Sikivu Hutchinson has a new book, Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels, and she was recently interviewed about it.
What’s the most important take-home message for readers?
That humanism can be culturally relevant to communities of color. Traditional mainstream white-dominated freethought/atheist/humanist models don’t offer an adequate basis for social justice. They don’t address the intersection of women’s rights, civil rights, anti-racism, heterosexism, the racial wealth gap, and educational apartheid.
So while there are numerous grassroots atheist groups spearheading their own projects, the movement as a whole continues to be publicly defined by a handful of superstars and their limited vision. The absence of historical and sociological context for atheist politics, and its disconnection from social justice activism, will keep it in the lily-white one-percent column.
I have no patience for single-issue white male atheists who inveigh against the backwardness of organized religion as the fount of all evil and then have the luxury to retreat into their segregated ivory towers, insulated conferences, and highly-paid seminar bubbles. In Godless Americana I address the lived experiences of some of the most religious communities on the planet in one of the richest nations on the planet. I probe the sociological context for faith traditions and hyper-religiosity in American communities of color.
I have this grand, optimistic vision of humanity’s future, and escaping the dead-end lies of religion is part of it. But mostly what I see are people — all people — given the security and knowledge to live lives with true meaning, where they can grow and learn and engage in productive struggle, fighting to make the world a better place with every generation. I have my causes and my biases, but I don’t see how we can achieve that goal by having the causes and biases of a narrow subset imposed on the whole; rather, the few have to open themselves up to appreciate the experiences of the many. We must have the humility to change.
I am one of those white male atheists. I work in an ivory tower that is mostly white, I go to those conferences in beige, softly carpeted hotels, I sit contentedly in the seminar bubbles (but not highly paid — I have something better, a secure position that gives me the privilege to not have to ask for payment). But I am not a leader. I have no position in any hierarchy of any atheist/humanist organization. I just write and speak what I think, and that’s all I can do.
What I think is that for my vision to come true, no one can grasp at power, we have to surrender it. We have to sacrifice control by an elite for an expansion of opportunity for the base. We have to let go of the perspectives and interests of one gender, one race, one class and start thinking in terms of humanity.
You’d have a hard time finding someone more committed to the importance of freethought and science than myself — those are the ways to build a better world. It can’t be a better world if it only includes me and people like me — it has to be a better world for all. We have to include that in our equations and our principles.