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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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...]

End Apartheid!

By Norm R. Allen Jr.

No, this is not a flashback to the days of strict racial segregation in South Africa. Rather, it is a call for an end to what is known as gender apartheid, sexual apartheid, or, as I like to call it, gender Jim Crow.

Strict separation of the sexes is often forced upon women by patriarchal men, more often than not in the name of “protecting” the “weaker sex.” This problem is most obvious among reactionary Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Under Orthodox Judaism, especially among the Hasidic sect, women are assigned inferior positions to men. In Israel, there are about 60 buses that segregate the sexes. In Jerusalem, the number 56 bus travels through a conservative Jewish neighborhood on the east side. Men are permitted to sit up front, but women are required to board through the center door and sit at the back of the bus.

Throughout the United States, Muslims are segregated by sex. In Minnesota, men and women routinely pray in separate areas in various mosques. In her 1997 book, Little X: Growing up in the Nation of Islam, Sonsyrea Tate wrote about her dissatisfaction with the gender Jim Crow of the NOI. The sexism was so strong, it caused her brother to remark, “This ain’t Islam. This is Hislam.”

In Toronto, Ontario, there is a full-blown controversy involving Muslim students at public schools. Muslims are permitted to gather for prayer. However, girls who are menstruating may not participate in the prayer sessions. Rather, they are forced to sit in the back and merely observe.

In Christianity, Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians practice gender Jim Crow. In the churches, men sit on the right side, near the Christ statue, while women sit on the left side, near the Mary statue.

On January 5, 2003, Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) debated Hassanain Rajabali, a Muslim, at the Islamic Institute of New York, in Woodside, New York. The topic was “Does God Not Exist?” The men and women in the audience were segregated by sex.

This raises the question: What is the proper response to gender Jim Crow? During apartheid in South Africa, Randall Robinson of TransAfrica, Jesse Jackson, and other African American anti-apartheid activists pushed for strong action against the apartheid regime. However, conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell advocated “constructive engagement” with the White rulers.

Sun City, South Africa, then, as now, was a major destination for wealthy tourists. Many major music acts played there for the large sums of money they could make. However, other musicians accused them of selling out and harming anti-apartheid efforts. This prompted musicians Little Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and others to release the record “Sun City” calling for musicians to boycott the resort.

Similarly, anti-gender Jim Crow activists should oppose the practice whenever and wherever girls and women are being harmed by it. However, is it always wrong for the sexes to separate?

In nations such as Japan, Egypt, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, and Dubai, some passenger trains have separate cars for women. This has come as a result of complaints from women of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Japan has had such cars since the early part of the 20th century. However, in Japan, segregated cars, public education, and stiffer jail sentences have not helped. On the contrary, the sexual harassment and sexual assaults have actually increased there in recent years.

What about separate schools? Some educators believe that separating the sexes makes for better education for both sexes. There are many examples of all male or all female educational institutions with great success and high graduation rates. Similarly, many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played major roles in educating African Americans. However, many scholars insist that the jury is still out on whether separating the sexes in education is mostly beneficial.

Malcolm X made the distinction between separation and segregation. Separation is a choice that could be beneficial to those seeking it. However, segregation is forced upon people in an effort to elevate one group above another. For purposes of this discussion, women might seek to form separate groups to elevate themselves, oppose patriarchy, etc. However, when men seek to impose gender Jim Crow by forcing females to dress a certain way, sit at the back of the bus, pray in the basement, use inferior facilities, all good people must rise up against such unjust behavior. It does women no good when anyone tries to rationalize gender Jim Crow in the name of God or anything else.

Norm Allen is the author of African American Humanism and the Black Humanist Experience: An Alternative to Religion.