Black Skeptics talk Scientific Racism at CFI Los Angeles

by D Frederick Sparks

This past Wednesday, the Black Skeptics of Los Angeles were featured at CFI Los Angeles’ Cafe Inquiry for a presentation titled Debunking Science as Savior: Is Science Infallible.  The talk focused on the history and present reality of racism and racist exploitation in science, specifically with respect to medical science and medical research.

Black Skeptics members Frederick Sparks and Daniel Myatt gave a brief overview which covered several topics, including the history of scientific notions of racial superiority, exploitation of African Americans in medical reasearch (which included discussions of Thomas Jefferson’s experiments on his slaves and more recent testing of AIDS drugs children of foster care in addition to the wider known Tuskegee syphilis study) , and medical misdiagnosis based on race including the overdiagonosis of schizophrenia in African American Men.  This history was then connected to current mistrust of the scientific and medical establishment among African Americans today, and how this affects attitudes towards everything from the  Theory of Evolution to HIV denialism.  The lack of diversity within scientific fields  (notwithstanding rock star astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson) was also touched upon as a continuing contributing factor to cultural myopia and racism within the practice of scientific and medical research,

Black Skeptics of Los Angeles members Daniel Myatt and Frederick Sparks with CFI’s Jim Underdown

The question and answer session that followed was lively and covered such topics as how even the basics of the scientific method, making observations and forming hypotheses, are affected by cultural perspective.  And while this specific talk focused on black Americans, it was noted that those who are marginalized in society due to economic circumstances are also more vulnerable to abuse from the medical establishment.  The group also discussed the challenge of increasing African American participation in needed medical studies given the historical back drop of abuse and exploitation.

Special thanks to Jim Underdown from CFI Los Angeles for coordinating this event with BSLA.


African Secularists and the Missionary Legacy

By Moses Alusala

To some, African freethought may seem like an oxymoron; contradicting traditional stereotypes.  Most Africans are ignorant of the role freethought has played in the social, cultural, and political development of the continent and continues to play in its evolution. This is because the life, work and deeds of African freethinkers is often ignored or misrepresented by mainstream books of history.  Freethought in Africa emerged mainly as a critique of missionary Christianity for advancing and colluding in the colonial enterprise. It is a conceit of religious adherents in Africa that religion always leads the way in combating morally reprehensible situations. However, this is not always so, religious bureaucracies are often very conservative, accepting the status quo. In the major issues of the 20th century, colonialism, apartheid and neocolonialism, mainstream religions have been slow to react if not opposed to change. However there has always been considerable secular response.

Dr. S. Clarke Ekong once said that “one cannot understand Africa without first knowing African history, and in order to understand African history one must first understand colonialism.” Colonialism in Sub-Saharan Africa introduced conflict across gender, race, class and sexuality. African freethought therefore developed largely as a direct response to concrete historical conditions, (colonialism, and neocolonialism.) which transformed both the function and ideology of the secular activist.

Freethought was largely influenced by the concept of an African cultural identity (negritude), a literary and ideological movement developed by Leopold Sedhor Senghor, the Senegalese poet-statesman. (Senghor’s Negritude served to reverse the system of values that had informed Western perception of blacks since the earliest voyages of discovery to Africa.) The Harlem Renaissance gave negritude both its form and content. The form was poetry and the content was pluralism. [Read more…]

College Dreams, Social Justice: Activist Lizeth Soria

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Recently, the L.A. Times reported that California’s community college system, the gateway to jobs and university transfers for the majority of the state’s students of color, is in a state of deep fiscal crisis.  Fees are increasing, core classes that students need are scant, math and English remediation is the norm for incoming freshman, and vocational training is being pared to a nub — impacting the already abysmal transfer rate.  The implications of the community college crisis will be exacerbated by the low four year college-going rate for youth of color.   For example, at the end of each year in the main hallway at Gardena High School in Los Angeles there is a  display of seniors who’ve gotten accepted to four year colleges.  At a school of over 2300 students this cohort would only fill one classroom.

Gardena High student and AB540 Dreamer activist Lizeth Soria is an undocumented young woman and former student of mine who I have had the pleasure of mentoring through the Women’s Leadership Project feminist civic engagement program.  Liz has written the following appeal for support in her dream to go to college:

Hello Friends, family, and Allies: Hope you’ve had a great summer. My most exciting day so far was June 15th, when president Obama announced Deferred Action. Deferred Action is a progressive policy change that will grant undocumented youth the ability to work legally, obtain a Driver’s License, and walk through our neighborhoods without fear of being deported for at least 2 years.
In California, we also have the California DREAM Act (which will allow undocumented youth to access financial aid) going into effect in January 2013. While these are huge and exciting steps for undocumented youth, Deferred Action may be revoked if President Obama doesn’t win a second term and the California DREAM Act only allows undocumented students to access funds that are left over after citizens and residents have been awarded financial aid. So, I have decided to do the next best thing and fundraise my college tuition by recycling and/or asking for donations. Last year I met an undocumented college student at UCLA who fundraises over $2,000.00 each semester by recycling cans and plastic bottles–so I know this is  something I can accomplish, especially with your help.
Can you help me get to college by thinking green and recycling? THE PLAN:
Aside from collecting cans and bottles on my own, I am asking my friends, allies, and family to collect your own recyclables on my behalf.
I will collect your cans and bottles the last Saturday of each month.
Or, if you want me to stop by your home or work earlier that that, please call me at 424-731-6953 or email me at
If you don’t have cans or plastic bottles you will and you would like to help me I am more than happy to accept donations.
Please let me know if you can make donations for $15 or more.  I will be very grateful to you.
Liz Soria