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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Call to Atheists and Secularists to Defend Women's Right to Abortion and Birth Control

In observance of the January 22nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Sunsara Taylor and I have drafted the following statement seeking signatories. We also call on bloggers to write, post and speak in support of abortion rights this Sunday. Please follow this link to the petition to add your signature:

Atheists and secularists generally pride themselves on respect for science, opposition to harmful religious myths, and a fierce defense of the separation of church and state. Yet there is a critical need for atheists and secularists of conscience to collectively challenge the current moral, cultural, and political siege upon women’s right to self-determination. Flowing from each of these principles, we call on atheists and secularists to make public their support for women’s right to abortion and birth control. Due to the insidious climate of anti-abortion propaganda and legislation these basic rights are being viciously imperiled.
Nearly 90% of U.S. counties have no abortion provider. 2011 saw 92 new abortion restrictions enacted throughout the states, shattering the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005 under President Bush. Doctors who provide abortion are terrorized and killed. In many communities, Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), funded by powerful Religious Right foundations and staffed by non-medical personnel, outnumber legitimate reproductive health facilities. Due to this climate of misogynist persecution the moral stigma and shame cast on women who get abortions is as great as ever. Women of color and working class white women who live in communities without adequate reproductive health care are disproportionately impacted by these policies.

But that is not all. Birth control is also under attack. Pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions. “Personhood” amendments threaten to criminalize miscarriages and ban all contraception. And President Obama openly upheld Kathleen Sebelius’s unprecedented decision to overrule the FDA, thereby banning over-the-counter distribution of Plan B (emergency contraception).
All this constitutes an affront to science. Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder. Fetuses have the potential to become babies but until they are born they are a subordinate part of a woman’s body and they are not independent biological or social beings.

 All this is rooted in harmful religious myth. More @ Defend Abortion Rights

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ethnic Studies, MLK & Great Men

By Sikivu Hutchinson


In one of the first scenes of the 2006 film Walkout, the day-glo radiance of L.A. suffuses a group of Lincoln High School seniors discussing their future prospects.  It is 1968, and most of them have been told by their school guidance counselor that secretarial or vocational school is their best bet after graduation.  Walkout is a flawed, yet rousing dramatization of the “Chicano Blowouts” of the late 1960s, a series of student-led anti-racist protests in East Los Angeles schools that are routinely omitted from mainstream portraits of the civil rights era.  Watching the film with a rapt group of high school students this past week reinforced the travesty of the recent suspension of Mexican American Studies in Tucson, Arizona.  The suspension is part of broader restrictions on Ethnic Studies programs that supposedly foment the “overthrow of the U.S. government” and “resentment” against other racial groups.  Forty four years later, the “back-in-the-day” scenarios the Lincoln students faced are nakedly relevant to black and brown students nationwide; textbooks with no Latino historical figures, minimal access to college preparation classes, low college-going rates, high drop-out rates, a school-to-prison pipeline, and a yawning economic gap between the sun-kissed neighborhoods of the tony white Westside and their own.

What resonated most strongly with my students was the divide between the models of youth resistance they saw on the screen and the narrative of invisibility rammed down their throats in overcrowded classrooms day after day where they learn that white people, and a few exceptional individuals of color, generally male, made history.  For many of them, civil rights activism is something that outsized icons like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks “did” long ago in a galaxy far far away.  In most K-12 classrooms there is no engagement with King’s radical stance on capitalism, the American war machine and Western imperialism, nor contextualization of Parks’ and the Montgomery bus boycott’s significance for women’s liberation.

For my predominantly female class, learning about teenaged civil rights activists like Claudette Colvin and former Lincoln High organizer Paula Crisostomo was eye-opening, not only because of the revelation that teenaged young women were on the frontlines, but because of their battles with sexism and misogyny.  In 1955, the fifteen year-old Colvin preceded Parks in refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated Montgomery bus.  On the way to the police station white officers reportedly took turns guessing her bra size.  After her arrest, Colvin was deemed to be an unsuitable civil rights role model because she was dark-skinned, working class, and had become pregnant by an older man.  As a leader of one of the most important educational equity protests in Los Angeles, Crisostomo was at the epicenter of an essentially nationalist Chicano movement that viewed sexism as a marginal concern. In her book Black, Brown, Yellow,and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles, researcher Laura Pulido notes that, “Most nationalisms are fundamentally masculinist projects predicated on redeeming the male subject.” Sexism in K-12 education and the nationalist ethos of many social movements of color have precluded the inclusion of women of color feminism in social science curricula. 

As my twelfth grade students prepare for the next phase of their lives, many of them express outrage over “just having learned” that women like them, from communities like theirs, organized against white supremacist patriarchal systems of so-called democratic “opportunity.” They are better able to make connections between the constant sexual harassment that they experience and the tokenization of women of color in American history. Stoking this rage toward critical consciousness and politicization is why K-12 Ethnic Studies based on intersectionality has enduring academic and intellectual value.  It is as much a part of King’s and Parks’ legacies as “I Have a Dream” bromides.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of the Women's Leadership Project and author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars and the forthcoming Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.