Sunday, June 24, 2012

The GOP's Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses

By Sikivu Hutchinson

With the final countdown to the election the GOP and the Religious Right are desperately trying to get their compassionate conservatism on. After months of spewing white supremacist Minuteman rhetoric about dangerous illegals, Mitt Romney has come, hat in hand, to Latinos with a “kinder gentler” message. President Obama’s granting of work permits and freedom from deportation to undocumented youth upped the ante for Romney. Speaking recently before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Romney didn’t dare reiterate his infamous demand that undocumented Latinos “self-deport.” Instead, he trotted out bromides about keeping “strong families” together in a blizzard of limp pandering. Recently the New York Times reported that some evangelicals are (shockingly) advocating a softer stance toward undocumented immigrants. Like those freshly-scrubbed Mormon missionary boys who descend ritualistically onto the third world/inner city, some evangelicals are bug-eyed over the prospect of fresh meat from the “barrio.” The smartest among them have read the tea leaves and checked the collection plates. Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the evangelical population. Latino parishioners are fueling a resurgence of Pentecostalism in the U.S. and filling in the gaps of an aging white demographic in decline. Taking a hard line white supremacist stance on immigration is political suicide for the GOP and the Religious Right. As they continue to do a tortured 180 on immigration policy the Right will ratchet up classic divide and conquer narratives tied to bootstrapping and a racialized mythos of hard work. These messages ultimately pivot on an implicit contrast between immigrant Latinos and African Americans.

In her book Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison argues, “The rights of man…an organizing principle on which this nation was founded…was inevitably yoked to Africanism…the concept of freedom did not emerge in a vacuum. Nothing highlighted freedom—if it did not in fact create it—like slavery. Black slavery enriched the country’s creative possibilities. For in that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free…but the not-me…It is no accident and no mistake that immigrant populations (and much immigrant literature) understood their ‘Americanness’ as an opposition to the resident black population.”

This contrast between the immigrant trajectory of seized opportunity (and earned citizenship) versus the resident black population’s essential otherness, is a subtext of the GOP’s anti-government platform. Every school age child of color has been indoctrinated into Statue of Liberty shtick declaring that somewhere back in the mists of time white people were poor backward immigrants clawing tooth and nail to make it on America’s gold-paved streets. Every child of color is supposed to know that whites who work every day achieve upward mobility against great personal odds. That’s why they don’t see white people living in their neighborhoods or going to their schools. That’s why some of my students associate white masculinity with Donald Trump caricatures of wealth and privilege. The white immigrant narrative is privileged as the most authentic version of personal ingenuity and achievement. Exposed to textbook stories of heroic white historical figures that triumphed against adversity students of color are taught to believe that all white work is hard work. Dirt poor whites whose ancestors grew up in log cabins, escaped pogroms in Eastern Europe, potato famine in Ireland, and Bubonic plague in England made America the proud beacon of democracy and free enterprise that it is today. In the late twentieth century Asian and (legal) Latino immigrants picked up the torch. The blaring message to blacks is, if “those tired, poor, huddled masses did it, why can’t you people?”

As nativist and xenophobic as the GOP’s opposition to the Dream Act is it is still mediated by the perception that immigrant workers are hardworking. Much of GOP presidential primary messaging about work—from Newt Gingrich’s racist slurs about blacks waiting for handouts, to Rick Santorum’s “I don’t want to make black people’s live better by giving them other people’s money” comment--evoked the myth of black welfare dependency and white industriousness. Thus, even though immigrants of color will always be perpetual outsiders their citizenship is viewed as hard fought, hard won, and richly deserved. For example, golden boy Republican senator Marco Rubio has become the right’s Hispanic du jour because his autobiography seems to fit neatly into the narrative of American exceptionalism and immigrant enterprise. This narrative dovetails with Latinos’ intermediary racial status. Despite being of mixed black, Asian, Indian and European ancestry the majority of Latinos in the U.S. identify racially as white. Clearly the ambiguity of Latino racial identity was a significant factor in Middle American solidarity with George Zimmerman. Jewish Peruvian-American “white Hispanic” Zimmerman’s $200k defense fund was bankrolled by white fears of the criminal black welfare leeching other. Had Martin been “white Hispanic” and Zimmerman black not only would there have been no defense fund but Zimmerman would have been arrested, charged, and tried in due course.

A few weeks ago an Arkansas Tea Party official got knee-slapping laughs after telling the following widely publicized joke at a gathering:
A Black son asks his mother what democracy means. Her response was, "Well, son, that be when white folks work every day so us po' folks can get all our benefits.”
“But mama, don't the white folk get mad about that?”
“They sho do, son. They sho do. And that's called racism."

So while undocumented Latinos “steal” American jobs, blacks wait for handouts and white people toil for the American dream. Blacks believe living on the dole is “their” birthright; whites and bootstrapping family values minorities fester under the yoke of a welfare state that wants to kill free enterprise with taxes and enslaving regulation. The kinder gentler GOP will exploit this racist propaganda in an explicit appeal to Latino voters’ provisional model minority status. And it will be the soundtrack of 2016.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Myth of a Christian Nation: Norm Allen on Moral Combat

Excerpted from QBR, Quarterly Black Book Review

By Norm R. Allen Jr.

Sikivu Hutchinson’s superbly written and well-researched book, Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars stands out like a sore thumb among the books of “New Atheists” such as Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. Hutchinson puts forth a bold analysis of the political and religious culture wars raging across the U.S. She examines the Religious Right, scientism amongst white secular humanists, the need for social and economic justice, the ethical imperative to defend the rights of LGBTQ people, etc. She does all of this from the perspective of a progressive African American feminist.

Today many White Christians are insisting that America is a Christian nation. Indeed, Mitt Romney is meeting a great deal of resistance to his presidential campaign from conservative Christians that do not believe Mormonism is part of the Christian faith…However, Hutchinson maintains that race and Christianity have become inextricably linked among many White conservatives in the U.S. She maintains that the contention that America is a Christian nation is tied to a belief in White supremacy and fear of the “Other.” This analysis helps explain how the Tea Party used the notion of a Christian nation to foster the “birther idea,” and to maintain that Obama is a Muslim in Christian clothing.
Hutchinson does not simply critique conservative White Christians. She also has strong words for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the atheist and Somali-born darling of the Religious Right. Ali has been a strong critic of Islam. However, she has been warmly embraced by the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute, she has a Eurocentric world view, and she romanticizes the West. Perhaps worst of all, she greatly downplays sexism and homophobia in the Western world. Hutchinson eloquently takes her to task for her shortsightedness.

Hutchinson does not shy away from critiquing womanist icons such as bell hooks. She notes that many Black women such as hooks point to the book Corinthians as a major source of spiritual strength and empowerment. However, Corinthians also contains passages defending patriarchy…thus the Bible presents women with a crippling paradox, when they would be better off rejecting dogma altogether.

The author discusses the effects that storefront churches have on the collective psyche and identity of African Americans. She writes: For example, in North Lawndale Chicago’s ‘community of 1000 churches’ there has been much debate about whether the proliferation of storefront churches is harmful or helpful to the local economy…A 2009 Chicago Tribune article documented community dissatisfaction with which church congregations utilize tax exempt status to open churches in areas where there is little sustainable commercial development…This concern is added to the concern over whether these churches are destroying the tax base of these neighborhoods and preventing job development that might otherwise be attained by developing commercial enterprises. Indeed, Hutchinson refers to an article in which the writer maintains that some storefront churches provide opposition to business development in their neighborhood because it could lead to increases in their rent…

Just as many White conservatives assert that America is a (White) Christian nation, others go farther and link God to small-town (White) America. This is set up in opposition to urban (Black and Brown) America…During the 2008 presidential campaign, Sarah Palin frequently harped on the difference between the values of real Americans living in small towns and the bankrupt inauthentic values of urban Americans. These code words have been crucial in mobilizing White conservatives to oppose Black candidates and stigmatize Black and Brown people. Moreover, they have been used to identify liberals as ungodly and unlikely to look out for the interests of “real” Americans.

Moral Combat discusses much of the little-known story of Black atheists inside and outside organized atheism in the U.S. and deserves a place on the bookshelves of all atheists and readers interested in the past, present and future of Black people in the U.S.

Norm Allen is the editor of the groundbreaking book African American Humanism and The Black Humanist Experience: An Alternative to Religion. He is currently writing a book entitled Secular, Successful and Black: 25 Profiles. He is also the editor of the journal The Human Prospect published by the Institute for Science and Human Values.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Uppity Negress & the O.G.s

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Word on the street has it that that uppity Negress/bad bitch from Black Skeptics has elicited “complaints” from a cabal of festering white men. Last week PZ Myers reported that he and a few others had gotten an industry memo about her article “Black Atheists Rising” in the International Humanists News journal. Since uppity Negress/bad bitch wasn’t cc’ed she can only guess how the virtual smackdown went but PZ did a good job of checking the o.g. gangstas. In a 2000-plus word article about the social justice outreach and scholarship of non-believers of color seems the O.G.s were most riled about the Negress’ wack critique of white supremacy and scientism in the Kumbaya atheist nation.

Meanwhile, in a galaxy not far far away, the Negress attended the American Humanist Association (AHA) conference in New Orleans. On the way to the hotel and the virtually all white conference she rolled through dilapidated segregated neighborhoods in an air-conditioned shuttle bus. Post-Katrina the income and wealth gap between blacks and whites has become more gargantuan. Black unemployment has skyrocketed, black residential displacement is still prevalent, New Orleans schools are hyper-segregated and charterized, and the city is no less churched than it was several years ago. During a seminar the Negress facilitated on Culturally Relevant Humanism some of the white participants got all bothered when she introduced the alien concept of the dominant culture. The seminar went through a variation of Peggy McKintosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” exercise in which race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability privileges are highlighted by who moves where in the room. For example, white folk will never have to worry about their kids being Trayvon Martin. White folk can bet that if they choose to have children they will always be able to see people of their race and/or gender represented in textbooks as authority figures and leaders in science and philosophy. Historically, from the postwar FHA to mortgage lender Countrywide to Louisiana’s Road Homeowner Assistance Program, white homeowners have benefited from affirmative action policies that built white wealth and institutionalized segregated residential patterns. Being of the dominant culture means never seeing it. It means having a near religious belief that good meritocratic shit like living wage jobs, home loans, tenure, and safe communities just come to you because you’re more enlightened, talented, disciplined, and hard working than those lazy shiftless racial others who are in church 24/7 and don’t subscribe to evolution.

During the seminar AHA development director Maggie Ardiente (an outstanding leader and the only other woman of color there) and Dr. Anthony Pinn both reflected on how they are constantly being told by whites in the “movement” that they don’t see them as people of color, don’t see their race, implicitly see them as exceptions, ad nauseum ad infinitum. As Pinn argues in his essential book African American Humanist Principles, white American Humanism was based on the elevation of the (white) universal subject and the construction of the racial other:

European humanism and white American humanism develop under the assumption of human worth and integrity. That is to say, these two modalities of humanism emerge in light of an assumed value and worth. They develop as the “surface” of Renaissance and Enlightenment confidence. Yet, for those of African descent it is a different story. They are the underbelly of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in that the advances that shape these two periods occur in part because of the slave trade, and the overdetermination and dehumanization of Africans. Mindful of this, one can safely say African American humanism is a reaction against modernity and its ramifications. The ‘freedom’ upon which modernity rests…was not meant for Africans; rather African bodies provided the raw material for this freedom.”

Radical humanism seeks to dismantle the naturalization of white supremacy as the invisible template for rational civilization. Because the don’t have to know that being Trayvon, or Aiyanna Jones ( a 7-year old black murdered in 2010 by Detroit police as she slept in her own bed), is a 24/7 reality for black children in colorblind America. From the time they are kindergartners to the time they are college students, youth of color are told that Western traditions reflect a universal aesthetic and cultural standard against which all other traditions are measured. They are trained not to see that white men dominate Western art history and education. They are socialized to believe that Western traditions reflect universal objective standards of beauty and truth. These standards tell them what the deep complexities of authentically human experience are, rather than that of their own cultures and communities.

The “Talented Tenth”
Humanism won’t mean a damn thing in their world without the right to self-determination. It has no weight or relevance without a social and gender justice movement that demands equitable access to education, living wage jobs, housing, reproductive health and universal health care as a moral human right. My Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) students challenge and redefine what culturally relevant humanism looks like on a daily basis through their resistance against racist sexist expectations. At the end of the month WLP seniors will receive First in the Family scholarships from a local nonprofit for their kick ass activism and academic performance. Students like Ronmely Andrade were never among the Talented Tenth expected to go on to college. A month ago Ronmely was headed to the military after graduation, swayed by the Marines’ relentless on-campus recruitment campaign. A gifted speaker and presenter, she later expressed misgivings about going to boot camp and training for a career as a mechanic. While so-called inner city schools in South and East L.A. are besieged by military recruiters the more affluent predominantly white schools on the Westside and in the Valley get the college recruiters and the A-G college prep classes with highly qualified teachers who don’t take off after two years. In an era of educational apartheid, the Americana fever pitch of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines is unheard of on these campuses because it is a given that their students will be going on to college, not dying on the frontlines.

Ronmely is an agnostic from a Catholic background and works long hours at Jack in the Box to help support her family. She is a natural born leader who exudes a steely poise and control in front of student audiences that are often hostile to hearing about sexual violence from assertive young women of color. I have been an admirer of her fierceness ever since she came into the program. When I was her age no one ever came to our classrooms to talk to us about sexual violence or sexual harassment. Even though many of us were being sexually harassed or assaulted daily by peers, predator teachers and relatives there was no engagement with the role this played in our sense of self-image and life expectations. There was no feminist youth movement to address misogyny and internalized sexism in communities of color. Criminalized as un-rapeable ho super-sluts women of color weren’t true victims of sexual violence. It was accepted that they should remain silent about their victimization, lest they be smeared as uppity castrating bitches detracting from the “real” issue of the brutalization of men of color. In a recent blogpost on reproductive justice 12th grader Brenda Briones writes, “I have heard many Latino fathers brag about their promiscuous sons. I have never heard a Latino parent brag about a promiscuous daughter. In accordance with their Catholic or Christian beliefs, ‘good daughters’ are expected to stay virgins until marriage. This double standard makes boys think that young women are sexual objects that can be used to prove to the world that they are ‘true players.’ When we as a community, uphold these views, we tell young women that their value is rooted in their sexuality and not their talents or intellect.” A talented writer with a high GPA, Brenda will be attending a community college in the fall because she is undocumented and does not qualify for federal financial aid. In her experiences with college counselors WLP program coordinator Diane Arellano reports that undocumented high school students like Brenda are often explicitly told that there is no college path for them.

This year, with Diane’s guidance, Brenda and her fellow WLP students started an AB540 group to advocate for undocumented youth on their campus. Drop-outs, racist push-out policies, transfers, and incarceration winnow the numbers of 9th graders who eventually graduate. Next week during their graduation they may sit on a football field that is only two thirds full; bad uppity “bitches” ready for their lifelong battle with the O.G.s.