#solidarityisforwhitewomen? Calling on atheist orgs to Support Marissa Alexander

marissa alexander

By Sikivu Hutchinson

What happens when an African American female intimate partner violence victim attempts to defend herself after years of domestic terror?  She gets slapped with a mandatory minimum 20 years in prison for aggravated assault.  Such was the case for Marissa Alexander, a 32 year-old Florida mother of three with no prior criminal record who fired a warning shot in her home after a dispute with her chronically abusive spouse in 2010.  No one was injured in the incident.  Alexander’s attorneys attempted to invoke Florida’s notorious stand your ground law as a defense but prosecutor Angela Corey, lead prosecutor on the George Zimmerman murder trial, ruled that it was unjustified.  For the past year, national outrage over Alexander’s 20 year sentence has been mounting as comparisons between her case and Zimmerman’s abound.  However, Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury that was already conditioned to see him as a victim and Trayvon Martin as a criminal.  And unlike white female defendants with no prior records, black female defendants with no prior records have no wage of whiteness to insulate them from harsh sentences that are more suitable for career criminals.  Commenting on the Alexander case in the Daily Beast, Rita Smith of the National Coalition Against  Domestic Violence argues “When a woman or minority is claiming they are defending themselves, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt…Most battered women who kill in self-defense end up in prison. There is a well-documented bias against women [in these cases].” Yet the reality is that black women are three times more likely than white women to be tried, convicted and incarcerated for felony offenses.  One in 19 black women will be incarcerated during their lifetimes versus one in 100 white women.  Ultimately, black defendants receive longer and harsher sentences than white defendants and are more likely to be given mandatory minimum sentences.

Alexander’s case highlights how expectations of innocence are rarely if ever accorded black female abuse victims in the dominant culture.  When it comes to cultural judgments about justifiable defense, stereotypes of violent breeder black women (In 2010, Alexander gave birth to a premature baby after being beaten by her spouse) eclipse any presumption of innocence or reasonableness on the part of the victim.  Even in the face of extreme violence, national narratives of proper female victimhood are never extended to black women, and the Lifetime cable channel—reigning Middle American pop culture fount of white woman pathos—never comes knocking.

Because mass incarceration and criminalization do not directly affect their largely white constituencies, humanist/secular/atheist organizations are silent on this human rights atrocity in their own backyard. The Black Skeptics Group calls on progressive atheist organizations to support the Free Marissa Alexander campaign.  Information on the campaign, volunteer opportunities and upcoming protest actions on September 14th can be found at http://www.justice4marissa.com or https://www.facebook.com/events/382954828472984. To officially support her campaign go to http://www.surveymoz.com/s/85959VBKQX

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Freethought Giant A. Philip Randolph and the March on Washington

By Sikivu Hutchinson

As the nation commemorates the 1963 March on Washington, many are unaware of the towering role played by freethought pioneer A. Philip Randolph.  Randolph founded the March on Washington movement during World War II as a challenge to wartime employment discrimination and the segregation of African American troops.  As founder of the trailblazing black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union and publisher of the radical socialist journal the Messenger, Randolph was a crucial voice of activist resistance to American imperialism, capitalism, and racial disenfranchisement.  Left activist freethinkers like Randolph understood that they had to reach across the ideological “aisle” to organize with progressive believers.  This was a necessity if they were going to gain any traction in their local communities.  As I wrote in my 2011 book Moral Combat:

Randolph utilized religion to reach the black masses.  Although Randolph was widely believed to be an atheist, he understood the appeal religious themes had for a black constituency born and bred on religiosity.[i]  Randolph relied on black churches and religious organizations for political outreach and community support.  As one of the first black union organizations in the U.S., Brotherhood meetings and forums were frequently held at or supported by local black churches across the nation. Insofar as the BSCP’s platform drew on religious themes, Randolph’s acknowledgment of and respect for religion can perhaps be viewed as a form of cultural competence. However, throughout his career as publisher and editor of the influential journal the Messenger, Randolph provided a platform for vigorous critique of Christianity’s role in black liberation struggle.  In 1927, the journal sponsored an essay writing contest titled “Is Christianity a Menace to the Negro?”[ii]  As a socialist and vocal critic of “orthodox” Christianity, Randolph was constantly plagued with accusations of being an infidel. Of course, known infidels couldn’t be effective black leaders.  According to Cynthia Taylor:

 

In the beginning the Messenger editors set out to attack all that was ‘narrow and medieval in religion,’ especially the Negro Church’s accommodation to Jim Crow.  Randolph himself redirected this counterproductive editorial policy in order to reach out to progressive-minded allies inside and outside the Negro Church.  With the demise of radicalism by the 1920s, Randolph and other Messenger editors nonetheless kept up the debate on ‘orthodox’ black Christianity by offering religious alternatives to their [Read more...]

White Boyz With Problems

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 [Read more...]

New Wave of Secular Leadership? Be Cautious

Donald Wright, author

Donald Wright, author

By Donald Wright

Sunday morning is approaching and churches will be occupied and active, not like the emptiness on the other days of the week. The congregants are excited in preparation to hear the message from the pastor. When I was attending a mega-church here in Houston a few years ago it was not uncommon to hear some members express that their attendance is mostly predicated on the pastor giving the sermon, not by one of the associate ministers. None of them can do it like the pastor. This is an example of cult personality and charismatic influence. Decreasing attendance means lesser amounts in the offering so the pastor has to be there to protect the financial statement.

The secular community should prepare for a new wave of leadership as ex-pastors shed their cloaks of god-talk for their robes of reason. They will be looking for a new podium perched on a new pulpit seeking a new follow-ship. Some may be bringing their former but de-converted members for a ready made support base that will give comfort and credibility to this new message utilized in a familiar process in attempt to build a secular church. It’s like getting a new car, learning the new gadgets, but using the same driving skills.

One of the joys I celebrate in escaping from religion and church is no longer participating in this unbridled authority and reverence given to the pastor; the position of entitlements. Their needs and desires are always met or a concerted effort is attempted by the membership with much toil and sacrifice. The pastor is doused with honor and respect, given a god-like public image, and proclaimed a truth teller. A celebrity is added to the culture.

After receiving these former religionists with open arms and nurturing their non-belief, how will the secular community respond when they seek leadership positions? Will the secularists, humanists, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and skeptics embrace these individuals with greater enthusiasm just because they are ex-pastors? Will they seek to find the true character and uncover those holy skeletons? Will they put forth adequate vetting to determine that their integrity matches their charisma? These are my concerns, because a secular church in the hands of a cult personality is a religion disguised as a humanist community. Will there be a secular church on every corner filled with sheeples?

I hope this is not the scam of the 21st century. After all, they need to make some money, so do what you do best is normally sound advice.

Our society needs so much and thriving secular communities could make significant contributions. However, my unsolicited advice is to be skeptical of this new wave of leadership. Ask the tough questions. It’s what we should always do. As many of us ex-Christians can attest, it is difficult to remove a preacher from the pulpit unless they find another one. More importantly, there are many in our community that need jobs too, and let’s not forget healthcare.

Donald Wright is the author of The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray: Let My People Go.  He is a former deacon in a Baptist church and a professional engineer. He currently owns an engineering consulting firm in Houston, Texas.

 

ANOTHER WHITE WOMAN HAS GONE MISSING

MISSING SINCE MAY '13

MISSING SINCE MAY ’13

By Sikivu Hutchinson

A few nights ago around 11:00 p.m., virtually everyone in the state of California was rudely jolted into consciousness by a shrill cell phone blasted Amber alert about the abduction of a teenage white girl by a 40 year-old male.  Privileged victim Hannah Anderson (who the media obsessively tell us is blond and blue-eyed) now joins the lily white ranks of “all-American” girls whose fate is an urgent issue of national security.  Breathless, obsessive, round the clock updates and international coverage have been given to this unfolding drama.  This is what I wrote about the phenomenon in 2005 and not a damn thing has changed:

When the news broke earlier this summer about the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba, I braced myself for yet another tide of hysterical media coverage about the uncertain fate of a young suburban white woman. I was not disappointed. Consumers of network, cable, and Internet news were treated to a steady stream of obsessive details about Holloway’s life, the last hours she was seen, her family and home community, echoing a pattern that has increasingly come to resemble a by the numbers formula for conferring national heft to the lives of formerly obscure white women.

Back then, criticism from media watchdogs and families of abduction victims of color resulted in an NBC Dateline segment on racial disparities in network news treatment of missing persons’ stories. The bias charges elicited the usual head-scratching deflection and outright denial from news executives. Some of those who were willing to go on the record countered that abduction stories that become national news are generated by momentum from local affiliates. Naturally most network execs see little bias in their coverage because whiteness represents the norm in American culture. White lives, white families, white communities, and the world views of white pundits are sold and reproduced in the mainstream media as the normative “unraced” ideal that underlies “our” sense of national identity. Disproportionate coverage of whites in a society that pimps a colorblind, democratic ideal on the global stage not only naturalizes the invisibility of people of color, but implies that white suburban lives are the ones that are ultimately most worth caring about.  This explains why only a third of whites believed that George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin was unjust.

The role that femininity plays in the portrayal of these two Americas is critical. It’s no surprise that white female victimhood is still all the rage in the 24-7 news media for images of imperiled white femininity have historically been the currency of cultural [Read more...]

Predators Beyond Belief

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Oh to be middle-aged, male, skeptic and white — master of the rational universe.  The ad nauseum propagandistic bullshit that atheist/secularis/freethought circles are magically exempt from institutional racism, sexism and heterosexism continues to be blown to bits by allegations of pervasive sexual harassment, assault and workplace discrimination from women in the field.  The most recent allegations by Dr. Karen Stollznow against Skeptical Inquirer editor Ben Radford underscore how deep and intractable male entitlement, privilege, and predation are in an industry that thrives on in your face elitism, balls-to-the-breeze racial politics and intellectual exclusivity.  Stollznow’s claim that she was assaulted and harassed by Radford–while organization heads at the JREF and CFI apparently did next to nothing to censure or purge the predator from their ranks–is further testimony to the complicity of atheist leadership with a culture of sexist policing, control and slut-shaming.  Time and again, in industry after industry, sexual harassers and predators are protected, promoted, propped up and rewarded for their criminal behavior and power politics. Indeed, many harassers are rewarded with promotions and other perks that keep the good times and career/retirement dividends rolling for the predator long after the victim(s) has either resigned due to stress, been marginalized and frozen out of promotional opportunities for being an “uppity bitch” or completely kicked to the curb.  CFI’s silence on Radford (and others, PZ Myers’ blog has an in depth take from former JREF employee Carrie Poppy) is further indication of its lack of institutional credibility on equity, “diversity” or any other issue that threatens the supremacy of ensconced white male professionals.

Blackout Secular Rally Draws Non-Believers of Color Nationwide

Mandisa and Marissa

Mandisa and Marissa

 

By Mandisa L. Thomas

On July 27th, 2013, Black Atheists of America and Black Nonbelievers, Inc. presented the first ever Blackout Secular Rally in New York City. The event was a celebration of diversity in the freethought community, and the growing number of openly identified nontheists of color.

Speaker and performers for the Blackout included Jeremiah Camara, Alix Jules, AJ Johnson, Victor Harris Jr. MC Brooks, G.A. and was hosted by comedian Steve Hill. Organizations represented included American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, Foundation Beyond Belief CFI-Blackout_with_Jamila_Bey (2)NYC , Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS),  and the Secular Coalition for America. Joy D’Avilar and David Ince from the FreethinkingIsland podcast (and the newly formed Caribbean Secular Alliance), were among those who conducted interviews with speakers and attendees, and they were able to capture the sentiments of the day – which were confidence, happiness and determination.

The Blackout also marked a first time offline event for quite a few

Ayanna and Anthony

Ayanna and Anthony

attendees. While many of us that are already involved in this community are well aware that there are all kinds of events for nonbelievers, there are still people who aren’t aware of them, or who may not think they would be comfortable being a minority in a predominantly Caucasian setting. So the Blackout accomplished two great feats – bringing out more nonbelievers of color, as well as exposing them to other organizations that have dedicated their support. In the words of one young lady, “(I) needed that kinship and seeing others who think like me. Had a great time, and I left feeling like I am not alone”.

AJ Johnson

AJ Johnson

There were numerous inquiries about a rally next year. Stay tuned for updates on our respective websites, www.blackatheistsofamerica.org and www.blacknonbelievers.org. With the excitement that this first rally has created, there will surely be more to come in the future.

 

 

Steve Hill w/Godless Americana

Steve Hill w/Godless Americana