Category Archives: Social Justice

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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On Division and Solidarity

Discussions about solidarity and division in the secular community are nothing new. There are people in the larger movement that feel that only strict matters related to church and state separation or science advocacy, secular hallmarks, should be central. Feminists and those interested in addressing homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, are termed as “Social Justice Warriors”. A term that is meant to be derogatory and dismissive, as though those concerns are not “real”. When we offer critiques on the larger movement, we are seen as divisive.It is funny that within the secular movement that even organizations and leaders who claim to be humanist would regard our calls for inclusion, for compassion, and for even the very recognition of the value of lives who are not afforded the same type of regard extended to white cis-hetero bodies as divisive. What kind of humanism is that? None that I recognize.

Thankfully this hasn’t deterred brilliant leaders, bloggers, and activists like Sikivu Hutchinson, Greta Christina, Kimberly Veal, Heina Dadabhoy, Rebecca Watson, Surly Amy, and others from speaking out and confronting many of the contradictions of the professed humanism of the secular “elite”. I have taken the same position that many of them have taken regarding these “divisions”: they exist for a reason and they are necessary. Not all divisions are petty or small. And those divisions which concern deeply held principles, should not be disregarded for the sake of petty solidarity.

Petty solidarity is simply falling in line, never challenging the status quo, not speaking out when you or when you see others dehumanized. Petty solidarity demands SILENCE. Petty solidarity makes one complicit in VIOLENCE. Petty solidarity never seeks out root causes. Petty solidarity loves it’s empty slogans.

Some divisions exist for good reasons.

Not all “solidarity”, not all “allyship” is productive. Not all “solidarity” or “allyship” lives up to true humanistic ideals.

We can see examples of this throughout history in the struggle for abolition, civil rights, and gender equality. We can see where on the surface those fighting for their humanity and their so-called “allies” appeared to have similar goals but beneath the surface we see how phony and how the beliefs, actions, or inaction of so called allies undermined the overarching goal of achieving full recognition as a human being. Within the abolition movement, for example, there were white abolitionists who fought against the institution of slavery but ultimately did not believe that black people (or any people of color) were in fact equals and deserving of full human and civil rights. The video below illustrates this fact using the example of Tobias Lear:

This video, which is obviously intended to be humorous, is truthful in its depiction of the problem of the popular depictions of white abolitionists as universally heroic and humanistic in their motives. Even while abolitionists like John Brown, and his raid on Harper’s Ferry, are usually regarded with disdain. As Frederick Douglass himself noted, discussion of this incident and various insurrections (if they are ever mentioned) usually focuses on his violence towards the “peaceful” white populace, ignoring the violence that the participants were attempting to end.

Differences existed between Frederick Douglass and other prominent black leaders such as Henry Highland Garnet. Douglass regarded Garnet, who by the way was the first African American to speak before Congress, as “too radical”. Though, I wish he might have heeded, as we all should, some the wisdom of Henry Highland Garnet who once said, ” Eternal justice holds a heavy mortgage against us and will require the payment of the last farthing.” Perhaps, if he and others had heeded those words, the work of Reconstruction, The Civil Rights Movement, and other movements might not have been left unfinished and people of color, in particular, would not be as we find ourselves today.

Frederick Douglass was also a supporter of women’s sufferage even found himself contending with white supremacists within that movement just as Ida B. Wells and black suffragists did. He specifically spoke out against these elements and named Frances Willard, a women’s suffragist, who like many whites in that movement, defended mass lynchings and violence towards black men as necessary for the preservation of white womanhood.

Should Douglass or Ida B. Wells have remained silent? Should they have allowed women like Frances Willard to say those horribly racist things and simply continued raising the banner for women’s suffrage? Should Ida B. Wells have been content marching behind the white delegations just so that she could be in solidarity with the overall goal of women’s suffrage? Surely not.

Even within the activist movements of the Reconstruction Period and the 1960’s there were divisions among black men and women regarding “the place” of women in that movement. Some black men in those movements felt that black women’s clubs and black women leaders like Daisy Bates undermined their black masculinity, something they felt these movements would redeem. What was missed by them and remains missed by many is that the focus on this narratives erased the struggles of black women. Black women were not seen as having suffered as much due to racism because they were able to find works as domestics at times when black men were deliberately excluded from the work force. But black women didn’t exactly have it made, as salve nor as domestics. In addition to sexual harassment and sexual violence black women faced the were also vulnerable to wage discrimination and other unfair and now illegal practices. We still are to a  certain extent.These narratives have also excluded how racism and sexism made black women vulnerable to domestic and sexual violence within their own communities as well.

Similar divisions continue to plague the mainstream feminism movement, as women of color, poor women, and women in the developing world struggle to have their voices heard in a movement where the lives of white upper middle class women are centered. A movement where some of these white privileged women tell the rest of us to “lean in” while ignoring the systemic discrimination that keeps us out.

None of these issues are trivial. None of these divisions are meaningless.

And so too, when we look at the state of the secular community with it’s divisions, we should keep in mind that some divisions, some stands, are necessary. We cannot be expected to trade our humanity and dignity for separation of church and state, atheist memorials, and meaningless rallies where we gloat over how smart we all are for coming to non-belief. Some of us need and desire more. Some of us want to challenge dogmas beyond what deity may lurk in the cosmos. Some of us don’t want to dehumanize the faithful. Some of us don’t want to blame faith for “crippling” communities of color without acknowledging the more significant impact of white supremacy and institutional discrimination. We don’t want to be Charlie Hebdo, because while we value free speech and freedom of the press, we recognize that speech can also contribute to violence and that speech can also dehumanize. We recognize that satire can also contribute to the oppression of others. And, yes, we love science and reason but we know that they aren’t enough. We know that they are tools. They are tools that can build better futures or destroy lives, humanity of others, and even the planet itself. And because we know these things we are comfortable with division. Because sometimes divisions matter.

So what is solidarity?

It is putting aside your privilege to stand in defense of others like Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who lost their lives along with James Chaney in their efforts to fight for the right of black people to be represented. Solidarity is not affirming that #AllLivesMatter when black and brown ones are ended by state violence or banished by disproportionate incarceration. It isn’t engaging in narratives that claim that the “moral arc” that Martin Luther King said “bends towards justice” is somehow pulled by “science and reason” (as is claimed by Michael Shermer*), without at the very least acknowledging that both have pulled that arc in the opposite direction as well. It means we do not simply defer to power or the privileged. And we don’t just give them credit because they utter nice things about diversity, or even because they allow a small number of minorities to have a voice in their movement. It isn’t being able to point at a single black friend (who probably has never been to your house). And as beautiful and as touching as some moments of altruism can be, that time you did a favor for a black person doesn’t count either. Solidarity is recognizing the humanity and the needs of your fellow human being EVEN WHEN IT IS NOT CONVENIENT FOR YOU TO DO SO, and responding. And it means that we challenge one another to be and to do better. That, is what solidarity is.

*Michael Shermer wrote a book, The Moral Arc, that makes the grand claim that reason and science are the forces that are driving humanity towards a better morality.

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“ALL MY SKINFOLK AIN’T KINFOLK.”: THE NEED TO APPROACH BLACK PATRIARCHAL MALE LEADERSHIP SKEPTICALLY PT. 2

 

If you have been donating to Reverend Deke O’Malley Dr. Umar Johnson, I’m not saying that you have been swindled, BUT something doesn’t add up here. According to Dr. Umar Johnson, he was given until August 21st to raise $5 million to purchase the defunct former HBCU, St. Paul’s College. In his video he pleads and implores his audience to donate so that he can purchase the 135 acres and 31 buildings that was once housed and educated so many. Several blogs and even Black Enterprise’s  Be Smart Blog were so enthusiastic about Johnson’s scant proposal for the purchase of the campus and the opening of his Frederick Douglass & Marcus Garvey RGB International Leadership Academy that none bothered to ask any tough questions. They couldn’t muster the least bit of skepticism. And that is unfortunate because as it turns out today 135 acres of St. Paul’s College and the Student Center were scheduled to be auctioned off today.

 

What are we raising money for again? Cause something in the milk ain't clean.

What are we raising money for again? Cause something in the milk ain’t clean.

And today (unless there were no bids) St. Paul’s College , most of it anyway, has likely been sold. So was Johnson lying when he stated that he was given until August 21st?  Was he lying about trying to purchase the entire campus? Did he only intend part of the $5 million to purchase part of St. Paul’s and intend the rest towards maintenance and the starting of his school? These are questions only Johnson can answer. Maybe another look at the video where he requests donations can give us a clue.

 

 

That’s right ladies and gentleman Dr. Umar Johnson stated:

I am here at the historic St. Paul’s College. This beautiful campus, 135 acres of which I hope to make the Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey RBG International Leadership Academy for African Children… I am hoping that you will help me keep this college in the hands of the African American community…. We need this 135 acres for our children. We have the dormitories. We have the gymnasium. We have the lecture halls. We have the cafeteria. We have the beautiful student center…”

Does he mean this student center?

 

St Paul's college 3

Seriously?

I can’t say for sure what his intentions were or are but I think those of you that have donated have the right to demand to know what will be done with the $100,000 that he has supposedly raised so far. Johnson has demonstrated once again how easy it is for us to be duped by charismatic male leadership especially when they manipulate us via our hopes and or fears. Many of us were swayed when he stated:
“I want this school to be a blueprint, a role model  to every other independent African school in the world. to show them that African children are not the intellectual inferiors of European Americans. ”

Looks like we need a better architect.

marcus and frederick

 

Recommended Reading

“ALL MY SKINFOLK AIN’T KINFOLK.”: THE NEED TO APPROACH BLACK PATRIARCHAL MALE LEADERSHIP SKEPTICALLY

 

References

Auction

http://motleys.com/auction/historic-st-pauls-college-lawrenceville-va-founded-1888

http://www.motleys.com/auction/offering-1-3-Lawrenceville-VA-Saint+PaulsCollege-33Buildings-130AC

http://motleys.com/auction/offering-2-3-Lawrenceville-VA-23058SF-5.55-AC-StudentCenter

 

Press

http://diverseeducation.com/article/64725/

http://naturallymoi.com/2014/06/news/black-man-works-to-raise-5m-for-an-all-boys-academy-for-black-boys/

http://www.blackenterprise.com/education/dr-umar-johnson-launches-initiative-to-fund-all-black-boys-academy/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“All my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.”: The need to approach black patriarchal male leadership skeptically

Charing Ball recently wrote an excellent article for Madame Noire, where she discusses the latest shenanigans of Dr. Umar Johnson, a favorite in many afrocentric/ black nationalist/ Pan-Africanist circles. Johnson is currently seeking donations to buy St. Paul’s College a former HBCU that closed June 30, 2013. Johnson is proposing to buy the property for $5 million dollars and to start the Frederick Douglass Marcus Garvey  RGB International Leadership Academy. Charing Ball aptly lays out many reasons why this is problematic. She discusses his homophobia and his misogyny which can be seen in many of the videos of lectures and interviews he has given online. Throughout his work are bizarre conspiracy theories about homosexuality as plot by white supremacists to destroy or depopulate the black community and a host of other pseudo-scientific views. He is also a misogynist who blames black women for psychologically damaging their sons and making them gay. He is also featured in the Hidden Colors series, directed by fellow pseudo-historian Tariq Nasheed. I shudder to think what hateful men this school would turn out, when its founders ideologies label black women and black gays and lesbians as race traitors or potential enemies of the black community.

But another one of the big issues with his proposal is his lack of a business plan. Johnson proposes to purchase the campus for $5 million but there is no discussion of the annual cost of running or maintaining the campus. Or what tuition may cost to families who are daft enough to send their children to be influenced by this man. Not to mention that this would be a pretty ostentatious move for anyone to make, but particularly when they haven’t even opened or operated a school themselves. There is absolutely no indication from his previous endeavors that he is capable of running a food truck, let alone an 11-building 185 acre college campus.  Doesn’t seem to be a good start for a school, the aims of which are to teach students how to be  self-employed and entrepreneurial, does it?

Johnson has also opted for a few of the least transparent ways to fund raise in the digital age utilizing donations from PayPal and snail  mail. The lack of transparency, his dubious credentials, and his hateful views should be more than enough to give one pause. It has been interesting especially to see people I know who are apt to regard church finances skeptically due to a lack of transparency and follow through, expressing enthusiasm over the mere two and a half minute video of Johnson requesting donations. It reminds me of the film When Cotton Comes to Harlem, adapted from the novel by Chester Himes. In it Reverend Deke O’Malley presents himself as a Marcus Garvey like figure, raising funds for a ship line to transport black people in America to Africa. It doesn’t take long before it is revealed that O’Malley is running a scam. The film is pretty entertaining but what it impressed upon me as a child is that not everyone who claims to represent or work towards the betterment of the black community or social justice is doing so. I cannot say with absolutely certainty that this will turn out to be a scam like the one in the film but I think that given the lack of forethought and transparency that it is certainly likely. But, even if Johnson’s plans for the donated funds he is receiving are above board (since I doubt that he will raise the $5 million or be able to maintain the St. Paul’s Campus if he were able to acquire it), there is no way that he can be working to improve the black community while embracing an ideology that casts parts of that community, the same gender loving black men and women, black mothers, etc as race traitors, mentally ill, or otherwise deviant. It is an ideology that he intends to teach to impressionable young children.

The defense of Johnson and reactions to the criticism of Charing Ball is demonstrative of the paranoia and misogyny that seems to be part and parcel of many of these afrocentric/ Pan-Africanist/ black nationalist or what I like to call tofu-dashikiist communities. Merely being a woman questioning the motives or methods of people like Johnson, Tariq Nasheed, and others is enough to get you labeled as a lesbian (as though that is the worst thing you can be) or “negro bed wench”. This is something I have experienced directly on many occasions, including, when I and Kimberly Veal criticized the Hidden Colors series. What does it say about these men, these movements, and their followers, when any question or challenge to their views is met with such vitriol? What does it say that challenges to their world view are not evaluated based on their merits? To me it says that they value ideology above all even the community they are supposed to help.

 

Recommended Reading

https://rhoadestoreality.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/afrocentrism/

https://rhoadestoreality.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/silly-arguments-the-law-of-reproduction/

 

 

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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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“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

Contradiction(s)

Contradiction is a film by Jeremiah Camara about:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

combined

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

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

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

No, I didn't make that up either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continues…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Camara’s response

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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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