Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels NOW AVAILABLE

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Over the past several years, the Right has spun the fantasy of colorblind, post-racial, post-feminist American exceptionalism. This Orwellian narrative anchors the most blistering conservative assault on secularism, civil rights, and public education in the post-Vietnam War era. It is no accident that this assault has occurred in an era in which whites have over twenty times the wealth of African Americans. For many communities of color, victimized by a rabidly Religious Right, neo-liberal agenda, the American dream has never been more of a nightmare than it is now. Godless Americana is a radical humanist analysis of this climate. It provides a vision of secular social justice that challenges Eurocentric traditions of race, gender, and class-neutral secularism. For a small but growing number of non-believers of color, humanism and secularism are inextricably linked to the broader struggle against white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, capitalism, economic injustice, and global imperialism. Godless Americana critiques these titanic rifts and the role white Christian nationalism plays in the demonization of urban communities of color.

 
Godless Americana is a MUST READ!” Kimberly Veal, Black Non-Believers of Chicago (GOODREADS REVIEW)

 

 “Hutchinson notes that being an atheist is not enough to affect any real change. One can be an atheist in isolation simply by not believing in God. Becoming a humanist, by contrast, entails working for social justice. For blacks to make atheism relevant to the larger African American community they cannot simply emphasize science and critical thinking but must instead help feed people, train them for jobs, and offer assistance to prisoners trying to reenter society, among other issues.” Chris Cameron, University of North Carolina
 
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2011: Year of the Black Atheists

By Frederick Sparks

OK, the title may be a tad hyperbolic, but in 2011, we have seen increased media coverage of black nonbelievers.

Sikivu Hutchinson’s must-read Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and the Values War was published in February, garnering rave reviews and enhancing the demand for the author as a speaker on the topics of race, feminism, sexual orientation, and politics as brought to bear on the secular movement.

In July, long time black publication Ebony magazine featured a piece by Alix Jules, director of the Fellowship of Freethought in Dallas, TX.  Jules emphasized that freethought involves taking full accountability for one’s life.

But the last few weeks saw a rush of articles, starting with a New York Times piece on black nonbelievers in late November.  Following the Times article, The Root, an African American focused online magazine conceived by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Facebook chairman Donald Graham, commenced a series (to the chagrin of some of their regular readers) on black atheists.   And finally, CNN’s religion blog posted a radio interview and accompanying write-up concerning the experience of Black atheists in the American south.

The exposure, incremental though it may be, has an impact.   The Black Atheist Facebook group (discussed in the NY Times article) has seen a 25% increase in membership over the past few weeks. And as I noted in a previous post, fictional depictions of black atheists help to normalize the experience of black nonbelievers .  It follows that the presentation of real life black atheist experience is even more useful.

But none of this exposure would have taken place without the hard work of many people over the past several years. A well deserved thanks goes to the local group organizers, writers, lecturers, online group organizers and administrators, and others who provide a space for black atheists to connect, share ideas and be active.  Let’s keep it going!

Prayer Warriors and Freethinkers (on the Texas Freethought Con)

 

by Sikivu Hutchinson

Excerpt From: The New Humanism

The prayer warriors have descended on the Crenshaw parking lot in South L.A.
The first sentry, a slight man in athletic shorts, weaves through the parked
cars on an old Schwinn. He flags down the driver of a T-Bird. They exchange
quick greetings then bow their heads and join hands, oblivious, for the moment,
to the crash of street traffic, the manic dance for parking spots, the rustle of
grocery bags and runaway shopping carts. On this hallowed plot of blacktop time
is suspended and God vibrates through the chassis of each parked car, as the men
bond in the simple bliss of scripture.

I caught the parking lot prayer warriors a week before I was scheduled to
speak at the Texas Freethought Convention, an annual October gathering of non-believers in
Houston. It was an ironic send-off for my pending trip, reminder of the visceral
grip of everyday Jesus and the unique challenges of black secularism. Five years
ago, two men holding hands in this particular lot might have elicited homophobic
double takes or a beat down. But now, the public performance of prayer, street
preaching and proselytizing in urban communities of color is back with a
revivalist vengeance borne of the vicious arc of recession.

Long before it became fashionable to lament the demise of the American dream,
joblessness, foreclosure and homelessness were a fact of life for many in
predominantly black and Latino South Los Angeles. Indeed, it has been said that
when America catches a cold black America gets the flu. The titanic wealth gap
between white and black America means that fewer young African Americans will be
able to meet much less exceed the standard of living enjoyed by their parents.
Over the past decade, socioeconomic mobility for black college graduates has
actually declined. At 8.7% of L.A. County’s population, African Americans are
50% of its homeless and 40% of its prison population. MORE@ http://thenewhumanism.org/authors/sikivu-hutchinson/articles/prayer-warriors-and-freethinkers

Black Atheists and the Failure of Black Academia



By Norm R. Allen Jr.

There has never been a better time to be a black atheist, secular humanist, freethinker, or rationalist in the U.S. Black non-theists are especially coming out of the closet on-line. There are groups such as the Black Skeptics, Black Female Skeptics, Black Atheists of America, and many others. Black non-theists have made numerous You Tube videos and appeared on many podcasts. Over the past couple of years, black non-theists have gathered in cities such as Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, and New York. There are now quite a few books out by and about black non-theists.

Why, then, does black academia continue to ignore black non-theists and the roles that non-religious individuals and secular ideals have played in the substantive development of black intellectualism and activism?

Among white academics, there is no shortage of scholars able and willing to discuss the “New Atheism” and the books of such writers as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Victor Stenger, and others. Conversely, black academia is silent on writings defending non-theism from black perspectives.

Black academics do not seem to be any less religious than the black mainstream. According to every major U.S. poll on religion, African Americans are by far the most religious group in the nation in every category. One cannot help but wonder if black academics have intentionally ignored black non-theists, perhaps even questioning their “blackness” due to their rejection of religion.

This raises another point overlooked by black academics. Since the 1990s, there have been scores of humanist and freethought groups all over Africa. They have hosted major conferences, spoken and written in major media, defended church/state separation, opposed superstition, promoted secular ethics, published newsletters, fought for the rights of LGBTs, etc. Similarly, there are humanist groups in such Caribbean nations as Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. Why are black academics missing the boat when there is so much potential for badly needed research and scholarship in this area?

Black humanist scholar Anthony Pinn of Rice University believes that there should be an entire discipline dedicated to black humanist studies. Indeed, such a discipline would go far in demonstrating that there are important non-religious traditions in the black community. For example, Pinn has written about the secular roots of blues music, and how some blues musicians not only challenged traditional religion, but the very existence of God. (Perhaps it was not called “the devil’s music” for nothing).

Since the 1990s non-theist rappers have been making explicitly atheistic music. Perhaps the best known atheist rapper is Greydon Square, who has performed before atheist audiences. Considering that many Black academics closely study hip-hop, it is amazing that they have ignored the phenomenon of the atheist rapper.

Many black non-theists offer strong, progressive, badly needed critiques of black Christianity. Many black churches are blatantly sexist, homophobic, materialistic and theocratic. Black non-theists uncompromisingly oppose these moral failings while challenging preachers that sexually abuse their congregants. Non-theists are obviously less likely than church members to try to rationalize the unjust practices of powerful ministers.

Black academics should certainly be interested in the history of black non-theists. Indeed, great African American non-theists include civil rights giants such as W.E.B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, James Forman, and James Farmer. They include writers such as Nella Larsen, Zora Neal Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes.

Black academics will write about such great individuals, but all too often they will ignore or downplay their non-religious worldviews. On the other hand, it seems abundantly clear to them that is important to discuss and understand—or to at least acknowledge—the religious views of great religious individuals.

It is ironic that so many black academics will not study black non-theists. After all, black studies came about due to the fact that white scholars were ignoring or downplaying the history of black people. Yet many black scholars apparently see no hypocrisy in shunning a minority within their own group.

It is time for black academics to give serious attention to black non-theists. With the growth of the Internet, this group will only expand greatly in the near future. If black academics are left behind while they could be on the ground floor, they will only have themselves to blame.

For 21 years, Norm R. Allen Jr. was the only full-time African American secular humanist activist traveling the world promoting secular humanism. He is the editor of two books, The Black Humanist Experience and African American Humanism.

From, Black Infidels: Humanism and African American Social Thought


By Sikivu Hutchinson

Excerpt from www.thenewhumanism.org

…Then, as now, the overwhelming association of religiosity with authentic blackness makes it difficult for black secular humanists who are atheist or agnostic to be vocal about their beliefs. In the introduction to The Black Humanist Experience, Norm Allen notes, “Humanists often feel…that they are a misunderstood and despised minority. Many are afraid to come out of the closet due to fear of being ostracized…by intolerant religionists.” On websites and in chat rooms, many African American secular humanists who identify as atheists or agnostics express anxiety about “coming out” to friends and family. David Burchall, founder of the Secular Community in Long Beach, California said that he has struggled to attract African Americans due to this factor. Burchall’s organization focuses on providing secularist individuals of all ideological persuasions and cultural backgrounds with a welcoming community meeting place. For his own part, he “rarely meets a black person who says he or she is an atheist.” In this regard, invisibility fuels isolation and reinforces social conformity among secular African Americans. Thamani Delgardo, a health care professional and agnostic who grew up in the Black church, said she is reluctant to come out because, “I’m afraid that my family members will think less of me and will be very disappointed.”

As the Religious Right has become more vociferous, black atheists in particular have been challenged by a sociopolitical climate that has grown more hyper-religious, more evangelical and more deeply superstitious. According to a 2005 Pew Survey, a majority of African Americans believe in creationism. Many also believe that secular liberals have “gone too far” to keep religion out of schools and government. Consequently, black secular humanists often question the blind faith of African American believers, arguing that unquestioned acceptance of religious dogma has jeopardized African American academic progress, particularly in math and science. It is because of religious dogma, Delgardo says, that young African Americans believe “God will make a way for their survival, so they may drop out of school, have children with no visible means of supporting them, or simply not plan for their financial future because they believe god will handle the hardships and the details that rationalists plan for…”

This critique has particular resonance for Kwadwo Obeng, author of We Are All Africans: Exposing the Negative Influence of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Religions on Africans. A native of Ghana and an L.A. County resident, Obeng is a former Jehovah’s Witness who broke from the sect after rigorous independent study of the Bible. In his book, Obeng acknowledges the constructive role Christianity played in African American communities during the slave era, when it provided a cultural and philosophical context for black human rights resistance. Yet he cautions that contemporary Christianity is just a diversion for black folk. Poor blacks have been given few avenues for systemic redress of racism by either self-serving black preachers or “Christian-identified” black politicians. As “the church has become part of our DNA, Black politicians feel they need to wrap Jesus all around them to be successful.” Many black secular humanists argue that the business of organized religion has been particularly detrimental to poor blacks, who tithe millions to churches while their communities are falling apart. They point to the rise of “prosperity gospel” oriented preachers like T.D. Jakes, Fred Price and Creflo Dollar as an example of the Black church’s betrayal of the social justice legacy of Martin Luther King.