Nov 11 2013

In Cold Blood: The Murder of Renisha McBride

Renisha McBride

By Sikivu Hutchinson

A white family grieves in outrage after their teenage daughter has been gunned down by a black homeowner in an African American neighborhood. In this parallel universe the killer walks free, enjoying the benefit of being viewed as having defended his home from a violent intruder, while the big city D.A. decides whether or not to charge him.

It is no revelation to many black women in neo-apartheid Americana that being white and female pays deep dividends in everyday life.  Among these dividends is the ability to be seen as an innocent victim under dire circumstances and to have the weight of the American criminal justice system behind you upholding that perception.  Another is the advantage of secure access to elite suburban enclaves without fear of criminalization. Stranded in the early morning hours after a car crash in a predominantly white suburb outside of Detroit, nineteen year-old Renisha McBride had no such benefits.  A recent high school graduate, McBride had just gotten a job at the Ford Motor Company when she was brutally shot in the face by a white male resident after seeking help from the crash. Her family described her as warm and loving. As of this writing her killer has not been apprehended nor charged.

McBride’s killing is part of a long legacy of black female murder victims who have been devalued in a misogynist apartheid system of state-sanctioned violence that thrives on the urban/suburban racial divide. In 2010, seven year-old Aiyanna Jones was murdered by a Detroit police officer in her own home during a botched police raid. In 1999, a homeless fifty four year-old 5 feet tall black woman named Margaret Mitchell was killed by LAPD officers in an affluent Los Angeles retail district after a dispute over a shopping cart. The officers in the Mitchell case were not charged. The officer in the Jones case was recently granted a retrial after the jury in his initial involuntary manslaughter trial deadlocked.  Civil rights activists and community protestors have compared McBride’s killing to that of Trayvon Martin, Emmet Till, Oscar Grant and Amadou Diallo, globally known black male lynching victims whose white killers never saw jail time.  But the problem with these comparisons is that they unintentionally minimize lesser known black female victims of white supremacist violence such as Mitchell, Jones, Eulia Love, Eleanor Bumpurs, Alesia Thomas and Mitrice Richardson. Although the circumstances of these women’s deaths were quite different, the lack of sustained national and global attention (relative to black men who have been murdered under similar circumstances) unites them.   National civil rights activists and feminist organizations must ask themselves why these names have not become as prominent or high profile in national activism.  Mainstream civil rights organizations have long had a sexist, patriarchal blind spot when it comes to critical consciousness about the specific gendered and racialized ways in which black women are demonized, sexualized and criminalized in the U.S.  Historically, much of the language around black civil rights uplift has been oriented toward redeeming black men and pathologized black masculinity.  In K-12 education, students are typically taught about American history in general and the modern civil rights movement in particular as though they were merely a procession of events spearheaded by Great white men, a few exceptional men of color and Rosa Parks.  From MLK to the Black Panthers, black women’s self-determination was never part of the mainstream civil rights’ social justice calculus or platform.  Thus redressing the epidemic of intimate partner violence and sexual assault in African American communities has never been a major part of African American civil rights organizing.  Nor has the skyrocketing number of black women in prison and the ways in which this regime has led to the exponential increase of black children that are homeless or in foster care. Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 04 2013

Sisterhood Ain’t Powerful: White Women’s Rights

white guilt white privilege

By Sikivu Hutchinson

When reality TV fixture Omarosa Manigault claimed on the Bethenny Frankel show that white women could “walk around” being mediocre and still get rewarded with opportunities—while Black women had to be exceptional—the predominantly white female studio audience gasped, outraged by her “heresy”.  Omarosa’s baggage as a tabloid lightening rod notwithstanding, her charge resonated deeply with many Black women. As a Black female Ph.D., much of my professional life has involved navigating and pushing back against a very specific, insidious brand of white female racism and paternalism. In the workplace and academia, this brand has consisted of the delicate nuances of power masquerading as benevolence, the kind that grins in one’s face, understanding, sympathetic, worshipping at the cult of the legendarily “strong” Negress; appropriating blackness and using it as a weapon when real world decisions about hiring, promotion, and visibility are at stake.  Over the years this display has come in various guises.  The white master’s thesis advisor who said my writing was not “graduate school caliber”, then “retracted” her statement two years later when my thesis was given a departmental award.  The white dissertation advisor who vehemently opposed my being given a “with distinction” commendation after my successful dissertation defense.  The under-qualified white career bureaucrat/manager, armed with an undergraduate degree, who lied about my job performance on my annual evaluation.  The white MIA coworker who breezed into the office whenever she felt like it, never published anything, never ran a consistent program yet got a promotion and wound up supervising me.  The white British “I feel your pain” department chair at a prestigious private arts college who hired me to teach two token semesters of Women of Color in the U.S. classes then stood idly by while students of color were academically marginalized and shut out of financial aid.

In her article “Job Discrimination Lives On,” Margaret Kimberly writes “Even at the supervisory level apartheid is the order of the day. Black men and women are rarely hired to supervise white people. Black men supervise black men, black women supervise black women, and white men are in positions to manage everyone else.”  The majority of my supervisorial “gatekeepers” have been white women.  And since its inception, white women have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action. Yet there are very few white feminist political commentators, activists, academics or pundits who vigorously champion affirmative action or make it an explicit focus of their public advocacy.  According to the U.S. Labor Department “Six million women workers are in higher occupational classifications today than they would have been without affirmative action policies.”  Of course, this isn’t counting the “unofficial” legacy of white affirmative action which undergirds generations of white wealth accumulation, white residential segregation and white upward mobility in higher education.  When Tea Party fascists to “moderate” whites, and even some “liberal” ones, savage affirmative action and lazy shiftless pathological Blacks the “unearned” advantages white women reap are never part of the diatribe. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 28 2013

Save the Women’s Leadership Project

WLP scholarship winners

WLP scholarship winners

WLP is in jeopardy of being discontinued at the end of this year due to the expiration of its L.A. County funding and the lack of prioritization of grassroots work with girls of color.

Using a feminist humanist curriculum, WLP trains young women of color high school students to do peer education outreach on violence prevention, reproductive justice, HIV/AIDS education, LGBTQ equality, undocumented youth advocacy and sexual assault awareness. The majority of our students are first generation (first in the family) college students and the WLP college prep curriculum sends girls of color to four year colleges and universities at above average rates. For example, the four-year college going rate at partner school Gardena High School is approximately 20%.  WLP’s four year rate is over 90% and it is the only program for girls of color in the Los Angeles Unified school district that explicitly addresses the relationship between organized religion, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and heterosexism.

Further, at 8.7% of L.A. County’s population, African American youth and adults are 40% of its prison population, with more and more Black girls being pipelined into prisons.

If you care about quality programming around violence prevention, college preparation, feminist-humanist leadership development, undocumented youth advocacy and creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students please support the WLP by making a donation today and spreading the word.

WLP in the classroom

WLP in the classroom








Oct 16 2013

Blacks in STEM Seminar

Devin Waller, planetary geologist

Devin Waller, planetary geologist

Brandon Bell, molecular biology

Brandon Bell, molecular biology

Who fits the stereotype of scientific or mathematical genius? Traditionally, racial and gender stereotypes influence who “conforms” to mainstream society’s image of scientific proficiency and intellectualism. Although one of the most well known contemporary scientists in the world is African American physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the dominant culture still portrays science and math as disciplines that only straight white and Asian males can master.

At 12% of the U.S. population, African Americans are severely under-represented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “The percentage of African-Americans earning STEM degrees has fallen during the last decade.  In 2009, they received just 7 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, 4 percent of master’s degrees, and 2 percent of PhDs.”  Indeed, “in a typical year, 13 African-Americans and 20 Latinos of either sex receive Ph.D.’s in physics.”  This disparity is informed by the egregiously low number of black students taking college preparation, honors and Advanced Placement classes and tests.  For African American students, the absence of quality college prep instruction at the middle and high school levels is often one of the most significant roadblocks to college access.  For example, at Gardena High School in South Los Angeles African American students are 27% of the population but only 4% are enrolled in AP classes.

In a recent New York Times article entitled “Why are There Still So Few Women in Science?” Author Eileen Pollack reflected on attending a Yale University event where five female physics majors talked about their academic challenges.  She noted that one “young black woman told me she did her undergraduate work at a historically black college, then entered a master’s program designed to help minority students develop the research skills and one-on-one mentoring relationships that would help them make the transition to a Ph.D. program. Her first year at Yale was rough, but her mentors helped her through.”

Finding mentors, navigating the complexities of subject requirements and keeping afloat academically are a natural part of being in college.  But these challenges are often even more daunting for African American students in STEM departments where there are few African American faculty and administrators.  For many black students, the absence of tenured black STEM professors exacerbates the racist and sexist low expectations that they confront in the classroom and on campus.

On Thursday, November 14th at Gardena High, Black Skeptics Los Angeles and the Women’s Leadership Project will sponsor a seminar that examines these issues with a panel of talented young Black STEM professionals from South Los Angeles.  Seminar participants will discuss college preparation, admission, mentoring, retention, confronting discrimination and their path to graduation:

Brandon Bell is a 2007 graduate of King-Drew Medical Magnet (in South L.A.) and a 2011 graduate of Princeton University where he majored in molecular biology. He’s the founder of an activist organization called Wisdom From The Field and has dedicated himself to the empowerment of his community.

Garaudy Etienne graduated from New Jersey’s West Orange High School in 2007. He is currently an aerospace engineer at Northrop Grumman. He received his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University in 2011.

Dr. Paul Robinson is an associate professor of Geographic Information Systems at Drew University and the Geffen School of Medicine.  He received a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Southern California (2001), a Masters in geography from the University of South Florida (1993) and Bachelors in geography from Virginia Tech (1989).

Devin Waller is Exhibit Project Manager at the California Science Center.  She received her B.S. in astrophysics from UCLA and her M.S. in Geological Sciences from Arizona State University.

Oct 14 2013

Secular Woman of the Year

SW_Award_2013_Woman_of_the_Year (2)

I’m honored to be recognized as the Secular Woman of the Year by Secular Woman, a feminist gender justice organization dedicated to “amplifying the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women”. Writer Ian Cromwell was named “Secular Man of the Year”, Soraya Chemaly was named “Secular Activist of the Year” and Stephanie Zvan’s blog Almost Diamonds was recognized as “Blog of the Year”. Renee Perry and Mary Ellen Sikes were also recognized for their advocacy.

Writing about the urgency of male feminist activism on his blog, Ian argues that: ”There is an important dual role that male anti-misogynists (a.k.a. feminists) can play in this fight: first, we can exploit the amplification of our voices that our male privilege (however unintentionally-gained it may have been) affords us to put women and their voices front and centre in discussions where they might otherwise be absent, and secondly we can speak to the ways in which patriarchy harms men and boys. We have a part, beyond simply listening and absorbing, to play in the struggle for equality.” 

Secular Woman, which is led by feminist activist Kim Rippere and powered by wonderful members like Monette Richards and Nicole Harris, recently launched a campaign aimed at reducing abortion stigma called Shameless, provides resources for secular women, and supports the work of humanist youth programs like our South L.A.-based Women’s Leadership Project for girls of color.






Oct 07 2013

Disposable Children: Whiteness, Heterosexism & the Murder of Lawrence King


By Sikivu Hutchinson

It isn’t until the end of the new HBO documentary film Valentine Road, the gut-wrenching chronicle of the 2008 classroom murder of 15 year-old Lawrence King, a homeless gay youth of color, that the viewer learns the significance of the film’s name.  Valentine Road is the location of King’s Oxnard, California grave, the final resting place of a caring, intelligent child whose death became a lightning rod for a racist homophobic heterosexist nation ill-equipped to see much less affirm King’s personhood.  Place is a central character in this film, which dubiously frames King and white working class “boy next door” murderer Brandon McInerney as bookends in an American tragedy set in multicultural Oxnard.  The film opens with a collage of the moments leading up to King’s execution in a classroom at E.O. Green Middle School.  We are treated to the sterile interior of the school, the gray tyranny of the computer lab where King was shot at point blank range, the blood-soaked floor that cradled King’s head after the slaying.  Throughout the film King is represented in still photos, in the blurred fleeting footage of a campus security camera, in whimsical stylized animation that attempts to capture King’s transition from Larry to Letisha/Latonya (which friends say was her preferred identity before her death).  The recollections of schoolmates, teachers, social workers and a foster parent touch on her fragility and kind-heartedness, yet in many of these testimonies her emerging identity is reduced to the “ungainly” performance of “cross-dressing”, crudely applied makeup, and awkward high heel boots.  It is clear that King’s “inappropriate” gender expression was construed by the school as an embarrassment, a behavior problem that school administrators sought to contain with vapid compliance memos which downplayed the culture of structural violence against LGBTQ youth.

While King’s narrative plays out in fragments, the narrative of 14 year-old McInerney is vividly nuanced. The product of a violent home, McInerney’s drug-addicted mother and homicidal gun-toting father appear as deeply flawed yet loving.  When he is cross-examined after the murder by a police detective he is treated with dignity, respect, and sensitivity.  When his case is taken up by two “juvenile justice” advocate attorneys enraged that he may be tried as an adult, the female half of the duo expresses her devotion and undying love for his so-called beautiful spirit.

In this regard Valentine Road ably, perhaps inadvertently, captures how the criminalization of people of color shapes American presumptions of white innocence.  Despite McInerney’s apparent fondness for Nazi paraphernalia and use of racial slurs to refer to black classmates, prosecutors dropped a hate crime charge against him.  His defense team trotted out the repugnant “gay panic” defense (which was prohibited for use in criminal trials under a 2006 California law named after Gwen Araujo, a transgender teen who was brutally murdered in 2002) egregiously portraying McInerney as a victim of King’s unrelenting sexual harassment. Unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the jury in McInerney’s first trial deadlocked.  Some of the jurors voted for voluntary manslaughter and others for first-degree or second-degree murder.  After the mistrial, the filmmakers shot telling footage of white female jurors expressing sympathy for McInerney over pastries in a spacious suburban kitchen.  In their minds King was clearly the aggressor; the dark sexual predator whose moral deviance sent the troubled young white boy into a (justifiably) murderous tailspin.  Indeed, at least one of the jurors mailed prosecutors Religious Right propaganda excoriating the “abomination” of King’s sexuality and the injustice of “poor Brandon’s” plight. And in a show of motherly solidarity, the white female jurors even display “justice for Brandon” slogans.

In order for white hetero-normativity and heterosexism to flourish, violent masculinity must be fiercely protected by white women.  Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 04 2013

BSLA at Models of Pride LGBTQ Youth Conference


On Saturday October 19, 2013, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA) will conduct a workshop entitled “What About Atheism?” at the 2013 Models of Pride LGBTQ youth conference at the University of Southern California. BSLA members Nicome Taylor, Liz Ross and Chavonne Taylor will discuss radical secular humanism and unpack what it means to be an atheist, agnostic, and freethinker for a predominantly youth of color audience. The dialogue will also focus on social justice issues and perspectives pertaining to marriage equality, homophobia, transphobia and religious bigotry. Using thought provoking and engaging activities to explore common misconceptions and stereotypes about those that identify as secular/atheist/humanist/agnostic, youth participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and share their knowledge and opinions about the LGBTQ community vis-a-vis religion and secularism. It is our hope that attendees depart with more insight on secular perspectives, involvement, community effort and local groups available for those who have questions or doubts about religion. The workshop will begin at 3:15pm-4:30pm in room VKC 160. 

Models of Pride will be celebrating its 21st anniversary for this conference with over 100 different workshops for LGBTQ youth and community allies. For more information on this phenomenal event please visit www.modelsofpride.org.

Oct 03 2013

BSLA Partners With Atheists United on 2014 First in the Family Scholarship

BSLA Scholars, Members & Community

BSLA Scholars, Members & Community


Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), an African American atheist 501c 3 nonprofit organization, has partnered with Atheists United on its 2014 scholarship fund for youth non-believers of color.  This year BSLA awarded five outstanding South Los Angeles students college scholarships.  Jamion Allen, Phillip Aubrey, Hugo Cervantes, Ramiro Salas and Victory Yates from Washington Prep High School, King Drew Medical Magnet and Duke Ellington Continuation School received scholarships of up to $1000 toward their college expenses.

BSLA’s First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative focuses on undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. The organization was created to provide resources for non-believers of color and develop social justice initiatives for South Los Angeles and beyond.

“My immigrant parents’ hard work and devotion tragically still isn’t enough to cover everything a student needs; yet through your beautiful socially conscious scholarship you have relieved thousands of nights of my parents worrying every night if their son has enough for books or has a laptop or enough cash for 3 am coffee.  First in the Family has profoundly impacted my immigrant family as well as my academic and personal self esteem after a dark-bell jar senior year.”  Hugo Cervantes 2013 Scholarship undocumented youth recipient,  University of California, Riverside


Hugo Cervantes, BSLA scholar

Hugo Cervantes, BSLA scholar


Responding directly to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis in communities of color, BSLA is the first atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color. If current prison pipelining trends persist the Education Trust estimates that only “one of every 20 African American kindergartners will graduate from a four-year California university” in the next decade.

Atheists United (AU) is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that promotes separation of government and religion. For more information on AU please contact 323-666-4258 or see www.atheistsunited.org.


Website: www.blackskepticsla.org


Sep 27 2013

New Trial for Marissa Alexander and Call to Action

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

From the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign:

Dear advocates and activists for justice,

Yesterday’s thrilling overturn of the guilty verdict against Marissa Alexander put the onus on Florida State Prosecutor Angela Corey to either try Marissa again or drop the case. We say drop the case!  Stop this cruel and unforgivable vendetta against a mother of three who did no wrong, but defended her life by taking the only action she felt possible. Stop using taxpayer money to hound and harass a domestic violence survivor.


The state of Florida has until October 16 to refile charges against Marissa. We need to put the pressure on now to convince Prosecutor Corey not to do it. Marissa has already spent three years apart from her children and family. Her life has been changed forever by the state’s vicious Mandatory Minimum sentencing and its cold insensitivity to the realities of the sufferings of abused women.

Join the Free Marissa Now conference call tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 28 to brainstorm our strategy for a massive international campaign to get this case dismissed now. What about a national call-in day, a new petition, letter writing campaigns, and media outreach? What other ideas do you have? How would you like to take part? How can the Drop the Case demand be worked into other organizing you are doing? Let’s talk — and then let’s act!

Date: Saturday, September 28

Time:   3:30pm Pacific Time
6:30pm Eastern Time

Call-in: 1-646-307-1300


Code: 633883#


National Action to Persuade the State to Drop the Case!


Sep 27 2013

The Trouble with Those Atheists

WLP STEM & Humanities Scholars 2012-2014

WLP STEM & Humanities Scholars 2012-2014

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Until it was revived by the activist-minded Benjamin Jealous, the NAACP was widely viewed as a staid throwback coasting on the glory of the civil rights movement.  Under Jealous’ leadership, the organization set out to demonstrate its political relevance, ramping up campaigns around mass incarceration, the death penalty, voter suppression and marriage equality.  Predictably, these initiatives often drew on its strong ties to the African American faith community.  A few months ago, I attended a local NAACP community service awards lunch where these ties were on vivid display.  My mother, activist educator Yvonne Divans Hutchinson, was among the recipients.  The honorees read like a roll call of educated, accomplished black America—a pioneering judge who is the granddaughter of slaves, an esteemed choreographer who’d been turned down for admission to UCLA, an activist teacher whose groundbreaking pedagogy challenged institutional racism and discrimination in Los Angeles public schools.  Most of the women who spoke at the event offered moving counter-narratives to the marginalization of the “everyday/ordinary” activism of women of color.  Each told tales of low expectations fiercely debunked.  Coming on the heels of a Women’s History seminar I’d conducted with my students, the lunch was a welcome antidote to mainstream fixation on Rosa Parks as the only example of black feminist activism.  Nonetheless, my mother appeared to be the only humanist being honored, as many recipients gushed about god and “his” guidance.  Some elicited rapturous call and response “amens” and “that’s rights” with every reference to the Lord’s supposedly divine inspiration.  Several of the women’s biographies cited deep involvement in their churches.  A recurring theme was the paramount importance of education.  Through their church leadership these primarily Baby Boomer generation women supported youth groups, spotlighted juvenile justice issues, provided scholarship assistance, spearheaded tutoring programs, developed college financial aid resources, mentored foster care youth and gave legal aid counseling.  The performance of religious fervor reconfirmed what I’d already known about black women’s organizing—namely, that social justice through faith-based communities was still the foundation for not just activism, but identity, self-affirmation and self-determination.

In an article on black non-believers in Orlando, Florida, the white head of an atheist organization expressed surprise that black atheists didn’t embrace his organization with open arms.  For white folk, centuries of racial apartheid, de facto segregation, and white supremacy in education, housing, employment and the criminal justice system are a source of “invisible” power, privilege, advantage and identity.  Nonetheless, many white atheists believe non-believers of color should just be able to roll in any environment, regardless of whether the local research university employs more black service workers than it enrolls black students or whether white families have fled public schools for elite charters and private academies. Read the rest of this entry »

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