Friday, June 24, 2011

American Family Values, Invisible Lives

By Sikivu Hutchinson

A recent Los Angeles Times story about the U.S. Census’ report on the changing demographics of California families opens with an idyllic portrait of a white lesbian-headed family whose daughter is asked “on a leafy drive…at a newly renovated home with cathedral ceilings and a backyard pool” why she has three mommies. According to the new data, families are increasingly becoming less nuclear, headed up by more single parents, childless couples and LGBT couples with children. Yet family diversity is only a revelation in the mainstream media, which continue to promote the model of nuclear family-hood, even if it is provisionally embodied by well-heeled white gay partners with photogenic children. Historically, families of color have always been diverse. Extended African American family networks of adult caregivers, gay and straight, related and un-related, have always contributed to childrearing. Extended family provided a bulwark against institutional racism and segregation. Thus, the Times’ snapshot of affluent comfort contrasts with the realities of many LGBT families of color who struggle to stay above the poverty line. Further, the depiction of white childrearing and parenting as the de facto norm contributes to the national narrative that non-traditional families of color can never represent an authentic model of family.

In reality, the numbers of LGBT families of color are increasing, especially in traditionally conservative regions like the South, which has seen a new black “re-migration” due to the massive ripple effect of job losses, foreclosures and gentrification in northern urban black communities. Nonetheless, when textbooks, TV shows, and Hollywood films envision culturally “diverse” LGBT families it is through the lens of privileged white middle class folk who have “benevolently” decided to adopt a child of color or used expensive reproductive technology to have children. Complex families of color that are either headed by single gay or straight parents are marginalized as inherently dysfunctional, welfare-dependent and socially borderline. Loving gay partners of color with children are virtually nonexistent.

This media white-out has insidious implications for both straight and gay children of color. If gay children of color don’t see loving adult gay and lesbian caregivers then they will continue to internalize their own dehumanization. If straight children of color don’t see loving representations of LGBT parents and families of color, gayness will still be equated with “white” deviance. Next week, the California State Assembly will vote on a bill requiring that the contributions of LGBT communities and historical figures be taught in K-12 classrooms. Clearly, the invisibility of LGBT families of color not only reinforces homophobic opposition to LBGT equality within African American communities, but validates the absence of public policy that specifically addresses LGBT youth of color issues.

For example, nationwide, increasing numbers of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning) youth of color are becoming homeless due to overt anti-gay harassment, emotional/physical abuse and lack of acceptance by their families and communities. In my work with LGBTQ homeless youth in Los Angeles, some recount being forced to leave home due to the kind of violent scenarios satirized in comedian Tracy Morgan’s now infamous homophobic rant. Morgan’s diatribe about the prospect of a son coming out as gay enacted a shopworn stereotype about straight male socialization. It is a given that no self-respecting father, particularly a black father, would want his son to be gay. It is a given that masculinity must be rigidly policed by the fraternity of men. Thus, the only reasonable response to a young black man coming out would be violence. Morgan’s vitriol illustrated how gender identity and sexuality are intertwined. But it also highlighted the deep connection between normative gender identities, race and family roles. Black heterosexism is reinforced by white supremacy. White supremacy establishes a hierarchy of men in which non-white men are either feminized or hyper-masculinized. The social capital of white men lies in being the universal ideal of humanity; requiring men of color to be the super-macho other. For men of color, violent hard masculinity is the only kind of masculinity that is validated by the dominant culture. As the national propaganda goes, caring, emotionally present black fathers—single or partnered—are an oxymoron. According to this mythology, all black boys take their cue from this deficit model and the hyper-masculine cycle of violence repeats itself in crime and illegitimacy.

With African American children comprising nearly 40% of the nation’s foster care and homeless youth populations, culturally responsive feminist approaches to caregiving and family sustainability are crucial. Living in a culture in which they are reminded daily of their non-existence by a white supremacist heterosexist nation that deifies straight white beauty ideals and views affordable housing as a privilege, some LGBT homeless youth of color resort to destructive behaviors like survival sex and drug abuse. Demographic patterns have long shifted to make whites a minority in the U.S. Yet mainstream media is still in the Ozzie and Harriet era when it comes to the realities of families of color, buttressing bankrupt social welfare policies that expose the sham of American family values.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dangerous Distortions: Anti-Abortion Fascists and Third World Allies

By Sikivu Hutchinson and Diane Arellano

On a recent Los Angeles talk radio show Louisiana state legislator John LaBruzzo lamented the “massacre” of millions of “baby women” by abortion. In this fascist’s warped mind abortion infringes on the civil rights of fetuses. LaBruzzo is the author of a bill that would abolish abortion on the grounds that denying fetuses civil rights is akin to the violent denial of black civil rights under slavery. According to male anti-abortion fascists like LaBruzzo, poor single women get abortions because they are forced to by predatory deadbeat dad boyfriends in training or by fathers who have committed incest. Hence, overturning Roe vs. Wade is consistent with gender equity and social justice.

As the national hijacking of women’s rights continues, the Right has become more and more skillful at manipulating pro-death anti-choice messages designed to make women believe that their interests are being served by powerful white conservative foundations and their “third world” allies. In Los Angeles, conservative Latino groups are now targeting Latino communities with a new wave of anti-abortion billboards similar to those aimed at African American women. The Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles is the architect of this latest assault on reproductive justice for women of color. As with the abortion-as-black-genocide billboards unleashed by the far right Radiance Foundation, the Latino billboards evoke reductive hyper-religious narratives of sinning promiscuous bad women and “breeder” good women.

The billboards claim that “the most dangerous place” for a Latino child is in the womb. Yet the reality of Latina fertility rates—three children are the national average for Latinas in their childbearing years—would seem to belie the need for this campaign. But of course reality in fascist propaganda is an oxymoron. Crafted as they are at the height of the recession, the economic subtext of these moral panic narratives must be exposed. The subtext of the campaign is that any form of access to abortion threatens the stability of patriarchal Latino families. Like black women, Latinas’ bodies are territory to be manipulated, controlled, and strictly policed vis-à-vis the regime of authentic Latino gender identities based on Catholic piety and female submission. As the most underrepresented and lowest paid group in the American economy, Latinas are especially vulnerable to socio-cultural narratives mandating that they stay barefoot, pregnant, and underemployed.

In the Latino community, the assault on women’s right to self-determination is also being spearheaded by former Latin American telenovela stars ready to lend their “expert” opinions on what Latinas in the US should and should not do with their bodies. The most vociferous of these is former boy band member and telenovela heartthrob Eduardo Verastegui. In 2008, Verastegui vied for the heart of the Religious Right with media appearances encouraging Spanish speaking Latino voters to vote yes on Proposition 8, California’s anti-same sex marriage initiative. He has returned to the spotlight as a founding member of Manto de Guadalupe, a nonprofit focused on “defending life from conception to natural death.”

On June 12th, Manto de Guadalupe sponsored a fundraising event in support of the development of the largest “pro-life” women’s clinic in the United States. This facility is slated to be built in South Los Angeles, which has one of the highest poverty rates in L.A. County. At the event, legendary Mexican telenovela star Veronica Castro introduced Texas governor and rumored presidential hopeful Rick Perry. Just a few days before the fundraiser, Perry introduced SB 9—sweeping legislation which would ban “sanctuary cities” or non-existent safe havens for undocumented immigrants—into the Texas Senate. SB 9 would further criminalize Texas Latinos by allowing law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of those arrested or legally detained. Still, at the fundraiser, the predominantly Spanish speaking immigrant crowd cheered wildly for Perry.

The connection between the right’s anti-immigrant and anti-choice agenda is no coincidence. Criminalizing choice and undocumented immigrants is part of a larger scheme in which big government eliminates the rights of the underclass and expands “social welfare” for corporations, the wealthy, and the military industrial complex. Thus, right wing propaganda in black and brown communities must be met head on. Access to safe and legal safe abortions is not only paramount to women’s health but to economic and social justice. Pro-choice politicians like President Obama who waffle on the morality and necessity of abortion (talking only of the need to “reduce” the number of abortions), further distort the connection between unrestricted access to abortion and human rights. Indeed, the Left’s marginal response to far right anti-abortion fascism has enabled a climate in which Planned Parenthood has now been defunded in three states. If the war on safe and legal access to abortion does not shift to a national movement centered on how family planning and abortion are a fundamental human right, then the lives of black and brown women will continue to be expendable. And if the right wing of all hues continues to be allowed to define the terms of human rights and “social justice” women of color will be on the frontlines reliving the horror of the back alley.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars. Diane Arellano is a photo documentarian and youth advocacy educator based in Los Angeles. Her work examines sociocultural instability and flexibility, the intersections of marginalized communities, race, class, and gender roles. Sikivu and Diane run the Women's Leadership Project, A South L.A.-based feminist mentoring program.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bronze Magazine: "Moral Combat Explored: A Chat with Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson"

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@

Friday, June 10, 2011

Return of the White 'Right Hand of God'

By Sikivu Hutchinson

It’s the best and worst of times to be a citizen in God’s favorite nation. That’s one of the reasons why nearly all of the GOP presidential hopefuls descended onto the recent Faith and Freedom Conference panting after the blessing of aging phoenix boy wonder Ralph Reed. Once dubbed the “Right Hand of God,” by Time Magazine, the godfather of Christian fascism has blazed back onto the national scene after his double dealings with disgraced lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff led to a high profile fall from grace in 2006. Coming on the heels of the similarly themed Values Voters and Conservative Political Action Conference, the Faith and Freedom Conference is one of the most visible platforms for the GOP candidates to establish their Religious Right bona fides.

Reed has reemerged at an especially crucial juncture for the Religious Right. In 2008 and 2009 mainstream pundits from Newsweek to James Carville sounded the death knell of Christian fundamentalist activism, declaring it to have been eclipsed by the Tea Party’s “populist” message of jobs, lower taxes, and small government. Yet the Religious Right’s influence never waned, it was merely reconstituted. It fired the debate over the U.S.’ status as a “Christian Nation,” fueled the birther movement, and brokered key anti-abortion legislation nationwide. It was further exemplified by the nexus of Old Testament justice and morality, American national identity, global capitalism and imperialism.

Capitalizing on these themes, Reed has sought to wed the Tea Party’s political momentum with the considerable grassroots apparatus of the Christian right. Reed personifies the Golden era of Religious Right activism, an era in which Operation Rescue thugs terrorized abortion clinics with impunity and Pat Robertson’s America-as-liberal-cesspit screeds helped animate the culture wars. When the Christian Coalition ruled in the ‘80s and ‘90s it was at the height of a national backlash against affirmative action. Racial animus over downsized jobs fueled the rise of the so-called angry white male. It was not a coincidence that white economic discontent and the perceived loss of white social status drove the Christian Coalition’s Reagan-Bush brokered push for theocracy. Culture war battles over school vouchers, prayer, abortion, and anti-sodomy laws were only the frontline of an agenda squarely focused on dismantling social welfare. Then as now, the perception that white males had lost ground informed the backlash against civil rights in general and women’s right to self-determination in particular.

Highlighting these themes, a recent survey by researchers from Harvard University and Tufts University concluded that many whites believe that they are now the primary victims of racism in the U.S. A 2010 poll from Public Religion Research reached similar conclusions, establishing a firm link between the Tea Party and white Christian evangelicals. Nonetheless, mainstream media never identify these allegiances as bellwethers of a deepening white nationalist movement whose “spiritual” center is Christian fascism.

Rumored presidential hopeful and Texas Governor Rick Perry captured this sentiment recently when he called for a national day of prayer on August 6th. Sounding the theme of imperiled American exceptionalism, Perry declared that “America is in crisis…As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy." As governor, Perry presided over deep cuts in childcare services for poor children, passed a law requiring sonograms for pregnant women seeking abortions, championed allowing states to opt out of Medicare and Social Security and publicly pined for a return to the Confederacy. His platform is indistinguishable from the rest of the GOP faithful (including Uncle Tom sideshow act Herman Cain), who have all carefully grounded their personal relationship with Jesus in the thinly veiled language of white supremacy—evoking a white American dream trampled by illegals, government handouts, and abortion on demand.

The media’s decoupling of the Christian right’s values wars from the Tea Party’s so-called populist focus deflects attention from the continuity between their agendas. They speak with the same voice, pull from the same purse, and ensure that “repentant” scoundrels who pimp for Jesus loud, long, and hard enough invariably find a soft bed and a willing toady in the middle American public.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.