The Lobbying Game

Consider the following statements:

1. “Truly, this earth is a trophy cup for the industrious man. And this rightly so, in the service of natural selection. He who does not possess the force to secure his [space required for life] in this world, and, if necessary, to enlarge it, does not deserve to possess the necessities of life. He must step aside and allow stronger peoples to pass him by.”

2.”Evolution is an explanation. Human beings are a species just like millions of other known species. Although we walk upright, we are nevertheless mammals and primates. Like all social animals humans establish hierarchies. Humans have the same goals as other animals, and that is to eat and not get eaten. “But who is trying to eat you?, “you ask. There are predators all around us and we deal with them every day. This is a dog eat dog world in which we live, and if you’re not able to adapt you be eaten. There is absolutely nothing that goes on in the jungle of the Serengeti that does not happen on Wall Street. Capitalism is just a game of survival. We are products of evolution.  It’s about adapting and passing on our genes. Those that do not play by the predator’s rules will be eaten and will not get the opportunity to pass along their genes. In the concrete jungle words and phrase like “unfair”, “not right”, or immoral in defense of one’s treatment is the language of the conquered, the weak, and of the victim. You are on the bottom of the food chain. Racism in reality is a group’s desperate attempt to keep themselves elevated on the ladder of the human food chain. Again, at the end of the day it is all about survival.”

3. “A drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be…The law of survival of the fittest was not made by man, and it cannot be abrogated by man.  We can only, by interfering with it, produce the survival of the unfittest.”

 

The statements are fairly similar, are they? Can you guess who authored them?

Find out who after the jump…

Statements 1 & 3 are  from Adolf Hitler &  William Graham Sumner. Statement 2 is from Jeremiah Camara, a featured speaker for this years SCA Lobby Day and a rising star in the secular community due mostly to his film Contradiction which links economic, social, and political inequality to adherence to religious faith. The statement has been transcribed directly from a YouTube video entitled, “The Wishing Game”.

It troubles me that Camara misuses evolutionary theory  in very much the same way that Social Darwinists and today’s “racial realists” use it to trivialize racism to blame racial inequality on its victims. Of course Social Darwinist and “racial realists” blame racial inequality on biology, as they argue that black people are naturally inferior an inferior species. On the other hand, Camara chooses to blame racial inequality on adherence to religious belief. His argument is completely convoluted, he emphasizes biology (his limited understanding of biology, that is) in his explanation for why racism or racial inequality exists but stops short of suggesting blacks are inferior and instead blames religion. He essentially argues that there is no real difference between the biological concept of “survival fittest”and policies that disproportionately incarcerate black people, that allow financial institutions to engage in predatory lending, etc. Morality and fairness are irrelevant per Camara’s analysis, only the cold, hard, biological reality of evolution can explain the human condition. Except that, moral reasoning, empathy, a sense of fair-play, and altruism are also the product of biological (as well as social) evolution. Camara fails to take this into account. He also fails to grasp that biological theories are not themselves prescriptions for moral or sociopolitical behavior. Might (or power) does not equal right. Questioning or speaking out against injustice is not “weak” or the behavior of “conquered people” as Camara suggests. Pointing out inequality is a form of resistance, silence only protects the status quo. As Audre Lorde once said,”your silence will not protect you.”

The  grand thesis throughout much of his work sounds much like the racist rhetoric of many on the political right who argue that various cultural pathologies and a lack of work ethic are the primary culprits of racial inequality. This sentiment has been expressed since time in memorial, going all the way back to arguments that slavery had a “civilizing effect on black people”, to Paul Ryan’s comments back in April when he said:

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work,”

It is a similar sentiment present in Camara’s work when he laments the “high praise and low productivity” of the black believing community. A sentiment echoed in a statement where he blames the church for effeminizing black men:

“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…”

Camara finds fault particularly with those religions, namely the Judeo-Christian religions,  he believes were not created for or by black people. Of course this ignores the influence of early church theologians like Augustine  and later theological contributions by Black people throughout the diaspora to theology.

 

It is unfortunate but not surprising that Camara continues to be promoted by many in the atheist community including those, particularly in the Atlanta area, who have been aware of his homophobia for years, but it isn’t exactly surprising. There are a number of leaders and individuals associated with the atheist movement who are libertarians and conservatives. Recently there has been a push to court even the most conservative far-right elements of the republican party, as David Silverman and American Atheists attended CPAC in March. Silverman is not alone in his conservative politics, he is joined by other prominent secularists such as Edwina Rogers*, of the Secular Coalition of America and former republican lobbyist, as well as Michael Shermer, editor of The Skeptic, Author, and libertarian,among others. The current crop of secular org leaders by and large embrace color and gender blindness and believe that talking about it, unless it can be used to attack religion, only further perpetuates it. This sentiment is shared by many white people and seems to stem from anxieties around the browning of America and resentment towards the progress that has been made since the 1960’s in civil rights. Some of you are familiar with a study conducted by Harvard & Tufts Universities that found that white people believe that they now experience more racism than blacks. This resentment has lead to attacks on affirmative action, voting rights, and proposed laws that would allow a path to citizenship for undocumented people, among other things. Borrowing from Earl Ofari Hutchinson, this belief provides a “social and psych[ological] comfort” to people or organizations that like to claim that they are “bigotry-free” and can avoid complex discussions about systemic inequality and oppression. It also allows them to engage in victim blaming and shaming of black people who they feel should be self-made and bootstrap their way to success,all this despite the fact that the American ideal of the self-made self-sufficient man is a myth. As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his recent article “A Case for Reparations“, slavery, exploitation of labor, theft, and systemic racial discrimination are responsible for ongoing socioeconomic inequality. It is no accident that at the same time that people are promoting color-blindness that many of the civil rights victories gained in the 1960’s are being undermined. This belief in color blindness allows people to ignore how race neutral language in legislation can sill lead to have racially disparate outcomes, as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out in her 58 page dissent regarding the SCOTUS decision on Michigan’s affirmative action ban.

Next week the Secular Coalition for America, also known as SCA, will host a lobbying day on Capitol Hill. They will meet with various lawmakers to influence policy on a range of secular issues. It troubles me that the SCA is hosting a lobby day where they will promote someone who distorts one of their central issues- the teaching of evolution to argue that racism is just a “cute word” or that evolution provides a sufficient explanation or justification for systemic racial inequality. It is bothersome that this person abuses evolutionary theory to characterize naming or speaking out against injustice as weak.  But it doesn’t come as a surprise to me, as the secular community generally only cares about “social justice” issues when they can be used to attack religion. Teaching evolution is schools is a priority because it undermines fundamentalist ideology. Nevermind, how school segregation impacts science education. And that than the allocation of resources, teachers, and materials is all impacted by socioeconomic makeup of the student body. Nevermind, that inadequate that accurate instruction on evolution and the sciences could impact the views of minorities on research and medicine. School segregation is more than just a blow to achieving diversity but it has a direct impact on science literacy and critical thinking in the public.

Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson pointed the hypocrisy of the secular community with respect to STEM efforts (she is also great for pointing out the white privilege and hypocrisy that plagues the movement in general), in her recently published article entitled “Bridging the STEM Divide Youth Conference & White Atheist STEM Hypocrites”. In it Dr. Hutchinson points out the lack of interest in and unwillingness engage with ongoing efforts to increase opportunities in STEM careers and education for minority students. She includes some extremely appalling statistics concerning minorities in STEM careers and education. She also notes that the Global Secular Council’s lack of representation of racial and ethnic minorities. I highly recommend that you read it.

It is this shortsightedness that is poisoning this movement. When American Atheists is more concerned about churches that are used as polling places than it is about discriminatory voter ID laws; when secularists applaud gay marriage but are relatively silent on other forms of LGBT discrimination; when the secular movement champions science education and is silent about Affirmative Action or the resegregation of schools; the movement demonstrates more and more that its aims are not humanistic at all and solely concerned with opposing faith at all costs. As a black woman, I am skeptical of the interest many in the secular community have in the film Contradiction. I am perturbed by many questions and assertions during many of the Q&A sessions because they seldom rise above racist tropes. One individual asked if maybe black people just go to church because they like singing and dancing, citing the fact that many black people go to clubs or parties the night before, something that only black people are ever known to do, right? The assumption of that question is really not unlike the underlying assumption of Paul Ryan’s comment on the culture of “inner cities” (meaning black culture), which is that black people are frivolous and incapable of critical thinking. Black people are not immune to this racist belief either. There are many black atheists and secularists, including Camara, that spend their time mocking the intellect of black religious adherents. There is a notion that religious people are stupid in general for believing but black people are particularly stupid for believing in a religion that was practiced by those that enslaved them. This is a recurring theme in Camara’s work:

 “The reason you are on the bottom of the food chain is that you use prayer as your first line of defense. And because you are trying to hitch a ride on a god entity that was not conceived by you. You were not the primary people in the mission statement and therefore were never entitled to receive any of it’s benefits.”

As I pointed out in my earlier article, Contradictions, Camara is a great propagandist in that he is able to assuage white guilt by minimizing the reality of systemic racism via his Social Darwinist rhetoric and at the same time appealing to Afrocentrists who may reject Western Judeo-Christianity because of its association with slavery, racism, and the imagery of a white Jesus.  His line can be read two ways, the “we are all Africans” variety of secularists gets to black racial inequality on supernatural beliefs (a racial stereotype that is often associated with black people) and Afrocentrists/ black nationalists get to blame adherence to the gods of other racial and ethnic groups. Those are both ridiculous arguments in either case for someone in this community to make (Jeremiah Camara has decided not to label himself for reasons we can only speculate about). Superstitious beliefs don’t lead to food deserts and simply believing in a god that looks like you doesn’t make it any more able to address problems in the world, if it isn’t real to begin with.

So the combination of cluelessness white privilege, the uncritical acclaim for the film Contradiction and the work of it’s director, and the downright racist and ignorant conversations it has generated is all the more problematic due to the fact that SCA and other organizations are becoming more and more politically engaged. What kind of education policy can we expect to come out of organizations interested in courting the likes of CPAC? What kind of policies can we expect secular orgs to advocate for in terms of education when they won’t address racial inequality in education? What kind of policies that can we expect  SCA and other organizations to advocate for when they want to discuss focus on the perceived failures of the church to address problems in the black community but are unwilling to deal with empirical evidence which demonstrates systemic racial equality? What game are these organizations playing? Who wins and who loses if they get their way? By narrowly focusing on issues that directly put the secular community at odds with bigoted fundamentalist religious groups and ignoring the needs of minority groups, the secular community stands to actually contribute more to socioeconomic inequality. And to think some of these organizations actually proclaim to represent humanism!!!

We can do better. We can do better than Camara, CPAC, and color-blindness. We can do better than organizations that preach the virtue of fact based logic but ignore it when it threatens their privilege. We can do better than organizations and people who would tell us that “We are all Africans” but time and time again only ever offer us the same picture:

image

We can do better.

* Just as I was getting ready to publish this it was brought to my attention that Edwina Rogers was fired from her position. Click here for more information.

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3 thoughts on “The Lobbying Game

  1. Good blog Raina! And yes, not one woman of African descent is featured in this kaleidoscope of American Atheists, which is totally unacceptable, given that many of them claim to be “Africans.”

  2. Anselmo D. "Sam" Castillo says:

    … Thanks for your insights, Ms. Rhoades … One of the most disturbing points, as highlighted near the end, is the idea that their privilege is being threatened; I do not find this to be remotely true, and it’s a recurring ideological problem I struggle with: hypothesizing, and finding myself returning to it over & over … It seems to me, that the real threat to progress is this insidious obsession with ones’ posterity: the ability of my great-great grandchildren to live, at least, as well as I have: with access to, at least, the same amount of opportunity, etc.; without taking into account paradigm-shifting technologies, or, simply, the evolution of society-as-a-whole … Why do I need people to exist 500 years from now, who look and think like me !? Why should I be so intimately concerned with what nature, herself, will ultimately decide ? If I am a friend of progress, and humanistic/earth-conscious principles, I will be more concerned with balance, peace, and joy, as-a-whole for our people, not in the de facto legislation of culture … Now, I’m not saying we should not be forward-thinking people: we should absolutely embrace our nature more, create better public policy for the welfare of our children, strive to leave a legacy (physical or otherwise) for those that come after us, etc., but there seems to be a strange, neurotic, maybe-even physiologic attachment to INVESTMENTS … In every way, at every turn, it seems that humankind will ALWAYS look out for that which it has invested in, whether healthy or not … One will ride their investments into the middle of a volcano, if that’s where it leads them … When will we learn to LET GO, that which needs letting go, no matter the cost ? … This may be the last roadblock to great progress we really need to transcend; it is unscientific, and dangerous … There is no practical threat to white privilege in elevating and empowering others around them: in their lifetimes, and a generation afterward, they will still reap the benefits of all that has happened, more-or-less, and it will take TIME before, even just, the perception of privilege begins to change … It is indeed a travesty-of-identity for secular humanism to ignore, or brush-under-the-rug, these topics that must be addressed concerning inequality and it’s nature: whether addressing humanity-as-a-whole, or more focused, recent, social policies … Why must people who have already won a race turn back and throw stones on the road ? …

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