A response to…”But you should be willing to educate me!!!!”

So, apparently some people had an issue with the tone of my last post. They think I have some obligation to teach people about who I am in a calm and polite tone.  I don’t believe my parents birthed me to justify my existence and explain the conditions of my humanity to other people. I could check with them but I’m sure they’ll say no.

Oh, would you look at that? I’m fresh out.

 

My feelings towards people who think I’m obligated to sit wherever and make them understand or accept my humanity are best expressed by:

“I’ve got to explain myself

To everybody

I do more translating

Than the Gawdamn U.N.

Forget it

I’m sick of it

I’m sick of filling in your gaps

Sick of being your insurance against

The isolation of your self-imposed limitations

Sick of being the crazy at your holiday dinners

Sick of being the odd one at your Sunday Brunches

Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people

Find another connection to the rest of the world

Find something else to make you legitimate

Find some other way to be political and hip

I will not be the bridge to your womanhood

Your manhood

Your human-ness

I’m sick of reminding you not to

Close off too tight for too long

I’m sick of mediating with your worst self

On behalf of your better selves

I am sick

Of having to remind you to breath

Before you suffocate

Your own fool self.

Forget it

Stretch or drown

Evolve or die

The bridge I must be

Is the Bridge to my own power

I must translate

My own fears

Mediate

My own weaknesses

I must be the bridge to nowhere

But my true self

And then

I will be useful.”
Taken from The Bridge Poem by Donna Kate Ruskin

 

I don’t think people get how exhausting it is to deal with people who refuse to check their privilege but demand you give them answers that they have no interest in hearing in the first place. I don’t think some of you get how exhausting it is to deal with white secularists who think they are entitled to label the black community as especially ignorant, pathological,  or “uncle tom” race traitors (in the case of black Christians) but act offended when I choose to self-identify. So I’m done dealing with people who think they can educate me on my experience:

White Supremacy. Because white people are better qualified to discuss the culture/lived experiences of POCs than POCs.

White Supremacy. Because white people are better qualified to discuss the culture/lived experiences of POCs than POCs.

I don’t care to play the game where people get to act like they are really confused by terms like “privilege” or confused as to how racism can still exist in a country that elected a black president. I’m tired. I’m done. I’m calling bullshit. I will talk about these things on my terms and my terms only. You don’t get to waste my time or energy anymore.

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MY BLACK ATHEIST FAQ

  • Why do you call yourself a “Black” atheist?
    • Short answer: Because I can. I’m allowed to self-identify.
    • Long answer: Because I am a member of an oppressed group of people that has its own  history, culture, and institutions. Because despite the gains of the civil rights movement my community remains economically and politically disenfranchised and is systematically targeted by unfair practices in the legal/criminal justice systems, education, housing, employment, etc. Because not calling myself black will not do anything to address these problems.
    • Also, many of the questions that I’ve been asked or heard asked below…
  • Why do you have your own groups? Why aren’t I as a white person welcome?
    • Because black atheists have some particular challenges to coming out as atheists. Coming out as an atheist can be particularly isolating for black atheists, as churches play a major role in  providing space for social interaction, cultural expression, and political action- also, FRIDAY FISH FRYS (J/K but not entirely) :-)
    • Due to the behavior of many mainstream atheists/ atheist orgs, there is a perception that atheism is hostile towards religious believers whether or not they are progressive. The insensitivity, racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia that some atheists/ atheist orgs exhibit along with the very narrow range of issues that secularists tend to focus on, adds to the perception that atheism is a “white male thing”. Having our own groups makes us visible, allowing us to find each other and address issues that are marginalized within the mainstream movement.
    • To quote Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson:

“…when people of color are constantly bombarded with bullshit claims from Internet cowards about separatism, reverse discrimination and “self-segregation” when they point to the absence of social justice, anti-racist community organizing, coalition-building and visibility (outside of white suburbs and gentrified urban centers) amongst secular organizations, it merely underscores the burning need for authentic real-time grassroots organizations of color beyond the mainstream atheist power structure.”

    • To my knowledge most black atheist groups (with one exception, “The Real Black Atheists”, formerly known as the Black Atheists of Atlanta) don’t exclude white people entirely. Though some white people in general, due to their privilege, are offended by the existence of spaces that do not assume their inclusion.
  • What if I go and start a white atheist group?
    • Go start one, then I won’t have to guess which group I should avoid.
  • But “we’re all Africans”, right?
    • You cannot negate the reality of systemic racial inequality by proclaiming “We are all Africans”!
  • Why are black people  Christians when Christianity was forced on black people through the institution of slavery?
    • At one time, conversion to Christianity was once a means of achieving freedom under the law in Virginia. Later the law was changed so that the freedom or enslavement of a person was based on the condition of the mother- this is when slavery became a condition based on racial heritage. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1narr3.html
    • The African Methodist Episcopal Church & other black churches were instrumental in the abolitionist movement and  in helped educate & house escaped and former slaves, in addition to organizing to fight for political, economic, and social equality. Many black  people drew inspiration from the bible and belief in god to resist slavery including Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, etc. Many black scholars and theologians would develop doctrines and theologies which would challenge slavery, racial apartheid, and even capitalistic exploitation based on a different interpretation of the bible.
    • Because of  racial dichotomies/ hierarchies that were created by white supremacy, blacks were viewed as not only the intellectual or cultural inferiors of whites but the moral inferiors of whites as well. Though slaves who practiced Christianity could no longer be freed as a condition of their conversion, adherence to Christianity along with assimilation conferred a sense of respectability. Black people, who were enslaved or otherwise were viewed as more moral, upstanding, civilized, and acceptable if they were Christian and didn’t disrupt the racial order. Performing this particular type of respectability could mean the difference between employment, safety, housing, etc. because “good” negroes (those who knew their “place”) were not perceived as a great  threat to white people. (see http://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/brute/)

*Note that none of this is said to suggest that the black church should not be criticized at all. 

  • What role did the black church play in the Civil Rights movement? Was it a religious movement?
    • The answer to this is not exactly straight forward. Though there were many churches and religious people who participated, there were many churches that did not. In fact many churches were against the Civil Rights Movement.
    • There were some religious organizations that were instrumental in furthering the movement like the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but there were also several secular organizations like SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), The Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, and The Black Panthers.
    • Atheists/humanists like A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, James Forman, and others also played significant roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Many people were reluctant or fearful to be open about their non-belief, political views, and affiliations due to intense surveillance and intimidation by the FBI and other entities.
  •  You seem to defend the black church a lot. Are you sure you are an atheist?
    • I just refuse to attack the black church wholesale. There are many toxic religious influences in the black community, namely the prosperity gospel and many mega-churches.
    • Though some black churches are extremely opposed to gays rights, reproductive rights, etc, there are many churches/ religious groups who are leading the way in progressive social justice activism (ex. Moral Mondays).
  • Why can black people use the word “nigger” but as a white person I can’t?
    • Short answer: Because you can’t. 
    • Long answer: Because that word is a tool of white supremacy and the systematic dehumanization of black people. Although some black people have appropriated it and decided to use it as a term of endearment or in other ways, that does not entitle a member of the privileged group to use it. The real question is why would you as a non-black person want to use that word? What do you get from using that word?
  •  Isn’t it racist to tell one someone they can’t (or in this case really shouldn’t) do something cause they aren’t black?
    • Not when the “something” is telling a person from a privileged group not to use dehumanizing language against members of an oppressed group. Call me when black people start create a system or racial apartheid where white people are systematically disenfranchised.
  • What is “white privilege”?
    • White privilege is a set of tangible and sometimes intangible privileges or benefits that white people (or obstensibly white people) receive just by virtue of being white. Examples of areas where whites are privileged include differences in sentencing and conviction rates, obtaining employment and job security, securing home and business loans, interests rates (even with similar credit scores/histories), etc.
    • For more information on white privilege (That is if you aren’t feigning interest) Google or Bing that shit!
  •  But I was born poor/grew up around black people/(insert other claim that doesn’t debunk that fact of racial privilege here), so how can you say that I benefit from white privilege? Also, look at all the exceptional black people who are successful that I can name.
    • Short answer: So what?
    • Poor white or lower class white people still benefit from white privilege for example, research has demonstrated that white people with felony convictions fare as well or better than black people without a criminal record. This is just one example of the reality of racial discrimination which gives an unfair advantage to white people.
    • FYI, pointing out FEW “exceptional” black people is not a sufficient counter argument in discussions of SYSTEMIC racial inequality. The key word is systemic and that doesn’t mean that no black person can achieve. It simply means that their are significant barriers to achievement for most.
  • It would probably be easier to accept what you are saying if you weren’t so angry/bitter. Could you please change your tone?
    • My tone isn’t the problem, it is merely an excuse for you to ignore my arguments/ my lived experiences.
    • You don’t get to determine how I should feel about these matters.
    • And you don’t get to use my tone or emotional state to minimize my experiences.

 

 

Additional Reading:

Black, Atheist & Hiding  << Just added

What Not to Say to Radical Atheist-Humanists of Color

Black Atheists and The Failure of Black Academia

Freethought Giant: A. Philip Randolph and the March on Washington

The Black Church

God in America: The Black Church

Black Women are Among Country’s most Religious Groups 

Why Did So Many Black women Die?: Jonestown at 35?

Black Woman on the Atheist Tip

We Only Do Diversity When Want To: Atheist Silence on the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers

Welfare Queens, Feminism, Secularism, Anti-Racism

Open Letter to Dave Silverman

“Can’t All Fights for Equality be Basic and Foundational?” 

Why I Need Spaces for POCs

Ain’t I a Skeptic?

Billboard Brouhaha

Godless Americana

Moral Combat

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

The New Jim Crow

Clinging to Mammy

The History of White People  <<I need to read this myself. :-)

 

 

Web/ Podcasts:

Big Think: Nell Irvin Painter, Author of The History of White People

Exposing your non-belief & Why the decision can be paralyzing

 

People of Color Beyond Faith Roundtable Discussion

People of Color Beyond Faith Roundtable: Debunking Post-Racialism

People of Color Beyond Faith: Religious Oppression and Women of Color

People of Color Beyond Faith: Radical Humanist Traditions of Communities of Color

People of Color Beyond Faith: Sex, Sexuality, & Gender Politics

FTBCon2: Social Justice and Young Women of Color

BFT Radio: Interfaith, Social Justice, Atheism

BFT Radio: Social Justice Community Activism and the Atheist Community

BFT Radio: Freethought History- A Conversation with Norm Allen

BFT Radio: Freethought History- A Conversation with Dr. Chris Cameron

BFT Radio: A Conversation on Godless Americana with Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson

BFT Radio: Atheists of Color FAQ & Comments << just added

 

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Allyship Fail!

It has come to my attention that the video entitled “Black Men Actors In Dresses! ‘We Men… Aint We?’” has been taken down from youtube.

FYI, Jeremiah Camara, removing a video with a hateful message regarding homophobia and transphobia ≠ “unapologetic” (his words) support for the LGBT community.

Unfortunately, #cpacatheists and your other supporters don’t seem to care about demonstrating their unapologetic support for the LGBT community by not supporting a bigot. But I have learned that when the mainstream movement equates attacking believers with social justice they cannot be depended on to do the right thing.

Where is your “unapologetic” support for the LGBT community, Camara?

“Can’t all fights for equality be basic and foundational?”

Last year I published an article entitled, “Ain’t I a skeptic?”. In it I talked about my frustration with the way women’s and minority issues are often dismissed offhand particularly in atheist/secular and skeptical circles, that generally claim to be above such things. All I can say is that nothing has changed. The language of color-blindness and post-racialism continues to dominate in the secular community just as it does within the country at large, despite the growth of systemic inequality and the deaths of innocent young people, due to flawed legal statutes like stand your ground. Earlier this week I published an Open Letter to Dave Silverman about his views on equality and afterward I posted some links on twitter making reference to Silverman and his mistaken notion of equality. This is what happened next:
CaptureWhat is equality without human value? The graphic above demonstrates that we have criminalized the bodies of transpersons  of color at an alarming rate. If we believe the current estimates that place the percentage fo transpersons in the U.S at 0.3%, then you have to admit that our society has implicitly deemed these people as disposable. Multiple interlocking systems of oppression impact LGBT persons of color like inter-generational poverty, racial discrimination, xenophobia, lack of living wage jobs, insufficient education, workplace & housing discrimination, etc. But when you aren’t subject to when you benefit from these forms of discrimination it is difficult to empathize with the oppressed minorities that do not. Remember, our founding fathers were speaking of freedom, liberty, and equality whilst slaves were tending their properties, emptying their chamberpots, building their fortunes and “warming” their beds. So again, we have to rethink what is “basic and foundational”. Where did those ideas come from who were they meant to include? And by extension, who and what do they continue to exclude?

Secular organizations (not necessarily atheist/skeptical communities) of all sorts, many of which even claim to be interested in the struggle for “equality” are benefitting from systems of inequality and injustice or by appropriating the experiences of people of color and other minority groups. One such example is the Human Rights Campaign. It was recently revealed today that HRC has received donations from company that manufacture drones. The very same drones that have killed innocent men, women, and children in the “Middle East”. HRC has been criticized by many groups but particularly by LGBT persons of color for campaigning aggressively for “marriage equality” while failing to address adequately issues that disproportionately impact POCs (ex. issues related to homelessness, poverty, survival sex work, violence towards LGBT persons of color). This from an organization the has human rights in its name! But clearly not in it’s priorities.

This is the point I was making to Dave Silverman  who uses the language of equality and appropriates the experiences of minority groups to condemn religious authorities when it is convenient. Dave Silverman like many atheist celebrities condemns conservative religious political forces who seek to limit the rights or women or say force women to wear a hijab but are silent of the abuse of African immigrants in Israel. They condemn what they view as  the efforts of the religious right to create, in essence a theocracy, but they say nothing of the authoritarian abuse of power against minority groups in the United States via forced sterilization  for example. That is because by and large the women who suffer this type of abuse do not fit conveniently into their narratives, though in actuality western religiousity factors heavily into racial constructions and into the way we view punishment for crime, among other things (as I described in my article “Ain’t I a Skeptic”).

This is why I am growing  very weary with this movement and the way it selectively chooses convenient narratives to blame religious authorities for this or that but has no genuine interest in a broader discussion of human rights. This white paternalism is part and parcel of the white savior industrial complex that ignores abuses in it’s own back yard in favor of more remote and or convenient enemies that it can fit neatly into it’s narratives. Like many organizations which advocated for marriage equality blaming the black community for Prop 8 (despite evidence to the contrary), or blaming Islam exclusively for political extremists and anti-western sentiment, or blaming the black church and it’s “uncle tom house negro” race traitors for the problems of the black community.

I am even also tired  of calls to unify under a single banner or to rally behind this or that group while they continue to ignore minorities and the realities we face, hence the letter to Dave Silverman. But a few days later, I read an article which defended the leadership of many mainstream groups and said that we should stop the “infighting” and be thankful. Here is an excerpt:

So maybe not all atheists agree on the same political ideologies, though I would ask anyone to show that the overwhelming majority is not liberal, leftwing based ideologists, instead of selfish or theocratic ones. If there is one thing all atheists have in common politically it is that we are not the religious right…

Without atheists united in some form of community, the US would be lost overnight to a theocratic right. Ready to overturn whatever secular laws remain in the constitution. While some atheists are worried about definitions, the right is worried about overturning women’s rights, ending marriage equality and enforcing bad economic policies that drive more Americans into poverty.

While we are busy infighting claiming, “no one speaks for me”, the right is speaking and gathering followers. If we continue to run around unorganized, they will overtake this nation…

These are the groups who put the weight on their shoulders to make sure the theocratic right do not overtake the US and anyone who believes in upholding the secular history of this nation and the further secularization that rebuilds the wall that separates church and state that the right has spent decades taking apart. We should be thanking these groups and individuals in this fight, not chastising them for being “the face” of atheism as many have…

You can get behind the groups you like and ignore the ones you don’t. You never have to state that any particular person speaks for you, but you can allow those people to speak and make your world better, and if you disagree, then speak up. Ignoring it and simply saying it is not a movement means you will let others speak for you. Silence is an action, the action of inaction.

The community is forming whether you like it or not, you can either get on board and help in this struggle or you can simply opt out and watch change happen one way or the other and do nothing to help or stop it. The good news is, while some sit back and criticize the work of these community activists, these activists don’t stop working. They do the dirty work even when some in their own community refuse to thank them.

*The emphasis is mine btw

Dan Arel asserts that most atheists are “leftwing based ideologists” and that we are not the “selfish” religious right, though many atheists are socially liberal on issues like gay marriage, access to birth control, and mainstream feminist principles which center largely on economic issues (i.e. equal pay),  I don’t think that means that they are leftwing or liberal on other issues of importance. A great deal of atheist support the reduction of the social safety net and have been by and large silent on immigration, violence against LGBT persons, healthcare, ongoing racial disparities, and even on the “enforc[ement] of bad economic policies that drive more Americans into poverty”.

In the next paragraph he uses an appeal to emotion to attempt to scare the reader into believing that somehow if  we don’t subordinate our views/voices to those at the helms of the greater movement that the “right” will overtake our nation. IF that is the case where was the outrage at the SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act? Where is the effort from the atheist/ non-believing community to counter discriminatory voting laws that would disenfranchise racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and college students? What weight have they taken upon their shoulders? Last time I checked, the only way to rebuild that wall between church and state is through the ballot.

Remember: “Silence is an action, the action of inaction.” Or something like that, right?

While Arel says we can” get behind the groups you like and ignore the ones you don’t”  why is it that many in leadership continue promoting this agenda that polices what labels we use and dictates to us which battles are “basic and foundational” rather than allowing us to determine that for ourselves. And between this and some of the “work” some of them do, I’m not sure that there is much to thank them for.

Open Letter to Dave Silverman…

I recently read an article about where a reporter sought clarification on some statements Dave Silverman made concerning his views on the secular movement in a previous piece published in  The Tablet, written by Rachel Silberstein. Here is Silverman’s statement from the Silberstein article:

Some call themselves secular humanists, and many call themselves Jews,” says Silverman, a term he argues is particularly damaging to the cause. When atheists call themselves Jews, it implies theism, he says, which “makes atheists look small and negates a learning opportunity.”

When asked for clarification on the previous statement by Roy Speckhardt, Silverman stated:

“Some fight the battle to get humanism (or some other label) better recognized, but this battle is counterproductive, as there are very few people who know what humanism is — as opposed to atheism — and fighting that fight completely distracts from the equality fight, which is far more important. The humanism battle is nuanced; the atheism battle is basic and foundational.”

I take issue with these statements as a Black atheist who also identifies as a secular humanist. So I want to speak directly to Dave Silverman for a moment. Here goes:

Dear Dave Silverman,

I understand that you take some issue with the diversity of labels that are used within the secular movement. Somehow I am not surprised but i think you are missing a few things:
1. That people have the right to define themselves and label themselves as they wish.
2. That secularists and atheists have the right to decide which battles are worthy of their time.
3. Actually you and “new atheists” of your ilk make the movement smaller because it is the antagonism and narrow scope of  that this movement exemplifies that makes many of people loathe to identify themselves as atheists.

And now, by narrowly defining the notion of equality and that ignores the lived realities of many Americans, I think you are inflicting further damage. Reading your statements this month offended me, as this month marks Black History Month. I was also offended because these words were uttered during a time in our country where it seems that open season has been declared on Black children. This is a time when the gains made during the civil rights movement are being eroded, when incarceration rates of Black and Latino communities are increasing at alarming rates, and overall systemic inequality seem to be growing. The fact that your notion of equality focuses narrowly on how much room you have to insult theists via billboards and television appearances is troubling to me and counterproductive. And it only further demonstrates how pervasive white supremacy is in this movement. The atheist movement often uses the language of post-racialism and color-blindness to avoid dealing with diversity in any substantive way. But none of this should surprise me since the only time that you are apt to consider this struggle is when you can appropriate it to insult religious adherence to the bible.

While it is certainly true that religious believers have a considerable amount of privilege in our country (as well as throughout the world) to frame the conversation in terms of equality is insensitive to all of the many minority groups that continue to struggle to have their humanity recognized.  It is disrespectful to the memory of Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, and  the countless other men, women, and children who have lost their lives.  It is disrespectful to the lived experiences of men, women, and children who are discriminated against in employment, housing, education, and the criminal justice system.

I wish equality for atheists was all there was left to fight for! I wish that STEM education and issues of church separation were the only battles left to fight. But I don’t have that luxury. I don’t have the level of privilege that would allow me to believe in that. I cannot be that oblivious.

That is why I could not disagree with you more on the issues of humanism. We need humanism more than ever, lives are depending on it. We need movements that recognize the value Black, Latino, and LGBT lives. We don’t need movements that appropriate our stories when it is convenient but are unwilling to stand up for us when it is inconvenient.

Applause for DOMA but on VRA...

Applause for DOMA but silence on VRA…

We don’t need movements that minimize the meaning of equality at a time where systemic inequality is growing. The battle against systemic inequality is “basic and foundational” and emphasizing radical humanist values with an emphasis on intersectionality could mean all the difference. Atheism only emphasizes non-belief in deities- humanism emphasizes the value of HUMAN LIFE.

Children like this are growing up in a world that does not value their lives or their safety. Our children are not afforded the presumption of innocence.

Children like this are growing up in a world that does not value their lives or their safety. Our children are not afforded the presumption of innocence. Our children aren’t innocent until proven guilty. Our children are perceived as threats.

I want to challenge you to rethink about what equality means and about which struggles are “basic and foundational” as homelessness and hunger rise and funding for social safety nets like  SNAP are cut. Think about it as incarceration rates for Black and Latino communities rise independent of crime rates, as public schools close in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, as people struggle to sustain themselves on inadequate wages, etc.

James Baldwin once said, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”

I say if the atheist movement cannot make us larger, freer, and more loving, I have no use for it. If it doesn’t value my life and the lives of other socioeconomic minorities, then it isn’t for me. I hope you will take this moment as a learning opportunity.

Sincerely,

Raina

Resources:

The Murder of Jordan Dunn

The Murder of Renisha McBride

Black unemployment is twice that of white unemployment

Portland Public Schools strike preparation: Low-income students could face crisis if schools close

Hunger Through My Lens

#DangerousBlackKids

Are We Black, Proud and Socialist?

Rhoades to Reality:

I am definitely looking forward to reading this.

Originally posted on Infidel Books:

why did so many black women
White Nights, A Novel:

By Sikivu Hutchinson

“Are we Black, proud and socialist?”

Why did a powerful white man utter these words and why did hundreds of black people follow him to their deaths?

In the late 1970s, a multiracial apostolic socialist church once at the forefront of liberal Bay Area politics self-destructed in a Guyana jungle. Founded by a white Indiana-born misfit and self-proclaimed Marxist, the church became the focal point of social justice activism and racial solidarity for a cross-section of political radicals, religious seekers and disenfranchised folk. The church’s pastor was the object of mass adulation and idolatry, cloaking a white savior mentality in a militantly blacker-than-thou charismatic public image. For many of his black female followers, he was Father and God—one of the only white men who could be trusted to affirm black people’s lives as valuable. Fatally bonded by fear of racist annihilation, the community’s…

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FTBCon2: Social Justice and Young Women of Color

I had the pleasure of being a part of a panel for Freethought BlogsFTBCON 2. The panel I was on was entitled “Social Justice and Young Women of Color”. The panel featured Kimberly Veal, our moderator, the host, task masterFounder of Black Freethinkers* and one of the board members of People of Color Beyond Faith, Heina Dadabhoy blogger for Skepchick, Noa Jones  blogger  for Loudishness, and social activist Georgina Capetillo. We discussed everything from issues of inclusion and diversity to how to engage communities of color regarding issues of social justice. I hope you will enjoy it. I certainly did.

And don’t forget to check out some of the other FTBCon 2 panels.

I want to thank Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, Dr. Richard Carrier, FTBCon/ Freethought Blogs, Secular Woman, and the women that made this panel so great. :-)

*Just a joke Kim, lol. ;-)

freethoughtblogs.com

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”- Audre Lorde

Camara Responds…

I received the following response, presumably from Jeremiah Camara:

jeremiah's reponse

Here is the text:

“It’s unfortunate that you’ve chosen to only highlight what you perceive to be the negative aspects of my large body of work. Yes, I’m aware of the many other factors that contribute to the demise of the Black community. However, I tend to concentrate on the church/religion because it continues to make the boldest claims. I’ll explain this in much greater detail in my upcoming article entitled, “Why Faith is to Blame.” It’s also unfortunate and inaccurate to label me as being homophobic. In many of my lectures and interviews I have unapologetically expressed my support for the gay community. Many gays support my work and have worked with me on many of my projects including the movie “Contradiction.” In the Slave Sermons video above entitled, “We Men Ain’t Me?”, my intentions were to bring attention to the disproportionate number of Black men in movies who’ve seemingly been required to put on dresses. I took the same position as Dave Chappelle when he said, “I’m funnier than a dress.” Mr. Chappelle took umbrage at this same phenomena but was never accused of being homophobic. Regarding my connection with BlackSon, I think this is fallacious on your behalf. It’s a classic case of “guilt by association.” Nevertheless thanks for your support. Your comments and criticisms are appreciated.”

1) I don’t think that it is merely my perception- what I took from your work was negative. These are aspects of your work that you could have distanced yourself from and or edited out of your large body of work.

2) The church makes the boldest claims? In a country where we are witnessing the destruction of our social safety nets, school closures, etc. , you think the church is making the boldest claims? Well given that you think effeminization of black men is a bigger issue than sexual violence and predatory behavior, I guess i shouldn’t be all that surprised.

3) Which speeches are you referring to? You all but blamed the effeminization of black men for the correlation of the rise of homosexuality with  the expansion of mega churches and acts of sexual violence committed by men of god (in the black church).  I wonder how the gay community or the “many gays” that you have worked with would feel about that?

4) The description of the video “We Men.. Ain’t We?” says  that you are examining “the effeminization of the Black man in Hollywood.” And now, you are telling me that your  intention was to “highlight the disproportionate number of black men seemingly required to wear dresses” and yet you intentionally included performances where black actors were not wearing dresses? You included performances and representations of men who were not transgendered or transexual? What about the image of men who are simply gay? Or the men simply sagging their pants? What about the rape scene from Pulp Fiction? How does that fit in?  If your goal wasn’t to label all those things as effeminizing or anti-male why did you put them all together? You did not take the  exact same position as Dave Chappelle, because he unlike you, he never conflated cross-dressing with transgenderism/transexuality, or sagging. But, having seen Chappelle’s interview  I would have to say he made a homophobic remark when he asked, “… What is this? Brokeback Mountain?” in response to a person he felt pressured him into wearing a dress. Again, cross-dressing does not make one homosexual. The reference to a film about a relationship between two men is a significant clue to his homophobia, as he was asked to wear a dress not to simulate consensual sex with a man, which also would not have made him gay- it’s called ACTING. Even if black men were being forced into wearing dresses as a part of their roles what is unclear to me is how that would then effeminize their black male viewing audience? Though I am still confused about how flowers effeminize black men. Is it the pollen? Do the flowers emit some kind of sexual orientation altering pollen or particle that affects some but not others like in that movie “The Happening”?

BTW, this was a horrible movie.

And notice that you employed a version of the classic defensive response that usually begins something like “some of my best friends are…”. Who are you trying to convince?

5) “Regarding my connection with BlackSon, I think this is fallacious on your behalf. It’s a classic case of “guilt by association.” Noted. That was actually a very small part of the article in question. But it seems you have a way of associating with bigots and tofu-dashikiists (like Hagins and Awadu)… so there ya go.

Screen shots of videos that are no longer available,

Screen shots of videos that are no longer available on the web.

Notice how Camara never actually refutes or repudiates any of his earlier statements. And that he unapologetically (and yet, invisibly) supports the gay community but said nothing that would distance himself from “We Men…Ain’t We?”, his blog, or his comments he made on the War on the Horizon podcast.

There you have it,  Camara is not just a homophobe but he panders to audiences regarding his beliefs concerning sexuality just like he panders to audiences regarding the problems of the black community.

See earlier post entitled Contradiction(s)

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Contradiction(s)

Contradiction is a film by Jeremiah Camara about:

“examining the paradox of Black neighborhoods saturated with churches in the midst of poverty, deprivation and despondency. Camara seeks to find if there is a correlation between high-praise and low-productivity.”

There has been a fair amount of anticipation and praise for this film in the atheist community. Contradiction hasn’t made it to a theatre near me yet but given a number of the views he has expressed via his “Slave Sermons”, various appearances, and a few of the guests that appear in the film, I am less than enthusiastic.

I first became aware of Jeremiah Camara around the same time that I was introduced, so to speak, to Blackson Bau in the forums of the then fledgling black atheist community of Facebook. Some of you may know Blackson as the founder of the Black Atheists of Atlanta, a tofu-dashikiist group and the main subject of my blog entitled “Silly Arguments: The Law of Reproduction”. Despite the popularity of Camara’s “Slave Sermons” both then and now I always had serious reservations about his work and his connection/ friendship with Blackson. There were at one time several videos where Blackson and Camara either appeared together or that their friendship was mentioned. As of 12/31/2013, only one of those videos seems to be available to the public, it is titled “Breaking the Peace” in which the hosts of the Black Atheists of Atlanta program express frustration that some groups are willing to work with Camara and not them despite their friendship with him and the similarity of their ideas.

The genius of Jeremiah Camara,  as a propagandist, if it could be called that, is the relative ease with which he is able to beguile the white atheist “we are all Africans” crowd and tofu-dashikiists audiences at the same time. He simultaneously uses aspects of black nationalist language to absolve privileged white atheists of their responsibility to fight various forms of social oppression and convince his black non-believing audiences that merely increasing critical thinking and eschewing religious thought will upend the correlation between “high praise and low productivity”. He is also able to appeal to the to the intellectual snobbery of these two otherwise disparate groups. The Five Percenter’s (also known as the Nation of Gods and Earths), for example, like many other tofu-dashikiists or members of the so-called conscious community, claim that 85% of people are asleep , 10% control the world, and that they, the remaining 5% are the only ones that know what is going on. Similarly there are atheists apt to write off any and all religious believers even those that accept scientific evidence and aren’t prone to narrow, literal, or hateful interpretations of their faith. Two notable tofu-dashikiists appear in the film, Contradiction, Dr. Ray Hagins and Keidi Awadu right alongside popular personalities in the secular community. Dr. Hagins is a known homophobe and promotes various types of conspiracy theories. Hagins also wrote the forward to Camara’s book “Holy Lockdown: Does The Church Limit Black Progress?”. Keidi Awadu, on the other hand,  though not as widely known, is a “Holistic Nutritionist” (nutritionists are not required to be licensed dietician is the legally protected term) and HIV/AIDS denialist, who regularly promotes various types of anti-scientific misinformation. 
In his sermon speech to the audience of the Blackout Secular Rally, he actually assures the white people in the audience that “…we’re [the black atheists present, I presume] not asking for equality… we know that is is on us [black people]” (@10:00) and referred to the word racism as ” a cute word for staying on top of the food chain” (@23:32). He also says that you cannot “legislate how someone feels about you” and tells those present to “go invent something”. But those who know anything about black history can tell you that despite black ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and enterprise blacks we were the victims of ongoing violence and were continually discriminated against. And what we fought (and continuing fighting) for was legislation protecting the civil and human rights to which we were already entitled. So perhaps that is why his analysis is void of discussions of structural inequality, as Camara compares churches to black holes sucking up black wealth. Neither Camara nor his work delve into the economic policies and housing crisis as the primary cause of the ongoing decimation of black wealth. Prince George’s County Maryland is an example of the effect these policies have had on a community once known as a “center of black affluence”. But there is no room in Camara’s work for that. Instead, Camara offers the black community exhortations to essentially pull ourselves up by our bootstraps by eschewing religious dogma for a secular dogma that proposes that logic and freethinking are all that is needed to improve society. Unfortunately, much of the secular community is loathe to deal with its own blind spots with respect to race, sex, gender, class, and other socioeconomic divides. Camara has similar blind spots.

In “Slave Sermons”, Camara elucidates what he sees as the problems with the black church. And problems are all he sees. But this viewer sees Camara’s treatment as much more problematic than his subject. His clips look like minstrel shows focused on the most bizarre, the most embarrassing, full of one dimensional caricatures of the black religious experience. His analysis is almost always lacking in terms of of sociological, anthropological, historical, and political context. Blaming what he sees as lack of logical thought in the black community on the bible and religious influence and not on failing schools and lack of opportunity. He often connects religiosity to servile attitudes and complacency without acknowledging the influence of radical humanist religious thought and theology such as black liberation theology.

In one of his videos entitled “Obama with Easter Bunny! : Still in Chains” (don’t ask me why, many of his titles in his series are incomprehensible to me) he prefaces a video of Russell Simmons making a statement about anti-Semitism (@ 1:56) being a form of racism with:

“House negroes defend their masters over themselves.” (@ 1:52)

combined

Though, I cannot stand that when most people use the term anti-Semitism that they almost always are referring exclusively to anti-Jewish hatred and ignore anti-Semitism aimed at people of Arab descent, I don’t understand how speaking against it makes one a house negro. Unfortunately, antisemitism particularly in tofu-dashikiist circles is very common and though, there are some legitimate issues that the black community has with certain people or groups of Jewish people, antisemitism is not justified. I’m not sure how participating in a PSA for the Foundation For Ethnic Understanding makes Jay-z or Russell Simmons “house negroes” but perhaps that is something for Camara (or maybe Dusty) to clarify.

In another video Camara conflates homosexuality, transgenderism/transsexuality, cross-dressing, and sagging in a video that addresses a popular conspiracy theory in the black community that Hollywood (The Illuminati, “The Man”, etc) is trying to make black men more effeminate through portrayals of black men in dresses. The video is entitled “Black Men Actors In Dresses! “We Men… Aint We?” the description reads “Jeremiah Camara examines the effeminization of the Black man in Hollywood.”The video features clips from “Glory”, “Six Degrees of Separation”, “Big Momma’s House”, “Pulp Fiction”, “The Fifth Element”, “Holiday Heart”, “Juwanna Mann”, “To Wong Foo…”, “The Jamie Foxx Show”, etc.
we men ain't we

The choice of clips makes it clear that the author of the video is not just concerned with whether black men appear in dresses but whether they engage in a specific type of cisgendered heterosexual masculine performance. This is clear from his blogs and from his choice of the acronym, S.H.A.F.T. (secular, humanist, agnostic/atheist, freethinker) and fictional character John Shaft to represent his views on faith.

No, I didn't make that up either.

 Homophobia is very common in tofu-dashikiist circles and is not uncommon in the secular community (or society at large for that matter). But in tofu-dashikiist circles it is often rooted in conspiratorial fears of eugenics and population control and in patriarchal beliefs that equate black male (cis-het) leadership and empowerment with overall black liberation. One of the things that, Dave Chappelle (a clip of his interview with Oprah is featured in the video), and those who believe in this conspiracy theory miss is that cross dressing isn’t just written into parts played by black actors and unfortunately it is a cheap and easy gag. Numerous white actors have played roles where they have worn dresses including Will Farrell, Robin Williams, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon, Adam Sandler, the Monty Python acting troupe, Jim Carey, etc. But there are many other actors black and non-black who have had successful careers without dressing as women. The most important thing that the proponents of this monumentally stupid conspiracy theory miss however, is that more often than not it is actually black women who are actually being made fun of. Such is the case with the popular character Madea, who in representing the undesirability of “mammy” also embodies the “angry” or “sassy” black woman stereotype. Madea is not a fully realized character but embodies some of the most harmful stereotypes surrounding black women along with Martin Lawrence’s character Shanaynay and several of the other characters depicted in the video.  

Camara also shared his homophobic views during an appearance on the internet podcast WAR ON THE HORIZON, hosted by the Ayo Kimathi, A.K.A. “Irritated Genie“, who you may have heard was fired from his job at the Department of Homeland Security when he was found to be promoting “race war” and genocide. On the program, Camara was asked about the relationship between the mega church and church attendance and the “explosion of homosexuality” in the black community*. Before I get into Camara’s response, Irritated Genie is known particularly for his homophobic views and the way he terms “sexual deviancy” (including homosexuality), sexual violence, pedophilia, etc as “white sex” . Homosexuality in the mind of Genie and other tofu-dashikiists violates nature and therefore must have been learned from white people, beginning with the Greeks. So given his obsession, it is no surprise why Genie opens the show with the question about homosexuality. Camara responds:

“Well I do see that there is a correlation there…there is a deeper issue at hand…why so many men of god are accused of sexual crimes. In the black church, homosexuality is not a new phenomena it is just more out in the open nowadays. Gay black men are amongst the most demonstrative in their display of love for Jesus and among the most dedicated members of the church…”

Quoted from WAR on the Horizon’s  1/10/2011 podcast featuring Jeremiah Camara

Genie then asks him for more details on how the black church pushes for the effeminization of black men. Camara points to soft music played in a minor key and the safe non-threatening environment. He also calls “seeking comfort from the storm”, “anti-heterosexual”.

Camara also refers to his blog where further expresses his homophobia as he discusses the church as an anti-male space filled with flowers and long flowing choir robes among other things. Jeremiah Camara makes clear in his blog that he feels that churches are effeminizing black men and by implication what his beliefs are about via his use of the language of gender essentialism . Here is an excerpt:

“Upon a closer examination of the Black church, it is easy to see why it is appealing to women and gay men. There are usually displays of beautiful floral arrangements near the pulpit, soft music is mainly played in minor keys, the choir is draped in long, flowing gowns, the pastor is typically a well-dressed man which attracts women and homosexuals, and the overall atmosphere exudes a safe, non-threatening, secure environment.

The church’s appeal to women and homosexuals is understood best, however, when considering the trauma that Black people experienced during their American enslavement period. Faith and hope in the prospect of one day obtaining peace were necessary defense mechanisms and Blacks were conditioned to be afraid. There was the constant fear of being beaten, getting caught trying to escape or family members being sold. These experiences, over time, have caused Blacks to develop a spirit of apprehensiveness. We witness this spirit playing out in our inclinations to seek comfort, security, protection and “shelter from the storms of life.” We have been trained to be afraid. These experiences have also created the perfect storm for religiousness which requires submissiveness, subservience and calls for someone else (Jesus) to get behind the wheel of our lives and do the driving.

Black men, heavily involved in the church and possessing a great love for Jesus are subjecting themselves to an effeminizing element of society. Jesus is often presented as a tender, sweet man in a long robe who’s forgiving and all inclusive. Ultimately, the underlying message in the Black church is to “lean on the everlasting arms of Jesus.” As a heterosexual man, it is challenging to commit to the idea of placing oneself in the arms of another man; even if that man is a perceived savior. Sometimes a man must go into the eye of the storm to solve his problems. Encouraging Black men to lay their burdens in the lap of Jesus has offered Black men an escape from the reality of their situations. Seeking comfort, shelter and protection from a mythological figure should be seen as a “turnoff” for strong men with lofty aspirations…”

He continues…

“Bishop Eddie L. Long is wrong; not just because he may be found guilty of sexual abuse but because he—like so many other mega church preachers—is helping to create a feminine environment for Black men. Not all Jesus-loving men who attend church regularly and love Jesus are homosexuals, but an atmosphere where men continuously seek Jesus’ love and shelter, certainly has the potential to effeminize the strongest of brothers.”

Taken from: Bishop Eddie Long: Molestation Charges Not the Main Issue

No. You did not read that wrong. Camara believes that a conversation about the effeminizing influence of the church is more important than a discussion of sexual violence in the black community and the shaming, denial, and complicity that goes on within many of our institutions. It is interesting to me that he considers that Church to be an anti-male environment despite the fact that the black church is and always has been extremely patriarchal in it’s structure, with males occupying the majority of church leadership positions including the most visible one of church pastor. The church also reinforces patriarchy and sexism in the demands it makes of women’s dress, behavior, and the roles they are allowed to play in the church (primarily service or child care).

To this humanist, there seems to be a number of huge contradictions in Camara’s work, but maybe that is because I don’t identify with Camara’s S.H.A.F.T. brand of secular, humanist, atheist/agnostic, freethinking that promotes homophobia and wholesale attacks on the church. The church which is the only institution in many black communities that addresses any of the needs caused by or exacerbated by structural inequality and discrimination. So given the problematic nature of Jeremiah Camara’s work I hope that some of my friends in the secular community will forgive me for not sharing in their enthusiasm and anticipation of Camara’s film. To be critical of the church is one thing, to lay the problems of the black community on it’s doorstep is another. But the way in which Camara’s rhetoric negates the impact of structural inequality is reminiscent of Booker T. Washington who emphasized gradualism and economic independence over political action. Washington once said, “In all things purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one hand in all things essential to human progress.” Washington and Camara have similar gifts in assuaging the fear and or apprehension that some white people feel towards social justice advocacy and in engaging in the language of racial uplift. Though, personally, I have always been more partial to Dubois myself.

*I don’t know about you but I kind of wonder what an “explosion of homosexuality” might look like. LOL

FYI:  As of 12/31/2013 all of the links I have provided in the article above are available. If you are unable to find the websites or videos that I have linked in this article, please try searching The Way Back Machine.

Here is Camara’s response

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