Tag Archives: secularists

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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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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