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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Brave New Face of Humanism: Moving Social Justice Conference

Brave New Face of Humanism

“What is secularism without social justice in a nation where whites have over 20 times the wealth of people of color & our children are being pipelined into prisons?”

Beyond Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris &Toxic Myths of postracial colorblindness

Moving Social Justice Conference

Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles

October 11-12th

A gathering of freethinkers, atheists & humanists of color on the issues of our times

People of Color Beyond Faith/Black Skeptics Group


Monday, September 15, 2014

Where are the White Feminists? MIA on Racist Misogynist Police Violence



By Sikivu Hutchinson

The Oklahoma NAACP recently called on the Department of Justice to investigate accused rapist and Oklahoma City Police officer Daniel Holtzclaw for federal hate crime violations against his black women victims. On September 5th, Holtzclaw was released on bail after being charged with sixteen counts of rape, sexual assault, stalking and sodomy. Judge Tim Henderson (who is running for reelection unopposed) reduced Holtzclaw’s bail from $5 million to $500,000 and required him to wear an ankle bracelet while on paid leave. With this unconscionable decision Henderson simply made clear the historical legacy of the law when it comes to black women and their moral character—namely that black women are sexually promiscuous "hos" with no rights that a white supremacist criminal justice system is bound to respect. Actress Daniele Watts discovered this last week when she was pulled over, interrogated and handcuffed by LAPD officers after kissing her white partner while they were parked in the lot of a CBS station in Studio City, California. Watts had the temerity to display affection in an affluent area where a black woman with a white man could never be anything other than a prostitute.

The murder of Michael Brown and uprisings in Ferguson refocused national attention on institutionalized police violence in African American communities. Yet police violence and terrorism against women of color are rarely on the agendas of mainstream white feminist organizations. Because white women of all classes enjoy the privilege of protection from criminalization and systemic brutality by law enforcement, state-sanctioned violence doesn’t register as a “feminist” priority. Living in neighborhoods that are on average more wealthy than communities of color, white women can rely on the police as a thin blue line insulating them from the visceral threat of the dark other.
Historically, the police have been critical to preserving the purity of white womanhood by not only promoting the image of the insatiable black rapist but that of the out of control black bitch. The pervasiveness of sexual assault, often by law enforcement, was a major catalyst for black women’s civil rights activism. In 1955, teenage civil rights activist Claudette Colvin was sexually harassed by white police officers in jail after she was arrested for refusing to give her seat to a white person on a Jim Crow bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Black women of all ages, classes and sexual orientations routinely endured beatings, sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimidation, verbal abuse, stalking and other forms of terrorism by law enforcement. Police violence against black women was merely an extension of the brutal policing of black women’s bodies under slavery. Like the “disreputable” primarily working class black women Holtzclaw is accused of stalking and sexually assaulting, Colvin was not deemed to be suitably respectable by whites or even some in the black civil rights establishment. As a dark-skinned, pregnant teen from a poor family, her lower caste status made her a less desirable candidate to launch a citywide bus boycott around than well-respected longtime NAACP activist Rosa Parks. This was a bitter irony and disappointment for Colvin, who felt marginalized by the very movement she helped advance. The politics of class, respectability and colorism were also an affront to Parks’ early activism. In 1944, Parks spearheaded the investigation into the gang rape of Recy Taylor, a young African American woman whose white assailants were never convicted.

Sexual violence by law enforcement doesn’t compel mainstream women’s groups precisely because of law enforcement’s role in safeguarding white families and white communities. After raping one of his victims Holtzclaw allegedly said that it (the rape) was “better than the county”; sadistically implying that it was better for her to be raped than to go to jail. According to Jessica Testa of BuzzFeed, Holtzclaw’s victims were initially afraid to report their assaults to the police because they feared no one would believe a black woman. Some were fearful because they had criminal records for drug possession or prostitution. Criminal record or no, all black women are criminal in a society that sets up racial hierarchies of femininity. Given the history of racist sexual violence against black women they are never viewed as proper victims.

After the Holtzclaw assaults were disclosed NAACP head Anthony Douglas rightly wondered, “Where’s my media and where’s my women’s groups?” Yet Douglas also made the problematic statement that he didn’t “look at this gentleman as a sex offender or a rapist” but as a “racist, because he racially profiled and targeted African American women.” To be crystal clear, Holtzclaw—as beneficiary of a criminal justice system that sanctions police violence against black women—is both. The historic failure of both the civil rights movement and women’s movement to grasp these intersections keeps black women criminalized.

Holtzclaw goes back to court on September 18th. Help ensure that he is given the maximum sentence and terminated from the Oklahoma City PD.

Oklahoma Governor: Mary Fallin, (405) 521-2342
Oklahoma City D.A.: David Prater (405) 713-1600

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Burying Our Babies: Letter from L.A. to Ferguson


By Sikivu Hutchinson

In South Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District, there are three funeral homes within a one mile radius of each other. On bright sunny days young people pour out from their doors after viewing hours, lingering on the steps reminiscing, sporting t-shirts with pictures and art work commemorating the dead. In a thoroughfare that epitomizes L.A.’s deification of the car, cars are often rolling R.I.P. memorials of the dearly departed, the tragedy of stolen youth ornately inscribed on rear windows for the world to see.

Death is intimately woven into the experience of being a black child in America. The regime of “Black death”, as rapper Chuck D once described it, has its roots in slavery and the violent occupation of black bodies for profit and control. On Monday when Michael Brown’s family buries their precious baby it will be yet another reminder that the sacrosanct space of childhood is a white supremacist fantasy. As part of the legacy of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, the Ferguson, Missouri uprising has seared this into black peoples’ consciousness anew.

Teaching in South L.A., the trauma of constant death, loss and mourning shapes all of my students’ lives. Their oral and written stories are replete with it. When they speak of terrorism, using other language, it has an American face. Last year, when my Black Skeptics Los Angeles organization awarded five South L.A. youth of color First in the Family scholarships the world was awaiting the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Saluting our new scholars this year we mourned the executions of Brown, Ezell Ford and Renisha McBride, young people who will never have the opportunity to go to college, have a career or pursue their life’s dreams. At the end of the semester at one school I work at I was shown a list of college-bound students that had no black male names on it. It was a short list to begin with, a mere forty students out of three hundred, the majority first generation Latino graduates. That same day yet another black boy is led off campus in handcuffs by the school police. A few minutes later I meet with the Young Male Scholars group, brilliant ninth and tenth grade black boys who are becoming politicized about the fact that the curriculum does not represent them. The absent spaces on the college admissions list are a reflection and an indictment of their criminalization. Reading the dominant culture black children learn that their communities are deficit laden, that the threat of white supremacist violence disguised as law and order is normal, and that childhood may be fleeting. More powerful than any textbook, these “lessons” cause them to misrecognize themselves as the violent “nigga” predators white America loves to hate.

As a first grader I remember coming home from school in Inglewood and being excited that a police officer had come to visit our class. In that turbulent world of 1970s busing there were still a fair number of white kids in the class. Our teacher was a kind but rigorous elderly white woman who lived in the neighborhood; a remnant of the city’s bygone demographics. The ramrod straight white officer who spoke to the class said that if we were ever in trouble we could go right up to any policeman and address him as “Officer Bill”. Bill handed out kid friendly safety flyers with a twinkle in his eye, whisking off to adventures in high crime. I couldn’t wait to tell my parents about kind, benevolent Officer Bill, guardian of imperiled children. When I got home my father, an activist, bitterly dispensed with this fairy tale. The police couldn’t be trusted. They were an occupying army. Some preyed on the community. Some were cold-blooded above the law killers. Growing up in the era of LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, one of the first to institute SWAT teams, naked anti-blackness was a reality camouflaged by a middle class childhood.

Year after year the litany of the dead, black folk criminally robbed of victimhood, shattered any pretense of innocence, protection or security in “tidy” neighborhoods like ours, neighborhoods bright-eyed bushy tailed white reporters doing ghetto fieldwork were always surprised to know existed. In 1979, when an African American woman named Eulia Love was murdered at her house in South L.A. by two white police officers, it reaffirmed that black women’s bodies did not qualify as female, as fragile, as worthy of protection from state terror. My father took me to my first political rally in protest of her murder. For black women, home was no “safe” domestic space or private sanctuary as it implicitly was for white women. In the Ozzie and Harriet imagination of suburbanized L.A. black homes could never be more than a deviant subset of white Americana. Love’s murder further galvanized the community against LAPD police state suppression and occupation. It was a postscript to the 1965 Watts Rebellion and prelude to massive community resistance to Gates’ institutionalization of the chokehold (which Gates claimed blacks succumbed to more easily than “normal people”).

For African Americans migrating to California from places like Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama during the Great Migration era, L.A. was full of redemptive promise. It was supposed to provide a context that was radically different from the grinding everyday indignities and outright terrorism of the Jim Crow South. Yet, as Isabel Wilkerson and other black historians of the Great Migration have noted, Northern segregation was no less insidious. Blacks who attempted to buy homes in white neighborhoods were shut-out by restrictive covenants rigidly enforced by realtors and development companies. They were firebombed by white homeowners associations and villified by angry white housewives. Black workers were discriminated against by trade unions and largely shut-out of all but the most menial jobs. While white immigrant populations advanced up the economic ladder via the GI Bill, FHA loans, VA loans, redlining, the development of new highway systems and countless other “whitening” aids, blacks bore the brunt of systematic ghettoization.

The post Great Migration generation came of age as the paramilitarization of LAPD’s police force deepened. One of Gates’ signal contributions to the War on Drugs was the battering ram, a tank ostensibly used to penetrate so-called “crack houses” which destroyed innocent citizens’ homes and inspired its own rap song.

Coming home one night in the eighties from the UCLA area my friends and I were stopped by several Inglewood PD squad cars. Without bothering to do a license and registration check the officers jumped out wielding rifles, pointing the weapons squarely at us as they ordered us out of the car. Later, after my friend’s brother was subjected to the humiliation of having to lie face down on the ground before ten cops brandishing weapons, we were told that they’d mistaken a car backfire for gunshots. Nobody would’ve given a shit if we’d been smoked. It was dark and we were black teenagers in “Ingle-Watts”.

Like Michael Brown we were college-bound, guilty until proven innocent, living in the shadow of death and the violent territorialization of the black body. Unlike him we were spared the brunt of black America’s nightmare. In the weeks since his murder there has been national movement connecting police terrorism with the general climate of criminalization that exists in American schools. Expressing solidarity with the uprising in Ferguson, the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) recently highlighted the relationship between the pushout regime in schools and the onerous police presence in urban communities. If the uprising against the spate of police murders and beatings is to coalesce into a youth movement it must also expose the apartheid policies and mentalities that plague American schools. As DSC St Louis member Niaa Monee of the Missouri GSA Network commented, “I feel that we as young people really don’t have a say so in the world. It’s all about how the adults feel. Why can’t young people speak? Mike Brown didn’t deserve what happened to him, as well as all the other young people who this has happened to. Young people need to be heard, not shot. We are being criminalized and pushed out for being who we are.”

Sikivu Hutchinson is an educator and author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

White Nights, Black Paradise: A Novel on Peoples Temple & the Jonestown Massacre


By Sikivu Hutchinson

“Ain’t no white sky daddy gonna save you. Are we Black, proud and socialist? What are we?”

Why did a powerful white man utter these words and why did hundreds of black people, the majority of them black women, follow him to their deaths?

In 1978, People’s Temple, a multiracial church once at the forefront of progressive San Francisco politics, self-destructed in a Guyana jungle settlement named after its leader, the Reverend Jim Jones.

Fatally bonded by fear of racist annihilation, the community’s greatest symbol of crisis was the “White Night”; a rehearsal of revolutionary mass suicide that eventually led to the deaths of over 900 church members of all ages, genders and sexual orientations.

75% of those who died in Jonestown, and the majority of those in the Peoples Temple movement, were African American. But most of the literary portrayals of Jonestown have been by white people



Due in the summer of 2015, White Nights, Black Paradise focuses on three fictional black women characters who were part of the Peoples Temple movement but took radically different paths: Hy, a drifter and a spiritual seeker, her sister Taryn, an atheist with an inside line on the church’s money trail and Ida Lassiter, an activist whose watchdog journalism exposes the rot of corruption, sexual abuse, racism and violence in the church, fueling its exodus to Guyana.

White Nights, Black Paradise is a riveting story of complicity and resistance; loyalty and betrayal; black struggle and black sacrifice. It locates Peoples Temple and Jonestown in the shadow of the civil rights movement, Black Power, Second Wave feminism and the Great Migration. Recapturing black women’s voices, White Nights, Black Paradise explores their elusive quest for social justice, home and utopia. In so doing, the novel provides a complex window onto the epic flameout of a social movement that was not only an indictment of religious faith but of American democracy.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Getting on Up: Cult of the Charismatic Black Man


By Sikivu Hutchinson

Charismatic black men slapping black women around are funny. This was the takeaway conveyed by some audience members at a screening I attended of the new James Brown biopic Get On Up at a predominantly black theater in Los Angeles. Largely sidestepping the chronic abuse Brown inflicted on multiple spouses (Brown served jail time for domestic violence), the film all but deifies him as an uncompromising god-fearing, rugged individualist and red-blooded race man who inspired all black people to “get on up”. Yet during the film a group of male viewers howled to the rafters at a gut-wrenching scene in which actor Chadwick Boseman’s Brown sends wife Deirdre Jenkins—played by the luminous Jill Scott—crashing into a table. Later in the film we see Jenkins cowering after being verbally abused by Brown in an exchange which disturbingly segues into her initiating sexual foreplay.

The film’s uncritical juxtaposition of black male hero worship with intimate partner violence brought to mind the recent gyrations of ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith and other prominent black male media figures who've mouthed off about black women’s alleged complicity in their own abuse. Last week, Smith elicited controversy when he criticized NFL player Ray Rice’s abuse of his spouse then proceeded to admonish women about “provoking” abuse. Smith received a one-week suspension for his comments but the message was unequivocal—women need to self-police to make sure they’re not inciting violence with their out of control mouths and “bitchy” emasculating attitudes.

Bashing black women for being complicit in their own abuse has always been an insidiously popular past-time but in the age of 24/7 media it’s high sport. Recently Grio writer Boyce Watkins and comedian DL Hughley were called out by black women activists after they made similar comments as Smith’s. Both half-stepped on their stated abhorrence of violence against women by trotting out racist, sexist, hetero-normative stereotypes about gold-digging hypersexual black women’s penchant for “provoking” or tempting brothers into committing rape and intimate partner violence. Hughley, like Smith, issued a now pro forma apology after writer Kirsten West Savali initiated a widely circulated petition condemning his remarks.

But a deeper and less explored question is how this plays out for black boys in an era in which they're regularly bombarded with violent demeaning images of black women and girls in social media, video games, film and TV. How do feminist/womanist educators, activists and organizers work with boys of color around anti-violence, gender roles and sexuality? One of the first steps is highlighting how violence against women of color pervades every social institution. In our work with high school students of all genders in the Women's Leadership Project, we talk about structural oppression in organized religion, specifically how the Bible establishes misogynist double standards for women. Living in highly religious communities, what do youth of color see in their everyday experience that tells them it’s ok to denigrate cis and trans women? Talking candidly about the way religion socializes, we unpack how the elevation of charismatic heterosexual men in traditional Black Church leadership prescribes and limits women’s roles. Bad fallen women are hypersexual, loud and indiscreet; mainstream America’s template for black femininity. Good straight Christian women submit to their men, mind their families and pledge undying, obsessive love for Jesus. Because both secular and religious culture deems female sexuality impure and in need of containment men always have a proprietary right to women’s bodies. As a result, black boys are socialized to believe that “checking” an “out of control” black woman or girl is practically their birthright. I was reminded of this yet again when I passed by a young black boy with the words “Bitch Please” emblazoned in bold letters on his shirt on my way to school. Laying down the silencing epithet “Bitch please” becomes part of their easy “canon” of male performance and male privilege in classrooms, streets and on social media.

Anti-sexist work with black boys in K-12 classrooms must begin with these kinds of conversations. It is telling that the Obama administration’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative does not emphasize the need for anti-sexist and anti-heterosexist best practices in K-12 education. Over the past several months, Kimberle Crenshaw’s African American Policy Institute and community activists across the nation have pushed back against this omission. Far too often, “rites of passage” violence prevention programs and initiatives for boys omit engagement with the role institutionalized sexism, misogyny, heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia play in the lives and attitudes of boys of color. Far too often they bury the code of silence and complicity that exists among men about violence against women in a barrage of platitudes about “respecting” women and treating them like “queens”. Fortunately, there are rising black male feminist and womanist voices in journalism, education, community organizing and social media who challenge these regimes of violence and invisibility in their work(Mark Anthony Neal, Kevin Powell, Darnell Moore and Byron Hurt come to mind).

As I wrote in this spring’s statement “Black Men Listening to Our Sisters”, through the holocaust of slavery and racial apartheid, black men have never been told by black women that their dehumanization was normal, natural and “just the way shit is”. Yet, even when it was at their expense, black women have always been expected to uncritically support black men’s self-determination. This double standard endangers black lives.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The CHP's Thug Life: Justice for Marlene Pinnock



By Sikivu Hutchinson

When a white California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer used 51 year-old Marlene Pinnock’s body as a human punching bag he was continuing a bloody tradition of uniformed thugs who’ve assaulted black women with impunity. The unidentified officer’s attack on Pinnock (who is reputedly mentally ill and homeless) was captured in a horrific video by motorist David Diaz. Pinnock was lucky to have escaped with her life. In 1999, a fiftysomething African American homeless woman named Margaret Mitchell was killed by an LAPD officer after an alleged street altercation over a shopping cart. Mitchell’s murder spotlighted the inhumane treatment of homeless people of color. African Americans are half of the county’s homeless population yet the complex mental health and socioeconomic issues that they face make them more vulnerable to long term homelessness than white transients. Mentally ill homeless African Americans are more likely to be criminalized for their condition. They are less likely to receive treatment, therapy or medication for their illnesses and are often misdiagnosed. Nationwide, African Americans are also more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than are whites. But time and again when mentally ill black people “act out” or “meltdown” in public their symptoms are reductively perceived by law enforcement as dangerous, threatening and criminal.

At a recent community meeting that I attended with CHP commissioner Joseph Farrow, my father Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable, Lita Herron of the Youth Advocacy Network, and Paulette Simpson of the Compton NAACP--as well as activists from the SCLC and the National Action Network--expressed their outrage over Pinnock’s brutal beating while contextualizing L.A.’s long history of officer-involved murder and abuse in communities of color. In contrast with the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s department, Hutchinson and Herron noted that the CHP has had relatively few incidents of racial misconduct. Yet with a 69% white and an approximately 7% female officer population it’s clear that the CHP has serious “diversity” problems. For many people of color, the overwhelmingly white culture of the agency (according to CHP stats there are only three female chiefs of color in the agency and African Americans comprise 3.5% of all its employees) means that Pinnock wouldn’t have gotten a beatdown if she’d been a white middle-aged woman with mental health issues. Black women, be they mentally ill, elderly, disabled or otherwise, are never proper victims; while white women, the Western ideal of beauty, innocence and femininity, are always perceived as such.

This is starkly borne out in the criminal justice system. Nationwide, black women are overrepresented in the prison population, often receive harsher sentences if they are darker skinned and have the highest rates of suspension and expulsion in K-12 schools. There is no question that a video with an older defenseless white woman lying prone on the ground being knocked senseless by an officer of color (or a white cop for that matter) would’ve had the entire nation up in arms demanding the officer’s immediate termination and prosecution. Although the agency pledged to do a thorough and swift investigation, activists have called for a probe by the Department of Justice and the appointment of a special prosecutor—all recommendations that Farrow claims to be comfortable with.

When questioned about whether the agency’s training procedures were “culturally competent”, Farrow showed a three minute video clip showcasing stats which underscore the gravity of the state’s mental health crisis. Mentally ill folk are more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement. Over 1/3 of the homeless suffer from mental illness, and, shamefully, the L.A. County jail system is the region’s largest “mental health” facility. It is no coincidence that a significant number of those housed in county jails are African Americans afflicted with some form of post-traumatic stress and/or mental illness.
After the beating Pinnock was arrested, put on a 72-hour hold and is currently at the hospital. Despite the CHP’s claim that she did not suffer any injuries from the assault, her family says that she is recovering from severe injuries. The officer is currently on paid desk duty. And as the history of excessive force investigations have shown, law enforcement thugs and criminals have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting prosecuted much less convicted.

The public can keep the pressure on the CHP for full transparency in its investigation by pushing for the creation of a citizen’s advisory panel. It can also join the call for a federal probe of the beating and the appointment of a special prosecutor. Finally, it can push the CHP to make good on Farrow’s claim that the agency wants help recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce comprised of more people of color, white women, disabled and LGBT folk.

Contacts:
CHP Commissioner Joseph Farrow (c/o Chief Calvin Aubrey cdaubry@chp.ca.gov, 916-843-3002)
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte (c/o Bruce Riordan, bruce.riordan@usdoj.gov)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Atheists and Humanists Condemn Human Rights Crisis at the U.S. Border and Nativist Attacks against Undocumented Immigrants



To sign go to: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/atheists-and-humanists-condemn-human-rights-crisis

The influx of Central American families and unaccompanied minors at the U.S. border has escalated into a human rights crisis which some have exploited to make xenophobic, racist and nativist attacks against undocumented immigrants and refugees. Over the past few months, thousands of underage youth fleeing violence and instability in their native countries have been warehoused in substandard Homeland Security facilities. According to the ACLU some have suffered abuse at the hands of border officials. This week, angry protestors stormed and turned away buses full of predominantly women and children detainees in Murrieta, California. These attacks will only increase, as they are part of a national climate of hatred, hostility and discrimination against undocumented individuals and their families (which are often of mixed citizenship status) and communities. These attacks have been encouraged by the Republican-controlled House’s refusal to pass a comprehensive humane immigration bill that is informed by the progressive legacy of civil and human rights resistance forged by disenfranchised communities in this country.

As humanists and atheists of conscience, we find this climate of demonization morally and politically reprehensible. We categorically condemn the anti “illegal” immigrant and anti-human rights vitriol promoted by Republicans like California Congressman Darrell Issa who has called for the Obama administration to rescind its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. We fundamentally oppose the Obama administration’s escalation of deportation on the grounds that it is inhumane, breaks up families, and exposes both undocumented and citizen youth to sexual exploitation, foster care placement, homelessness and incarceration...



Signatories:

Maggie Ardiente, The American Humanist Association

Toni Achebe Bell, Black Skeptics Group

Richard Carrier, Author

Greta Christina, Author/Activist

Rebecca Hensler, Grief Beyond Belief

Sikivu Hutchinson, Black Skeptics Los Angeles

Yvonne Divans Hutchinson, Educator

Anthony Pinn, Professor and author

Amy Roth, Los Angeles Atheist Women’s Group & Skepchick

Secular Woman

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Spiritualist in Solidarity & Filmmaker/Activist

Hilaire Sobers, Skeptically Speaking

Frederick Sparks, Black Skeptics Group

Kimberly Veal, Black Freethinkers Network/POCBF

Donald Wright, Houston Black Non-Believers