A generation ago a typical humanist group might have been little more than a few older, white men meeting in the basement of a Unitarian church, arguing points of philosophy that have little relevance in the real world. That has changed, as atheist and humanist groups have sprung up in a much wider range of settings, from schools to pubs to workplaces, and as young people, women, people of color, gays and lesbians, and others have helped the notion of personal secularity gain traction in the wider population.
But still, despite this expansion, many would like to see the secular movement experience faster and broader growth in African-American and Latino communities. Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, a Los Angeles author and secular activist, is one of those working to expand the movement in communities of color. With the authority of churches in those communities very strong, she argues that the secular movement is unlikely to challenge that authority unless it firmly addresses issues of social and economic justice. This message resonates with many—especially among those humanists who see such traditionally liberal issues as being central to humanist ethics—but not with everyone. Some would prefer that the movement focus exclusively on church-state separation and other so-called "culture war" issues, for example, while some atheists even describe themselves as conservative. Below, I chat with Hutchinson about her views on this ongoing discussion.
35 years ago, on November 19, 1978, 73-year-old Hyacinth Thrash awoke to a nightmare in the jungles of Guyana. In one of the largest murder-suicides in world history, 918 people from her Peoples Temple church lay dead before her eyes, poisoned by a lethal cocktail of cyanide and fruit punch. The images from this gothic scene of carnage have become indelible: bodies, clad in simple workaday clothing, stretch into the distance in rows, face down on the ground. Seldom discussed and less widely known, however, is the fact that they are overwhelmingly black bodies.
"In Godless Americana, Sikivu Hutchinson is daring, resourceful and able.
She is the current vanguard regarding the freethought movement, and she recognizes those women who in the past have been the vanguard as well.
She makes distinctions that have long been ignored by the “mainstream” agnostics, atheists and secular groups. She backs all of it up with thorough research and well-warranted vitriol that sums up the centuries wherein America’s peculiar past has contributed to an exclusion of black women by the suffragette and other freedom-seeking movements.
What puts Hutchinson in the vanguard is her ability to recognize the dynamics of why and how the exclusion has and continues to occur: non-white peoples— and in particular, black people—have sought religiosity and churches as sanctuary where no real sanctuary exists in America. (The 1963 church bombing in Huntsville, AL proved this.) As such, churches have become the de facto centers of culture in the community."
Original article can be found here.
From Secular Woman:
Woman of the Year
Sikivu Hutchinson was chosen as Woman of the year due to her being a radical humanist activist, educator, and writer who advocates for social justice within academic and atheist movement circles, while putting her theories into practice in her own community of Los Angeles. She is a beacon for secular women throughout the world. In 2013 she released her latest book: Godless Americana: Race & Religious Rebels.
She is an editor at blackfemlens.org and freethoughtblogs.com/blackskeptics.org. She can also be found through her own website www.sikivuhutchinson.com and through the organization www.blackskepticsla.org. Also, be sure to check out her previous book, Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars. Sikivu is also involved in the Women’s Leadership Project which is is a feminist service learning program designed to educate and train young middle and high school age women in South Los Angeles to take ownership of their school-communities.
"Godless Americana" is an eye-opening passionate critique of the current socioeconomic struggle faced by people of color. It also exposes the role white Christian nationalism has in vilifying urban communities. It's a quest for how Humanism can be relevant to such communities. You may not agree with everything Dr. Hutchinson has to offer but we can no longer afford to be uninformed of the circumstances that have negatively and unfairly defined people of color. This revealing and at times uncomfortable 234-page book is composed of the following seven chapters: 1. American Terror, 2. God's Body, Science's Brain, 3. Straight to Hell: Christian Fascism and Americana, 4. White Picket Fences, White Innocence, 5. Prayer Warriors and Freethinkers, 6. Seeing Things, and 7. Ungrateful Dead.
Black NonBelievers (Mandisa Thomas, President) and Judith Moore recently sponsored an event in Atlanta where Sikivu Hutchinson spoke on atheism, race, gender, and a plethora of additional cultural and historical influences that shape our society. The talk was a well integrated and an astoundingly complex weaving of the everyday, the academic, and the lived experiences of people of color as they related to religion, non-belief, education, humanism, prison, and more. Kim Rippere had the pleasure of attending, meeting Sikivu and others, enjoying the post event dinner, and asking Sikivu a few follow up questions:
SW: You said the established secular organizations are fetishistically attached to the separation of church of state. What is your understanding of how this limits the movement both in terms of membership and impact?
In a predominantly Black South L.A. continuation school class packed with eleventh and twelfth grade girls, only half want to go to college, few can name role models of color and virtually none have been exposed to literature by women of color. Demonized as the most expendable of the expendable, Black continuation school students are routinely branded as too “at risk”, “challenged” and “deficit-laden” to be “college material”. Coming from backgrounds of abuse, incarceration, foster care and homelessness, these youth are already written off as budding welfare queens and baby mamas. They are at the epicenter of the war against Black children.
Oh to be middle-aged, male, skeptic and white — master of the rational universe. The ad nauseum propagandistic bullshit that atheist/secularis/freethought circles are magically exempt from institutional racism, sexism and heterosexism continues to be blown to bits by allegations of pervasive sexual harassment, assault and workplace discrimination from women in the field. The most recent allegations by Dr. Karen Stollznow against Skeptical Inquirer editor Ben Radford underscore how deep and intractable male entitlement, privilege, and predation are in an industry that thrives on in your face elitism, balls-to-the-breeze racial politics and intellectual exclusivity. Stollznow’s claim that she was assaulted and harassed by Radford–while organization heads at the JREF and CFI apparently did next to nothing to censure or purge the predator from their ranks–is further testimony to the complicity of atheist leadership with a culture of sexist policing, control and slut-shaming. Time and again, in industry after industry, sexual harassers and predators are protected, promoted, propped up and rewarded for their criminal behavior and power politics. Indeed, many harassers are rewarded with promotions and other perks that keep the good times and career/retirement dividends rolling for the predator long after the victim(s) has either resigned due to stress, been marginalized and frozen out of promotional opportunities for being an “uppity bitch” or completely kicked to the curb. CFI’s silence on Radford (and others, PZ Myers’ blog has an in depth take from former JREF employee Carrie Poppy) is further indication of its lack of institutional credibility on equity, “diversity” or any other issue that threatens the supremacy of ensconced white male professionals.
Photo credit: http://onwardstate.com/2012/12/14/114885/
In a Salon piece last week called, “Where are the women of new atheism?”, Katie Englehardt described what looks like diminishing participation of women in atheist life. She also encouraged atheist women to more openly embrace their beliefs. But atheist women are very active. These women aren’t visible — and there aren’t more like them — for at least five reasons.
First, women are more devout because they have to be. Women’s religiosity is directly related to economic security. The lack of a social safety net means that women, who are still responsible for the bulk of elder and child care, often need to rely on religious organizations to support themselves and their families. The Catholic Church alone has more than 2,500 local organizations that provide critical safety net services for more than 10 million people annually. The network of friends that develop around churches, mosques and temples likewise become essential partners in caring for families. Those communities are necessarily deeply enmeshed in the daily cadence of life. There are, as Sikivu Hutchinson explains in her book on this subject, Moral Combat, necessary connections between gender, religiosity and social justice...
The Stop Patriarchy coalition’s Abortion Freedom Rides begin July 23rd
In her book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Alice Walker writes, “What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmother’s time? Our great-grandmothers’ day? Did you have a genius of a great-great-grandmother who died under some ignorant and depraved white overseer’s lash? Or was her body broken and forced to bear children (who were more often than not sold away from her)—eight, ten, fifteen, twenty children—when her one joy was the thought of modeling heroic figures of rebellion?”
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Events & Speaking Engagements
|African Americans for Humanism Conference|
Fri Jan 31 @ 8:00AM
Center for Inquiry, Washington DC
|Mediating Feminisms Roundtable|
Tue Feb 11 @ 8:00AM
Scripps College, Pomona CA
|American Atheists Convention|
Thu Apr 17 @ 8:00AM
Salt Lake City, Utah
By Sikivu Hutchinson"No one ever discussed Trayvon Martin with us in class," said Sydney, an introspective 9th grader, wistfully. Sydney is a participant in my Young Male Scholars pilot at Gardena High School in South Los Angeles. He and a dozen other 9th and 10th graders are having...