By Sikivu Hutchinson
Skeptic Ink News is reporting that former American Atheists’ development director AJ Johnson is suing AA for racial discrimination and wrongful termination.
“The suit alleges that [A.J.] Johnson was ‘forced to listen to various racial jokes and was subjected to unprovoked, unwarranted, vicious and persistent verbal attacks on everything, including her competence.” It claims “unfounded complaints” against her competence and that this was in spite of excellent performance, citing “dramatically” increased donations which it was her job to solicit. It also indicates that Johnson, the sole African-American employee of American Atheists at the time, was “forced to support” a billboard stating “Slaves obey your masters” which she expressly disapproved of.”
American Atheists’ president David Silverman has vigorously denied Johnson’s charges–even producing a memo Johnson wrote urging her (redacted) email contacts to challenge my March 2012 article criticizing AA’s naked slave billboard. Although Johnson’s lawsuit will be adjudicated in court, her allegations should be taken seriously, especially within the context of a movement that has actively sought to discredit people of color who call out racism and has made little more than a token effort to engage people of color in positions of leadership. Despite frequent tokenistic calls for “diversity” within the “movement”, there are virtually no people of color in executive management positions (notable exceptions being leader-activists Debbie Goddard of CFI and Maggie Ardiente of AHA) in any of the major secular/atheist/humanist organizations. Further, when people of color are constantly bombarded with bullshit claims from Internet cowards about separatism, reverse discrimination and “self-segregation” when they point to the absence of social justice, anti-racist community organizing, coalition-building and visibility (outside of white suburbs and gentrified urban centers) amongst secular organizations, it merely underscores the burning need for authentic real-time grassroots organizations of color beyond the mainstream atheist power structure.