Leaving Jesus: Women of Color Beyond Faith

Mandisa Thomas

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The 24-hour prayer sessions are the true test of a warrior for Jesus.  They require Herculean stamina, the patience of Job, the rigor of elite marathon runners hitting the wall in a fiery sweat pit at high altitude, primed for God’s finish line. In many small storefront Pentecostal churches these “pray-a-thons” are women’s spaces; hubs of music, food, caregiving, and intense witnessing.  My student Stacy Castro* is a bass player in her Pentecostal church’s band.  She is also the pastor’s daughter and a regular participant in the pray-a-thons, a mainstay in some evangelical congregations. Much of her weekends are focused on church activities. And though she is an intelligent gifted speaker, up until her participation in the Women’s Leadership Project she thought little about pursuing college and wanted to go to cosmetology school.  Stacy’s aspirations are not atypical of students at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles.  In a community that is dominated by churches of every stripe only a small minority go on to four year colleges and universities.

Over the past decade, Pentecostal congregations have burgeoned in urban communities nationwide, as Pentecostalism has exploded amongst American Latinos disgruntled by rigid Catholic hierarchies, alienating racial politics, and sexual abuse scandals.  The gendered appeal of Pentecostalism is highlighted in a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey which concludes that, “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%). Italics added.”[i]

In my book, Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars, I argued that the literature on secularism and gender does not capture the experiences of women of color negotiating racism, sexism, and poverty in historically religious communities.  The relative dearth of secular humanist and freethought traditions amongst women of color cannot be separated from the broader context of white supremacy, gender politics, and racial segregation.  Harlem Renaissance-era writers Nella Larsen and Zora Neale Hurston are generally acknowledged as pioneering twentieth century black women freethinkers.  Yet what few women’s freethought histories there are celebrate the political influence of prominent nineteenth century white women non-believers, [Read more…]

Lee Atwater breaks down the GOP “Southern Strategy” in 1981

By Frederick Sparks

Jimmy Carter’s grandson, James Carter IV, who brought us the infamous “47%” Mitt Romney video, has uncovered the audio recording of an interview of the famed political consultant Atwater by late political science professor Alexander Lamis.  Lamis published the interview without using Atwater’s name in his 1984 book  The Two Party South, and later used the quotes again, fully attributed, after Atwater’s death.  But conservatives long questioned the validity of Lamis’ article and bashed Lamis’ integrity and objectivity, which upset Lamis’  widow who made the tapes available to Carter.

The recording puts the words previously cited in a larger context, in which Atwater on the one hand argues that the new strategy rests on the assumption of a post-racial South whose electorate (including African Americans) would respond more to the superior neo conservative economic message than to racial politics, yet at the same time Atwater delineates how subtle language couched in economic terms could still blow racial dog whistles tuned to the anti-black sentiment of southern whites:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

The GOP message has hardly strayed from this formulation, though demographic changes and the phnomenon of Barack Obama has rendered it less effective in the last 2 presidential elections, in terms of ultimate victory.  Yet the coded message  still resonates with the majority of voters in southern states, at a time when the Supreme Court is prepared to review the constitutionality of provisions of the Voting Rights Act; a review that is justified because presumably the South is beyond all that racial stuff.

Besting them at their own game: Planned Parenthood PACs outperform Rove’s

By Frederick Sparks

And it wasn’t even close. According to the Sunlight Foundation,  97.82% of the expenditures of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Inc. and 98.58% of the expenditures of Planned Parenthood Votes’ ended in the desired results, in terms of candidates supported and opposed.   As a comparison:

The worst performers were the NRA’s super PAC and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, with 0.81 percent and 1.29 percent respectively.

Sweet irony.

I was in Nevada as part of a large group of volunteer lawyers acting as poll observers, and an old friend now serving as a political consultant in Las Vegas told me that P.P. was organized and energized through this entire cycle.   The anti-choice forces and the politicians who cater to them stirred up a real hornets’ nest.   While Citizen’s United remains a disaster of a Supreme Court decision and we’d be far better off with publicly funded elections, sometimes you have to play defense, and I for one am proud of Planned Parenthood for doing it so well.

2016: The Empire Strikes Back

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Over the past four years President Obama has promoted Wall Street’s capitalist siege against working and middle class homeowners.  He has sanctioned drone attacks on thousands of innocent Middle Eastern people.   He has ignored the deepening crisis of African American unemployment, foreclosure, and mass-incarceration.  He has presided over more deportations of undocumented immigrants than George W. Bush and literally excised the word “poor” out of his political vocabulary.  The list of his concessions to militarist, corporatist, and faith-based public policies that undermine progressive social change is long.  For much of his first term, Obama has indeed done a good job of consolidating empire.  That said the defeat of Mitt Romney and smarmy Ayn Rand minion Paul Ryan should stand as a warning and “teachable moment” to the forces of bigotry, white supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia and Christian fascism that hate-mongering, race- and red-baiting are not enough.   In the end, the so-called 53% that Romney cynically whipped up in lynch mob solidarity was not enough.  Nor was the shrill coalition of older, white “government is the Anti-Christ” voters that have tried to demonize public employee unions and wipe out decades of civil rights gains for working people.  Nor was the relentless propaganda for gutting health care for children, the mentally ill and the disabled.  Nor were the welfare queen-mongers who wrapped themselves in the dirty flag of God and Country on the backs of “shiftless” black people and breeder “illegals”.  These forces will destroy what remains of social welfare in the U.S.  But the multiracial electorate of students and workers that organized to defeat Romney represents the true face of the nation.  Some of my students were motivated to vote for Barack Obama out of the belief that a Romney presidency would have virtually guaranteed a new form of slavery —one in which women of color would be imprisoned by the backlash against reproductive rights, education, and workers’ rights.  Four years ago so-called “personhood initiatives” were still largely unknown.  Four years ago it was still possible to transfer from a community college in two years without system delays and financial aid had not yet become a fantasy.  Four years ago the percentage of black homeless and foster care youth had not yet reached crisis proportions.

These are the realities that young people of color face in a state that is in the midst of its worst fiscal crisis in generations.  If President Obama squanders the energy and direction of this newly galvanized constituency with more corporate toadyism and welfare for the super-rich 2012 will be the last gasp before 2016’s full court GOP insurgency with a “reformed” Ryan in sheep’s clothing and a kinder gentler brown surrogate to placate the “hordes.”

California In Crisis: Critical Ballot Measures

California Voter Recommendations from Black Skeptics & Radical Women Los Angeles:

We live in contradictory times, and the ballot reflects this with several, mostly bad, tax propositions plus an entreaty to eliminate the death penalty, repeal Three Strikes and increase funding for K-16 education.

  • Proposition 30: Temporary Tax Increases for Education and other Needs— VOTE YES

According to RW “If passed, this measure would increase the state sales tax by .25% for four years, and increase modestly graduated income tax rates on individuals making at least $250,000 a year for seven years. This measure is on the ballot because Governor Brown convinced the California Federation of Teachers to abandon their popular grassroots-initiated Millionaires Tax, which exclusively targeted the 1% with permanent tax increases but frightened Brown’s big business allies.”

Although Prop 30 is a stopgap it is CRITICAL.  If it doesn’t pass school districts that already have nearly a month of unpaid teacher furlough days will have more, massive layoffs and displacements will occur and class sizes will increase at the K-12 level.  The community college and four year systems will be even more overburdened than they are now; with fewer classes, more waiting lists, less long term instructors and longer transfer and graduation times.

  • Proposition 31: State Budget Restrictions—Vote NO

This complex constitutional amendment would require “performance review” of all state programs, budget cuts to balance all new expenditures and give the governor power to make unilateral cuts in times of a “fiscal emergency.”

  • Proposition 32: Limits Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction—Vote NO

This measure pretends to get big money out of politics, but exempts big business and their PACs. The real targets are public and private sector unions who would be forbidden to use members’ dues for any political purpose without express, yearly, written permission from individual members. It’s an attack on labor’s ability to fight for working-class issues.

  • Proposition 33: Car Insurance Increases based on Prior History—Vote NO

This is another attempt by the insurance industry, particularly the CEO of Mercury Insurance, to raise premiums on those who have not had continuous coverage for five consecutive years. The first to pay will be the poor, students and immigrants.

  • Proposition 34: Replace the Death Penalty with Life Without Parole—Vote YES

This would rid California of the death penalty, a legacy of slavery. Despite the many things wrong with this initiative—mandatory life without parole, and mandated work for those convicted of murder—this is a step forward to end a practice that kills mostly the poor and people of color.

  • Proposition 35: Increases the  Penalties for Human Trafficking—Vote NO

As socialist feminists, we abhor human trafficking of laborers and sex workers. However, this initiative statute poses a threat to civil liberties, has an overly-broad net that could impact any sex worker—trafficked or not—and duplicates current laws while doing little for victims.

  • Proposition 36: Revises the  Three Strikes Law—Vote YES

The original law mandates life in prison for anyone convicted of three felonies. This initiative statute would reduce the life sentence in a limited number of cases. A better option would be to strike down the entire law because it disproportionally affects the poor and people of color.

  • Proposition 37: Labeling Genetically Engineered Food—Vote YES

This initiative statute is a step in the right direction in providing consumers information about food purchases, although it contains many exceptions.

  • Proposition 38: Income Tax Increase to Fund Education—Vote NO

Like Proposition 30, this is aimed at increasing funding for California’s impoverished education system but, this measure increases taxes on all income earners—including the overburdened poor and working class— instead of targeting the rich and corporations.

  • Proposition 39: Multi-state Business Taxes—Vote YES

This initiative statute closes a loophole used by businesses that operate outside California, and adds $1billion to state revenues while establishing a Clean Energy Job Creation Fund.

Los Angeles Measures

  • · Measure A. Appointment of County Assessor – LA County—Vote NO

This measure is an advisory vote on whether to replace an elected official with an appointed one because the last elected County Assessor was corrupt. But appointed boards are loaded with corrupt power company stooges, real estate tycoons and big business crooks.

  • · Measure J. Maintain sales tax increase– LA County—Vote NO

This measure would maintain the current one half cent sales tax increase for accelerated light rail construction for another 30 years. Basic infrastructure should be paid for by taxing the wealthy and their businesses, not by an unrelenting parade of regressive taxes. Enough already.

 

 

Trailblazing Black Women Scientists: Carol Mae Jemison in L.A.!

Devin Waller

Dr. Carol Mae Jemison

On Sunday, November 4th trailblazer and kick ass inspiration Dr. Carol Mae Jemison, the first black woman astronaut, will be in Los Angeles at the California Science Center and the California African American Museum (CAAM) to “give personal accounts of traveling on the Endeavour and life inspirations that led to her becoming a trailblazer.”  Dr. Jemison has a B.A. in chemical engineering and an M.D. from Cornell University.  In her autobiography Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments from My Life, Jemison reflected on how, after professing interest in being a scientist to one of her teachers, she was told to set her sights on being a nurse instead.  As a sixteen year-old undergraduate at Stanford University, she was practically shunned by her physical science instructors.

Although her experiences occurred during the sixties and seventies, the dominant view of who is a proper scientist has not changed.  Planetary geologist Devin Waller echoed Jemison’s experience recently when she spoke to Women’s Leadership Project students at Gardena and Washington Prep High Schools.  Ms. Waller, who was just appointed Project Manager over Science Research and Artifacts at the California Science Center (where the Endeavour is now housed), related how she was treated like an oddball who clearly didn’t belong in upper division science courses by her predominantly white male classmates in the UCLA Physics department.  Devin was the only African American woman at UCLA to receive a bachelor’s in Astrophysics in 2005.  During her talk with WLP she highlighted her early interest in science and her mother’s efforts to expose her to science exploration despite there being no family members or role models who’d pursued science in her immediate community.  She also reflected on her persistence at getting into the Planetary Geology program at Arizona State University (again as the only black woman in her department), despite not having a background in geology.

Dr. Jemison will be at CAAM at 2 pm.