The Racial Politics of Atheism | RD10Q | Religion Dispatches

The Racial Politics of Atheism | RD10Q | Religion Dispatches.

Interview with Sikivu Hutchinson on the themes and issues explored in her groundbreaking new book.

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Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

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God’s Body, Good Christians & the Black Other


From Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

By Sikivu Hutchinson

It’s a good time to be Christian in America. The dark dirty era of persecution has receded and being Christian, shouting it loud and balls to the breeze proud without the possibility of rebuke, is sexy. Ads from Internet dating sites like Christian Singles beckon during prime time, the Christian catch phrase “I’m blessed” has become a national bromide, and pop culture serves up Americana holiness in one big 14 carat crucifix. The hippest chicest celebs don’t leave home without megawatt crucifix bling, network TV dramas crown wayward white women “Good Christian Bitches,” and superstar mega preachers command 24-7 branding platforms on slick cable TV shows that hawk their latest motivational pap. Of course, there is nothing new about the latter; in the 1980s prosperity pimps like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Pat Robertson parlayed TV evangelism into a multi-billion dollar industry. But twenty first century pimping is distinguished by its ubiquity, fueled by the Internet and a glut of religious cable stations that are more accessible to mainstream viewers. In the age of Barack Obama, the brute force revivalism of the Religious Right has made once benign issues like birth control partisan and even gotten the yellow-bellied mass media shrieking about the right’s “war on women.”

Still, the Religious Right has been practically virtuosic in its 2+2=5 mass doublespeak; convincing mainstream America that Christians are the new minority and that commie pinko “secular progressives” (Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly’s preferred “smear”) are at the helm of a socialist conspiracy. During the 2012 presidential race GOP candidate Rick Perry repeatedly played the Christian victim card in a desperate bid to remain relevant with the very same white evangelicals that courted him in the early stages of his candidacy. After flubbing the presidential debates his numbers plummeted and white evangelicals ditched him for Rick Santorum. Prior to the Iowa Caucuses Perry ran a series of ads boldly declaring that he was not “ashamed” to say he was a Christian. The most campy one was entitled “Strong” and featured Perry striding through the grass in full blown alpha male mode, inviting viewers to admire his impeccably feathered seventies soap star helmet hair and Iron John jaw. Perry blasts Obama’s “war” on religion, the indecency of allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and the prohibition on prayer in schools. Tellingly, the narrative that Christianity and Christian values are under siege by the first Black president is one of white evangelicals’ favorite fairy tales. Because of his blackness Barack Obama could no more be a legitimate Christian than Fidel Castro. During the campaign Rick Santorum even went so far as to vilify Obama as a suspect Christian touting a “phony theology not based on the Bible.” None of this vitriol accompanied Bill Clinton’s presidency. Clinton could be as raunchy a philandering cracker as he wanted to be and still be God’s child, a good Southern Baptist with only a symbolic connection to his faith.

When it comes to religion and faith, white outsider status can’t compete with the black Other. I was reminded of this legacy when an African American and a white teacher got into an argument about whether or not the U.S. is a Christian nation during one of my teacher training sessions. The school where the workshop was being held is predominantly black and Latino, with a high dropout rate and a low four-year college going rate. After a high profile incident in which a gun in a student’s backpack accidentally went off in a classroom, the school was widely stereotyped by the local media as a dead end repository of lawless black and brown youth. Nonetheless, there are many students at the school who are achieving and showing leadership, contrary to the stereotype. During the discussion, the African American teacher staunchly defended the notion that the U.S. is a Christian nation. The white teacher, who is notorious for making racist paternalistic comments about students (as well as homophobic slurs about a colleague), swaggeringly proclaimed his non-belief and declared that the U.S. has always been defined by the separation of church and state. It was clear that the “outsider” white man had no fear about being ostracized for his renegade views in a fight with a preachy black teacher. The reality is that even the most abject disreputable white non-believer doesn’t suffer any racial consequences for his non-belief. There might be political consequences; but even disreputable white men don’t surrender their universal subject status over a little matter of heathenism. You might be a Godless “freedom-hating” flag burning pinko commie infidel but you were still human and still a citizen until proven otherwise. And this has been the paradox for African American non-believers. Historically, being Christian has been a de facto pathway to becoming moral, to becoming American, and to becoming a provisional citizen.

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

“I just finished reading your book “Moral Combat” and I wanted to thank you for writing it. I am an atheist college professor teaching sociology (mostly criminology and globalization) and while I enjoy reading “New Atheist” folks like Dawkins and Hitchens I was always disappointed in their lack of context (you wrote about that beautifully). There is virtually no sociology in their writing, and you brilliantly argue that humanists should be more concerned with racial, gender and other forms of social justice; and that other secular voices need to be (genuinely) heard.”

Dr. Nathan Pino, Department of Sociology, Texas State University

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Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

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So much conversation regarding atheism and humanism gains no  traction, and does little to push beyond areas of comfort and well  worn arguments.  Sikivu Hutchinson’s work offers an important  corrective to this.  With clear and sharp insights, Hutchinson pushes  readers to recognize and tackle the patterns of thought and action  that limit any real ability to respond to issues of race, gender, and  sexuality from a transformative and humanist perspective.  Read her  work, but fasten your seat belt first!” 

 — Anthony Pinn, author African American Humanist Principles and The End of God Talk: An African American Humanist Theology

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“Innocent” From Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s popularity amongst conservative women highlights the gender nuances of America’s Jim Crow era nostalgia. God’s body has both religious and secular overtones in the pop culture fixation on and battle over women’s fertility. Over the past decade there has been an explosion of super mom reality TV shows featuring tabloid ready teenage mothers, white suburban mothers of multiples, alpha nannies and mega breeders like the ultra Christian fundamentalist Duggar family. The vast majority of these programs spotlight white families and traditional straight two-parent households.

The intersection of voyeurism, fertility innovations, and reactionary family values has kept these shows profitable. Similarly, tabloid obsession with the pregnancies, babies and reproductive dramas of (generally) white celebrities have also become an integral part of mainstream discourse. Littering the Internet, the first titillating pictures of celebrity baby bumps have become the prenatal equivalent of porn money shots. Despite all the mainstream media’s chest-beating post-feminist rhetoric, it is implied that having a child is still the pinnacle of femininity. Tabloid validation of fertility becomes a female celebrity’s most coveted honor as websites breathlessly chart the progress of Beyonce, Britney, Mariah, Tori, Celine, ad nauseum. This theme is amply borne out in the train wreck appeal of popular reality shows like Teen Mom and Sixteen and Pregnant, whose young white “stars” are regularly featured in the pages of People, In Touch, and US magazines. Lauren Dolgen, mastermind of both Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant claims that both shows are supposed to be cautionary. The audience becomes absorbed with the experiences of young girls confronting the life challenges and hardships of premature parenthood. Many of my students confess that watching these shows has become a guilty pleasure. But as young black and Latina women they are quite clear that none of their friends will ever be spotlighted as sexy baby-to-bling Horatio Alger success stories in the tabloids ala teen mother and GOP evangelical poster child for illegitimacy Bristol Palin.

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“Straight To Hell” from Godless Americana, forthcoming Fall 2012


By Sikivu Hutchinson

Northerners are trained to revile the “primitivism” of the South. It’s a reflex borne of the legacy of slavery as well as an American gothic of trailer parks, inbred cousins, moonshine swilling troglodytes, toothless Klansmen wielding Confederate flags, redneck police brandishing fire hoses. In the newsreel of the unconscious, the South becomes the face of drooling unvarnished Bible-drenched racism, the North’s demonic double. It is envisioned as the site of racism’s “original sin,” even though one of the first and largest slave strongholds was in 17th century Manhattan.

But the Black Northerner has a complex, ambivalent relationship to this narrative of opposites. In the early-to-mid 20th century Southern terrorism and economic inequity spurred the Great Migration of African Americans to Northern cities of “opportunity.” The Northern drive was the stuff of legend and lore, firing the prose of writers as generationally diverse as Richard Wright and Toni Morrison. Black church denominations like the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church played a big role in helping African Americans transition to deeply segregated Northern black communities that were often hostile to Southern transplants. Yet kin and communal ties kept black migrants spiritually and emotionally wedded to the South. As much as the South was the primal scene for black slavery it was also a source of close knit black community, culture, and linguistic traditions. It was a space where African Americans were segregated yet provisionally self-sufficient, forced by necessity to establish their own businesses, schools, banks, medical practices, and cultural centers.

Writer Zora Neale Hurston notoriously rejected the antidote of “Northern” integration. In much of her work she extolled the virtues of black self-sufficiency and rugged individualism. For Hurston, these values were best embodied by her adopted hometown Eatonville, Florida. Reflecting on the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision Hurston wryly noted that “it is a contradiction in terms to scream race pride and equality while at the same time spurning Negro teachers and self-association.” Southern black cultural traditions were an example of that venerable heritage of self-association. Hurston disdained what she perceived as blacks’ tendency to grovel for white moral and social validation. Not only was integration a smokescreen but it falsely absolved whites of their complicity in the institutionalization of white supremacy. Contemporary bromides about the increase of multiracial relationships, expanded U.S. Census categories for multiracial people, and the alleged decline of racial identification amongst the “Millennial” generation only disguise the folly of post-racialism. Indeed, according to a 2011 survey by Colorlines Applied Research Center, the claim that Millennials believe racism has magically receded in the age of Obama is invalid. Race and racism are very much relevant to so-called Millennials, especially when it comes to issues of over-incarceration and employment discrimination.

From where many of us living in areas that have been demonized as ghettoes, inner cities or urban jungles sit, the social construction of the black and brown other is still a vital part of white Christian nationalist solidarity. Poll after poll has shown that the Tea Party and white evangelicals speak with the same voice. Historically, much of this sentiment emerges from the kind of deep white supremacist and class-based resentment exemplified by Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy. The Tea Party’s antipathy toward the recent Occupy Movement demonstrated that it is not really interested in upending the status quo but in exploiting anti-establishment rhetoric to maintain white supremacy and capitalist disparities in wealth and power. Most of the top Republican presidential candidates have heeded this clarion call to Manifest Destiny. From former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s entreaty to shiftless black folks on food stamps to Senator Ron Paul’s reputed warning about a black driven “race war,” the politics of black-baiting will never become out of date or unprofitable when it comes to appeals to white nationalism. In trying to shore up its Midwestern and Southern base the GOP has engaged in a particularly fantastical brand of doubletalk, framing the tepid Obama administration as the architect of a war against Christians. It is tempting to attribute this smear to Obama’s specious reputation as a liberal Democrat. Yet there was no such culture war propaganda during the Clinton administration. Clinton was a good Southern Baptist who could quote scripture and hold forth on biblical truths with the best evangelicals. But Obama’s oft-displayed ties to the Black Church have done little to raise his stock with white evangelicals. Apparently no amount of mugging with megachurch pastors or weaving scripture into his presidential addresses will alter the right’s view of Obama as a rabid secularist. For the right, Obama’s fireside God bless America’s have about as much purchase as Phyllis Wheatley’s paeans to the moral purity of Africans did for Virginia slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson. All God’s children may have wings, but in the post-racial U.S. a “nigger” with a bible, a Harvard degree and the biggest seat on Air Force One is still just that.

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Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

Excerpt: Godless Americana, Forthcoming Summer 2012
ISBN: 978-0615586106
By Sikivu Hutchinson

The Judgment day billboard sprawls luminously below like a big tricked out index card over Memphis. The Rapture is coming, a world-wide crucible spreading death and destruction to the unrepentant of Graceland and beyond. One month before the Christian zealots’ judgment day and the Memphis airport vibrates with the ant flow of disembarking passengers and carnivores getting down to the serious business of waiting in line for ribs. There are rib joints bulging with impatient customers every few feet, underscoring why the Bible Belt struggles with epidemic obesity. Torrential rains and a tornado watch in Alabama, where I am scheduled to give a talk, have delayed planes and stranded hundreds. Passengers pace, prattle into their cell phones, slump morosely onto the floor, eyes scanning the horizon anxiously for any sign that the clouds will part, disgorge a plane and free them from the finger-licking blitz of Neely’s Barbecue.

But this is God’s country, and deliverance is all in good time. As only the fifth most religious state in the U.S. Tennessee bows to its neighbors, Alabama and Mississippi, in nationalist fervor and divinely ordained racist splendor. Decades after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the Southern states have risen up in a spasm of anti-undocumented immigrant xenophobia. Following Arizona’s lead, Alabama, Ole Miss and Tennessee have passed legislation that either encourages or mandates criminal profiling of undocumented immigrants and their families, a most Christian ethos. What will judgment day look like for racist xenophobic states and their neo-Confederate policy makers? Harold Camping, geriatric mastermind of the now faltering California-based Christian radio empire that launched 2011’s doomsday cult, offered no clue. For fundamentalist Christians, racism—disguised as “America first”, patriotism, bootstraps free enterprise or any number of claptrap euphemisms—has always been a badge of honor.

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Moral Combat, An Enlightening Book from a Feminist Point of View

 

April 28, 2011, Lecture @ University of South Alabama

 

Amazon Reader J. Gomez writes:

“Moral Combat” is an enlightening book about the current struggle of black humanist atheist beliefs from a feminist point of view. This informative 280-page book is composed of the following eight chapters: 1. “Out of the Closet”: Black Atheists in Moral Combat, 2. This Far by Faith? Race traitors and Gender Apostates, 3. The Politics of Urban Religiosity, 4. Black Infidels: Secular Humanism and African American Social Thought, 5. Not Knocking on Heaven’s Door, 6. In God We Trust: Whiteness and Public Morality, 7. The White Stuff: New Atheism and Its Discontents, and 8. The Road Ahead.

Positives:
1. Well researched, elegant and passionate prose.
2. I love books that provides me with a unique and new perspective on topics that I care about and this book does exactly that.
3. A book with conviction. Ms. Hutchinson provides compelling arguments for all her positions.
4. Great use of studies and well grounded references to back up her points.
5. This is the first book that makes it perfectly clear to me why African Americans embraced Christianity. With a number of well conceived explanations that hammers the point home. Bravo!
6. The key differences between black and white atheists.
7. An understanding of African American politics.
8. The courage to come out as an atheist in the black community.
9. The role of patriarchy and its impact.
10. The stranglehold of religion in the African American community.
11. Great wisdom throughout, “When the language of a given creed opposes human rights, no moral high ground can be claimed.”
12. Religion and economics.
13. The dangers of faith based initiatives. Including the prison variety…
14. Prayers as the primary means of emotional therapy and why that is so.
15. Great quotes from African American atheists. “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” – James Baldwin.
16. Frederick Douglass the intellectual pioneer of African American free thought.
17. A historical look at African American atheism.
18. How the business of organized religion is detrimental to poor blacks. Fascinating topic.
19. How the Bible’s view of violence against women justify treating them like property.
20. The truth about morality.
21. Thought-provoking book that challenges old cultural views. Example, scientific studies that indicate that there is “little solid evidence of sex differences in children’s brains.” My skeptic nature will force me to follow up on this since it goes against my preconceived notion but I will accept the facts according to the best evidence.
22. So much enlightening history in this book including recent history such as the Texas Board of Education making a mockery of the very institution they are suppose to uphold.
23. The issue of abortion.
24. God as the last refuge of scoundrels.
25. Pigliucci versus Harris on “scientism.”
26. The importance of atheist movements incorporating more women and people of color.
27. Moral values in proper context.
28. Park space and its impact to children, interesting.
29. Incarceration rates and race.
30. Secular Humanism and the power to do good. In the African American community this will only be viable if it is culturally relevant.
31. The links worked great! Great references too.
32. One of the best Kindle values!

Negatives:
1. The focus was on the African American atheist experience in Los Angeles so I wonder if that correlates to the rest of the country. I would assume so.
2. Graphs and illustrations never hurt to better illustrate points.
3. So many great books mentioned, a separate bibliography would have been welcomed.
4. Having to wait for Ms. Hutchinson’s next book.

In summary, this is an enlightening book. One of the main reasons I love to read it’s because great authors like Ms. Hutchinson take me to a world that I admittedly know very little about and expose me to new and interesting perspectives. The author summarizes in one sentence many of the topics covered in this excellent book, “For many black atheist women, atheism’s appeal lies in its deconstruction of the bankrupt more, values and ideologies that prop up patriarchy, sexism, heterosexism, racism, white supremacy, imperialism, and economic injustice.” An important book, I highly recommend it!

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Moral Combat Explored

Moral Combat Explored: A Chat with Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson

FROM BRONZE MAGAZINE:

She’s black; she’s a feminist; and she’s an atheist. Author and lecturer Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson makes no pretense about her progressive “non- beliefs.” In her book, Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars, Dr. Hutchinson reveals how atheists of color are challenging the whiteness of “New Atheism” and its singular emphasis on science at the expense of social and economic justice. The book also highlights the cultural influence of African American humanist and atheist social thought in America. Dr. Hutchinson spoke with us more about the foundation of her “non-beliefs” and how they influenced the writing of her book.

BM: Hello Sikivu, it is an honor to be able to speak with you today. Atheism is a term that is not usually acknowledged within the Black community. Can you tell us what it means (to you) to be an African American female atheist?

SH: It means being able to question the orthodoxies and conventions of mainstream African American experience, particularly when it comes to how black women are supposed to behave and what they are supposed to believe.

BM: When/how did atheism enter your life?

SH: I grew up in a secular household. My parents were progressive and politically conscious. They were both steeped in the radical activism and intellectual foment of the Sixties. My upbringing was very black-identified; black literature, black social history, black activism. There were no Bibles on our bookshelves Prayer and God talk was never a part of the home culture of my immediate family. Because there was no indoctrination into God belief I had no authentic emotional connection to this idea of a supernatural omnipotent being manning the universe’s puppet strings. Naturally though most of my extended family and friends were religious so my limited church connections came through them. In retrospect however, my parents were no doubt mindful of the stigma black communities attach to non-believers and non-belief. So although there was never any explicit talk about atheism in our household I began to self-identify as one after enduring the hostile cultural backwater of my Catholic high school, where writing Beatle lyrics on your paper (as I did in 9th grade) got you branded a reprobate.  MORE@

http://bronzemagonline.com/moral-combat-explored-a-chat-with-dr-sikivu-hutchinson/

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