Black women who refuse to remain silent about sexism, misogyny, patriarchy and religious control are deemed to be race traitors. Girls of color learn very early on from the Black Church that allegiance to boys and men of color supersedes their allegiance to themselves. They learn that there will be no “My Sister’s Keeper” initiatives to “save” them, nor will national attention be given to the epidemic rates of sexual assault, intimate partner violence and HIV/AIDS contraction and criminalization that put every black community in jeopardy. In her landmark novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston describes Black women as “de mules of de world.” It is a cautionary truth voiced by the grandmother of Janie, the novel’s lead character. Janie’s grandmother is a deeply religious woman and former slave who is the moral pillar of her life. Janie’s struggle to self-determine has become a classic symbol of Black women’s struggles to exercise power, control and agency over their own bodies and destinies in white supremacist capitalist patriarchal America.
As a freethinker and religious skeptic, Hurston nonetheless understood the seductions of god for black people in a nation where their humanity is still (sitting up here with the first Black president) violently contested in the 21st century. So any appraisal of Black women’s relationship to atheism or humanism must begin with this seeming contradiction.
By Sikivu Hutchinson
Thank “God” for abortion. More specifically, thank the Christian god, the vengeful omniscient one that white anti-abortion terrorists ritually invoke to justify the murder, mayhem and fear they inflict on thousands of American women in the name of Jesus.
At each of the two clinics where I gratefully got abortions in the 1990’s lone white men were stationed outside with bloody signs of fetal apocalypse. As white men protesting in predominantly black and brown communities their presence was unchallenged, their bodies unhindered by the policing and criminal surveillance that all people of color in the public sphere face. This was the high water mark of Operation Rescue, the radical anti-abortion group which laid the groundwork for the current wave of anti-abortion militancy. Then, as now, mainstream pro-choice activists ceded the moral high ground to the anti-abortion regime, wavering between whether to frame abortion as a matter of personal choice or as an inalienable right. It’s a legacy that has had grave consequences for intersectionality as the “post-feminist” trope of sluttish immoral women recklessly using birth control and abortion has become legion in American political discourse.
As a black atheist already damned to a smokin’ Christian hell it’s gratifying to know that the Christian god has failed to completely prevent women from exercising their basic right to self-determination. But the Christian soldiers, fascists and terrorists of the American right have doubled down with hundreds of new restrictions on birth control, abortion and clinic access which have the most insidious implications for poor and working class women of color. In Texas, Mississippi and Montana, clinic closures, vandalized clinics, restrictions on abortion physicians and providers and the GOP’s refusal to expand Medicaid further jeopardize the socioeconomic sustainability of communities of color. These attacks, concomitant with the Supreme Court’s pending decision on right wing retailer Hobby Lobby’s “religious freedom” challenge to the Affordable Care Act, could gut the rights American women have taken for granted for decades.
Pro-death, anti-abortion public policy and protest are a form of race, class and gender warfare disguised as religious morality crusades to “protect” innocent “babies”. Challenging the abortion as “black genocide” billboard campaign mounted by right wing foundations a few years ago, reproductive justice activist Loretta Ross said, “We decided to have abortions. We invited Margaret Sanger to place clinics in black neighborhoods. We are part of the civil and human rights movement. We protected the future of black children, not our opponents.” Despite their high levels of religiosity, a solid majority of African Americans support safe and legal access to abortion. And African American women have the highest rate of abortion amongst all groups of American women. The reasons are not mysterious—black women are disproportionately poor, under-employed, single and living in highly segregated communities with limited health care access which have borne the brunt of the economic depression. Due to slavery and the violent legacy of Jim Crow, black women have a history of coercive control over their reproduction. Thus abortion is an essential right in a white supremacist capitalist economy that neither supports nor values women of color and their children.
For black women, the radical push for abortion on demand is not an abstract concept. Abortion on demand cannot be separated from the conditions of racial apartheid that black women find themselves in, especially vis-à-vis the wealth gap and the criminal justice system. [Read more…]
Last year, the Black Skeptics Group, a 501c3 organization, was the first atheist organization to address educational inequity in communities of color with our First in the Family Humanist scholarship for undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ students. Over the past three years we’ve also sponsored STEM education, prison-pipelining and youth leadership outreach to highlight the challenges confronting youth of color in under-resourced high poverty schools. In 2011-2013 we collaborated with faith organizations, schools and nonprofits to amplify the connection between humanism, anti-racism and social justice.
Yet neither organized atheism nor humanism have ever addressed social, economic, gender and racial justice from the perspective of communities of color.
Given that deficit, in October of this year, Black Skeptics’ People of Color Beyond Faith network— in conjunction with the Secular Student Alliance and African Americans for Humanism—will sponsor a “Moving Social Justice” conference at CFI-Los Angeles. Going beyond the narrow scope of “atheist good” versus “religion bad”, the conference will feature panels, presentations and strategy sessions on the following issues:
Mercedes Diane Griffin Forbes, Mercedes Parra Foundation
Sikivu Hutchinson, Black Skeptics Group
Meredith Moise, Creative Heart Mission
Anthony Pinn, Rice University
Raina Rhoades, Black Freethinkers Network
Kimberly Veal, Black Freethinkers/POCBF
Donald Wright, Houston Black Non-Believers
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.
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.
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…]
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.
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.
Time: 1PM EST
Georgina Capetillo, Howard U
Heina Dadabhoy, Skepchick
Noa Jones, Loudish blog
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…]