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
by Frederick Sparks
My hometown of Port Arthur, Texas may be considered “famous” for a few things: natives Janis Joplin and former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, rappers Pimp C and UGK, who collaborated with Jay Z (“big pimpin down in P-A-T”), and for its past as a central point of vice and corruption in Texas; in the late 1950s a special state legislative committee convened to investigate the complicity of law enforcement with open and notorious illegal gambling and prostitution (the actor Steve McQueen once worked as a bouncer at one of Port Arthur’s bawdy houses).
But Port Arthur’s most notorious legacy may be related to its status as home to one of the largest oil refining capacities in the world, and the disproportionate rate of cancer and other diseases and ailments experienced by Port Arthur’s poorest black residents, who live in close proximity to Port Arthur’s refineries. Now, Port Arthur is the terminus for the Keystone pipeline.
In a 2013 article awarded a prize for social justice journalism, writer Ted Genoways highlighted the health challenges of residents of a housing complex built in close proximity to the refineries:
“Cancer rates among African Americans in Jefferson County are roughly 15 percent higher than they are for the average Texan. Shockingly, the mortality rate from cancer is more than 40 percent higher. And cancer is only part of the story. A study by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that residents of Port Arthur were four times more likely than people just 100 miles upwind to report suffering from heart and respiratory conditions; nervous system and skin disorders; headaches and muscle aches; and ear, nose, and throat ailments.”
The article also notes that while African Americans make up only 12 percent of the Texas population, people of color make up more than 66 percent of residents near the state’s most hazardous waste sites.All of this is of course made easier by state and local officials who receive financial incentives from energy companies in exchange for lax or nonexistent enforcement of environmental regulations. It took years for the Texas legislature to close the loophole exempting refineries and power plants built before 1971 from regulation. And in 2001 when the EPA was poised to impose ozone limiting restrictions affecting the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) carried the water of the energy industry and convinced the EPA that the levels that were being measure represented pollution drift from Houston, not local refining. Thus additional regulations were delayed until 2007.
The addition of the pipeline only adds to the risk of environmental degradation and related health consequences. And Port Arthur is not unique in that there is nationwide pattern of the poor and people of color being far more likely to live close to environmental hazards and to bear negative consequences from that exposure.
So it is particularly disheartening to see Congressional Black Caucus members Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) and James Clyburn (Florida) cross party lines to vote in favor of the pipeline. I suspect their votes were influenced by big money energy constituents (particularly in the case of Lee) and by the promise of “job creation”… though as it has been noted, the State Department review shows that only 35 permanent jobs would be created by the pipeline. Thirty five. How many cancer deaths are those jobs worth?
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.
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):
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:
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.
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…]
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.
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…
By Sikivu Hutchinson
Last week, activists from the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (BLMLA) coalition spearheaded the Occupy LAPD encampment, demanding a meeting with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck as well as the firing and prosecution of the officers who murdered Ezell Ford. The issue of black self-determination—queer, trans, disabled, undocumented—is at the forefront of this thriving mass movement, which not only challenges white supremacy but challenges the orthodoxies of mainstream patriarchal hetero-normative civil rights organizing. On Tuesday I spoke to BLMLA activist Povi-Tamu Bryant, who was waiting to address the LAPD Commission after the dismantling of Occupy LAPD’s encampment and the arrest of fellow BLMLA organizers Sha Dixon and Dr. Melina Abdullah. Dixon, Abdullah and Bryant, along with fierce black women BLM founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, have brought an intersectional lens to the movement in an era where black youth of all genders and sexual orientations don’t see the complexity of their communities represented in hyper-segregated classrooms with apartheid curricula. Bryant’s comments on Ethnic Studies and the need for culturally responsive education were especially relevant in light of the recent implementation of a new California law banning suspensions for willful defiance in grades K-3. Willful defiance has long been used to target and criminalize “unruly” black children as early as preschool. For children of color, criminalization at the preschool level is often the first phase in a path that leads to pushout in later grades and incarceration in adulthood. It is also one of the most devastating tools in the destruction of culturally responsive education. This partial victory is important in context of the growing leadership of community organizers who have waged daily resistance to police and state violence which has resulted in the stolen lives of black youth like Ford, Aiyanna Jones, Tamir Rice and Rekia Boyd.
SH: Historically when we look at civil resistance to state violence there has been a lot of focus on black male leadership and black male victims, often to the exclusion of black women who’ve been murdered, as well as of black women activists who have been on the frontlines of movement organizing. What motivated you to become involved with Black Lives Matter L.A.?
Bryant: I was motivated to become involved last year after the acquittal of George Zimmerman. I realized in that moment again just how little black lives are valued, and it made me feel like it was important to be around black folks, to share my rage and grief with black folks and to be showing up for myself, my community and my family. BLMLA has a particular frame around the value of all black lives mattering; showing that black trans lives matter, black women’s lives matter, black disabled lives matter and black immigrant lives matter. Having that frame allowed me to show up as myself—as a black queer gender-bending woman—and it has allowed me to really be involved with lifting up the disparities that black communities face. [Read more…]
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.
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.