Who Wants to be A Rocket Scientist? Race, Gender and the STEM Divide

By Sikivu Hutchinson

From The Humanist

Criminal.  Gangbanger.  “Baby daddy”.  Drug dealer.  Ball player.  Brainstorming recently about the psychological impact of media images with a group of African American ninth graders in my Young Male Scholars program, these caricatures were the primary images they associated with black men.  White men were identified with images of power, leadership, entrepreneurship, intellectualism and heroism, i.e., the stuff of scientific invention and discovery.  Bucking the stereotypes, a few students in the group have expressed interest in becoming civil engineers or game designers.  Yet, at every turn, the messages they receive from the dominant culture about who has the capacity to succeed in STEM are insidiously clear.

In a recent article in The New Yorker, esteemed physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson reminisced that he’d been advised to pursue sports instead of science by one of his high school teachers.  Far from being a throwback to a bygone “less enlightened” era, Tyson’s experience is the norm for many African American students in the U.S.’ re-segregated schools.  While Tyson is widely revered as an icon of science literacy in humanist and atheist circles, there has been little to no humanist or atheist critique of the legacy of segregation that informs STEM inequities.  For many humanists of color who live in communities where black and Latino youth are being relentlessly pipelined into prisons—redressing educational apartheid overall is more critical than the mainstream secular emphasis on creationism and school prayer.

Stanford University professor Linda Darling Hammond has dubbed the deep race and class divide in American public education the opportunity gap[Read more...]

Atheists Support L.A. Pastor Facing “Tribunal” for LGBT Advocacy

Seth Pickens

Seth Pickens

By Sikivu Hutchinson, From Religion Dispatches

On Sunday morning I went to a church service for the first time in decades.  I was there as a community member to support Pastor Seth Pickens of Zion Hill Baptist church in South Los Angeles.  A few days before, I’d received an urgent plea from Teka-Lark Fleming, publisher of the local Morningside Park Chronicle newspaper, encouraging progressive black folk to show up at Zion Hill in support of Seth’s pro-LGBTQ stance.  After publishing a column entitled “The 10 Reasons I Love LGBTQ folk” in Fleming’s paper, Pickens came under fire from church officials.  The controversy erupted on the heels of internal criticism he’d received for performing a marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple last year.

Zion Hill is a vibrant mini-community within a predominantly African American and Latino community that has been ravaged by the economic depression.  Each week, the church houses health and fitness classes, an AIDS ministry, financial literacy workshops, block clubs, support services for the disabled and a credit union.  Over the past three years, Pickens has even been a supporter of “interfaith” dialogue with my Black Skeptics Los Angeles organization, opening the church’s doors to our community forums on atheism, black secular humanist traditions and civil rights resistance.  I’d first met Pickens when I was exploring the grounds of the church with my then toddler daughter.  After greeting me and introducing himself, he’d asked if I belonged to any of the local congregations.  When I told him I was an atheist, the first words out of his mouth were not, “Why?” but “I respect that.”

After the success of our atheism roundtables, I attempted to organize another community forum entitled “Confronting Homophobia in the Black Church” at Zion Hill with Pickens’ support.  However, shortly before the date of the event, he called to say church officials were giving him static and that we’d have to cancel it.  Now, with the publication of his article in the Morningside Park Chronicle, church officials are demanding that he face a “tribunal” and respond to a laundry list of questions on homosexuality and biblical morality.

The controversy at Zion Hill is emblematic of a national climate in which traditional black churches are increasingly being challenged on their homophobic policies.  Nonetheless, the rhetoric that homosexuality is a white European phenomenon artificially imposed on African descent peoples is still a recurring theme in some black churches.  Recently the ATLAH church in Harlem made headlines for a viciously homophobic marquee sign equating homosexuality with whiteness.  And terrorist anti-gay legislation in Uganda and Nigeria (sparked and endorsed in no small part by the anti-gay crusades of white American evangelicals) has heightened the stereotype that both African and African descent people are inherently more homophobic than other groups.

According to a 2012 Gallup poll, “African Americans are more likely than any other ethnic or racial group to identify as gay and transgender.” [Read more...]

Why Sikivu Hutchinson’s Latest Book Is Relevant To an Angry Romani Ex-Muslim

by Maryam Moosan-Clark

In Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels, Sikivu Hutchinson takes us on a roller coaster ride through the different, interacting forms of underprivilege that affect People of Color in the United States, past and present. Throughout much of the journey, despite giving numerous examples a minority person can relate to, she maintains a measure of intellectual distance necessary for proper analysis. This changes on the final pages where she shares one historical and two personal experiences of loss (one still bearable for someone who is a parent, one not) which make everything discussed in the book suddenly and painfully concrete. Godless Americana is thoroughly researched and properly sourced, which is not a given for an activist book and should make the lives of racism denialists somewhat harder. Sikivu’s mastery of language, alternating between intellectual and activist, makes for a very captivating read, especially considering the sobering nature of its content.

Many of the patterns discussed in Godless Americana can be transposed to the situation of islamized minority cultures such as the Khorakhane Romani people, but also in part to Non-Arab, Islam-colonized nation states. To understand this, some context is required. As Sikivu points out, many white non-believers renounce their former faiths on purely intellectual grounds. Often, the same insight in a minority person merely leads to closet Atheism where, for reasons of social acceptance, one remains a member of the dominant religon in name. An additional impetus is usually required for such a person to come out as an Atheist (capitalization intended). The most common ones are socialist political views, the causes of women, gender and sexual minorities, and anti-racism. For myself, and interestingly also for the other Ex-Muslims in our immigrant freethought group, it was the latter.

At some point, I had to admit however reluctantly that the purportedly liberating, universalist, anti-racist religion I had been raised in was actually a racist, colonialist political ideology that promoted Arab supremacy and immunized itself against opposition by also being a religion. I realized that Turkish and to some degree Persian people had managed to bend the ideology to acquire a privileged position in the same way white Europeans have adapted Christianity to their needs. It was this racial hierarchy, which works to the detriment of my people, that ultimately convinced me of the necessity of Atheism. Godless Americana treats white supremacism and the Christian religion as separate but interconnected phenomena. Whereas in the Islamic world, Arab political and cultural imperialism are blended into one, the collection of causes and effects is ultimately the same. The most important commonalities are discussed below.

While this is not explicitly stated, Godless Americana shows how more than two centuries after slavery forced the transition from extended to nuclear families, African American culture has yet to recover from it, and this is one of the many factors that negatively affect the lives of women. Among the Romani people, this transition is in various stages, depending on whether it was or is driven by slavery, genocide, or migration. Most of the time, however, it happens as involuntarily as it did for African Americans. Unlike white people, for whom this was a gradual process over more than a century, our two peoples have had very little time to adjust. This disproportionally affects women, to whom the responsibility for family work traditionally falls, and it leaves broken homes and dysfunctional families in its wake.

Sikivu repeatedly highlights the proprietary relationship between a white master and the body and produce of his other-race bondwoman as the archetypical form of racist-sexist exploitation. [Read more...]

Black Children Slaughtered: Mistrial in the Murder of Jordan Davis

By Carl Dix

The case of Michael Dunn, the white man who murdered 17-year-old Jordan Davis after arguing with him over the loud music Davis and his friends were playing in a gas station parking lot, shows once more why we need to make revolution to get rid of the capitalist system that has subjected Black people to brutal oppression since the first Africans were dragged to these shores in slave chains. Sixty years ago it was Emmett Till. Two years ago it was Trayvon Martin. Now it’s Jordan Davis, another Black youth murdered by a white man out to put Black people “back in their places.”

While the jury convicted Dunn of secondary counts, THEY DID NOT REACH A DECISION ON THE MURDER OF JORDAN DAVIS!!! ONCE AGAIN THE MESSAGE IS CLEAR: BLACK YOUTH-ALL BLACK YOUTH-HAVE TARGETS ON THEIR BACK. Dunn’s defense came down to saying any white person has the right to kill any Black person he or she feels is a threat to them. And the jury did not contradict that!

By not convicting Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis, Amerikkka is declaring, once again, that Black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect. How long are we going to put up with Black people being gunned down, or lynched, by racists and by the police? Nothing short of revolution is needed to uproot the white supremacist capitalist system that is responsible for these racist murders. And as part of getting to the point when it’s time to make revolution, we have to powerfully come together against these outrageous injustices…These murders have been going down too damned long. They must be stopped, once and for all.

Let’s look at what really happened. After picking a fight with the youth over their music, Dunn fired 10 shots at their vehicle while the youth sat in their car, killing Jordan Davis. Dunn even continued firing after the youth were driving away from the gas station, fleeing for their lives! The youth called the police right away, but Dunn drove back to his motel with his fiancé, took his dog out to “go potty” and ordered pizza for dinner. He got in the car the next day and drove almost 200 miles to go back home.

Again, everybody-Black people, white people, people of all races and backgrounds, everybody who has an ounce of justice in their hearts-needs to take to the streets in outrage over the failure to render justice for the murder of Jordan Davis. Our cry must be JUSTICE FOR JORDAN DAVIS! And this cry must be continued into the Day of Outrage and Remembrance for Trayvon Martin on February 26. And carried on till we end these outrageous murders, the white supremacy out of which they spring and the whole goddamned capitalist system that is responsible for this and many other horrors inflicted on the people.

Color of Change “Black Lives Matter” petition on Stand Your Ground and Jordan Davis.

Young Women of Color & Social Justice FTB Panel

POCBY

For communities of color, social justice is more than just a cool buzz phrase to trot out in comfortable online forums and confabs.  Nationwide, communities of color are reeling from the structural impact of economic depression, historic assaults on public education and deepening residential segregation.  On Saturday, February 1st  feminist commentators and activists from the POC freethought/humanist/atheist community will discuss the relevance of these issues in communities of color and the prospects for organizing and coalition-building within a humanist context.  The panel is sponsored by Secular Woman.

Secular Woman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time: 1PM EST

Moderators:

Kimberly Veal, Black Freethinkers & Black Skeptics & Raina Roades, Black Freethinkers & Roades to Reality blog

Panelists:

Georgina Capetillo, Howard U

Heina Dadabhoy, Skepchick

Noa JonesLoudish blog

 

Airbrushing Race out of “Income Inequality”

wealth gap blacks whites wealth gap children

By Sikivu Hutchinson

“This is the worst I’ve seen it in a long time,” Cecil McLinn, the principal of Duke Ellington Continuation School in South Los Angeles, told me recently after one of our students missed a week of school because she didn’t have shoes.  A highly-regarded administrator and longtime advocate in South L.A., McGlinn has been on the frontlines of progressive education for several decades.  As the economic depression in our community deepens he’s had to fill out more housing relief forms and aid vouchers for students who struggle just to make it to school every day. Activist administrators like McGlinn know that their schools fill vital resource gaps in social welfare, health care and economic aid assistance for poor and working class families. Because of racial disparities in wealth, schools are especially important as social welfare centers and safe zones for black and Latino children.  In L.A. County, black children comprise fifty per cent of the homeless youth population and thirty per cent of foster care youth. Foster care youth are disproportionately more likely to be incarcerated, drop out of school and experience teen pregnancy.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, 45% of black youth in the U.S. and 35% of Latino youth, versus 12% of white youth, live in communities of “concentrated poverty”.

Duke Ellington is located at the edge of Westmont, a predominantly black and Latino high poverty community.  Westmont was recently the subject of an extensive L.A. Times report, cited as having one of the highest homicide rates in a city where violent crime is purportedly decreasing.  Latino and African American males between 17 and 25 are the main victims of murder-violence in the neighborhood. The majority of the businesses in the immediate community offer minimum to sub minimum wage non-unionized retail jobs with no benefits.  Nonetheless, a recent L.A. City Council proposal to boost the minimum wage to $15 (potentially the highest in the nation) would only target hotel workers.  Most of these workers commute long distances to wealthier neighborhoods on the Westside and downtown Los Angeles.

Some liberal and progressive pundits are fond of trotting out the term income inequality to support their thesis that class immobility represents the deepest divide in American society.  Echoing Barack Obama’s Middle America-appeasing claim that income inequality is just as much about class as it is about race, these pundits assiduously avoid the role institutional racism and white supremacy play in economic injustice.  In the shadow of the 2016 presidential election, the catch-all “income inequality” has become the national bromide du jour.  As his term aiding and abetting the Wall Street robber barons draws to a close, President Obama has belatedly homed in on income inequality in an effort to deflect from slumping poll numbers and mounting left/liberal disillusion. But lost in the political rhetoric from the White House and mainstream media is any true [Read more...]

Stuff White People Like: Secular Tourists

By Sikivu Hutchinson 

A thriving brand of secular tourism can now be definitively filed under the category “stuff white people like”:  Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta has sponsored a crowd-funding campaign for a white male former pastor named Ryan Bell who—in a bit of brilliant PR stagecraft—“decided to…give atheism a try” for a year.  As a result of his “experiment” Bell was fired from two Christian schools.  Currently the campaign has far exceeded its $5,000 goal, generating over $16,000 from 700 plus donors in one day.  Bell joins a jam-packed, largely white, mostly Christian cottage industry of religious leaders who are capitalizing off of untapped reserves of atheist dollars, adulation and publicity by jumping onto the “maverick ex-pastor” bandwagon. 

But the campaign for Bell is just one of the more egregious examples of the backward race/gender/ableist politics of organized atheism. The meteoric rise and fall of ex-pastor Teresa MacBain—who, touting false credentials, scored a high profile job with the Harvard Humanist Center—was another example of privileged white atheist overzealousness and affirmative action.  It is highly doubtful that MacBain would have been considered much less hired for this elite post without a thorough vetting of her credentials if she’d been a woman of color.  In addition to the automatic privilege and preferential treatment accorded white women (of all class and professional backgrounds), MacBain benefited from the kind of white atheist cronyism that keeps the leadership and management structures of the major non-believer organizations (i.e., American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Richard Dawkins Foundation, etc.) predominantly white. Time and again, when it comes to hiring and promotion in the elite fields of academia and corporate America in particular, African American job-seekers typically must have more education and experience than white applicants. In studiesconducted by Princeton University researchers, white job seekers with criminal records were slightly more likely to be called back for and/or offered entry-level jobs than African American job seekers with no criminal record. According to lead researcher Devah Pager, “Even whites with criminal records received more favorable treatment (17%) than blacks without criminal records (14%). The rank ordering of (these) groups…is painfully revealing of employer preferences: race continues to play a dominant role in shaping employment opportunities, equal to or greater than the impact of a criminal record.” 

As people of color with the highest unemployment, foreclosure and criminalization rates in the nation, we should all be so “blessed” to have atheist fairy god-people swooping in to save us from insolvency, ostracism and career marginalization. [Read more...]

Secular Student Alliance Matching Fund Pledge

The Secular Student Alliance has generously pledged a $1500 matching grant toward the Women’s Leadership Project’s (WLP) 2014 fundraising goals.

The WLP is a feminist humanist mentoring, leadership and social justice advocacy program for young women of color in South Los Angeles high schools. For the past several years, the WLP has successfully “pipelined” first generation students into college and careers in communities with historically low college-going, retention and graduation rates. Due to the expiration of L.A. County funding the program is in jeopardy of being discontinued.

In my home and in my community I have always understood that a higher education is not as important as having kids and staying home to clean and cook like a “real woman/ wife” does. I think of WLP as the light in the darkness. As a senior at Gardena, I had no hope or desire to go to college before WLP. I used to think it would be impossible for me to attend college because I’m undocumented.Lizeth Soria, WLP alum 2012

If you’d like to support our work, please go to our campaign to donate and help us continue to make leadership development, college-pipelining and social justice training a reality for young women in South L.A.

“The Secular Student Alliance wants to support the Women’s Leadership Project with a $1,500 matching offer. This comes with no obligation on your part, other than to keep helping young women challenge the sexism, misogyny, and homophobia that can so powerfully shape their lives.”
–August Brunsman IV, SSA Executive Director

Exposing Your Non-Belief & Why the Decision Can Be Paralyzing

POCBF
On Sunday, December 15th, The People of Color Beyond Faith network will host a Google Hangouts discussion on coming out as a non-believer of color with a diverse panel of African descent atheists. The discussion will be moderated by Donald Wright, founder of Houston Black Non-Believers:

Panelists:

Donald Barbera:
Don Barbera has been in the world of business for more than 25 years and is the author of several books including, “From Here to There: Improving Interpersonal Communications.” Don is a graduate of PittsburgStateUniversity and holds degrees in Journalism, English and Business Administration. With nearly 20 years in the print journalism industry, Don is also an experienced writer and instructor, holding adjunct faculty positions at LangstonUniversity, TulsaJunior College as well as the DeVry Institute of Technology. He has written hundreds of newspaper stories and articles, as well as a book of poetry, “Until It Ropes Like Okra. “Black and Not Baptist,” and “The 80% Solution: Christians Doing The Right Thing.”

Dadland Maye:
CUNY Ph.D. Student, novelist & radical activist who doesn’t hold back a word on subjects of Atheism v Religion, Gender & Sexuality Wars, Race Battlefield, Corporate Political Chicanery & Media Miseducation. Because we won’t agree on many things, that very space of disagreement provides opportunities for our sharing, learning, and growing. Check out DadlandShutUP.com.

Émelyne Museaux:
Co-host of The Em & Evil Show on the Black FreeThinkers Radio Network, Author of Children’s & Young Adult Novels, Goddess Beauty and Freelance writer, ghostwriter and copy editor.

Frank Anderson:
President of Black Skeptics Chicago, motivational speaker, civic and social justice activist.

Raina Rhoades:
Ph.D. Student, Neuroscientist, Host of The RSS Feed on the Black FreeThinkers Radio Network, social justice activist, and blogger.

Kimberly Veal:
Vice-President of Black Skeptics Group, President and Host of the Black FreeThinkers Radio Network, IT Trainer, civic & social justice activist.

The Souls of Black Boys

Young male scholars

Brandon Bell, molecular biology

Brandon Bell, molecular biology


By Sikivu Hutchinson

“No one ever discussed Trayvon Martin with us in class,” said Sydney, an introspective 9th grader, wistfully. Sydney is a participant in my Young Male Scholars pilot at Gardena High School in South Los Angeles. He and a dozen other 9th and 10th graders are having a spirited discussion about the impact of Martin’s murder on the criminal justice system in Gardena’s college center. According to the school’s college counselor black boys are a “rarity” in the center and our small meeting is the largest number that he has ever seen here. On a campus where black students are the second largest ethnic group next to Latinos, black males are either pounced on by military recruiters or left to fend for themselves, implicitly branded as troublemakers and potential dropouts.

The college counselor’s observation was the impetus for my starting the pilot in collaboration with Brandon Bell, a young, South L.A. community activist alum of King Drew Medical Magnet and Princeton University. In an educational climate where there were only forty eight black male students in the freshman class of internationally prestigious UCLA, the pilot is specifically designed to pipeline black males into college through targeted intervention. But it is also geared toward politicizing young men of color by providing them with the historical consciousness and space to become an activist generation of organizers, scholars and intellectuals.

Our discussion about the political implications of Martin’s murder took place a day before the death of Nelson Mandela. As the world mourns Mandela and president Obama touts an eleventh hour focus on “income inequality” neo-apartheid conditions in American education continue to fester. Last week was bookended by two powerful education reports which indirectly indicted the myth of American exceptionalism. The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that American students remained static in reading and science and were well below average in math, falling from 29th to 31st in global rankings. The Campaign for College Opportunity’s “The State of Blacks in Higher Education: The Persistent Opportunity Gap” illustrates the devastating impact of California’s anti-affirmative action policy.

The Campaign for College Opportunity report concluded “that gaps between Blacks and other ethnic groups in college-going and attainment have remained virtually unchanged for more than a decade, and in some cases, have worsened.” Despite claims of increased college opportunities for millennials, “A smaller share of today’s California Black young adult population holds postsecondary degrees than that of Blacks between the ages of 35 and 64.” Put bluntly, in an era in which affirmative action has been viciously discredited and all but gutted by both the Right and neo-liberal “left”, young African Americans are less educated than older African Americans. African American students attend community and for-profit colleges in higher numbers than other groups and have the highest student loan debt and default rates. In addition, black youth still have the lowest graduation rates in California.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the class of 2017 (this year’s 9th graders) will be required to have college prep classes in order to graduate. They must earn a C or better to do so. They will have to achieve this feat despite the Obama administration’s Race to the Top emphasis on high stakes tests that narrow the curriculum, undermine critical thinking and force teachers to be glorified proctors. Nationwide, black students are the least prepared for college, have the lowest enrollment in honors and college prep classes and the highest drop-out or push-out rates. The LAUSD requirement is set against the backdrop of deepening unemployment, prison pipelining and black male homicide rates. According to the Education Trust, “If current trends continue only one in twenty African American students will go on to a four year college or university.” The forty eight black males in UCLA’s freshman class are swimming in a sea of over 5000 new students. Enraged by these stats, black male UCLA students recently released an activist video critique which went viral. But despite renewed attention to racial disparities in college access there is no federal, state or local policy or call to action that specifically addresses the fact that young African American male high school students are routinely dismissed as not being college material.

As the Martin case demonstrated yet again, the dominant culture does not associate young black men and boys with tenderness, caring, sensitivity, and compassion, much less intellectualism. Since white supremacist culture can never see black youth as victims they can only be predators and aggressors. The visceral fear that adults have of so-called black male criminality is one of the primary reasons why black boys are suspended and expelled at higher rates for lesser offenses than are white students.

Like white kids, youth of color are trained to see explicit acts of individual prejudice as the only standard for racism rather than institutional racism and white supremacy. So when Brandon and I discussed how mass incarceration was devastating our school-communities some of the boys in the group said that “bad environments” and “bad choices” simply lead black youth to commit more crime. But after examining disproportionate crack cocaine use amongst white males and unpacking how legacy admissions policies allow mediocre white students like George W. Bush get into Ivy Leagues the students’ consciousness began to shift. Not seeing themselves in the curriculum, public education socializes them to believe that disproportionate numbers of their brothers and sisters are in prison due to bad choices while college is the reward for the elite few who make good ones. Teaching them to see the connection between the racial politics of college access and the invisibility of Martin’s murder in their high school curriculum is a step toward defying this criminal mis-education.