Professional basketball player Jason Collins comes out

by Frederick Sparks

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

Jason-CollinsIn case you hadn’t heard, NBA journeyman center Jason Collins has declared to the world that he is a gay man.   Collins entered the NBA twelve years ago, along with his twin Jarron, after the two played collegiate basketball at Stanford.  He is being hailed as the first out active male athlete in a major professional team sport in the U.S. (though some may argue that late baseball player Glenn Burke was the first).

Collins says he was inspired to come out after his former college roommate, current Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy, marched in a Boston gay pride parade:

I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I’d been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, “Me, too.”

The reaction across the twitter verse and blogsphere, with some exceptions, has been positive, with Kobe Bryant and other current and former players and coaches offering support.  ESPN analyst Chris Broussard, apparently troubled by Collins’ reference to his Christian upbringing and respect for Jesus Christ and how that fits into a viewpoint of tolerance and acceptance,  stated (on a sports show) that Jason couldn’t be a Christian and an “active” homosexual at the same time.  Also, some seem to believe that the fact that Jason’s twin Jarron is not gay means that homosexuality is a choice.

Collins is a free agent (meaning not under contract with any team), having done stints this season with both the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.  Now the question moves to whether his coming out will affect the decision making of team owners who would otherwise be interested in adding Collins to their rosters.   Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who works for an openly gay team President, felt the need to point out that he is a Christian man with a sense of right and wrong before saying that Collins would be welcome on his team “if he had game. If he could help this team”.

Beyond the reaction of people in the sports world, what intrigues (and annoys) me is the reaction of commentators who wonder why this is a big deal and throw out inane chestnuts about how straight people don’t announce that they are straight.  This is the blind spot of social privilege..not recognize that straight people quite often announce their sexuality in many ways (wearing wedding rings, referring to wives and husbands) that go unnoticed because it is the expected norm.  It also smacks of the sentiment that the problem is not with bias, but with discussing bias, and with discussing issues of identity that are related to bias.

Prison House of Textbook History: Remembering the Chicano Blowouts

WLP & Paula C.

WLP & Paula C.

Women's history four corners

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In all my years of “post-Jim Crow” public education no one ever handed me a book written by a black woman and said that what she wrote is universal truth.  I was never told that so-called civilizations rose and fell on the power of her words, or that entire belief systems sprung from her ideas.  I was never taught that the world’s greatest intellectuals worked plantations, were herded onto reservations, or traveled everyday from barrios and “ghettoes” to keep white people’s children.  Intellectuals and philosophers—serious thinkers—were white men, with no need for a living wage job.  They did not ride public buses or clean houses or go to schools where stop-and-frisk was a routine practice.  They did not have to worry, like my students do, about being assigned to special education classes because they were chronic discipline “problems” or didn’t speak “proper” English.  They were never told that they would be more likely to drop-out and get pregnant than go on to a four-year college.  These vaunted intellectuals and philosophers were certainly not seventeen year-old East L.A. girls like Paula Crisostomo, a Mexican-American Filipina activist who helped spearhead the Chicano student walkouts of 1968.  As a student at Lincoln High School in East L.A. Crisostomo was influenced by social studies teacher Sal Castro, who recently passed away at the age of 79.  Castro’s fierce commitment to culturally relevant education inspired generations of youth social justice activism in the LAUSD.  His guidance of Crisostomo and other youth leaders helped make the 1968 walkouts the largest high school student protests in this nation’s history.  Thousands of students boycotted their classes in protest over lack of college access, tracking policies, prohibition of Spanish in the classroom, and racist curricula.

I did not learn about the walkouts in high school.  In the march of great Western liberal democratic traditions there were no textbook portrayals of the homegrown activism in our own communities or link between the apartheid legacy of the past and its echoes in the present.  Instead, “social justice” history consisted of canned recitations of how Martin Luther King “led” the civil rights movement.  Then, as now, many of us disengaged from these token classroom discussions because activism was framed as though it was a distant, hallowed phenomenon propelled by charismatic god-status heroes.  Racism equaled the Klan, black people getting hosed down and spit at, black men being lynched, and the indignity of segregated water fountains.  Racism wasn’t the systematic sexual terrorism of black women in the Jim Crow South and the de facto segregationist North or the demonization of black women as welfare queen matriarchs.  Then, as now, there was no room for analyses of sexism, racial apartheid, heterosexism, and patriarchy and how our lived experiences diverged from the corrupt pedagogy of the American dream.

Last year, Crisostomo came and spoke to a group of my students at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles.  She drew parallels between the racism she’d encountered during the Vietnam War era and the de facto segregation of the Obama age. [Read more...]

Laurie James: A New Atheist for the New Millennium

Laurie James

Laurie James

By Naima Washington

To be sure, many assumptions are made about atheists. Some of the assumptions about atheists are made by atheists, and African American atheists are among the easiest people to stereotype: we are all in the closet; and/or have one foot in the secular world and the other in a pew; and/or due to so many years of religious brain-washing, unlike white people, black people aren’t authentic atheists. On March 28, 2013, I went to Austin, Texas for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the American Atheists. It is at secular meetings, large or small, where I try to meet every black person in attendance, and I was in for a secular surprise when I introduced myself to Laurie James, a beautiful, dreadlocked, fiery, unapologetic atheist. As a courageous truth-teller who defies all stereotypes, Laurie is both sensitive and uninhibited representing open-hearted, honest-to-goodness, Caribbean womanhood at its best!

Laurie studied and trained to be an evangelist, and no doubt evolved into a believer who apparently took no prisoners. Born in Jamaica, she arrived in NYC the divorced mother of four small children and recalls the loneliness of having no family members or friends in her newly-adopted country; she had no one but Jesus as most committed Christians would say. She recounted the endless time spent preparing her small children for the arduous journey to and from church, three times a week. Hurriedly making her way along the sidewalks, she’d push the double-stroller containing her two smallest children with one hand; and would pull along the other two children with her other hand. By the time she fought her way in and out of trains and subways stations, she’d finally arrive at church drop-dead exhausted only to have to reverse the process for the trip back home. This insane routine carried out three times a week clearly took a toll on all five of them, and although very much a believer, she continued making these treks until she just couldn’t do it any longer.

Laurie’s brand of theology also included faith healing. The majority of theists say that their gods can heal illness, yet at the first sign of a serious illness or injury, any praying that they do for healing takes place in their doctor’s office! In Laurie’s case, faith healing meant faith healing and there was to be no medical intervention. If someone was ill church members would ‘gather in a circle around the person; pray, lay hands on the person’ and plead to the gods for an intervention. If no church members were around, prayer for healing could take place over the phone. I’ve read stories about faith healing and all of them left me feeling depressed, but the unfortunate reality is that many people who practice faith healing coincidentally have little to no access to medical care. People with serious illnesses who don’t receive medical treatment will experience tragic consequences regardless of their beliefs. Laurie nearly lost one of her children who had become seriously ill, and tragically members of her family died after receiving no medical treatment. Their deaths, extremely painful and probably preventable, have no doubt left her with horrific memories and permanent emotional scars.

Laurie abandoned both faith and faith healing less than three years ago, and her recollections struck me as both devastating and ironic because her tee shirt had the quote of one of her heroes, Madlyn Murray O’Hair: An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. But, some believers even at the moment they’re [Read more...]

Sikivu Hutchinson @ L.A. Times Festival of Books

l.a. times book festSo much conversation regarding atheism and humanism gains no traction, and does little to push beyond areas of comfort and well worn arguments. Sikivu Hutchinson’s work offers an important corrective to this. With clear and sharp insights, Hutchinson pushes readers to recognize and tackle the patterns of thought and action that limit any real ability to respond to issues of race, gender, and sexuality from a transformative and humanist perspective. Read her work, but fasten your seat belt first!”

– Anthony Pinn, author, African American Humanist Principles and The End of God Talk: An African American Humanist Theology

 

From Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels (forthcoming May 2013):

Christianity was one of the primary means by which African Americans learned the lexicon of becoming subjects through otherness. This is a uniquely American dialectic, borne of the soul-killing terrorism of slave ships, and, later, the plantation, a gulag awash in the new republic’s corrupt gospel of individual liberty. When my students traveled to the California African American museum last year, they had a chance to see and imagine the terror of these spaces. They walked through galleries with floor-to-ceiling inscriptions chronicling the birth dates, family lineages, appearances, habits, and idiosyncracies of slaves. They marveled at the relevance and medievalism of the notorious Willie Lynch manifesto. Their blood ran cold at the military assemblage of black bodies in the slavers’ hull. They stood mesmerized, contemplating the sheer number, weight, and scope of intertwined bodies, twinned in the endless sea voyage, hour after murderous hour. Enraged, many of them wondered how these obliterated ancestors made it out alive. How they resisted the gnashing white turbine of the sea and the urge to rise up against their savage captors.

 

Often did I think many of the inhabitants of the deep much more happy than myself. I envied them the freedom they enjoyed, and as often wished I could change my condition for theirs.

Olaudah Equiano, 1789

Later, in the classroom, we read Alice Walker on the spirituality of art-making. She wonders about the enslaved “genius” great-grandmothers denied the right to their own bodies. The space of the transcendent artist is that of the white male, the universal subject, the hero, the kingmaker, the muse chasing romantic. Their art hangs timelessly on museum walls funded by billionaires and corporations. Their art demands time, self-presence, self-possession, insularity, a privileged distance from the relentlessness of everyday life and the oppressive inconvenience of the body. The caricature of the masturbatory white male artist is one of the crazy booze swilling, dick swinging, T&A besotted libertine whose creativity is powered by testosterone and angst. Within the Western artistic canon, the woman exists to provide sex, inspiration, and succor, to be a pious sacrifice at the altar of male genius.