By Sikivu Hutchinson
Back in the day, an all-female rap group called Bytches with Problems (BWP) enjoyed their fourteen-and-a-half minutes of fame on the hip hop scene. The group’s strategically misspelled name was interpreted by some as an ironic nod to the L.A. gangsta rap group NWA as well as a feeble attempt at “reclaiming” a misogynist term that has become synonymous with the demonization of black women. As America’s premier whipping girl jezebels, “unruly” black women are a national hazard, fetishized as the original source of “the problem” for everything from crime, illegitimacy and moral decay. Lately, people of color have been subjected to more than their quota of white boyz with problems using their gangsta pulpits to explicitly or implicitly demean and “check” black women. From Bill O’Reilly’s rants on how welfare-queenology supposedly contributed to Trayvon’s Martin’s death to cracker atheist spokesmen excoriating brainwashed House Negro mammies, their manifest destiny mission is clear—how to save dumb pathological Negroes from themselves before they do irreparable harm to the gift of American exceptionalism?
In the insular white atheist universe, the latest contestant in the white boyz with problems sweepstakes is JT Eberhard—self-appointed defender of civility and besmirched white womanhood. As has been widely unpacked by Jen McCreight and others, Eberhard took it upon himself to virtually smackdown Michigan atheist activist Bridgett Crutchfield after she criticized a white woman who asked a racist question about “black-on-black” crime during a conference presentation by Black Non-Believers of Atlanta founder Mandisa Thomas. According to both Mandisa and Bridgett, the white woman pointedly and disrespectfully asked Mandisa “what (is it that) your group might be doing with the black on black crime”? Mandisa’s presentation focused on how the hospitality industry could be used as a model for atheist organizing. The subject of “black-on-black” crime had no bearing on either the context or content of the talk. But because Mandisa is African American and all Negroes in the public sphere must at some point in time “account” for the national scourge of black “ghetto” pathology it’s ok for “well-meaning” white folk in lily white settings to go there. As one of only five black people at the conference, Bridgett’s response to the woman’s well-meaning racism emerged from the frustration and righteous outrage black people have at constantly being constructed as the criminal other. The tens of millions of dollars incurred by white collar crime in white-dominated corporate America, white street crime, white drug crime (whites, contrary to mainstream propaganda, have the highest rates of crack and powder cocaine use in the U.S.) and white-on-white gun crime is never part of the national narrative about the social impact of crime and who “real” criminals are. White Middle American innocence is constructed through the criminalization of the black ghetto other who—as with the media hype around the recent murder of Australian athlete Christopher Lane by black teens—poses a constant threat to social order, public morality and control.
To divert a discussion about hospitality to “black-on-black” crime exhibits a revealing level of white paternalism and white supremacy in a movement that is deeply defined by both. In a movement that slobbers on about diversity and inclusiveness yet trots out the same tired themes at conferences, regularly promotes line-ups with little-to-no people of color, marginalizes the scholarship of humanists of color and has virtually no people of color in paid national leadership positions, atheists of color conference presenters are already on the defensive; bracing for some “well meaning” white person to keep it real about how concerned they are about what’s going down in the “ghetto”.
After Bridgett responded to the woman she was confronted by Eberhard on the error of her ways (according to Bridgett this exchange was preceded by him calling her out for her “monologue” on Twitter), taken to task with a 1792 word “Dear John” Facebook un-friending letter then “checked” in the now widely disseminated blog in which she was portrayed as a shrill out of control bitch with problems. During their exchange, Bridgett said, “I challenged JT and asked him if the woman asked him what he was doing for white on white crime? No. What about Zack Kopplin? No. So why was it apropos for the question to be fielded to Mandisa?” On white patrol evoking white innocence as a cover for his harassment, it was clear that Eberhard felt it was his civic duty to check the savage Negress for her reality show style “outburst” against a naive white woman with harmless intentions. White female privilege and the role innocent white femininity plays in narratives about the encroaching criminal black other have long been a subtext of the stereotype of the crazy black jezebel. Eternally blameless, eternally innocent, mainstream white America will never concede power to black critiques of its racist impunity and it is delusional to think that white atheist America is any different.