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…]

Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels NOW AVAILABLE

Godless_cover (2) 

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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Leaving Jesus: Women of Color Beyond Faith

Mandisa Thomas

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The 24-hour prayer sessions are the true test of a warrior for Jesus.  They require Herculean stamina, the patience of Job, the rigor of elite marathon runners hitting the wall in a fiery sweat pit at high altitude, primed for God’s finish line. In many small storefront Pentecostal churches these “pray-a-thons” are women’s spaces; hubs of music, food, caregiving, and intense witnessing.  My student Stacy Castro* is a bass player in her Pentecostal church’s band.  She is also the pastor’s daughter and a regular participant in the pray-a-thons, a mainstay in some evangelical congregations. Much of her weekends are focused on church activities. And though she is an intelligent gifted speaker, up until her participation in the Women’s Leadership Project she thought little about pursuing college and wanted to go to cosmetology school.  Stacy’s aspirations are not atypical of students at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles.  In a community that is dominated by churches of every stripe only a small minority go on to four year colleges and universities.

Over the past decade, Pentecostal congregations have burgeoned in urban communities nationwide, as Pentecostalism has exploded amongst American Latinos disgruntled by rigid Catholic hierarchies, alienating racial politics, and sexual abuse scandals.  The gendered appeal of Pentecostalism is highlighted in a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey which concludes that, “Latino religious polarization may be influenced by a gender effect, as in the general U.S. population, with men moving toward no religion and women toward more conservative religious traditions and practices. Two traditions at opposite poles of the religious spectrum exhibit the largest gender imbalance: the None population is heavily male (61%) while the Pentecostal is heavily female (58%). Italics added.”[i]

In my book, Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars, I argued that the literature on secularism and gender does not capture the experiences of women of color negotiating racism, sexism, and poverty in historically religious communities.  The relative dearth of secular humanist and freethought traditions amongst women of color cannot be separated from the broader context of white supremacy, gender politics, and racial segregation.  Harlem Renaissance-era writers Nella Larsen and Zora Neale Hurston are generally acknowledged as pioneering twentieth century black women freethinkers.  Yet what few women’s freethought histories there are celebrate the political influence of prominent nineteenth century white women non-believers, [Read more…]

Shift in Black American opinion on gay marriage?

By Frederick Sparks

After President Obama expressed personal support for marriage equality, pundits wasted no time pondering the effects on the upcoming presidential election, including whether or not the president’s “evolved” position would alienate African-Americans, the President’s most loyal voting bloc.

And indeed there has been negative reaction from the black clergy.   Maryland based anti-gay preacher Harry Jackson stated “Obama laid down the gauntlet on black leaders..the question we are being forced to address is ‘are you going to be black or be godly.’” (Being godly of course means being homophobic)   And a group of African-American pastors, the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP),  led by Memphis based “Reverend Doctor” William Owens soundly condemned the president’s statement, with Owens asserting that there was no doubt that the president would lose black votes:   “Absolutely it will and especially among the black churches where the conviction against same-sex marriage is so strong…”I think many black Christians feel somewhat betrayed by the president on this – this is something that black churches have always stood firmly against.”

Yet there are suggestions that the views of these “leaders” may be increasingly disconnected from the masses.   Polling conduct by Public Policy Polling on a Maryland referendum that would keep the states marriage equality law in place showed a dramatic swing in opinion among black voters; in March 56% were opposed to the new law, now  (following Obama’s statement) 55% are in favor of marriage equality.  This also tracks an ABC News/Washington Post Poll showing 59% of African-Americans nationwide in support of marriage equality.  While other polls of African-Americans on the gay marriage issue have yielded mixed results,  presidential election polling so far has shown no real shift in African-American support away from President Obama.

Following the President’s statements, Black entertainers and athletes have also expressed support for gay marriage or made gay positive statements, including music mogul Jay-Z and Heisman winner and No. 2 NFL draft pick Robert Griffin III.  For better or worse, entertainers and athletes hold sway in influencing public opinion.  

Perusing the website of this Coalition of African-American Pastors, one sees that the group’s mission is the breaking down of church/state separation, and opposing marriage equality and reproductive rights.  No mention of the myriad of important issues that contribute to continued African-American economic and social disadvantage.  This is a prime example of the increasingly irrelevant and out of touch yet stubbornly entrenched phenomenon of blowhard black religious leadership that finds itself increasingly opposed to progressive social change and largely impotent or uninterested when it comes to real issues of social justice.

Religion in Black Life

By the Anti-Intellect:

For me, being a Black atheist means thinking critically about the role of religion in the lives of Black people. For far too long, few have written about the negative aspects of religion in Black life, preferring only to write about the positives aspects. Yes, religion was something that our ancestors called upon to help them navigate a White racist world that insisted on their inferiority. But, religion has also been the site of much brutality in the lives of Black people.

If we were to grade the role religion has played in Black life, particularly Judeo-Christianity, I would say that it has earned a “F.” There are simply too many instances of religion being both tool of liberation and tool of oppression in the lives of Blacks. For example, the bible was constantly utilized to justify the enslavement of Black people. I’m sorry, but an “F” average is simply not good enough for a religion that makes divine and/or supernatural claims. Surely, there should be a better track record for something that is ruled by an all-powerful god?

We have been told by the gatekeepers of Black History that religion, and religion alone, has gotten us over. We fail to take into account the secular ways that Black people have utilized in their dealings with a White racist society. For every Bishop Henry McNeal, there has been a Frederick Douglass. For every Sojourner Truth, there has been a Butterfly McQueen. While it is true that Blacks have utilized religion, it has not been the only thing that we have utilized, and our failure to recognize this stunts our collective growth, and undermines what we think we are capable of when addressing the problems that plague our communities.

I would suggest that there is a very real danger in Black people thinking we are nothing without religion. We, Black people, were a people before we were indoctrinated, and we will be someone afterwards. This is not to suggest that religion cannot be a useful tool for examining the issues facing Black people but, more often than not, it is usually a tool of conservatism holding Black people back.

Reverend Irene Monroe is a religious Black person that uses her role in organized religion to critically examine issues facing the Black community. She is not of the conservative ilk populated by Black exploiters like Eddie Long, Bernice King, and Harry Jackson. These pastors participate in the degradation of Black life by insisting that we are simple, lacking in complexity, and diversity. That we are a people only, and always, marked by conservatism. They fail to take into account the diversity of Black life, instead insisting on its monotony.

As enthralled as I am with Reverend Irene Monroe, as a Black atheist, I insist on making it known that religion, nor belief in god, are necessary in Black life. I am not of the belief that Blacks should embrace a form of cultural nihilism, because one can be atheist and very hopeful about the potential for positive transformation of Black life. I simply do not believe that Black people need religion. We absolutely need structures for coming together, and so often this has been the primary role of religion in Black life, but this can be achieved without religion and belief in god. MORE @http://antiintellect.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/religion-in-black-life/

 

The Curious Case of Gays in the Black Church

By Frederick Sparks

An oft repeated story in the black church and gospel music community involves 50s and 60s era gospel singing legend Mahalia Jackson making a cross country automobile trek with four male companions who were members of her singing troupe. The car suffers a flat and Jackson gets out of the car to change the tire. A passing highway patrolman stops to render aid, and asks Jackson why she didn’t have one of the men change the tire. Jackson replies “Baby, them ain’t men, them is sissies.”
Possible lack of historical verisimilitude notwithstanding, the story conveys one essential and undisputed truth: there is a long standing, well known presence of queer men in the black church. Even while African American Christians remain the group most opposed to marriage equality and most likely to believe in “literal” interpretation of scripture.
This dichotomy was recently clearly highlighted in the Eddie Long scandal, in which the anti-gay millionaire pastor of an Atlanta mega church was accused of sexual improprieties with teenage boys (Long settled with the young men after initially vowing to fight the charges). One of Long’s gay congregants, interviewed last year at the time the story broke, spoke of a large gay presence in Long’s congregation and a sort of don’t ask don’t tell policy which led the interviewee and his male partner to give different descriptions of their relationship to members of the church.
Nowhere is the gay male presence more prevalent than in the gospel church choir, or more generally what is known as the “music ministry”. Music sensation Billy Preston once quipped that the church choir was the first gay-straight alliance. The homosexuality of gospel great James Cleveland (known as the King of Gospel) was an open secret in the gospel community. After his death, widely believed to be from complication of AIDS but never officially declared so, Cleveland’s foster son alleged that the two had been involved in a sexual relationship which resulted in the young man also contracting HIV. The shroud of denial around Cleveland’s death was not an isolated incident; there was a deadly silence in the gospel community while choir stands in black churches across the country were being hit with AIDS related deaths.
So why do black gays stay in churches where homosexuality is condemned and they are kept from living their lives healthily and fully? Even when there are other choices of “affirming” churches that welcome the openly and actively homosexual? Northwestern professor and gospel music vocalist E. Patrick Johnson stated in a 2006 interview that ‘Those who are familiar with life in the Black church know that we are raised in this paradox; the church is a place we have known since the womb and, so, it is our first cultural experience in the Black community. And it is so much a fundamental part of our lives that even though we are in a place that is often very inhospitable to those who are LGBT, we remain, finding ways to exist within it.’ Johnson also believes that the choir in the Black church has always been a place where gay men could show off their virtuosity while exploring their sexuality, and that the more welcoming, liberal churches lack the “spirit” of the black church worship experience (translation: the music isn’t as good.).
In addition to that, I believe it is the perfect example of Christianity creating the problem (homosexuality is sinful) and providing the solution (God loves you, and can heal and forgive you). I also think the matriarchal presence looms large for many black gays, and mama and aunties and grandmother are all “in the church”. In addition, some actually earn money from the church because of their musical or other talents.
Given all those factors though, still seems to me like a baby worth throwing out with the bath water. The prototypical black church experience is antithetical to an LGBT person living a psychologically healthy life. And proceeding from the assumption that “this lifestyle is sinful” or that “one can be changed” presents a serious impediments for healthy same sex romantic relationships, which may partly explain why there have been so many predatory situations as described above. It has also been suggested that such attitudes lead to poorer choices in terms of sexual activity and disease transmission prevention.
If there is to be a secular/atheist movement among African Americans it must address head-on the issue of homophobia in the black community and in the black church in particular. And it must serve a community of black gays and lesbians that has too long compromised self respect for marginal benefits from the church experience.

Black Atheists in the Pulpit: Dialogue with Zion Hill Baptist Church





By Sikivu Hutchinson

Congregants of Zion Hill Baptist Church in South Los Angeles probably thought Pastor Seth Pickens was certifiable when he proposed a community dialogue with the L.A. Black Skeptics Group. Founded in March of last year, the group provides a safe real time space for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, and skeptics of African descent. As the group’s organizer, I had been in conversation with Seth about a forum for several months after interviewing him for my new book Moral Combat. A thirty-something, literary Morehouse College graduate from the East Coast, he was open to the idea of an “interfaith” dialogue from the beginning. Pastor of Zion Hill since 2009, he seemed deeply concerned about the ongoing national critique of the Black Church’s waning influence (see, for example, Princeton religion professor Eddie Glaude’s widely circulated Huffington Post piece “The Black Church is Dead.”).

The Zion Hill church building itself is a sprawling beacon of provincial beauty. About forty participants of all ages and beliefs gathered in one of the churches’ smaller sanctuaries to hear the panel. In my opening comments I framed black secular humanist traditions within the prism of black liberation struggle and cultural politics. Far from being marginal to black social thought and activism, secular humanism and social justice were deeply intertwined in the work of leading black thinkers like A. Philip Randolph, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston. However, analysis of 21st century black religiosity should be situated within the context of deepening social, political, and economic crisis. Faced with double digit unemployment and skyrocketing rates of homelessness, the American dream is even more of a brutal sham for African Americans. In the wake of Obama’s election it is no accident that reactionary forces seek to dismantle what little remains of the American social welfare safety net. Indeed, the decades’ long Religious Right backlash against civil rights, women’s rights, and gay liberation is exemplified by the ascent of Tea Party-style white nationalism. Consequently, to paraphrase panelist Carol Pierce, the Black Church is still something of a “refuge” in a hyper-segregated nation.

So why did the panelists become atheists or agnostics? Jim Pierce, a retired engineer, expressed his dissatisfaction with the church’s sexist treatment of women. Thamani Delgardo, a health care professional who described herself as a “former holy roller,” became disillusioned after repeatedly seeing innocent babies die despite prayer. Jeffery “Atheist Walking” Mitchell found Christian explanations for the creation of the universe absurd. Discussing the real life stigma black non-believers face, We Are All Africans author Kwadwo Obeng expressed his contempt for comedian Steve Harvey, who smeared atheists as having no moral compass in a now infamous 2009 interview. Obeng also condemned racist characterizations of the 2010 Haitian earthquake as an example of God’s wrath (due to Haitians’ blasphemous worship of Voudoun). Delgardo argued forcefully against the benefits of prayer as an antidote to pain and suffering. Predictably, monotheism itself came in for a vigorous beating. Both Obeng and Mitchell unpacked the illogic of thousands of competing religious truth claims; each faith’s loyalists insisting that their particular view of divinity, morality, righteousness, and the god(s) concept be privileged by the masses. Obeng articulated a radical African critical consciousness, arguing that European colonialism and white supremacy wiped out indigenous African belief systems amongst enslaved Africans in the so-called New World. Hence, all Abrahamic religions legitimized a kind of mental slavery, fatally undermining black self-love and self knowledge for both African Americans and Africans.

In response, one audience member complained that it was easy to “poke holes” in scripture and Christian belief. But at the end of the day you had to believe in something. Secular humanists believe that faith in supernatural puppet masters are dangerous because we only have one life to live. Feminist atheists believe that social justice based on the universal moral value of women’s right to self-determination (rather than self-sacrifice, domestication, submission, and sexual degradation) is certainly not found in the Bible or the Koran. It is for this reason that the heterosexist, patriarchal hierarchies of Abrahamic religions are especially insidious for black women and LGBT people of African descent.

A lively exchange on biblical literalism versus liberal Christian theology ensued when I quoted several misogynistic passages from scripture. Pastor Seth took exception with the notion that Christianity prescribed misogyny, citing a passage in the New Testament which he interpreted to suggest equality between men and women.

Pondering the question of evil and free will, a younger parishioner contended that God didn’t micro-manage people’s lives, implicitly rejecting Epicurus’ caveat about God’s impotence if he didn’t intervene against evil. Speaking from the audience, my father, author and political commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson, concluded the discussion with a spirited defense of “Christian” precepts of charity and forgiveness, whilst acknowledging the pernicious acts of some true believers. When I was growing up, our household was perhaps the only one in the neighborhood where secular humanism was the rule (my mother Yvonne still considers herself a secular humanist). So my father’s newfound belief in God and self-proclaimed “spiritual” humanism has been interesting to watch.

In the end, odysseys in belief, like family politics and intimate relationships, are complicated. Yet what is not in question is the need for a paradigm shift around social justice in black communities. So the atheists and the Baptists pledged to meet again, in the spirit of shared struggle.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.