Category Archives: Diversity

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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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:

Bridging the STEM  Divide Youth Conference & White Atheist Hypocrites <<<<Just Added

Six Reasons Why There Aren’t More Blacks in the Atheist Community << Just added

Black, Atheist & Hiding 

I’m a Black Unicorn Baby: I am a Black Woman Atheist!

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

The Lobbying Game << Just Added

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

 

 

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

 

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“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.

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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Ain’t I a skeptic?

Not too long ago, Dr. Annalise Fonza, a former minister now an atheist, wrote about her experience in a facebook Freedom From Religion Foundation “fan” group that got what to me seemed a disproportionate reaction. And where many it seemed were trying to put her in her “place”. She wrote a rather inoffensive post in which she responded to a Washington Times article that focused on some feminist’s views on Michelle Obama’s work as a first lady:

I wholeheartedly support Michelle Obama’s choice to be there daily for her children. Many black women have not had the luxury of this choice. They have had to work, sometimes two jobs, to survive and to provide for their children and partners The unapologetic commitment to her children, to ensure their safe arrival to young adulthood, is one of the best policy statements that a black woman can ever make!

This post should not be offensive to anyone who is familiar with the history of African Americans in this country. Black women have rarely had the ability to be stay at home mothers nor many of the other issues that mainstream white feminists have sought to resolve. If you want to glimpse my meaning you can begin with Sojourner Truth‘s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech given in 1851 to a Women’s Convention and carefully consider the following:

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Between reading Dr. Fonza and Sojourner Truth I am reminded of the struggles of many of my relatives but I will share one. My great-grandmother, some eighty years later would work long hours cleaning the homes of whites and washing out their laundry while my grandmother came home to a usually empty house, a sandwich in the ice box or a meal on the stove. This is not the life she would have desired for my grandmother whose young life was already complicated by being the only child of color in her hometown. This was not a single income home. Then and now black men and black women can expect to make less than their white counterparts even for the same work. Her mother was determined her daughter’s life would not be spent toiling in other’s homes. Her options were few, as they were for many black women at that time, but only two were considered acceptable or suitable for upward mobility; nurse or school teacher. She opted to be a nurse and and somehow managed on what I can only imagine to be little sleep to devote herself to her family and eventually earn a master’s degree in nursing. But anyone who knows my grandmother knows that nursing was not her passion. Her passion was her family. Had she been given a choice she would have devoted more attention to helping her children with homework than she did to the health of others. A choice many black women would have given anything and everything to have.

I don’t share this to defend Dr. Fonza, she is far more eloquent and she needs no defense from me. I shared this part of my life because this kind of story is typical of what many black people have known. It informs the position of black feminists who lie outside of the mainstream politic. In my mind feminism has always been about choice. And having said that, this is not a defense of Michelle Obama, who needs neither my approval nor my consent to make a decision as a grown, educated, accomplished, and capable woman to stay home and raise daughters to be the like. And before I move on, I find the charge that she is not doing enough by feminists insulting given the mainstream feminist dialectic about how undervalued domestic work and child-rearing are- you know the same domestic work that was outsourced to my great-grandmother and many of the women in my family before her! The same labor that many of the upper class outsource to hispanic women today. But this is not about that. This is about skepticism rather the problem that we have in the atheist/skeptical/freethought community and blindness to white supremacist patriarchy.

I am referring to the uncritical dismissal of race as a influencing factor in political, economic, and social affairs simply because we now know that it is not the biologically distinct category that we once thought it was. As though this fact somehow erases systematic institutional discrimination in numerous forms including failing educational systems, disproportionate sentences handed to defendants of color, wages, etc.

I am referring to the uncritical dismissal of the harm done to women and men by patriarchy. I am talking about the homophobia, misogyny, and harassment that is experienced by many of us in the so called community of atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers and the need for greater diversity.

So because so many people fall into this category let me liken it to something else you might understand or accept more easily- religion. In the very first chapter of “The Christian Delusion”, contributor David Eller, PhD, discusses Christianity within the context of culture. He makes the point that even when we leave the faith we still exist within cultures deeply rooted in religion. From our concepts of time, to our language, to our dress, etc. you can see the influence of religion everywhere. So leaving our houses of worship is just the beginning of transforming our consciousness and understanding, that is if we wish to understand, those who remain faithful.

Just like you have to understand Christianity as culture, you have to understand white supremacist patriarchy as culture. We have to understand how its art transforms bodies of those who aren’t white male heterosexuals into objects to be used for sexual pleasure or objects of curiosity. We have to understand how its politics disenfranchise and its economic systems are used to enslave and perpetuate a cycle of poverty. We have to understand how its language is used to demean and unfairly label others as weak, dangerous, inferior, and unworthy. And we have to understand that there may in fact be any number of ways in which this culture of white supremacist patriarchy, like any other culture, may impact things we haven’t begun to recognize.

And there are some in this community who have written fairly extensively on these issues, like Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson in her book Moral Combat who describes how African American adherence to christianity in some way relates to the “Great Chain of Being” where christian males with property are assumed to be fully human. This group is followed by the “lesser” classes, women, children, and the rest of the animal kingdom. Dr. Hutchinson details how acceptance of Christianity was at one point in time was a means of gaining freedom and a degree of acceptance but due to increased trade trading and demand for slaves laws were repealed which previously granted freedom to converted slaves. It was around 1680 when it became less common to refer to oneself as “Christian” and more common to refer to oneself as “English” or “free” and later “white”. This addition to the great chain of being meant fundamentally that blacks and other people of color were something less than authentic. They weren’t English, certainly not American, and for many not even human. This extension of the “Great Chain of Being” would justify the abuse, experimentation, and insult inflicted on black bodies for many years to come. It would justify the display of black bodies in zoos and parlors and the denigration of black culture, beliefs, contributions, and intellect that continues to this day. And for many the question has been: how could it be any other way unless god had sanctioned it? Blacks became the offspring of Ham, the cursed son of Noah. Despite all of this many slaves found comfort in the messages of deliverance from suffering, eternity in heaven, and being washed “whiter than snow”; a line that has literal and figurative meaning in black religious consciousness. This only begins to describe the complexity of the relationships blacks have with religious faith (and ultimately the American white Christian identity) as well as its connections to the very roots of myriad forms of oppression blacks have and continue to face (outlined well in Dr. Hutchinson’s Moral Combat). Similarly, religious belief is connected with other types of oppression and discrimination.

I say all of this to say that when we become atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers I think we need to understand the concept of culture and identity and how that discarding the explicit beliefs of a particular mindset that there still remains a whole set of assumptions and cultural patterns that you have to consider and discard. How can we expect to change this community and increase diversity if we continue to blind ourselves to the ongoing issues of sex and gender politics, or race, or handicap, or the numerous intersections therein?

How can it be different if we only want to use our intellectual tools and perspectives in this community to focus on a narrow set of interests?

If skepticism as skeptics we are interested in gathering information and considering all the facts how is it possible for some of us to dismiss all this history, all of the critical work in sociology, political science, and sociology? All of these lived experiences because they can’t be neatly quantified?

Oh wait some of them can be… Secular Census

And while there are several caveats to be made with regards to samples size (it might be nice if that were made apparent) and what have you but I believe that many of the findings would hold up even if you were to address them. they are telling us that women and minorities don’t feel welcome. And if the response to Dr. Fonza’s original post is an indicator, and I believe it is just one of many, then it should be no surprise as to why. I have seen it over and over again the attempts to silence and shame people in this community like the Skepchicks, Greta Christina, and others. I have seen white people in this community demand, as though they are owed an answer, for black atheists/skeptics/freethinkers to justify the way we identify ourselves and whine with phony accusations of reverse racism that they don’t feel comfortable or welcome. And in their dismissals and harassment of “others” I can always read their meaning: “your experiences, your opinions are not legitimate without our seal of approval.” And very little in my experience gets the seal of approval in this community unless it assumes whiteness, maleness, and heterosexuality. And if you ask me, this is one more piece that supports the same conclusion.

And yet many in our community are still hesitant to educate themselves and recognize that freeing yourself from religion takes a lot more than switching your religious status to “agnostic” or “atheist” on Facebook and being a skeptic means more than reading scientific literature or blogs. The only thing that I am left to imagine is that many within the movement are happy to see its leadership and conferences filled with white males like the ivory towers many of them aspire to or worship; convinced that their meritocracy is above racial, gender, and other socioeconomic biases. Well the data is in… so now what?

I think its time to reflect and ask ourselves honestly about what we would like this community to be like- to look like? And I think that we have to stop burying our heads in the sand to avoid the discomfort of confronting these issues. I think some of us have to stop making the focus of skepticism so narrow that it excludes and makes us hostile to others. Who’s with me?

**Before anyone accuses me of trying to win the oppression Olympics (because I know that charge and inevitable the race card will be thrown out), all I can say is I was born what I am, when I was, into the world as it is, and I can only describe it from that perspective- from that lens. This lens doesn’t have the privilege of being rose colored and I don’t have the luxury of believing that being a black woman has nothing to do with how I am treated or regarded within this culture. **

Recommended Reading (In no particular order):

Anti-Intellect

Dr. Annalise Fonza

Ian Cromwell

Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson

Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars

The Christian Delusion

Greta Christina

Zinnia Jones

Skepchick

 

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