Category Archives: Activism

Jamila Bey? CPAC Atheist? Huh?

The American Conservative Union’s Annual CPAC conference was last week. The Conference plays host to the most conservative right-wing portion of the Republican party. Many identify as tea partiers and are pro-gun, anti-immigration, anti-union, anti-big government (and by extension many federal and public programs), and they are huge fans of free market capitalism. And given some of the extremely racist sexist, nativist, and homophobic things that have come out of this movement, it is a wonder that a so-called humanist organization would choose to be among them, to recruit, or to increase the visibility of atheist conservatives. What may have been more perplexing though was the appearance that was made by social and political commentator, columnist, and podcaster, Jamila Bey in conservative Stepford Wife drag complete with a wig.

It was baffling to many of us. Those of us who have often thought of Jamila as a liberal progressive given many of her prior stances on issues. Her program SPAR with Jamila certainly gave the impression of someone with a liberal progressive consciousness. We’ve heard her speak on everything from reproductive rights, gay rights, to other issues affecting the underprivileged and disenfranchised. So to see her rubbing elbows with the CPACkers, many of whom are undermining the the rights of women, those that identify as LGBT, and people of color is disheartening. Just as it is disheartening to see Dr. Ben Carson, who grew up poor and who should know how important the expansion of healthcare is, to condemn “Obamacare” as “the worst thing that has happened to our country since slavery.” SINCE SLAVERY! In another demonstration of mind-boggling ignorance Carson blamed feminism for single motherhood which he thinks led to the death of Michael Brown, despite the fact that both of his biological parents were involved in his life.  Equally infuriating is Congresswoman Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who favors policies that might have kept her own parents from staying in the US and who spoke of wanting to destroy to Congressional Black Caucus from the inside. Demonizing and pathologizing black people and other minorities has been a strategy of the Republican party for a long time, and having people of color willing to engage in this sort of behavior helps the party to justify their rhetoric as simply “tough” or “patriotic”. But no matter how they deflect, these types of statements are racist and bigoted and are designed to appeal to their largely white male base.

So, it sucks to see someone who you have admired use “we”, “our”, and “us to describe vague points of supposed agreement she shares with right-wing extremists, especially when she is known for challenging people and being outspoken on many progressive issues. For instance, I think many of us were proud of her when she openly challenged the representative for the Coalition of African American Pastors when they came out publicly against same sex marriage. But seeing her throw immigrants under the bus as she did came out of left field. She chose to say that children from outside the US had a better chances of getting into elite schools than American children, instead of challenging the conservative republican ideal of decreasing taxes and the size of government that has reduced state funding of institutions of higher learning. Reductions that in turn drive up the cost of tuition, reduces student financial aid, and reduces enrollment. And it is a little ironic and sad to see Jamila plea for acceptance and to be embraced by a group of mostly white male affluent bigots, whilst representing a self-professed “humanist” organization that appropriates civil and social justice language. A “humanist” organization that has expressed little to no commitment to causes that don’t concern privileged white males. A humanist organization whose president talks about equality and freedom but only for a narrow group of mostly white anti-theists and only when it puts him and the organization in a position to antagonize the religious.

In her brief speech she echoed the familiar revisionist history that so many Republicans use to try to appeal to the black community: that their party fought for abolition. As party they share a name with the Republicans of old who labored to help free the slaves but I doubt very seriously that the Republicans of the 1860’s would support the current incarnation of their party. I don’t think that Republicans like Frederick Douglass, who supported universal suffrage and spoke against abuses of the carceral system (which really amounted to re-enslavement), would have looked favorably upon the GOP’s support of voter suppression laws or an unregulated economy where rich corporate interests are free to run amuck.

Recently Jamila wrote a piece about her experience, and I’m not sure if she is being deliberately obtuse or what. But it is difficult to believe someone as polished and politically savvy as she seems to be would really think it odd that people are interested in knowing about her political views, after she decided to appear before CPAC and out herself as a Republican. Now all of a sudden she is “purplish”? I don’t get it. But I agree with James Croft, that coming out as a Republican (at CPAC of all places), whatever her views on social justice or civil liberties may be, tells you more than a little bit about her priorities-whether she cares to admit it or not.

Recommended Reading
CPAC: Hackneyed and Hollow

Yes, Atheists Can Be Conservatives. But Why Would We Want To?

American Atheists’ Outreach at CPAC: Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Conservatives? I Am.

The Lobbying Game

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How to win friends and influence people in the mainstream secular community as a person of color

This is a list I have compiled based on observations of some of the so-called black leaders in the atheist/secular communities:

1. Allow yourself to be tokenized. Don’t let the fact that you are the only or one of 2 faces of color represented in the leadership or speaker’s list of [insert name of conference here] after years of discussions on the lack of diversity in the atheist community bother you. Remember: You are special (Even if all you can do is bash the religious and social institutions of the community you claim to represent with little to no meaningful critique of white supremacy or patriarchy.).

2. Do cover for organizations that make little to no meaningful efforts to improve diversity or address intersectionality. Tell people that the lack of inclusion is accidental or that the problem is that minorities don’t seek after mainstream organizations (and not the other way around). Say that you have to give them credit for trying despite the lack of measurable progress.

3. Do make sure to fill your presentations that invoke racist dichotomies and stereotypes. Be sure to say things like “the black community does rely heavily on dogma, superstition, and religion”, refer to black leaders as “chitlin circuit” personalities, be sure to characterize black Christians as violent and hostile, etc. You can make passing references to the long-term effects of racism but make sure to emphasize that black people are uncritical, frivolous, and superstitious and in desperate need of salvation via non-belief.

4. Engage in a lot of self-promotion. Don’t highlight other organizations or leaders in the community. Don’t partner with other groups to make progress towards addressing problems faced by communities of color.

5. Do not speak out against racism or injustice in general. AND don’t attempt to use your influence to convince atheist/humanist organizations, even those whose boards you sit on, to commit to agendas that are pro-social justice even when those agendas intersect with mainstream secular issues like science education.

6. Do throw parties and rallies. And only parties and rallies.

7. Do castigate religious (especially black religious) organizations for their lack of transparency, while making little to no effort towards transparency yourself. Do have programs that collect money annually but post no annual reports or demonstrate how the funds are utilized.

8. Do inflate your membership numbers  and rally attendance. 

9. Never criticize or correct the mainstream movement, it’s leadership, or anyone who makes statements that are racist or insensitive. It’s not that people are intentionally racist or forwarding agendas that are white supremacist by nature, it’s all in your mind. It’s simply your perception. Stop being offended so we can all have fun, ok? Cause being offended is a choice. The offender bears no responsibility.*

10. Do repeat all the trite slogans like “good without god”.

* These are sarcastic paraphrases of things I’ve actually heard people say in this community. 

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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…

Continue reading

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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

Why I need spaces for POCs…

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog entitled: “Ain’t I a Skeptic?”. The piece was written primarily out of my frustration with the skeptical and secular (AND feminist) communities and their post-racialist color-blind stance that generally assures that white experiences/ cultural perspectives/ philosophies/ etc. take precedence over those of people of color. It is because the views and experiences of people of color are ignored or purposely cherry picked that we are rendered invisible. And it never fails that when we as people of color begin to speak up for ourselves and share our narratives that the post-racialist “we are all Africans” crowd attempts to put us in our place. Observe:

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Imagine the level of entitlement a white male in this country must feel when he labels the event described in the photo as an example of discrimination. What little must he think of the discrimination that people of color face on a daily basis? Forget stop and frisk, forget the school to prison pipeline, and the economic and health disparities that exist between white people and other groups- because here we have a conversation where whiteness and the perspectives of whites are not given priority.

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That is a question best addressed to the landowning,slave-holding, white male Christians of the the past who prior to the 1700’s offered slaves the opportunity to gain freedom in exchange for religious conversion and later changed the laws to make servitude indefinite and a condition based primarily on skin color. You can also ask them why they infused their racism into scientific theories and movements while you are at it. Meanwhile, I and others will attempt to untangle how this legacy of racism and religious ideology has contributed to some of the problems we face as people of color. Next!

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I’m so glad she asked that question, it is a question most people of color ask themselves from the time they are children. That is the very same question we ask when we want flesh colored band-aids, dolls, action figures,  when our lives and bodies aren’t valued, or when we are denied justice. But I’m guessing that isn’t what she meant…

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Once again, we come against this ignorant reduction of racism. We aren’t merely coming together on the basis of skin color we are coming together on the basis of our experiences as people who live in a society that discriminates against and marginalizes us because of skin color and ethnicity. This is not about dehumanizing, marginalizing, or disparaging white people. It is about educating, empowering, uplifting, understanding and coalescing with others of like mind and experience. And that is why It doesn’t shock me to find that those who unconsciously uphold white supremacy, and are loathe to deal with what racism and discrimination really are, can’t seem to understand why the decision to reveal non-belief as a person of color could be paralyzing. Image

These are not even the worst responses to this project or towards similar spaces devoted to giving a voice to people of color. But these responses are an example of why I and many others seek spaces for and created by people of color to discuss how our race, ethnicity, and culture intersect with secularism, politics, sex, gender, feminism, etc. And these responses are why many organizations and spaces struggle with diversity because when they fail to take into account race/ethnicity impact the experiences of their target audiences they assume heterogeneity. And because we live in a culture that assumes that whiteness, maleness, and heterosexuality are the norm, so follows the assumptions of organizations that practice “blindness”. But I argue that this “blindness” is not benign but a strategy to maintain the status quo. Remember the words of Alice Walker: “No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”

And if the responses to Thursday night’s #POCBeyondChat are any indication, then there are voices that will not be silenced and people who are both willing to grow and support the growth of communities of color. If that sounds like you, feel free to join us this Sunday @ 2 pm EST on Youtube as well as #POCBeyondChat on Twitter (Black Freethinkers will continue the conversation on Blogtalk Radio @ 1 pm EST) I hope to see you there.

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People of Color Beyond Faith Webcast: “Debunking Post-Racialism in the Secular Community”

Tonight, Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, founder of Black Skeptics Group and Women’s Leadership Project, hosted the first People of Color Beyond Faith Webcast. The discussion focused primarily on dismantling notions of post-racialism in the secular, skeptical, and atheist communities. Joining the discussion were Kimberly Veal, founder of Black Freethinkers and Director of Development for Black Skeptics Group; Donald Wright, founder of Houston Area Black-Nonbelievers; and myself. Among the specific issues that were addressed were the infamous billboards used to denounce the Pennsylvania legislatures “Year of the Bible”; the use (or misuse) of the popular slogan “We are all Africans”; and the way that the carving out of safe spaces for minority groups is often perceived as “reverse racism” or “self segregation”. It is an entertaining and informative discussion, if you can get past our initial technical difficulties (I can assure you that we are in the process of resolving them.).

If you take anything from this, I hope that you will understand that racial issues cannot be resolved with slogans and color-blindness. Despite the election of Barack Obama, an African American, as President, political and socioeconomic inequality remain persistent in our society. And the groups that bear these political and socioeconomic burden are disproportionately black and brown. Though religiosity is higher among these groups, religion is not the main factor that drives these inequalities and churches and faith based institutions are often the only organizations that attempt to address the needs of these communities at all. So it isn’t productive to appropriate the cultural and historic experiences of people of color (about which there are already many misconceptions) when it is convenient for you and ignore the ongoing discrimination and injustices they face. And let me tell you that turning around and pronouncing “We are all Africans” will not resolve the situation. If you can find me an MOC that avoided being stopped and frisked by pronouncing that to a police officer, I’d love to hear about it.

Empty pronouncements won’t do! Insensitive billboards will not do! And empty statements on diversity will not do! If the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, and others have taught us anything, it is that there are lives at stake. And the last thing those whose lives are at risk need to hear is someone calling them an “Uncle Tom” or ignorant simply for believing in god. Interfaith cooperation around matters of social justice is not simply a nice or neighborly thing to do- it is imperative for communities of color! And debunking post-racialism in the secular community and society at large is a necessary component.

I hope you will join us for future webcasts and for #pocbeyondchat on Twitter (Thursdays @ 8 EST, with the exception of Thanksgiving).

Links

People of Color Beyond Faith Twitter Page
Black Skeptics
Black Freethinkers
Houston Area Non-believers

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From Anger to Action

I was angry but not surprised by the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial. I am sad and I hurt for Trayvon Martin’s family but I and not surprised. Surprise is what I would feel if I bought into the delusion of a post racial America, where opportunity is not only equal but plentiful. Surprise is what I would feel if I were naive enough to think that repeating empty mantras like,”We are all Africans!” could actually end racism and white supremacy any more than “color-blindness”. Surprise is what I would feel if I didn’t live in a time where people think that the idea that it is socially unacceptable for whites to use racial epithets constitutes “reverse racism”. Because we all know which direction racism should be aimed, right?

This week some of us were reminded.

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Tonight Black Freethinkers will host a discussion on the verdict, the trial, social justice, and solutions. Please join Kim Veal at 8 PM EST/ 7 PM CST/ 5 PM PST.

Recommended Reading

On the how the verdict speaks on the value of black lives-http://www.gradientlair.com/post/55440152453/the-verdict-of-not-valuable-on-black-life

Hard lessons for the class of 2013- http://freethoughtblogs.com/blackskeptics/2013/07/15/trayvons-class-of-2013/

On the verdict and dealing with many of the ignorant responses in the freethought community- http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2013/07/15/trayon-martin-george-zimmerman-freethought/

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