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Friday, March 23, 2018

The Christian Fascist Driven Public Health Crisis: Gutting Abortion and LGBTQI Care




By Sikivu Hutchinson

When George W. Bush was in office he provided a robust platform and bully pulpit for Christian conservatives, creating the Faith Based Initiatives office, letting his “born again” status guide imperialist Middle East policy, condemning abortion and same sex marriage, and cozying up with prominent white evangelicals. Shortly before Bush left office, liberal religious leader Jim Wallis proclaimed in Time Magazine that the Religious Right’s era was over and a “new age” of progressive faith-based politics was nigh. Evangelicals, Wallis declared, were “leaving the Religious Right in droves”.  

Has Wallis had a sit down with his white middle American evangelical brethren lately?

In the years since his lofty claims Religious Right Christian fascism has come roaring back with a vengeance, renewing its voice and impact under the white supremacist ethos of Donald Trump.  Outpacing Bush, the Trump administration is shaping up to be the most militantly fundamentalist Christian-aligned administration in American history. Case in point is the newly minted “Conscience and Religious Freedom” division of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, the administration’s latest and most insidious weapon to dismantle abortion rights and LGBTQI rights.  

Trump’s appointment of Catholic attorney and notorious abortion foe Roger Severino to head the division is exhibit A in the advancement of a far right, Christian fundamentalist agenda to reverse Obama-era civil rights protections.  Severino joins Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson in Trump’s mob of fundamentalist ideologues masquerading as civil rights defenders.  His crusade to defend “religious freedom” as the preeminent right (he’s dubbed it the “first right”) has elicited backlash among LGBTQI activists and community-based organizations fighting against the systematic denial of health care to transgender patients.  According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender survey, transgender adults routinely experience health care discrimination by providers. Religious providers have often claimed that they oppose serving transgender patients on the grounds that they would be forced to do gender transition surgeries. However, a Center for American Progress report found that most trans patients were discriminated against by health providers on the basis of their gender identities rather than surgery.

The new HHS civil rights office bolsters the reactionary direction of state and regional public policy in red states on abortion and LGBTQI rights.  Last year, political pressure forced the closure of Planned Parenthood facilities in Wyoming and North Dakota—making them the only two states in the U.S. without clinics.  Closures of Planned Parenthood facilities in the Southwest and Midwest are especially harmful to the socioeconomic stability of working class and low-income families of color for whom access to abortion services, birth control and health screening are life and death matters.  
Following this trend, the Mississippi legislature recently passed a bill that would ban abortions at 15 weeks, making it the most draconian anti-abortion law in the nation. Applauding the bill, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said that it would cause the state to be the “safest place for an unborn child” in the country. Bryant’s lie is all the more enraging when one considers that Mississippi has consistently been ranked last in health care provision and has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.

Moreover, this deepening reproductive health care imbalance between blue states like California and the Northeast and red states in the South and Midwest will only exacerbate regional wealth, health, and social welfare disparities.

Going against the Trump tide of Christian fascism, the California Assembly recently voted to approve SB320, which would allow funding for medication abortion at public universities. If passed by the full California legislature, SB320 would provide abortion access to students and make it easier for them to continue their education and graduate from college.  SB320 is especially important due to the high concentration of working class and low-income women of color who attend public universities and often rely on their schools for primary care. For example, African American students in the Cal State system have the highest rate of food insecurity and homelessness.  These socioeconomic factors make it more likely that they will rely on health care at K-12 public schools and colleges.  In addition, the disturbing proliferation of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in working class communities of color also makes passage of the bill imperative for public school students.

The Supreme Court is currently weighing a case (NIFLA vs. Becerra) brought by CPCs that challenges a 2015 California law requiring them to inform clients that they aren’t medically licensed practitioners. Under the law, these fraudulent facilities must also apprise women of “all family planning and pregnancy-related services” including abortion.  According to a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, 61% of those utilizing abortion care in 2014 were women of color, making the crackdown by HHS and red state legislatures all the more perilous for the socioeconomic future of communities of color.

Trump’s strategic alliances with professional antiabortion crusaders and Christian fascists will fundamentally reshape the U.S.’ public policy and medical climate for decades to come.  This makes it all the more important for gender justice educators and activists of color to work strategically with young women of color in schools, communities, cultural centers and statehouses to fight for reproductive justice and LGBTQI health access as non-negotiable human rights.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars (2011), Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels, (2013) and the novel, play and film short White Nights, Black Paradise (2015), on Peoples Temple and the 1978 Jonestown massacre. Her forthcoming novel Rock ‘n’ Roll Heretic: The Life and Times of Rory Tharpe, is due in the fall of 2018. Twitter @sikivuhutch


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Grinning Skull Short Film by Sikivu Hutchinson






Set in Los Angeles in 1946, Grinning Skull focuses on three women of color washroom attendants wrestling with the decision to unionize, bucking racism, sexism, and class discrimination at the Pacific Electric Railway subway terminal. Testing the limits of solidarity, they come face to face with years of collective rage, resentment and suspicion, forging a final alliance in the claustrophobic netherworld of serving ‘Miss Ann’.  Grinning Skull debuted as a stage play at L.A.'s Robey Theatre at the 2017 Paul Robeson Theatre Festival at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.  Starring Camille Lourde Wyatt, Cydney Wayne Davis and JC Cadena. Watch the film trailer above.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Future of Feminism Girls of Color Conference 2018




On May 24, 2018 student leaders from Dorsey, King-Drew, Fremont, Miguel Contreras, Gardena and Hamilton High Schools will present and lead on feminist of color intersectional activism focusing on sexual violence, misogynoir, criminalization, educational justice, fighting transphobia and homophobia and cultural stereotypes.

Info: www.womensleadershipla.org

Friday, December 29, 2017

Bad As She Wants To Be: An Interview with Black Guitar Visionary Malina Moye



By Sikivu Hutchinson 

When Eric Clapton declared recently that “maybe the guitar is dead” he clearly didn’t consult Malina Moye, the maverick left-handed axe slinger who is inspiring new generations of electric guitar players to rock on.  Featuring her signature fusion of rock, funk and blues, Moye’s eagerly awaited new album, “Bad As I Wanna Be”, is set to drop in March 2018Over the past decade, Moye has received acclaim for her trailblazing work and was named one of “The Top 10 Female Guitarists to Know”, by Guitar World Magazine.  In a career that’s spanned the globe, she’s performed for the Queen of England, played in the Experience Hendrix Tours, and been featured at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's tribute concert for music pioneer Chuck Berry.  Her “Led Zeppelin meets Sly and the Family Stone, with a little bit of Hendrix thrown in”  2014 record “Rock & Roll Baby” (which featured funk icon Bootsy Collins and was dubbed “insanely good” by Guitar Magazine) garnered three Billboard charting singles on various charts in the Top 40.

Moye describes her upcoming album as acelebration of self [and the cover] image personifies an empowered woman who is her own super hero.”  As one of the only internationally renowned African American women rock guitar players, Moye is acutely aware of the role racism, sexism, and white supremacy play in stunting the careers of women of color in the music industry.  Despite posthumous acknowledgment of the influence of rock guitar pioneer Rosetta Tharpe, there are no black women or women of color on Rolling Stone’s “Top 100” guitar players list.  And for the largely white male gatekeepers of RS, only a few white women merit inclusion in the pantheon of blues and rock “gods” who have sold mega millions, influenced scores of musicians, and indelibly shaped global pop culture.  As Moye notes, “Because of where we are as a nation, it’s obvious there are still underlying prejudices in America's DNA. I feel sometimes it's important to start a conversation about issues like the absence of diverse women in certain areas of the music industry. It’s about redefining the status quo and being unapologetically you.”

In a hyper-segregated industry that has long thrived on ripping off black folks’ invention of rock music, Moye is constantly innovating, collaborating, and wrecking respectability politics. During our recent interview about her new album we discussed her upbringing as a musical prodigy, the need to mentor black women and girls of color, and the perennial question of “Why (it) is that our people feel rock is not part of our black culture?”

How did you start playing electric guitar and what messages did you receive about playing this “male” instrument when you were growing up?
 My mom and dad were big influences.  I grew up in a musical family and my dad gave me a guitar at seven years old but I didn’t really take to it until nine.  He gave me a right-handed guitar, but that didn’t work for me because I was left-handed, so I flipped it over and learned how to play it upside down because it felt more natural.  My technique is rare. I actually play with the guitar strung in reverse (upside down) like Albert King famously did in the 60s, and like today’s Eric Gales and Doyle Bramhall, who are also upside-down lefties, on the Experience Hendrix tour.



Even in the beginning, I was so focused at nine years old.  I was walking my own path and following my own beat.  I told my parents that I wanted to do music, turned professional at twelve, and started a band with my brothers.  I was told that I was obsessed, but, in my mind, this was just normal.  My cousins wanted to watch cartoons and they said I was always like, ‘hey, we have to rehearse’.  We would perform at night with the band and go to school in the morning. 

I was born in Ohio but grew up in Minnesota in the late 80s.  The Minneapolis sound merges funk, rock and soul and it is my DNA as a musician, especially growing up listening to Prince.  In Minneapolis, the musicians would add distortion to the guitar which followed funk rhythm and bass lines, with elements of synth-pop. I remember my mom driving my band to one of the Minneapolis clubs as kids where I asked one of Prince’s horn players to record on my album.  The guy was so blown away that he brought his entire horn section to the studio and I had all the horns play on my album. That’s what made me realize everything is possible—when people responded positively to what I was doing at such a young age. Growing up as one of the only black kids in school and in the community, I learned how to embrace being different than everyone else while going after what I wanted. This alone has helped me navigate in the current rock music industry and I’m thankful for it.

Who were some of your superheroines growing up? My mom Scelesteen is no joke.  She didn’t take shit from anybody and she told me that you can do anything in this world that you want to do.  She was ruthless, amazing, and full of love, but she went through so much in life. If the house was burning down she would say ‘we can have a pity party for five seconds’ and then we would have to keep it moving. My grandmother was also another major influence in my life.  She made sure that everyone ate and everyone knew love.  We were never made to feel like we were poor and didn’t have anything.  I also admire Sheila Nevins, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and any woman who actually stands up for herself and makes something work. 

Who are some of your primary artistic influences? Growing up with musical parents, I listened to an eclectic palate of music spanning several decades. At home, we played Mahalia Jackson, Prince, Tina Turner, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Michael Jackson. Recently, I’m loving Eminem and Bruno Mars.

What challenges have you encountered in the music industry vis-à-vis racism and sexism?
Certain avenues are not available to you when you’re the first person doing these things.  But one of the great things is now folks can create and control their product.  Money gives you access to do certain things.  Take Rosetta Tharpe, who was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is now being considered the actual architect of rock music. There are few black women in rock overall and even fewer who are playing electric guitar. For instance, some great players who should be recognized more are Kat Dyson, Diamond Rowe, and Jackie Venson. We have to redefine the status quo.  I want to play my part and help folks rethink how black women are perceived in entertainment.  Ask yourself, which women, let alone black women, are in the top twenty on the rock charts? I want to encourage mainstream rock artists to diversify by putting other unique artists in front of their shows as support acts whom their audiences ordinarily wouldn’t see. That [kind of exposure] trickles down to playlists and to radio; and maybe it will make the old guard rethink their programming.  It’s important to start a conversation about the lack of opportunities and representation to provide vehicles for girls of color to play music.  They’ve cut arts out of schools and underfunded music training. In order to make those avenues happen we need to educate and force the conversation. So, with Rosetta Tharpe being inducted, maybe now black women and women in general will start to be included in the rock genre much more.

What advice would you give to young women of color about navigating the racism and sexism of the music industry? I really take to heart what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said about your life’s blueprint: “[you should have] a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own ‘somebodiness’. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.”  Everything that you do, do it in truth and try to be the best at what you do, and just know that God will always make a way.  There are other people ahead of you who’ve made their way, which sometimes shows you that you can at least grasp an opportunity.  It’s important to mentor and raise up young people that are coming up.  If you see other kids that are killing it, highlight them, put them on your Instagram, because that is the new medium. Find like-minded individuals and don’t let anybody make you feel like you don’t matter. The hardest thing in the world is to ignore what people think—good or bad. Do what you know you are put here to do and show up.  When they tell you that you can’t do it, still show up.  Make “No” fuel you, and accept all of those life lessons which are part of your journey.  If you see me with my axe doing me, that means you can do you too. My mantra is, ‘Discover your super power and celebrate yourself.’

Malina Moye’s album “Bad As I Wanna Be” will be released in March 2018.  For more information check out www.malinamoye.com.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of the novel and play White Nights, Black Paradise, on Black women, Peoples Temple and the 1978 Jonestown massacre. Her forthcoming novel Rock ‘N’ Roll Heretic: The Life and Times of Rory Tharpe, is due Summer 2018.



Monday, December 25, 2017

#MeToo in Our Schools? Hearing Black Girls in the Sexual Abuse Backlash

Dorsey High School, December 2017

By Sikivu Hutchinson and Ashunda Norris

In 1991, African American law professor Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas transformed her into a feminist icon in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace.  Building on Hill’s legacy, women in corporate America, state and federal government, college campuses, and the entertainment industry have exposed perpetrators, challenged victim-blaming, and mainstreamed a #MeToo movement that was initiated by Tarana Burke, a black woman. Yet, when we turn on the TV and see debates about this brave, new heightened consciousness, the faces and voices of black women and girls are often missing.  This is despite the fact that approximately 34-50% of African American girls have experienced child sexual abuse.

As educators and mentors in Los Angeles schools, we see how they have become fertile ground for unchecked sexual harassment and sexual violence.  In an informal survey conducted at three South L.A. high schools by the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP), a majority of girls of color felt unsafe on campus and had experienced some form of sexual harassment.  Some felt victimized by a jock culture that encourages boys to openly rate girls’ bodies, sex partners, and desirability, spilling over into toxic social media attacks.   As a result of these experiences, respondents said that they felt less confident about themselves and did not feel supported at school.  For many girls, going to school in an environment where sexual harassment is normalized can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

Dorsey HS, December 2017


Sexual harassment in schools often takes the form of catcalling, touching, ogling and being called out of one’s name.  Terms like “bitch”, “ho”, “ratchet”, “thot” (that *h* over there) are frequently used to demean African American girls in ways that echo their specific history of institutionalized rape and dehumanization in the U.S. under slavery.  As a form of sexual harassment, use of these terms reinforce a violent culture and climate that is normalized by a “boys will be boys” mentality. This mentality is often cosigned by teachers and administrators.  As a result, girls find that simply walking around campus becomes a minefield fueled by widespread ignorance about behaviors that qualify as harassment.      

Shania Malone, a member of the WLP, and a senior at Dorsey High School who is openly bisexual, says that she has been harassed by a female student. Malone also shared that she attempts to take preventive measures to curb sexual comments. "I usually wear my backpack really low to cover my butt. I also wear clothes to cover up my shape and curves."  Serenity Smith, another senior at Dorsey, related that she has been made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe at school. Young men frequently joke about her body. "They think they can say stuff like: 'I'll blow your back out, your ass is looking mighty fine today, and your pussy is showing today' and not get into trouble because their behavior is justified."

The sexualization of black girls at very young ages contributes to an atmosphere where sexual violence against them is viewed as inconsequential.  If black girls are stereotyped as “unrapeable”, then everyday sexual harassment is something that “they bring onto themselves”.

A recent Georgetown University study on cultural perceptions about black girls concluded that they are widely viewed as more mature, less innocent, and less in need of protection than white girls. Racist, sexist perceptions such as these contribute to higher rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration among black girls.  According to the African American Policy Forum, black girls are routinely overpoliced in public school environments. On a national level, black girls are suspended nearly six times more than white girls, and are more harshly disciplined for lesser or similar offenses than white girls. Further, the Human Rights for Girls advocacy organization has concluded that exposure to “sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system.” These factors, coupled with a culture that condones sexual violence against them, make many black girls feel that they have nowhere to turn when they are victimized.

Dorsey senior and WLP member Tayah Hubbard stressed that many black girls feel like they won’t be believed if they tell someone they’ve been sexually harassed or abused.  For Hubbard, “black girls are told ‘oh you’re strong and you can get through it.” Hubbard sees a connection between the dearth of social services, after school programs, and counselors in predominantly black and Latino schools and the high numbers of students who are pipelined into prisons instead of college. 
Hubbard and her peers in the WLP recently led sexual harassment prevention workshops with classmates of all genders.  But although new sexual harassment policies are being touted on Capitol Hill and in the State Legislature, sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention education that speaks to the specific circumstances of girls of color is not part of the curriculum in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  The #MeToo movement has disrupted the national status quo of silence and invisibility around sexual harassment, yet, when it comes to validating the experiences of girls in communities of color, the silence is still deafening.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of the Women’s Leadership Project, a feminist high school mentoring program for girls of color
Ashunda Norris is a filmmaker, poet, community builder and teacher whose most recent work as a filmmaker has screened internationally, including Kampala, Uganda and Nairobi, Kenya. Her writing has appeared in The Rush Magazine, L.A. School Report and DC Metro Theatre Arts




Wednesday, December 6, 2017

White Nights, Black Paradise: A Staged Reading


"A remarkable novel about a fascinating history...The book does justice to the survivors and victims of Jonestown by forcing the reader to recognize what mainstream discourse has gotten terribly wrong about the tragedy. I encourage anyone who cares about history and the truth to read this book as it goes beyond what existing scholarship would have you believe!" Anita Little, Religion Dispatches
 
"White Nights, Black Paradise" renders visibility to everyday black women's struggle with race, gender, religion, morality and poverty. The stories of Taryn and the other black members of the Peoples Temple that Hutchinson vividly brings to life makes it clear that while many blacks submitted to the ideal salvation of the racial utopia Jim Jones pushed, this submission of sorts represented black peoples' epic struggle and fight with finding a voice and life in a racially hostile homeland. This is an important and beautifully written story that restores the humanity of the followers of Peoples Temple." Kamela Heyward-Rotimi, Duke University

  
"Brilliantly woven." African Americans on the Move Book Club

"Hutchinson not only provides perspectives underrepresented in the history of the Peoples Temple, she crafts a compelling piece of historical fiction that will grip you until the very end...She has written a valuable work for anyone interested in the intertwined histories of religion, the left, and the African-American Freedom Struggle in this country, one providing important insights for anyone concerned for the future of the progressive movement in America.David Anderson, LA Progressive

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Andrea Jenkins' and Phillipe Cunningham’s Victories Are a Triumph for Trans Youth of Color




Councilmembers Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham



By Sikivu Hutchinson

When Black trans activists Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham made history by winning seats on the Minneapolis City Council on November 8th it was not only a symbol of the power of the anti-Trump backlash but a victory for trans youth of color everywhere.  Jenkins and Cunningham’s wins, (along with those of white trans Virginia state legislator Danica Roem and several other openly transgender candidates nationwide) were a collective bird flip to the Trump regime’s transphobia and misogynoir. Musing on the implications of her success for future generations, Jenkins said, “Wow, if a Black transgender woman can get elected to the Minneapolis City Council, [maybe] I can too.”



How many queer, trans or straight youth have seen positive, reinforcing portrayals of trans people of color in mainstream media?  How many have been programmed to believe in the myth of cis/straight normalcy due to the dominant culture’s voyeuristic representations of trans folk as pathological, tragic, and hypersexual?  Trans of color activists and actors have long fought against the film and TV industry’s fixation on one-dimensional caricatures of “sassy” trans sidekicks or sex workers who provide exotic backdrop to the plot lines of cis/straight protagonists.  A recent video challenging Hollywood’s transphobic casting practices featured Black trans actors Jazzmun and Alexandra Grey.  The actors noted that “For many young and closeted trans people, film and television are the only time they see themselves.” And while mainstream white LGBTQI organizations strongly advocate that queer youth come out for greater visibility, being out has graver consequences for queer, trans and non-binary folks of color.  Writing in the journal “A New Queer Agenda”, homeless youth advocate Anjali Mukarji-Connolly argues that “The national LGBTQI organizations working on youth issues emphasize issues such as education and sexual health, but largely neglect the violence and isolation that young people face in homeless shelters and foster care agencies, or the challenges they face when confronting the police and negotiating with johns on the street.  When substantial resources are directed toward college campuses in support of ‘coming out’ activities…The mainstream movement often fails to analyze the intersections of class and race within the broader LGBTQI community, and tends to ignore the experience of poor queer youth of color in particular.”


For many trans folk, sex work, survival sex, homelessness, and the constant threat of violence are cold realities precisely because of the lack of opportunities in America’s segregated workplaces.  Because trans people of color are less likely to have access to living wage jobs with benefits and health care they have some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ declaration that trans workers are not eligible for federal civil rights protections underscores how trans workers in all professions continue to be vulnerable to employment discrimination tacitly sanctioned by the federal government. 



The victories of Jenkins and Cunningham are also significant with respect to the transphobic and homophobic policies of the U.S. Education Department under conservative Christian zealot Betsey De Vos.  In June, De Vos released new guidelines that ran counter to Obama administration policy requiring that transgender students be allowed to use the restroom of their choice, as well as pronouns and other markers that correspond to their gender identity.  Undermining the Obama administration’s stance on transgender equity, the new guidelines reinforce the Trump administration’s position that Title IX does not require “access to sex-segregated facilities like restrooms and locker rooms based on gender identity.”  According to Catherine Lhamon, who wrote Obama’s transgender rules, the new letter “says [the Department of Education] has jurisdiction over sex discrimination and sex stereotyping, but here’s how you could dismiss it…They can’t have it both ways.”  The murky guidelines are part of a “broader effort to scale back civil rights investigations of all kinds.” 



While the DOJ and the Education Department are hellbent on stripping trans and non-binary students and workers of civil rights, the new crop of trans public figures can bolster efforts to make schools more culturally responsive to LGBTQI youth. The absence of openly trans politicians, teachers, and other public figures has a negative impact on the self esteem and psyches of trans youth.  High rates of suicidal ideation and suicide among trans youth are directly related to toxic levels of violence in trans folks’ lives but are also reinforced by the invisibility of queer role models.  Moreover, harassment of trans and non-binary youth often goes unaddressed at schools that are already inadequate if not openly hostile to providing culturally specific support resources for queer youth. For example, according to the Human Rights Campaign, bisexual, lesbian and trans youth are more likely than cis/straight youth to be raped or sexual assaulted.  According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, in K-12 school communities, “24 percent of transgender American Indians, 18 percent of transgender people who identified as multiracial, 17 percent of transgender Asians, and 15 percent of Black transgender respondents experienced sexual assault– much higher rates than students of other races.” And when trans or non-binary students attempt to defend themselves against bullying and abuse they may wind up being harshly disciplined and pushed out of school.  These conditions, coupled with the lack of support from parents and caregivers, may lead to homelessness and incarceration.  It’s estimated that between 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBTQI, while queer youth of color are overrepresented in juvenile jails.



While it remains to be seen how Jenkins, Cunningham, and other trans politicians will impact policy on LGBTQI communities and youth, Jenkins is clear on her charge: “I want that to be the outcome, I want people to step up and be willing to be a representative for our communities and be a voice standing up for progress, standing up to patriarchy, standing up to sexism, standing up to white supremacy.”