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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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.

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.

The Prison of Black Patriarchal Masculinity

By Derrick L. McMahon, Jr.

As a black man living in the United States, I know all too well the prison that Black Patriarchal Masculinity can be. Growing up, the cell that I was placed in was small and rigid, a place for conformity rather than creativity. My masculinity was policed at almost every turn. My wrists were too limp I was told. My walk was not boyish enough I was told. And my interests were in all the wrong places: dolls and balls as opposed to just dolls.

What brings me to the topic of black patriarchal masculinity is a chance encounter I had the opportunity to witness. A black male was walking by and I overheard a young Hispanic girl, no more than 12 years old, remark that he “walked like a girl.” As I heard the young girl utter that the black man “walked like a girl,” something in my mind went off. I began to think about what black masculinity was in the society I live in. What about the black man walking by made the young girl feel he was crossing some threshold of masculine acceptability? What had made a young girl, a Hispanic one at that, recognize something in that black man that went against whatever she had been taught in her own community and society?

The prevailing narrative of black masculinity in this society seems to be predicated on a few things. Black men are to be full of rage and always apt to commit violent crimes. We’re supposed to be hyper masculine and hyper sexual; willing to fuck anything and be the carrier of superhuman sexual abilities. Also, due to our race, it seems, we are supposed to embody an idealized version of masculinity. Both the dominant culture and many blacks themselves have internalized this false notion of black men embodying a “true” definition of masculinity.

There seems to be an endless barrage of black men depicted in the media as fitting into the narrow narratives constructed around black masculinity. Incidents of crime are reported on frequently, remarking on the latest black man to kill, maim, or rape someone. Sports and music provide the perfect backdrop for introducing the narrative that black males are hyper masculine and hyper sexual. Videos by popular artists populate mass media wherein black men brag about their sexual prowess and their heightened masculinity. The black man is conditioned to believe that he embodies the very best of patriarchal masculinity, and that this is a virtue.

That an eleven year old girl could recognize a random black man as embodying something that she had been taught to pinpoint, to see as an anomaly, was striking to me. It is a testament to the fact that our children are being conditioned from a very early age to police the gender of themselves and others. What business does an eleven year old need with policing gender? Adolescence is, and should be, a time of much experimentation and exploration, not the site of rigidity and policing. That this young girl was a member of a different racial group indicates that patriarchal black masculinity is being communicated to other communities. It’s not unusual to meet someone of another group who is surprised or disappointed that a particular black man does not embody a particular masculine ideal. When I tell people that I don’t play football or basketball, and that I don’t have a bad chick by my side, they seem let down. I’ve destroyed some illusion of black masculinity and manhood that they had harbored.

Masculinity, in my opinion, should be a site for creativity and diversity. No black man should be forced into a prison of rigidity by a society expecting his masculinity to be one dimensional and one note. As a black man who is an advocate of feminism, I know that I have a responsibility to make my masculinity a site of resistance. I make sure that my thoughts and actions promote a view of black masculinity that is rooted in a respect for femininity, and anchored in a multifaceted harbor.

It is imperative for black men to fight for our right to be free of the prison of black patriarchal masculinity. We are more than rage, anger, violence, and sexual conquest. Our masculinity, much like we are, is and has always been diverse. We must make room in our cell for a diverse black masculinity.

The future of black masculinity lies in its ability to break free of the prison cell it has been forced to reside in. Black masculinity must seek out a wide open field where diversity and creativity is celebrated and fostered. We must resist those who insist on our singularity as black men. The prison cell that is patriarchal masculinity must no longer be the site where black masculinity resides.

Derrick L. McMahon Jr. has a Bachelor of Science in History from Florida A&M University. His blog is the antiintellect

Discretion: The “DL” Problem


By Dexter Smith

The “Down-Low”. A uniquely African-American slang term used in reference to an insidious subculture of deeply closeted African-American homosexual and/or bisexual men who, while carrying on their normal, day-to-day, public lives as heterosexual men, simultaneously lead secret lives engaged in sexual relations with other men. The meaning of the term, however, has expanded over the years to include all closeted African-American gay and/or bisexual men. Originally the typical “DL” man identified as “straight” despite his same sex attractions and liaisons. Today, many “DL” men accept that they are either homosexual or bisexual despite what they may tell the rest of the world.

Defined by its “cult of masculinity”, the “DL” lifestyle shuns the traditional trappings of LGBT culture for secrecy and discretion. Many “DL” men are deluded into believing that they can somehow remain in the closet forever, carrying on a double life in secrecy for as long as they like. This of course seldom, if ever, works. These things invariably have a way of being exposed eventually. The “DL” lifestyle itself is symptomatic of the shame, fear, and ignorance that plague the African-American LGBT community. The African-American community itself, overwhelmingly Christian and therefore bound hopelessly to patriarchal beliefs and behavior, is not very welcoming to homosexuality.

The struggle to “come out of the closet” is nothing new. It is a transition that every gay and or bisexual person, African-American or otherwise, will have to experience. However, there is something different about the experience in the African-American community. It seems that heterosexism is even more densely concentrated amongst black people than it is amongst our white counterparts. We’re deeply mired in a cult of hetero-normativity, devoted to a fallacy constructed by patriarchy. So much so that we’ve produced this dangerous “DL” subculture. A factor which has helped turn the African-American LGBT community into this backwards satellite of the wider mainstream LGBT community.

A friend once told me that sexuality is a “private thing”. That it was ok to be in the closet or “DL” because no one needed to know your sexual orientation. Especially since, as he saw it, being gay made things harder. The notion is not entirely without merit but it sets an unfair double standard. Why should my sexuality be private? After all, if you approached a heterosexual male or female and asked “Are you straight?” chances are they will respond honestly. If my sexuality is private, am I supposed to lie? Why should I advance heterosexism by keeping my sexuality “private”? After all, unless I indicate otherwise, most people would automatically assume that I’m heterosexual. I don’t want that. If you’re not free to be who you are then exactly how free are you?

Besides, how exactly are we to dispel the negative myths and stereotypes, eradicate the stigma and ignorance, and achieve equality by hiding? If we act like we have something to be ashamed of, people will treat us like we have something to be ashamed of. We must abandon the false notion that heterosexuality is superior. This is, in itself, the very root of many or our problems.

The plight of LGBT people has come a long way since June 28, 1969, when those brave pioneers of the gay rights movement stood up to this country’s institutionalized oppression of sexual minorities. On December 18, 2010, the discriminatory “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy which prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces was repealed. American society has become very open, welcoming and tolerant, and with each year that passes the excuses for hiding dwindle in number and significance. Its 2011 and you’re still so called on the “DL”? Excuse my use of common black vernacular but “Nigga please!” That is so last year.

I’m not hiding. I’m proud, I’m happy, and I’m free. Thank You.

Dexter Smith is a sophomore Political Science major at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.