Sunday, October 13, 2019

Justice for Atatiana, Abolish Police Domestic Terrorism

By Sikivu Hutchinson

She was a young, Black female professional and daughter with a vibrant life and blossoming career, cut down in four seconds in an act of domestic terrorism that has devastated a multi-generational family. This past Saturday morning, twenty eight year-old Atatiana Jefferson was murdered in cold blood in her home by a white Fort Worth, Texas police officer responding to a neighbor’s request for a “welfare check”.  The police officer yelled for Jefferson to put her hand up through a window, then fired his weapon four seconds later. Jefferson was playing video games with her eight year-old nephew. The murder of Jefferson comes on the heels of the conviction and puffball sentencing of white female police officer Amber Guyger for the senseless killing of Botham Jean in his Dallas home. Guyger received ten years for murdering Jean, then was the recipient of a stomach turning gesture of courtroom forgiveness from Jean’s brother and the Black female presiding judge. Like scores of innocent African American victims before them, Jefferson and Jean were slain in spaces that were ostensibly safe. In Jefferson’s case, the neighbor believed that they were contacting a “non-emergency” number which wouldn’t require law enforcement. Time and again, Black folks who reach out for “help” and “assistance” from the police either wind up dead themselves or inadvertently cause another Black person to be killed. The blind hope that law enforcement will protect or honor Black life and the sanctity of Black home space has proven lethal for Black folks. From Eulia Love (murdered by LAPD, 1979) to Eleanor Bumpurs (murdered by NYPD, 1984) to Amadou Diallo (murdered by NYPD, 1999) to Jean, Jefferson, and many others, domestic police terrorism has continued to be a toxic mental, emotional, and physical public health threat for communities of color.
Jefferson is the fifth person to have been murdered by Fort Worth police this year. A GoFundMe campaign has been established for her family with the following message:

"Before law enforcement goes about their pattern of villainizing this beautiful peaceful woman, turning her into a suspect, a silhouette, or threat, let me tell you about 28 y/o #AtatianaJefferson “Tay”. She was a Pre-med graduate of Xavier University. She was very close to her family. She was the auntie that stayed up on Friday night playing video games with her 8 year-old nephew. She worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales. Her mom had recently gotten very sick, so she was home taking care of the house and loving her life. There was no reason for her to be murdered. None. We must have justice." 

Folks who give to the GoFundMe should also push the Ft. Worth police commission, Mayor Betsy Price and Texas Governor Greg Abbott to fire and prosecute the officer who murdered Jefferson. After generations and centuries of state-sanctioned murder, bloodshed, and multi-billion dollar police state looting, there can be no more compelling evidence of the need to abolish the police.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Forthcoming 2020 Book: Humanists in the Hood: Unapologetically Black, Feminist, and Heretical

Feminism and atheism are “dirty words” which Americans across the political spectrum love to hate and debate. Throw them into a blender and you have a toxic brew that supposedly defies decency, respectability, and Americana. Add an “unapologetically” Black critique to the mix and it’s a deal breaking social taboo. In this groundbreaking volume, Black feminist writer Sikivu Hutchinson explores how the right wing conservative evangelical backlash in American public policy has inspired new generations of freethinkers, humanists, and atheists of color to challenge conventional gender politics, religious orthodoxy, and homophobic faith traditions. Putting gender at the center of the equation, progressive “Religious Nones” of color are spearheading an anti-racist, social justice humanism; disrupting the “colorblind” ethos of European American church-state separation focused atheist and humanist agendas. These critical interventions build on the lived experiences and social histories of segregated Black and Latinx communities which are increasingly under economic siege. Hutchinson argues that feminist politics, atheism, and humanistic world views offer a valuable and necessary context for social justice change in a polarized climate where Black women’s political power has become a galvanizing national force.

Pre-order @ Indiebound, Amazon and Barnes and Noble 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

White Picket Fence Apocalypse and "Negro Removal"

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Inglewood, circa the late seventies, and there are white kids on the swings and the jungle gyms, roving in the hallways, clutching their milk money all Dennis the Menace freckle faced and anxious, waiting for story time on the magic carpet in the second grade classroom of my elementary school.  Most of them have been bused in as part of a short-lived integration policy implemented by Inglewood Unified. The policy was an outlier. A Hail Mary pass to Kumbaya when there were still a significant number of white families in the westerly parts of a city which once boasted Klan rallies on its major thoroughfare in the 1920s. In this snapshot it is over a decade after the Watts Rebellion, the final catalyst for white flight from South L.A. Wormhole to 2019 and the kids of these reluctant colonists have descended in dog walking, baby strolling, cell phone clanking droves onto the ghettoes they once sneered at steaming warp speed down Manchester Avenue fortified with a ripe helping of Jimmy Buffett at the Forum escaping to the homey comforts of the 405.  Inglewood (once dubbed Ingle-Watts and now on the precipice of two new multi-billion dollar stadium developments that community activists have pushed back on), has become the new “jam” of Becky and Biff with 2.5 kids and a $500k starter home loan to burn on planting white picket fences in the hood.

In a county in which Black homelessness is the highest in the nation, the white picket fence resurgence is a whiplash glimpse into apocalypse for Black homeowners and renters. As Ron Daniels notes in the Institute of Black World Twenty First Century, “What is equally egregious are the attitudes of some of the newcomers whom residents of Black communities sometimes characterize as ‘invaders’ or ‘neo-colonialists.’ This is because some newcomers are not content to become a part of the community; they arrogantly attempt to change the rhythms, culture and character of the community.”  Nationwide, the Black homeownership rate is now lower than it was during the Jim Crow era. And the gap between white and Black homeownership is larger than when the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 (Black homeownership is 30.5% lower than whites).  Coming to L.A. during the Great Migration period in the early-to-mid twentieth century, African Americans were partly seduced by the so-called California Dream of single-family homeownership, a supposed antidote to Jim Crow apartheid. In the ensuing decades, Black homebuyers were run out of the Westmont neighborhood of South L.A., terrorized and swindled out of their 1920s resort property in Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, and blockbusted by angry white mobs in Baldwin Hills. Post Watts Rebellion, sunshine, endless sprawl, and exurban fortresses became the currency of white generational wealth and white supremacy.

Despite the insidious legacy of racially restrictive covenants, redlining, subprime and predatory lending, and outright white domestic terrorism, home ownership has always been the biggest source of generational wealth for African Americans. Sixty two percent of Black wealth is tied to home equity. Yet, Black home equity is hamstrung by institutionalized segregation which depresses home values in communities of color relative to those in predominantly white communities. Disproportionately low levels of Black equity are also impacted by low savings’ rates among African American homeowners.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, “The typical black family with a head of household working full time has less wealth than the typical white family whose head of household is unemployed.” This staggering disparity means that most Black households simply scramble to remain afloat. Savings (much less investment in stocks, bonds, and other high risk market investments) are often difficult to accumulate when folks are one paycheck away from eviction, foreclosure, and potential homelessness.

Hence, the threat of gentrification cuts to the heart of black self-determination in a community that has been hyper-segregated, demonized as crime-ridden, and sold to the highest bidder by Black politicians and white developers.

North of Inglewood, the Crenshaw District’s built environment has become dominated by perpetually clogged streets, epic lane closures, rogue construction, and unhoused folks crammed into campers, vans, cars, tents and sidewalks. Over the past several years, this part of the South L.A. community has been under siege from runaway development rammed down its throat with no grassroots input. One of the most egregious examples is the controversial proposal to erect a 75-foot, 577 unit apartment complex on the corner of Crenshaw and Obama Boulevards. The long vacant site was once home to a Ralph’s supermarket and was originally slated for retail store development.  The proposed “District Square” apartment complex was to be built by developer Arman Gabay. As has been widely reported, Gabay, who was recently indicted and arrested for bribing a County employee to secure a lease, had close ties with Councilman Herb Wesson. Gabay is also in default for millions of dollars in federal loans. The outrage of scofflaw Gabay being granted the contract for the development is not lost on residents who face foreclosure and homelessness due to predatory and subprime lending. Black folks don’t have the luxury or privilege to wrack up loan debt while fronting multi-million dollar residential developments. Gabay exemplifies the  leeway granted to corporate developers who were handed billions of dollars in loans under both the Obama and Trump administrations on the backs of American taxpayers.

At September’s South L.A. Planning Commission, Wesson withdrew his unqualified support for the development, backing an appeal initiated by the Crenshaw Subway Coalition’s Damien Goodmon and area residents. The appeal seeks to postpone the development in a push for affordable and supportive units.

The challenge to the District Square development comes on the heels of successful opposition to a neighboring complex on Brynhurst Avenue near Crenshaw. The complex would’ve been rammed into a single family residential block. The massive structure was widely opposed for being incompatible with the neighborhood, environmentally hazardous, and unaffordable.

At the other end of the spectrum, the L.A. City Council recently voted to table an ordinance that would have prohibited sleeping on sidewalks near schools, parks, and libraries. Community activists charged that the ordinance would criminalize the unhoused and lead to more racial profiling.  Given that the majority of the unhoused are African American, “selective” enforcement of the ordinance would exacerbate systemic over-policing of Black folks who have been forced onto the streets by astronomical rent and housing prices.  The city has filed a friend of the court brief challenging a 2018 “Boise Ruling” that bars local governments from prohibiting folks from sleeping on the streets if there aren’t enough shelters. The city’s shameful challenge comes as a recent City Controller’s audit on Measure HHH— which was supposed to be used to construct 10,000 supportive units for the unhoused—confirmed that no supportive housing units have been built with the fund.  According to the audit, only a little more than half of the projected 10,000 will be for permanent supportive housing.

The escalation of market rate development in historically Black South L.A. fuels the dispossession of unhoused Black folks. South L.A. and Inglewood homeowners report being besieged with calls and flyers from realtors and flippers looking to buy up housing stock in areas that only a decade earlier were branded “ghettoes”. Former Black strongholds like Harlem, D.C., Philadelphia, Seattle, Houston, Oakland, and Fillmore and Bay Point in San Francisco, have morphed into designer ghettoes greedily carved up by developers in imperial land grabs reminiscent of the twentieth century “urban renewal” or Negro removal schemes that ripped apart Black neighborhoods.  Last month, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition launched a series of “Summer of Resistance” townhall meetings that will continue into the end of the year with community actions against the neo-colonial forces of development in City Hall. November’s meetings will spotlight the potential displacement of thousands of Crenshaw residents, the fencing of Leimert Park and the Planning Commission’s complicity in the market rate boondoggle that is bleeding South L.A. dry. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

From Brexit to El Paso: The Geopolitics of White Hate

By Sikivu Hutchinson
On the bustling streets of Kensington in London last week, one of the Black women I asked to comment on the recent election of Boris Johnson (who has been branded as Donald Trump’s British mini-me) vehemently declined. “I wouldn’t be able to without cussing,” she said, her response encapsulating the rage and distress Johnson’s election has elicited for progressive people of color.
The backlash to Johnson’s ascent after the resignation of Tory Prime Minister Theresa May is reminiscent of Trumpian political turbulence. Johnson’s hard-line call for a “no deal” Brexit, or withdrawal from the European Union (EU), would further undermine social and economic justice in working class communities of color that are already suffering from massive unemployment rates, a grossly unaffordable housing market, educational disparities, and a criminalizing police presence.
Like Trump, Johnson sees himself as a redemptive figure for a first-world empire under siege. He has rightfully been branded a racist for famously ridiculing Black folks as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and likening Muslim women who wear burkas to letterboxes. Just as Trump has whipped up white supremacist, nativist, and nationalist sentiment in the US, so too has Johnson aroused Britain’s isolationist, hard-right conservatives who see “their” country being overrun by brown and black immigrants milking a welfare state steeped in a threatening multiculturalism. According to the Counter Extremism Project, “These far-right political parties have been able to unite ethno-nationalism with populism by propagating the notion that ethno-nationalism serves the average hardworking individual and the broader national identity.” In this narrative, the EU is the scourge of white nationalist independence and self-determination, sucking the economies of Britain, Italy, and Germany dry.
The young white male shooter who murdered twenty-two people and injured dozens more at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart on August 3 also vilified “race mixing,” Latinx immigrants, and white America’s inability to defend itself from the dark hordes. Indeed, the upsurge in American white nationalism is part of a larger global trend that has also gripped Europe and Canada. As Britain’s Guardian newspaper notes,
The targets of deadly attacks have included Muslim worshippers at mosques in Canada, Britain and New Zealand; black Americans…at a historic black church in South Carolina; Jewish Americans in synagogues across the United States; and leftwing politicians and activists in the US, UK, Greece and Norway.
In June of 2016, a week before the Brexit referendum passed, British MP and Brexit opponent Jo Cox was murdered by a white terrorist who screamed “This is for Britain!” and “Britain first!”
After Brexit passed, rising hate crimes and Islamophobia ripped open what writer Habiba Katsha characterizes as the myth that Black folks have it “easier” in the UK. In this distorted view, British institutional racism is supposedly less insidious than in the United States. Yet for so-called Brexiteers, leaving the EU has been fetishized as a swashbuckling panacea to European domination and control, Britain’s twenty-first-century version of Confederate secession. “Britain First,” like “America First,” has become a clarion call for white resistance. Not surprisingly, Brexit support is most robust in rural and small cities where white voters feel most imperiled by immigration. Opposition to Brexit is strongest in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London. Anti-Brexiteers believe the move will gut trade because the majority of Britain’s exports and foreign investment comes from Europe. Economic analysts predict that the pound will fall, trade at the Irish border will cease, and inflation will skyrocket. In anticipation of the withdrawal, major corporations like Airbus have threatened to leave Britain.
Blasting Johnson on the floor of Parliament, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that a no-deal Brexit was the “height of economic lunacy” and would lead to job cuts, decreased workers’ rights, and fewer environmental protections. “I note the climate change-denying [US] president has already dubbed him ‘Britain Trump’ and welcomed his plea to work with fascist, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage,” Corbyn observed, warning this “would make us a vassal state of Trump’s America.” Suggesting the disastrous impact leaving the EU will have on working-class people, one commentator likened it to a Ponzi scheme—a massive swindle promising unlimited returns based on lies and subterfuge. That the majority of white working-class Labour Party members voted to leave the EU highlights how race solidarity always eclipses class solidarity in nations like Britain and the US, where the wages of whiteness are key to national identity, economic stability, and community.
The Black and South Asian women I spoke to were infuriated by the British media’s soft-pedaling of Johnson as a “charming eccentric.” Londoner and world traveler Muksa railed against the normalization of Trump’s hate speech and its effect on Britain’s political climate, noting that “the outside world rarely hears from British people of color,” which leads to the false assumption that folks are complacent and invisible. In her view, this presumed invisibility is strongly connected to hate attacks against Muslim and ethnic communities. Sadia Hameed, a feminist activist, atheist, socialist, and member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, predicted that, “The poor will most certainly get poorer and, just as austerity impacted people of color in the worst way (women of color worst of all), in the same manner, Brexit will hit people of color doubly hard, harder than their white working-class counterparts.” Commenting on Johnson’s strategy, filmmaker Maria Ivienagbor of South London said, “I don’t think he has Black British folks in mind, and Brexit will probably be an ‘experiment’ on us. I’m worried for the future.”
This future is further clouded by the burgeoning global industry of hate fueled by a vast European infrastructure (anchored by training camps, social media, job networks, lecture circuits, and publication platforms) that attracts recruits from around the world to places like Russia and the UK for induction. Under the Trump administration, domestic terrorism efforts targeting white supremacist and nationalist groups have been squelched and funding gutted. With both the US and Britain hanging in the balance, mobilizing progressive communities for the 2020 election will be critical to ensuring that the destructive blight of global Trumpism doesn’t become a permanent human rights “experiment.”

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Liberatory Power of Toni Morrison's Pen

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Excerpted from The North Star

The universe that we’ve inherited from Toni Morrison is:
The pell mell swoon of Jazz and its , mysterious crazy in  love triangle set against the backdrop of the Great Migration of African Americans to NYC, caught up in its  golden glow and cruel tease; the Blue-eyed devastation of Pecola, dreaming her truth, against incest, in the grinding poverty of segregationist Ohio; The twisted bond and  ride or die Sula-passion between two dramatically different black women; one fuck-you mad, one respectable and maybe veering towards madness; The elusive thrum of Paradise in an all-black town pulsing in the terror of the Middle Passage where black women’s fight for self-determination, bodily autonomy, and the Beloved blasted the white gaze to bits.

On my desk, I have a picture of Morrison with one of her most famous quotes: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ...More @ The North Star    

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Black LGBTQI Family Support and Advocacy Group

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In Los Angeles school-communities, resources, support, and advocacy for families, parents, and caregivers of LGBTQI and Non-Binary K-12 youth are scant to nonexistent. Further, when the LAUSD deigns to address LGBTQI youth issues in its school-communities, African descent youth and families are seldom prioritized or represented in these discussions. Many queer Black youth report that there are no visible role models, curricula or cultural engagement that speaks to their lived experiences and GSAs (Gender and Sexuality Network Alliances) are MIA on predominantly Black campuses. 

A major 2019 report from the Human Rights Campaign found that: 
  • More than three-fourths of Black and African American LGBTQ youth who responded to the survey have heard family members say negative things about LGBTQ people, and nearly half have been taunted or mocked by family for being LGBTQ
  • More than three-fourths of Black and African American LGBTQ youth who responded to the survey have heard family members say negative things about LGBTQ people, and nearly half have been taunted or mocked by family for being LGBTQ.
  • Eighty percent “usually” feel depressed, down, worried, nervous or panicked. Nearly half feel critical of their LGBTQ identities.

On August 29th, a meeting of Black LGBTQI family, caregivers, and community will be held in the Crenshaw District at the offices of APLA Health for an introductory dialogue and strategy session on providing culturally responsive resources, support and advocacy for queer youth. The meeting is organized through a partnership with APLA Health, Colors LGBT Youth Counseling Services and the Women's Leadership Project.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Still, We Rise: The First Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference

Donald Trump’s recent racist, sexist, nativist tirade against congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)—telling them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”—underscores how fraught and dangerous conditions continue to be for women of color in the United States. Last year the four women (three of whom were born in the US and all American citizens) made history in a game-changing election that was a virtual rebuke of Trump’s fascist agenda. A year after the landmark political season, in which more women of color assumed national office than ever before, this October’s Women of Color Beyond Belief conference marks an important transition for secular women of color. Rep. Omar countered Trump supporters’ ugly chant of “Send her back!” with Maya Angelou’s line “Still, like air, I’ll rise.” The fearless example of Omar and “The Squad” is an inspiration for progressive women of color who are pushing for greater political visibility in the secular movement.
The Women of Color Beyond Belief conference, which will be held in Chicago from October 4-6, is being sponsored by Black Nonbelievers, Black Skeptics Los Angeles, and the Women’s Leadership Project. It was partly inspired by the July/August 2018 cover story of the Humanist magazine, “Five Fierce Humanists: Unapologetically Black Women Beyond Belief” that highlighted Black women atheist humanist activists (the “secular squad” if you will) who have championed social and gender justice in the secular movement: Bridgett Crutchfield, Candace Gorham, Liz Ross, Mandisa Thomas, and myself.
In addition to the women profiled in the original article, the conference will feature such generationally and culturally diverse speakers as Deanna Adams, Lilandra Ra, Rajani Gudlavalleti, Mashariki Lawson, Hypatia Alexander, and Cecilia Pagan. Among the topics the conference will address are: racial justice politics and intersectional organizing, secular parenting, criminal justice reform, and secular art and film.
As the Trump administration, the GOP, and the religious right ramp up their attacks on secularization, reproductive justice, women’s self-determination, and the human rights of queer LGBTQI communities, the Women of Color Beyond Belief conference couldn’t be more timely. As I argued in a recent piece for the Humanist, Black, Latinx, and indigenous women are the most imperiled by the recent wave of anti-abortion policies spearheaded by conservative legislators in Southern and Midwestern states. Queer, transgender, and non-binary communities of color are also in the crosshairs of the Department of Justice’s rollback of Obama-era protections for LGBTQI individuals in schools and the workplace. Not only are African-American folks more likely to identify as queer, but they are also more likely to have children and be at or above the poverty line, amplifying the grave implications that these policies have for communities of color as a whole.
The conference’s explicitly feminist emphasis is also a first for an event focused on secular women of color. Indeed, most feminist, humanist, and atheist discourse comes from a white, European-American perspective (case in point is the Wikipedia entry on “atheism and feminism,” which begins with a profile highlighting Jewish-American feminist, suffragist, and abolitionist Ernestine Rose, a forerunning atheist thinker). Although atheist, humanist, and feminist social thought and praxis would seem like a natural fit, the intersection of the three is still controversial, even in progressive feminist circles. Moreover, the association of mainstream atheism with vociferous white, male antitheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens is problematic for feminists who push back on their Eurocentric, sexist, and Islamophobic views. Further, sexual harassment and abuse allegations against prominent male atheists and skeptics are another deterrent for progressive feminists. The movement’s longstanding dearth of women of color in leadership roles has led to the erasure of gender and racial justice issues that are most pressing for segregated communities of color.
Ex-Muslim feminists Sadia Hameed and Heina Dadabhoy will be speaking at the WoC conference about women’s rights and visibility for persecuted ex-Muslim women who face misogynist violence, harassment, and community ostracism because of their apostasy. Other presentations include a solo performance by singer-musician Sandra Booker entitled “Confessions of an Atheist Black Woman,” along with panels on culturally relevant humanist practices, #MeToo and resisting the normalization of sexual violence, ally-building, and self-care for organizers. I will also be screening my film shortWhite Nights, Black Paradise, on Black women, Peoples Temple, and the Jonestown massacre.
Child care will be provided by Camp Quest and all genders are welcome to participate and volunteer. Early bird registration ends this month.