#CollegeNotPrisons: Support the 2015 First in the Family Humanist Scholarship

In 2013, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), spearheaded the First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative, which provides scholarships to undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. Nationally these young people are at greatest risk for being pushed out of school due to discriminatory discipline policies and criminalizing police practices (foster care youth of color have some of the highest juvenile incarceration rates among all youth groups). For example, in big city school systems like the Los Angeles Unified School District, spending for school police and paramilitary weapons far outstrips spending for restorative justice initiatives which have been proven to keep students in school.  And in many South Los Angeles schools fewer than 20% of high school seniors go on to four year colleges and universities.

Responding directly to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis, BSLA is the first atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color with an explicitly anti-racist multicultural emphasis.  Listen to our 2013 & 2014 scholars talk about how FIFHS helped them in their freshman and sophomore years and please share this post with the secular community.  Indiegogo link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/first-in-the-family-humanist-scholarship-fund–2/x/2451283

Moving Social Justice 2015

In a global climate in which the criminalization and economic disenfranchisement of people of color of all genders and sexualities has become more acute, what role can secular humanism play in communities of color in the U.S.? 

Last year’s Moving Social Justice conference featured an incredible array of activists, organizers and educators from the secular and social justice communities.  Building on that momentum , the 2015 MSJ conference will be held October 10th and 11th at Rice University in Houston, Texas. MSJ is the first annual social justice conference dedicated to addressing the lived experiences, cultural context, shared struggle and social history of secular humanist people of color and their allies.  This year’s conference will focus on topics such as economic justice, the Black Lives Matter movement, women of color beyond faith, LGBTQ atheists of color, African American Humanist traditions in hip hop, the crisis of New Atheism and much more.

Racism & Intersectionality w/Frank Anderson, Georgina Capetillo, Sergio Ortega, Donald Wright & Tony Pinn

Racism & Intersectionality w/Frank Anderson, Georgina Capetillo, Sergio Ortega, Raina Rhoades, Donald Wright & Tony Pinn

The conference is sponsored by the People of Color Beyond Faith Network, Black Skeptics Group, Houston Black Non-Believers, Black Freethinkers, the American Humanist Association and African Americans for Humanism.

Confirmed speakers include (with more to come):

For further information please contact: peopleofcolorbeyondfaith@gmail.com or blackskeptics@gmail.com

 

 

Women of Color Beyond Faith Forum

DOS 2013 pic

Women of color remain the most consistently religious group in the nation.  At the same time, the majority of women of color live in highly segregated communities that cut across class lines.  For many African American and Latino women of all backgrounds, faith and religion are intimately woven into their daily lived experiences, community contexts, social and civic ties and sense of mental health and wellness.

As part of the national Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers on Sunday, February 22nd Black Skeptics Los Angeles will host a Women of Color Beyond Faith forum at CFI L.A. at 11:30.  The forum will focus on the cultural, social, political and personal issues that inform the choices some women of color have made to question/reject organized religion.  It will also highlight the challenge and promise of forging alternative secular spaces that are culturally responsive to the needs of WOC.  Some of the questions and issues that this forum will explore are:

  • How do WOC navigate secularism/atheism/humanism in historically religious communities and families?
  • How do WOC find and create safe spaces for secular lifestyles and belief systems (given the challenges of the above)?
  • How are the experiences, world views and sociopolitical agendas of WOC secularists distinct from that of white secularists in general and white women secularists in particular?
  • How does WOC secularism/humanism/atheism relate to social justice activism or belief?
  • How are WOC secularists interrogating the “colorblind” ethos of mainstream atheism?

Moderated by Sikivu Hutchinson, the forum will feature BSLA member Toni A. Bell, Donna Perkins of the Unitarian Universalist Church, Sandra Boooker, host of the radio show American Vernacular, and Staci Goddard of the L.A. Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group.

Dissing DuVernay and the Lessons of Selma

Ava DuVernay

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Every child in the U.S. should see Selma for at least two reasons.  First, Ava DuVernay’s powerhouse film captures the political complexities and tactical ambiguities that informed civil rights movement organizing; from the behind-the-scenes factionalism among movement organizers to the FBI’s war on activists to the media’s influence on bringing black resistance to Southern terrorism straight into white Middle America’s living rooms.  Highlighting the contributions of black women activists and other lesser known unheralded organizers, the film reminds young people that historical change does not spring from the exceptional actions of visionary individuals but from collective action.  In this regard, Selma is an important antidote to mainstream portrayals that fixate on Martin Luther King as the sole impetus for the movement.

Second, the lessons of Selma itself are relevant to DuVernay’s “omission” from the Academy Awards nomination for Best Director.  True to Frederick Douglass’ assertion that “power concedes nothing without demand” the snub of DuVernay is criminal but of course not unprecedented.  Just as sustained organized action brought down Southern apartheid so must sustained organized action be directed at Hollywood’s billion dollar White Boy’s club.  Each year, people of color flock to inane comedies and big budget action flicks in record numbers (Latinos have the highest film going rates and the lowest rates of representation in mainstream film).  In the few theater chains that deign to operate in the “ghetto” , we watch white people play out themes of heroism, romance, swashbuckling, leadership and political intrigue underwritten by multinational corporations which rarely endorse people of color portrayals that don’t hinge on minstrelsy.  Given this, why would the Academy, helmed by a cabal of older white men like the Tea Party, give a brilliant fierce black woman like DuVernay its imprimatur for disrupting one of white supremacy’s most sacred preserves?  Shaming white Hollywood into [Read more…]

A Tale of Two Massacres: The West & the Rest

boko haram hypocrisy

While the world universally condemned the slaughter of French journalists and citizens by Islamist terrorists last week, there has been relative silence on the recent massacre of thousands in northern Nigeria by the Islamist group Boko Haram — proving that white European lives matter more (once again).

From the Montreal Gazette:

 

Leaders of about 50 nations linked arms during a march in Paris, demonstrating a common front.

But during these symbolically important mass rallies, barely a peep was uttered to condemn another atrocity committed last week, also by Islamist terrorists. While all eyes were glued to the carnage in France, Boko Haram slaughtered 2,000 people in a village in northern Nigeria. Women, children and the elderly were slain in the streets, while other residents of Baga drowned trying to swim to a nearby island. In a testament to their ruthlessness, the group murdered dozens more countrymen in subsequent days by sending suicide bombers — girls ages 15 and 10 — into crowded marketplaces in separate incidents.

The bloodbath in Baga resulted in a strategic victory for the Islamists; when the dysfunctional Nigerian army fled the village, it essentially ceded control of Borno state to Boko Haram.

ICOAST-FRANCE-ATTACKS-CHARLIE-HEBDO-DEMO

Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria, has been criticized for his inept response to Boko Haram’s advance. His inability to take effective action can in part be explained by the rampant corruption in the government and the army. As well, with an election on the horizon, he seems to be simply trying to change the channel. But it is astounding that Jonathan managed to take time away from his daughter’s wedding over the weekend to lament the attacks in France, yet failed to acknowledge the massacre in his own country…

http://montrealgazette.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-boko-harams-atrocities-continue

 

Teaching Against Terrorism

BWW presentation class

Ferguson discussion

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Now that the grand jury in Staten Island has desecrated Eric Garner’s dying breath and re-confirmed fascism in the U.S. what Black person has confidence in the justice system? What descendent of slaves has “faith” that speechifying, praying, and pleading for the system to recognize Black life will have any demonstrable impact on the United Terrorists of America? Who believes that the rule of law means anything other than a jack boot and a lynch rope around the neck of African-descent people who built this country brick by brick?

As progressive educators many of us enter the classroom every day with fierce expectations of change and redress. Working against textbooks that obliterate poor and working class people of color, we teach our students about social history to enlighten, inspire, transform and enable them to think critically about the similarities and differences between past and present. Even among those of us who push back against grand narratives that pimp the obscenity of Western exceptionalism there is an implicit assumption about progress; a secular faith in “advancement” despite the face of insidious institutional racism.

Today, we go into the classroom with that secular faith blown to bits yet again. Today, some of us will tell our students that the Garner decision makes it important to amplify that people of color have always fought terrorism on this soil. Some of us will say that the U.S. has a history of using the Orwellian language of freedom and justice to vilify the non-Western other while waging terrorist war against its own. During World War II black activists fought the hypocrisy of the U.S.’ campaign against fascism in Europe. These interventions were the legacy of 18th century revolutionary war era protests and legal resistance that free and enslaved Africans mounted against the tyranny of “democratic” empire. Social justice pedagogy is designed to empower young people to critique, question and ultimately organize against these contradictions. When we teach we try and lift up these brutal contradictions and show how they inform the present. In an age of wall-to-wall corporate media it’s one of the last bastions of decolonization for youth of color who are told that race is no barrier but see white supremacy at work every day. But in the cold light of unrelenting state criminality and savage indifference to black life it’s difficult to remain hopeful.

Discussing racism and discrimination with South Los Angeles students in a new multiracial leadership group before the Ferguson decision, some were initially hesitant to unpack their experiences. Yet in the same school students reported that some teachers divide their classrooms by seating “smart” Latino students on one side and “underachieving” African American students on the other. In the same school black boys are led away in handcuffs by school police every week. In the same school “out of control” students of all genders are physically restrained. In the same school, and in schools just like it across the district, black students are grossly under-represented in Advanced Placement and Honors classes but pack special education classes and detention halls. Unlike the murder of Eric Garner, these are the routine, everyday acts of state violence that are never captured on videotape but also signal that breathing while black remains a punishable, lethal offense. Our challenge as activist teachers and mentors is to keep pushing students to see that the system doesn’t want them to see these terrorist violations as the same.

“Intersectionality is Our Lives”: Moving Social Justice Video footage

Footage from the opening session of the October 2014 Moving Social Justice conference at CFI Los Angeles featuring Sikivu Hutchinson and Debbie Goddard:

When I first started writing Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars back in 2009 few were talking about intersectional issues within an atheist/humanist context. Those who were were getting holy hell from the Dawkins dudebros and the Hitch fanboys. Because when you’re benefiting from economic and racial apartheid it’s far more sexy to crusade against genital mutilation among the backward primitive Muslim Africans “over there” and effectively say to black women atheists, by the way Negresses don’t you know that we rescued ya’ll from that scourge? Here, take this ‘We Are All Africans’ t-shirt and ticket to Darwin Day and sit down and shut the fuck up while we white atheists front like we’re Public Enemy Number One.

Atheists Hating on Social Justice & STEM Segregation

By Sikivu Hutchinson from the Faithiest blog @ Religion News

One of the most evocative images from the protests in Ferguson, Missouri this summer was that of demonstrator Angela Jaboor wielding an “I Am a Woman” sign.

Jaboor’s sign was modeled after the historic “I Am a Man” signs displayed by male civil rights activists in the 1960s. By centering black women’s agency, she challenged traditional narratives associating liberation with heroic masculinity.

Paying tribute to the invisible black women who’ve been victimized by state violence, feminists of color continue to push back against civil rights movement orthodoxies that privilege the plight of young men of color while ignoring the impact race, gender, sexuality and class-based oppression has on cis, straight, lesbian, bi and trans women of color. To paraphrase African Americans for Humanism director Debbie Goddard, “intersectionality is our lives.”

As a racially polarized nation awaits the grand jury decision on the officer who killed unarmed teen Michael Brown, some atheists and Humanists are still hating on “mission creep,” intersectionality, and the “corruption” of white bread secularism by so-called “social justice warriors” who apparently just don’t get why the U.S. is the world’s greatest beacon of freedom and justice.

Expecting nonbelievers of color to hew to a limited secular agenda that fetishizes creationism and the separation of church and state, they seem to ask, “Why aren’t you people who come from woefully religious ghettos content with our table scraps?”

– More @ http://chrisstedman.religionnews.com/2014/11/21/atheists-social-justice-stem/#sthash.F9OWwmZn.dpuf

No More White Saviors: Jonestown and Peoples Temple in the Black Feminist Imagination

Peoples Temple Church Service

Peoples Temple Church Service

By Sikivu Hutchinson

From Alternative Considerations of Jonestown

I boarded the plane in a fog of dream and nightmare with all the others leaving America for the last time.  Nursing mothers with squealing babies in the row behind me, elders in front flipping through their bibles, Ebony magazines and Readers’ Digests, eyes aglow like Christmas.  On our stealth mission to the other side we wondered, watched, drank in the shifting remnants of the cities and towns below, demonic, beloved spaces that had held us close then betrayed us.[1]

A black female writer novelizing Peoples Temple and Jonestown must weave through a landmine of memory and myth.  The Jonestown canon, the reams and reams that have been written, is like a country unto itself, a kaleidoscope of porous boundaries incapable of containing the dead, the living, the in-between.  In the decades since the mass murder-suicide of over 900 members of the predominantly black Peoples Temple church at Jonestown, Guyana on November 19, 1978 it has been fictionalized to roaring excess, ghosting into American popular culture as the grotesque culmination of an oft-ridiculed decade.  Like many I was introduced to Jonestown through newsreel caricatures of bug-eyed cult zombies, endless rows of black corpses and the Reverend Jim Jones’ aging Elvis-meets-Elmer Gantry swagger.  Jonestown has become cultural shorthand for blind faith and cautionary tale about religious obsession.  But buried beneath the psycho cult clichés is the power of black women in the Peoples Temple movement.  As the largest demographic in Peoples Temple black women have seldom been portrayed as lead protagonists in popular representations of Jonestown.  Despite the horror of Jonestown’s demise its representation cannot be separated from dehumanizing cultural representations of black people in general and black women in particular.  While Jonestown as cultural “artifact” is perversely sexy—the object of near necrophilic projection and fantasy—Peoples Temple is a historical stepchild; its legacy an unwelcome reflection of the lingering race, gender and class divide in “New Jim Crow” America.

Faced with this mythologizing I began my novel, White Nights, Black Paradise, at the end.  It opens with a lone child, identity unknown, partly gesturing to the loss of black girls’ voices, partly to the psychobiography of Jim Jones as lovelorn singleton and partly to the naked terror that any child walking in the stifling heat among the community’s dead and dying must have felt in the Temple’s final moments.  The book’s title reflects the dual nature of PT’s trajectory.  White nights were rehearsals/demonstrations of loyalty and collective despair.  They evoked both the impossibility of a worldly paradise and the (hollow) approximation of one via the church’s multiracial social justice vision.

White_Nights_front

My initial research into Peoples Temple was driven by what seemed to be one of the most basic and egregiously unanswered  questions—where are the black feminist readings on and scholarship about Peoples Temple and Jonestown??  As historian James  Lance Taylor remarked to me recently, the erasure of black women is “a double victimization because the people who were  victimized get hidden by Jim Jones’ ego (and) it made them into a bunch of freaks.  It’s important to bring out that this was a  significant event and it needs to be registered along the lines of major tragic events in black history.”  Many of the literary  portrayals of black women involved in Peoples Temple have been limply one-dimensional.  At stage right, the elderly self-  sacrificing god-fearing caregivers who opened up their wallets and deeded their homes to the Temple with few reservations.  At  stage left, the loyal “rudderless” young women who came up in the Black Church and followed disgruntled family members into the  Temple collectives.  From Mammy to the trusty sage black sidekick, we’ve seen these stick figures trotted out ad nauseum on TV and  in film.  They are serviceable (to use Toni Morrison’s term[2]) props to the main event—i.e., the mercurial path of the brash white  savior/rock star/anti-hero.  The 1997 film The Apostle, starring Robert Duvall as a disreputable white Southern Pentecostal  preacher redeemed by a predominantly black female congregation, wrapped up all of these Americana caricatures in a nice  countrified bow.

Confronting this erasure of black women’s agency, the novel asks, what was the context of black women’s involvement?  What drove them to join, stay, leave, resist and/or collaborate?  What were the complex motivations that kept some tethered to Jones and the movement until the bitter end and how can these decisions be recuperated as rational?  How, ultimately, did black women shape Jim Jones and vice versa?  When she was introduced to Peoples Temple in the early seventies Los Angeles member Juanell Smart “had given up on religion, church and ministers because I had been married to a Pentecostal preacher for a number of years and knew the ins and outs of the church.” (Smart, 2004)  Smart’s comments imply that she might have been disillusioned with the sexism, corruption and moral hypocrisy that plagues organized religion.  Nonetheless, when she attended her first Peoples Temple service Jones’ criticism of abusive relationships resonated with her.  Smart lost her four children, her mother and an uncle in Jonestown.  Her article on the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown site captures her ambivalence toward Jones while she was a member of the Temple planning commission.  She notes that, “I have always been a skeptic so it was hard for me to be a true believer for any length of time.”  Smart’s skepticism and questioning of authority led her to break from Peoples Temple.  In a recent conversation with me she identified herself as an atheist.

Mainstream stereotypes of black hyper-religiosity have always precluded more complex representations of black faith and religious skepticism (Hutchinson, 2011).  [Read more…]