Sikivu Hutchinson on the Exhale Show: Faith & Religion

Exhale show hosts

Exhale show hosts

Exhale show: Aspire Network

Wednesday, July 31st:

Faith & Religion

Season 1 Episode 5
Airing on July 31, 2013, 8/7CT

The women of Exhale are having some spirited conversation with Columbia Pictures Executive and Author of Produced By Faith Devon Franklin, R&B Artist Kelly Price, Pastor Beverly Bam Crawford

and Atheist and Author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and The Values Wars Dr.

The Politics of Respectability, System Justification and those sagging pants

by Frederick Sparks

Ever since the Zimmerman verdict was announced, there has been a steady stream of black talking heads vying for the Bill Cosby Call Black People Out on Their Shit award. These sociopolitical observers embrace their task of exhortation to remind black people that we are indeed responsible for not only the verdict, but ultimately for most of the challenges plaguing our communities, because we are complicit in promoting images that justify the profiling and stereotyping of young black men, and otherwise make bad choices.

Actor Romany Malco, known primarily for the television show Weeds and the movie 40 Year Old Virgin penned a piece for the Huffington Post, in which he at one points laments the lack of critical thinking, yet follows up (in a section specifically addressed to young black people) by attributing the Zimmerman trial outcome to the fact that we lost the verdict by “using media outlets (music, movies, social media, etc.) as vehicles to perpetuate the same negative images and social issues that destroyed the black community in the first place. When we went on record glorifying violent crime and when we voted for a president we never thought to hold accountable.”

Once again, the responsibility for the outcome is put squarely on the shoulders of black people. As if there is no American historical precedent for the de-humanization of black men and the characterization of black men as criminals that NEVER needed a valid excuse.

CNN anchor Don Lemon got in on the act, deciding that in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict (apparently enough time had passed) it was time to give black America some ” tough love”. Lemon went on to say that Bill O’Reilly hadn’t gone far enough in recent comments about the problems of black Americans, and set out to enumerate 5 things that could be done to “fix” the community: 5) pull up your pants 4) stop using the N word 3) Don’t litter in your neighborhood (apparently white people don’t litter) 2) Finish school and 1) don’t have children out wedlock. On the surface nothing much seems wrong with these statements (though the litter one is strange, I’ve seen plenty of white people litter). The problem is elevating some of the issues, in particular sagging pants and negative mass media images of black Men, to a position of primacy in the hierarchy of causative factors for persistent racial socioeconomic inequality.

It’s all well and good to say “finish school” but how about examining the factors that attribute to high dropout rates, including punitive corrective measures such as expulsion and detention that are applied disproportionately to African American students for the same offenses as white students. When we have a criminal justice system that through the war on drugs, imprisons young black man at rates that are several multiples of that of their white counterparts, despite the fact that blacks and whites both sell and use drugs at similar rates (Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow should be required reading for anyone even attempting a discussion of contemporary racial disparity), when we have continuing joblessness in inner city communities that started with the shift from living wage paying manufacturing jobs to an economy based on financial services, when we have persistent wealth disparities between whites and blacks largely traceable to disparities in home ownership which are explained by far more factors that gangsta rap and sagging pants…when we have all these causative factors that are far more prominent in magnitude and far more insidious…this compulsion to always turn the conversation back to black behavioral choices is particularly short sighted, reductionist and troubling when it comes from black commentators.

And not only are many of these personal responsibility exhorters guilty of reductionism, they often make blithe assertions, backed with very little evidentially, about the nature of the African American community. Like “Black people are the only ones out here killing each other “, when murder is largely an intra-racial crime and most white murder victims are killed by white people. Or “Black people don’t care about/aren’t doing anything about black on black violence and crime in their own communities”, when blacks have always been active in efforts to curb violence in their communities.

Even the largely accepted assertion that the black community pervasively celebrates violence and criminality and has no shame around these issues is a dubious one. Michelle Alexander cites the work of law professor Donald Braman on the experience of families in Washington DC affected by mass incarceration. Contrary to popular belief, young men returning to these predominately black communities after serving prison terms faced a high degree of shame and stigma in their communities, stigma that extended to their families.

Even pointing to the popularity of gangster rap as evidence of pervasive black community celebration of violence and criminality is problematic. For one, as we know, the majority of the consumers are white. And has there not been a persistent celebration in popular culture, across racial lines, of criminals, rebels and counterculture figures? Does the love for the Sopranos and the Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde as works of art and fiction indicate a celebration and endorsement of the values of these characters? Are these images problematic? Sure they can be. And far from wholesale endorsement of these images among black people, there has been a long discussion and critique within the community about these images. I’m not convinced by the argument that these images therefore reflect cultural values or that they are the predominant contributor to the racist stereotyping and profiling of African American men. There’s too much historical precedent for the existence of that phenomenon without the need for a valid reason.

There’s also historical precedent for this type of critique by African Americans about African Americans. It’s the Booker T Washington-esque Politics of Respectability. Washington exhorted newly emancipated African Americans to prove themselves worthy of the franchise, worthy of being treated equal, by demonstrating thrift and industry, and eschewing indolence and wantonness ( Isn’t it amazing how even back then before gangsta rap and sagging pants the black masses somehow still managed to drag down the upwardly mobile blacks?) Then as now, the problem apparently was not continuing racial hostility and discrimination in a land that had been decimated economically by a war, but was instead traceable the behavioral choices and character flaws of black Americans.

I also believe the cognitive roots of this type of critique are explainable by System Justification Theory. People exhibit a tendency to defend the status quo, even if one belongs to a group disadvantaged by that the status. There is a psychological imperative to believe that one does exist within a just system. Implicit in these critiques of dysfunctional black behavior I see the embrace of the idea that America is at heart a true meritocracy, perhaps with a few racial distortions here and there. Yes there is some discrimination, but really the lived experiences of the masses are predominantly dictated by their behavior and choices. This is incredibly psychologically useful for the individual African American, who, while cognizant of racism, still needs to feel like the worse can’t happen to them because they are educated, professional, wear their pants at an appropriate level on their waist and in general made the right choices.  When a person’s “in group” status is precarious I think there is even more of tendency to dump on the marginalized (as we saw with virulent white ethnic immigrant opposition to racial integration) and to reinforce in one’s own mind the ultimate justice of the system.

There need be no false dichotomy between the recognition of continuing structural inequalities and the recognition of the need to be personally responsible and avoid counter-productive choices. But this discussion needs to be based in a context of comprehensive understanding of the issues facing the communities discussed, not on convenient rhetorical touchstones.  And I am bemused by the characterizations of these criticisms of black Americans as somehow novel or brave.  We exist within a social-political and media framework that repeatedly pushes the notion that the disadvantaged are largely responsible for their own plight, that victims must have played some role in their own fate, that those who are better off are better off because they are better people. Nothing new or brave about that.

To Hell with Steve King: A Note of Gratitude

As Congress continues its endless partisan gyrations on immigration reform and Tea Party shills like Steve King ramp up their nativist/racist rhetoric about “criminal” undocumented youth, the lives and futures of real undocumented youth hang in the balance.  BSLA scholarship recipient Hugo Cervantes writes:

BSLA, Hugo & his mom

BSLA, Hugo & his mom

My mother works 8am-7pm Monday to Friday, working as a maid to send her son to college.  My father is a welder who has recently been working miles away from his family in San Francisco because his work is insufficient in Los Angeles compared to San Francisco. He works for his family. His focus is saving for his son’s future college expenses. My immigrant parents’ hard work and devotion tragically still isn’t enough to cover everything a student needs; yet through your beautiful social conscious scholarship you have relieved thousands of nights of my parents worrying worrying worrying every night if their son has enough for books or has a laptop or enough cash for 3 am coffee.  First in the Family has profoundly impacted my immigrant family as well as my academic and personal self esteem after a dark-bell jar senior year.


Thank you for your light, a socially conscious light.


With profound gratitude & kindness,

Hugo Cervantes

The BLACKOUT: Secular Rally in New York

Ayanna Watson, BAAM

Ayanna Watson, BAAM

Mandisa Thomas, BN

Mandisa Thomas, BN


The BLACKOUT: Secular Rally is the first-ever rally featuring

non-believers of color and is scheduled for Saturday, July 27th at Flushing Meadows

Park in Queens, New York from 1:30pm to 6:00 pm.

The event is being hosted by Black Atheists of America and Black NonBelievers.

The purpose of the event is to celebrate secularism and discuss activism,

particularly as it applies to communities of color.  The celebration will

come in the form of musicians, poets and speakers.  BLACKOUT will be a

chance to showcase both, the growing numbers of secular minorities and

pro-secular speakers and performers who may not be well known outside the

African-American community.

The event is family-oriented and appropriate for all ages.

For information contact: Ayanna Watson, or Mandisa Thomas,

Shadow of the Plantation: Statement in Solidarity w/Abortion Freedom Rides

stop patriarchy

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The Stop Patriarchy coalition’s Abortion Freedom Rides begin July 23rd

In her book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Alice Walker writes, “What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmother’s time? Our great-grandmothers’ day? Did you have a genius of a great-great-grandmother who died under some ignorant and depraved white overseer’s lash? Or was her body broken and forced to bear children (who were more often than not sold away from her)—eight, ten, fifteen, twenty children—when her one joy was the thought of modeling heroic figures of rebellion?”

Some of us are here because our foremothers were enslaved, raped and forced to bear children they didn’t want. Some of us are here because our foremothers did everything possible to salvage their lives and self-dignity with alternative medicine and often dangerous aborting devices.  In a culture in which women of color are expected to sacrifice, total self-determination has always been a revolutionary act. The current climate of Christian fascist anti-abortion terrorism is a mortal threat to communities of color and all working class people nationwide. It is an affront to the valiant activism of scores of anonymous women who died in back alleys from “illegal” abortions rather than be shackled to the dehumanizing gender hierarchies of the state, patriarchy and the church. The brutal crackdown on reproductive health care, abortion providers and clinics in Texas, the Midwest and throughout the Deep South is a reminder of the blood price women of color and working class women must pay to be free, to even be considered human in this so-called post-feminist society.  It is important that the reproductive justice movement not allow the pro-death, anti-abortion, anti-family values fascists of the right drive their biblical stake through women’s bodies again by pimping the language of “protection” and “pro-life”.  Over the past few years Christian fascists have labored fiercely to create conditions in which universal health care is deemed to be anti-American and Black and Latina women are criminalized as “dangerous” wombs; mere breeders with no basic human rights.  Outlandishly, they have gone so far as to compare fetuses to slaves, and, by implication, women of color to slave owners, stamping the “Scarlet I” of immorality on our bodies.  These rich white male guardians of death are in league with a regime which is the most prolific jailer and executioner of Black people in the capitalist world.  They care nothing about the scores of children of color in foster care, on the streets, and in prisons.  For them, children of color are only useful as political pawns in the anti-welfare state public policy and propaganda war; demonized as collateral damage, welfare queens, savages, and criminals a la Trayvon Martin, a beautiful Black boy lynched twice by the criminal justice system.  In Texas, disproportionate numbers of Latinas rely on Medicaid, which is under attack by the Perry administration.  And in Mississippi, disproportionate numbers of poor and working class African American women rely on the imperiled family planning clinic that currently hangs by a legal thread.

Decades after the end of Jim Crow, white people have over twenty times the wealth of Blacks and Latinos and the myth of the accessible American dream has turned into even more of a nightmare for people of color besotted with the delusion of democracy. The assault on women’s abortion rights is yet another assault on economic and social justice and a betrayal of the foremothers who sacrificed so we would never know the shadow of the plantation.

The Abortion Freedom Rides kick off July 23rd in New York and San Francisco and end August 17th with a Day of Action in Jackson, Mississippi. For more information contact, Stop Patriarchy coalition,


Trayvon’s Class of 2013

BSLA Scholars, Members & Community

BSLA Scholars, Members & Community

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Yesterday, at Black Skeptics Los Angeles’ scholarship ceremony, my colleagues and I had the profound honor of giving scholarships to five brilliant youth of color who are first generation college students.  They are 17 and 18 year- olds who have known more struggle and sacrifice than many adults have known in their entire lives.  They have each battled the dominant culture’s view that they are not white, male, straight, wealthy or smart enough to be genuine college material. They have all seen their neighborhoods—South L.A. communities powered by hard working people, students, activists, educators from all walks of life—portrayed as ghetto cesspit jungles where violent savages roam, welfare queens breed, and drive-bys rule.  They have all mourned the absence of young friends and relatives who did not live to see their high school, much less college, graduation ceremonies. Looking around the room at their bright young faces, surrounded by proud family members, teachers, and mentors, the collective sense of duty and obligation everyone felt toward this next generation of intellectuals, activists and scholars was evident. 

Because the ceremony occurred in the midst of national anxiety over the murder trial of George Zimmerman it was both a celebration of promise and a bittersweet paean to the burning loss and betrayal communities of color routinely experience in this racist apartheid nation.  Trayvon Martin would’ve been 18 this year, a graduate of the class of 2013.  He might have been college-bound, anxious, bracing against the fear of the unknown, heady with anticipation about the future.  He might have been mindful of the psychological and emotional miles he’d have to travel to be freed from the prison of society’s demonizing assumptions. He might have experienced all of these feelings while grieving the untimely deaths of his own friends and being told that young black lives don’t matter.

Zimmerman’s acquittal for his cold-blooded murder is a turning point and baptism by fire in the cultural politics of colorblindness.  It is a turning point for every middle class child of color who believes their class status exempts or insulates them from criminalization.  It is a turning point for every suburban white child whose lifeblood is the comfort and privilege of presumed innocence.  It is a turning point for every Talented Tenth parent of color who has deluded themselves about the corrupt creed of Americana justice.  And it is a turning point for a collective historical amnesia in which race and racism are soft-pedaled through imperialist narratives of progress, enlightenment and transcendence.

For black people who have had faith in the criminal justice system and due process it is no longer possible to pretend that black life is worth more than that of a dog killed in broad daylight on a city street.  People who kill dogs—or those who run vicious dog-fighting rings like NFL football player Michael Vick—receive longer prison sentences than do law enforcement officials (or their surrogates) who kill black people.  For a predominantly white female jury that did not see the crushing loss in the murder of a young man pursued by a predator who was expressly told not to leave his vehicle by law enforcement; the life of a dog was apparently more valuable. 

This is one of the indelible lessons in “democracy” and American exceptionalism that Trayvon’s class will take with them to college and hopefully spend their lives fighting to upend.

Anti-Abortion & Health Care War is War on Women of Color

Right on to Sarah Slamen, the pro-choice activist and white ally who disrupted the Texas Legislature’s Christian fascist amen corner against women’s right to self-determination with its pernicious anti-abortion bill and got thrown out by the mob. Remarking on MSNBC about the mortal threat that the Texas GOP’s anti-abortion and anti-Medicaid assault poses, she said:

“I’m privileged as a white woman from a middle-class background to be able to have attended all of those hearings,” she said. “Women with two and three jobs, the 20 percent of women who might be living in the rural communities of Texas who can’t get to the capitol, caregivers, they can’t get to the hearings and stand up for their rights, and it’s obvious that all the Republicans on that committee don’t care about the right to their health care either. So someone had to say something.”

“Women all over the world are socialized to suppress their dissent, be agreeable, ask for what should rightfully be ours,” she said, going on to note that women were finally getting “tired of it,” especially in Texas’ male-dominated legislature.

“Women with two and three jobs, the 20 percent of women who might be living in the rural communities of Texas who can’t get to the capitol, caregivers, they can’t get to the hearings and stand up for their rights.”

Slamen’s comments further underscore why the Texas assault has such deep implications for women of color, who are disproportionately poor, transit-dependent and rely on public assistance. In a recent L.A. Progressive article called “Lone Star State’s War Against Latinas” writer Victoria DeFrancesco Soto comments that the GOP’s anti-abortion assault will have the deepest impact on Latinas:

“Latinas are disproportionately in the cross-hairs of this war. It also happens to be that Latinos in Texas are the largest population of the uninsured.  Six out of ten Latinos in the state do not have insurance.  Texans in general have one of the country’s lowest rates of insurance, twenty-four percent, but Texan Latinos are uninsured at the rate of thirty-eight percent.”

Congratulations Ramiro Salas! A. Philip Randolph Scholar

Ramiro Salas, BSLA scholar

Ramiro Salas, BSLA scholar

Recently, the Los Angeles Times spotlighted the heartbreaking outrage of a 17 year-old young man who was gunned down walking home in his South L.A. neighborhood just weeks before his high school graduation.  The young man was a poet who often wrote about overcoming the negative conditions in his community.  Even though he didn’t have any concrete plans, he wanted to be the first in his family to go to college and was supported by a loving mother who worked around the clock to provide for him.  The young man’s story and untimely death was reminiscent of that of many brilliant young people of color who are never given a chance to pursue their ambitions due to violence, criminalization, racism, sexism and/or the low expectations of teachers, administrators and other adult “role models”.

When I met Ramiro Salas a few months ago while doing a workshop at Duke Ellington Continuation High School on Black Skeptics Los Angeles’ first in the family scholarship I was impressed by his reflective attitude and his critical consciousness about being a young man of color who mainstream society expected little of. He expressed interest in the medical field and we discussed how there were few media representations of Latino scientists or physicians in the dominant culture. Ramiro is a 2013 graduate of Duke and the recipient of BSLA’s A. Philip Randolph scholarship, in honor of the pioneering freethinker, labor activist, publisher and socialist intellectual (and founder of the March on Washington movement). While at Duke, Ramiro was enrolled in the Occupational Therapy Training Program which serves economically challenged youth in Los Angeles.  This exceptional program provided the guidance Ramiro needed to develop clear goals for his future, and express his leadership abilities. Through the mentoring of Duke principal Cecil McLinn and resource provider Natalie Sartin, Ramiro will attend Lassen Community College in the fall with plans to transfer to a 4-year college.


Ramiro is already thinking of solutions to address the problem of youth violence and overall unhealthy eating in his community.  He writes, “I would offer safe places such as [affordable] gyms and recreational centers so that people can escape [the] violence.”  He also states, “building gyms and recreational centers will help residents maintain a healthy lifestyle”, to fight against the abundance of cheap fast food restaurants that contribute to, Ramiro writes, “diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity”.  Ramiro believes that his ideas honor Humanism by treating every person with equal respect.


Ramiro’s scholarship was made possible by generous matching donations from Richard Carrier and Eyvonne Hurt. Congratulations Ramiro!


Creepy Crackers n’ Shucking Toms

django uncle tom & little eva

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Pity poor Uncle Tom.  When angry white male atheists start trotting him out as a cover for their racist circle jerk you know you’ve got a postmodern moment with a cherry on top.  Although it’s never stopped being open season on black folk in America the Beautiful, the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, its partial smackdown of affirmative action and the happy times for George Zimmerman defense trial signal that the gloves are off again.  So now it seems the wages of whiteness atheist privilege brigade has come full circle from American Atheists’ 2012 naked shackled black slave billboard to Cult of Dusty’s viral “Black Christians=Uncle Toms” You Tube tirade.  According to creepy-cracker-white-man’s-burden-Dusty all black folk who subscribe to Christianity are not only domesticated dupes but neo-slave House Negro Stephens (in reference to Quentin Tarantino’s wet dream of buck-dancing black male cunning) shucking and jiving in our own 21st century version of Django Unchained.  But this racist ignoramus is no latter day John Brown dropping knowledge on us docile backward noble savages cowering under the yoke of dis here Good Book blessed by da Massa’s benevolence.

Conveniently omitted from this and umpteen other white atheist paeans to enlightening the dark hordes of ghetto superstition is any analysis of the white supremacist brutality of exalted secularist icons like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and other revolutionary war patriots who built American empire on the backs of slave labor and through the propaganda of democratic citizenship.  Missing from this equation is a takedown of the proto-capitalist engine of black exploitation under slavery, its echoes in 20th century Jim Crow public policy and the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration that fuels the criminal wealth gap between whites and people of color.  As Toni Morrison so sagely put it, slavery and freedom existed side by side, for “nothing highlighted freedom if it did not in fact create it, like slavery.  Black slavery enriched the country’s creative possibilities for in that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free…but the not-me.”  Then, as now, freedom, individualism and universal citizenship (the ostensible ideological impetus for the Revolutionary War) were based on white supremacy and racialized notions of nationhood.  In the aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 white working class laborers were conferred with citizenship privileges—i.e., the right to bear arms, assemble, hold property and move around freely—entitlements that no black person, slave or free, could ever enjoy.  After the gradual institutionalization of racial slavery in the 1640s the categories slave and black became synonymous as did the categories white and free.  There was no loophole for any enlightened black non-theists that might have been running around.  There was no honorary black slave status (with the advantages of beatings, rapes, lifelong enslavement and dehumanization) granted pesky white atheists and anti-clericalists.  And the very secular American Constitution branded black slaves as 3/5s of a man in order to ensure that slave states had equal representation in Congress.

Racial slavery was driven by economic conditions and the proto-capitalist rise of American empire.  It provided an insurance policy against white working class resistance against the white aristocracy (from Jefferson the rapist slaver to the Koch brothers) by giving poor white folk access to the wages of whiteness. [Read more…]