has it that that uppity Negress/bad bitch from Black Skeptics has elicited “complaints” from a cabal of festering white men. Last week PZ Myers reported that he and a few others had gotten an industry memo about her article “Black Atheists Rising” in the International Humanists News journal. Since uppity Negress/bad bitch wasn’t cc’ed she can only guess how the virtual smackdown went but PZ did a good job of checking the o.g. gangstas. In a 2000-plus word article about the social justice outreach and scholarship of non-believers of color seems the O.G.s were most riled about the Negress’ wack critique of white supremacy and scientism in the Kumbaya atheist nation.
Meanwhile, in a galaxy not far far away, the Negress attended the American Humanist Association (AHA) conference in New Orleans. On the way to the hotel and the virtually all white conference she rolled through dilapidated segregated neighborhoods in an air-conditioned shuttle bus. Post-Katrina the income and wealth gap between blacks and whites has become more gargantuan. Black unemployment has skyrocketed, black residential displacement is still prevalent, New Orleans schools are hyper-segregated and charterized, and the city is no less churched than it was several years ago. During a seminar the Negress facilitated on Culturally Relevant Humanism some of the white participants got all bothered when she introduced the alien concept of the dominant culture. The seminar went through a variation of Peggy McKintosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” exercise in which race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability privileges are highlighted by who moves where in the room. For example, white folk will never have to worry about their kids being Trayvon Martin. White folk can bet that if they choose to have children they will always be able to see people of their race and/or gender represented in textbooks as authority figures and leaders in science and philosophy. Historically, from the postwar FHA to mortgage lender Countrywide to Louisiana’s Road Homeowner Assistance Program, white homeowners have benefited from affirmative action policies that built white wealth and institutionalized segregated residential patterns. Being of the dominant culture means never seeing it. It means having a near religious belief that good meritocratic shit like living wage jobs, home loans, tenure, and safe communities just come to you because you’re more enlightened, talented, disciplined, and hard working than those lazy shiftless racial others who are in church 24/7 and don’t subscribe to evolution.
During the seminar AHA development director Maggie Ardiente (an outstanding leader and the only other woman of color there) and Dr. Anthony Pinn both reflected on how they are constantly being told by whites in the “movement” that they don’t see them as people of color, don’t see their race, implicitly see them as exceptions, ad nauseum ad infinitum. As Pinn argues in his essential book African American Humanist Principles, white American Humanism was based on the elevation of the (white) universal subject and the construction of the racial other:
“European humanism and white American humanism develop under the assumption of human worth and integrity. That is to say, these two modalities of humanism emerge in light of an assumed value and worth. They develop as the “surface” of Renaissance and Enlightenment confidence. Yet, for those of African descent it is a different story. They are the underbelly of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in that the advances that shape these two periods occur in part because of the slave trade, and the overdetermination and dehumanization of Africans. Mindful of this, one can safely say African American humanism is a reaction against modernity and its ramifications. The ‘freedom’ upon which modernity rests…was not meant for Africans; rather African bodies provided the raw material for this freedom.”
Radical humanism seeks to dismantle the naturalization of white supremacy as the invisible template for rational civilization. Because the o.gs don’t have to know that being Trayvon, or Aiyanna Jones ( a 7-year old black murdered in 2010 by Detroit police as she slept in her own bed), is a 24/7 reality for black children in colorblind America. From the time they are kindergartners to the time they are college students, youth of color are told that Western traditions reflect a universal aesthetic and cultural standard against which all other traditions are measured. They are trained not to see that white men dominate Western art history and education. They are socialized to believe that Western traditions reflect universal objective standards of beauty and truth. These standards tell them what the deep complexities of authentically human experience are, rather than that of their own cultures and communities.
The “Talented Tenth”
Humanism won’t mean a damn thing in their world without the right to self-determination. It has no weight or relevance without a social and gender justice movement that demands equitable access to education, living wage jobs, housing, reproductive health and universal health care as a moral human right. My Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) students challenge and redefine what culturally relevant humanism looks like on a daily basis through their resistance against racist sexist expectations. At the end of the month WLP seniors will receive First in the Family scholarships from a local nonprofit for their kick ass activism and academic performance. Students like Ronmely Andrade were never among the Talented Tenth expected to go on to college. A month ago Ronmely was headed to the military after graduation, swayed by the Marines’ relentless on-campus recruitment campaign. A gifted speaker and presenter, she later expressed misgivings about going to boot camp and training for a career as a mechanic. While so-called inner city schools in South and East L.A. are besieged by military recruiters the more affluent predominantly white schools on the Westside and in the Valley get the college recruiters and the A-G college prep classes with highly qualified teachers who don’t take off after two years. In an era of educational apartheid, the Americana fever pitch of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines is unheard of on these campuses because it is a given that their students will be going on to college, not dying on the frontlines.
Ronmely is an agnostic from a Catholic background and works long hours at Jack in the Box to help support her family. She is a natural born leader who exudes a steely poise and control in front of student audiences that are often hostile to hearing about sexual violence from assertive young women of color. I have been an admirer of her fierceness ever since she came into the program. When I was her age no one ever came to our classrooms to talk to us about sexual violence or sexual harassment. Even though many of us were being sexually harassed or assaulted daily by peers, predator teachers and relatives there was no engagement with the role this played in our sense of self-image and life expectations. There was no feminist youth movement to address misogyny and internalized sexism in communities of color. Criminalized as un-rapeable ho super-sluts women of color weren’t true victims of sexual violence. It was accepted that they should remain silent about their victimization, lest they be smeared as uppity castrating bitches detracting from the “real” issue of the brutalization of men of color. In a recent blogpost on reproductive justice 12th grader Brenda Briones writes, “I have heard many Latino fathers brag about their promiscuous sons. I have never heard a Latino parent brag about a promiscuous daughter. In accordance with their Catholic or Christian beliefs, ‘good daughters’ are expected to stay virgins until marriage. This double standard makes boys think that young women are sexual objects that can be used to prove to the world that they are ‘true players.’ When we as a community, uphold these views, we tell young women that their value is rooted in their sexuality and not their talents or intellect.” A talented writer with a high GPA, Brenda will be attending a community college in the fall because she is undocumented and does not qualify for federal financial aid. In her experiences with college counselors WLP program coordinator Diane Arellano reports that undocumented high school students like Brenda are often explicitly told that there is no college path for them.
This year, with Diane’s guidance, Brenda and her fellow WLP students started an AB540 group to advocate for undocumented youth on their campus. Drop-outs, racist push-out policies, transfers, and incarceration winnow the numbers of 9th graders who eventually graduate. Next week during their graduation they may sit on a football field that is only two thirds full; bad uppity “bitches” ready for their lifelong battle with the O.G.s.