Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Abortion on Demand and Without Apology: Fighting for Women's Right to Self-Determination

For Every Woman In Every State

The Reversal of Abortion and Birth Control Rights Must Stop Now!

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The following statement from the Stop Patriarchy Coalition is in response to the crisis that confronts women's human rights, women's self-determination, economic justice and social justice in the United States. Last week, Christian fascist Congressman Trent Starks introduced a nationwide bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks into the House of Representatives. Comparing abortion to "the Holocaust and slavery", Franks attempted to capitalize on the publicity around the trial of former abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell to elicit support for this extreme, dangerous legislation. Although the Ninth Circuit Court struck down a similar bill in Arizona last week, the recent explosion of anti-abortion and contraception legislation has fatally comprised reproductive justice and imperiled the future of women's health care:

Abortion is an issue that divides this country. This is no accident. How one thinks and feels about abortion flows fundamentally from how one views women.

We recognize that women are full human beings who must have the right – through unrestricted and unstigmatized access to birth control and abortion – to decide for themselves when and whether they will have children. We reject the view that a woman's highest purpose and fundamental “duty” is to bear children, even those she does not want or cannot care for.

For decades, a movement which calls itself “pro-life” has unleashed violence against abortion providers, shamed and humiliated women, and relentlessly restricted access to abortion, especially for poor women.

Over 80% of abortion clinics have experienced violence, threats, or harassment; eight doctors and staff have been murdered. Today, 97% of rural counties have no abortion provider. One in four poor women who seeks an abortion cannot afford it and is forced to have a child she does not want. Four states have only one abortion clinic left.

This assault has intensified, not slowed, under the Presidency of Obama. 2011 and 2012 saw record new legal restrictions on abortion. Already this year, 278 bills have been introduced to further restrict abortion, including laws set to go into effect that would shut down the last clinic in North Dakota on August 1. Added to this, the Obama administration has defied the FDA and challenged the courts in its determination to keep emergency contraception from many of the women and girls who most desperately need it.

Reproductive rights are in a state of emergency.

If this direction is not reversed, women face being returned to the situation that prevailed for millennia – until only very recently – being forced to subordinate their dreams to have children against their will, or to risk their lives to avoid this. We are headed towards a situation like that in El Salvador where women face long imprisonment for abortion and where nurses and doctors must either turn women in or risk being imprisoned themselves.

This assault on the right to choose abortion is not driven by “concern for babies” or women. The fact is, this “pro-life” movement stands unanimous in its opposition to birth control and comprehensive sex education, the most effective means of preventing unwanted pregnancies. Republican leaders in this movement have fanned hatred of women by shaming women who have sex, belittling the monstrous crime of rape, and in other ways.

The truth is: Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators.

For too long, millions have watched in alarm as yesterday's outrageous and unthinkable attack has become today's “compromise position” and tomorrow's limit of what can be imagined. This dynamic must be broken. The political leaders of the Democratic Party cannot be relied on to do this. While posing as the last bastion of defense against these attacks, these “leaders” have in fact seriously undermined reproductive rights by seeking “common ground” with fascists and religious fanatics, by ceding the moral high ground, by severing abortion from women's emancipation and by refusing to stand up when abortion providers are murdered.

We must rely on ourselves. We call on people everywhere to:

-defend abortion providers who are under attack

-speak openly and positively about abortion, including their own

-mobilize mass protest against every new attack wherever it takes place

-find the ways to come together to wage a determined fight to defeat this entire war on women

This July and August, there will be an abortion rights caravan traveling across this country to many places where attacks are most severe, including being in North Dakota on August 1st when new laws are set to go into effect that would criminalize abortion after six weeks and shut down the last clinic in the state. We support this action as well as other efforts across the country to defend abortion providers and defeat similar laws in other states. We pledge to resist and call on all who care about freedom, justice, and women's lives to do the same!

Forced motherhood is female enslavement.

Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!

To add your name to this statement see:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Godless Americana Reader Reviews!

Alyson Miers, author of Charlinder's Walk

"Friends, countryfolk, students of secularism, direct your attention this way, please. Grab your lined notebooks and pens and take a seat facing the board. It is time for the lessons you didn't get in high school, or for that matter in college. Sikivu Hutchinson's new book, Godless Americana, will offer you the history, sociology, psychology and social studies you've been missing while asking why black people in America are so invested in the supposed religion of their oppressors. Buckle your seatbelts and keep your hands inside the car, because you will travel a very long way in a short period of time. As we have come to expect from Dr. Hutchinson, there are no sacred cows, no privilege unexamined, no prejudice left unexposed."

Heather Aubry:

"Sikivu Hutchinson has done it again. In her latest book, she employs her ruthless analytical skills to expose the underbelly of "Americana," particularly as this myth is perpetuated by the religious right to the detriment of people of color, women and other marginalized folk. In so doing, she offers a radically different take on reality--historical and contemporary--from a secular, humanist and unapologetically African American perspective. It's important to note that Hutchinson supports her assertions with hard facts. This book is not, unlike so many, a tiresome exercise in self indulgent or lazy theorizing."

Kimberly Veal, Black Non-Believers of Chicago:

"Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson is masterful at presenting the facts, precept upon precept, of secular social justice, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, capitalism, economic injustice, and global imperialism."

Bryan Vogt:
"Sikivu Hutchinson's latest critical assault on unreason, intolerance, ignorance, and injustice in America is just as viscerally hard-hitting and intellectually satisfying as her 2011 effort. Anyone claiming to be human in America needs to read her work....and act on it."

Monday, May 6, 2013

Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels NOW AVAILABLE

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Over the past several years, the Right has spun the fantasy of colorblind, post-racial, post-feminist American exceptionalism. This Orwellian narrative anchors the most blistering conservative assault on secularism, civil rights, and public education in the post-Vietnam War era. It is no accident that this assault has occurred in an era in which whites have over twenty times the wealth of African Americans. For many communities of color, victimized by a rabidly Religious Right, neo-liberal agenda, the American dream has never been more of a nightmare than it is now. Godless Americana is a radical humanist analysis of this climate. It provides a vision of secular social justice that challenges Eurocentric traditions of race, gender, and class-neutral secularism. For a small but growing number of non-believers of color, humanism and secularism are inextricably linked to the broader struggle against white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, capitalism, economic injustice, and global imperialism. Godless Americana critiques these titanic rifts and the role white Christian nationalism plays in the demonization of urban communities of color.



Faith and Fraud in "The Undershepherd"

By Sikivu Hutchinson, from Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

The gospel of social capitalism is unpacked with salacious brio in writer-director Russ Parr’s 2012 film "The Undershepherd". Set in Los Angeles under luminous blue skies, the film provides a window onto the cesspit of thug religiosity. In the opening scene two “junior pastors,” Roland and L.C., from First Baptist church, chafe at the leadership of a cabal of older pastors led by veteran actors Louis Gossett Jr. and Bill Cobbs. When the head pastor is exposed in an embezzlement scandal, the young pastors embark upon separate ministerial paths. In typical Cain and Abel form, the story focuses on the opposite arcs of virtuous Roland, who branches out to start his own storefront church, and best friend turned rival, corrupt messiah complex preacher L.C. Roland skews toward Billy Graham; L.C. toward Jim Bakker. L.C. assumes leadership of First Baptist and spirals down into a cesspit of sex, lies, and depravity, Roland and his good woman/first lady minister to the poor and struggle over the light bill. Played by the expertly diabolical Isaiah Washington, L.C. is a caricature of swaggering preacherly sleaze and machismo. He dips generously into the church till, abuses his wife, impregnates a senior pastor’s daughter, and pins the rap on one of his minions, then orders him to take the woman to get an abortion (which, like most female characters on the big screen, she’s adamantly opposed to). Parr pulls his punches at the beginning of the film by having a commentator provide a “this doesn’t reflect all of the Black Church” disclaimer. Moreover, gender roles are rigidly prescribed; the black female characters fit neatly into the Jezebel/temptress or loyal, God-fearing/caregiver mode. For the females, being God-fearing is signified by prairie dresses with “tastefully” revealing necklines. The men are locked in a duel for power, but the women’s clich├ęd backbone-of-the-church status bear out Jill Nelson’s caveat about the nexus of religious power and gender: “If black women boycotted religious institutions for a week, they’d cease to function. Instead we continue to worship faithfully, tithe, answer the phone, and cook the minister’s lunch.” Nonetheless, the film ably spotlights predatory religious masculinity. L.C. liberally uses scripture to justify his debauchery. The church elders are portrayed as inept, overbearing and incapable of leading their way out of a paper bag. Meetings devolve into bickering and incoherence. The pecking order for who gives a sermon turns on ego and dominance. L.C. repeatedly attempts to upstage one of the elders with overwrought “can I get a witness” whooping and hollering. Church funds are secretly used to buy a condo hideaway in the Bahamas. The coup de grace comes when L.C. tells a church deaconess who accuses him of being a fraud that he is God, kisses the microphone he’s holding, then proceeds to poke her breast with it.

Throughout the film, Parr contrasts L.C.’s lust for stardom and celebrity with Roland’s humble struggle just to keep a roof over his storefront congregation’s head. L.C. brings in the cameras and turns his services into a reality show. He browbeats parishioners and even publicly chastises a shiftless father with a new girlfriend on his arm for deserting his kids. L.C.’s gross hubris becomes a metaphor and cautionary tale for the pitfalls of prosperity gospel demagoguery. It’s implied that Roland is closer to the Christ model and L.C. to the Pharissee. True Christians don’t act this way, or so the party line goes. The L.C. types pervert the true spirit and letter of the Bible and betray its overriding message of tolerance, charity, love, and humanity. Thus, L.C. and his real life counterpart Creflo Dollar give Christianity a bad name. In 2012, Dollar was arrested for hitting and choking his teenage daughter after she defied him about attending a party. He was soundly trounced in the media for hypocrisy, abusiveness, and sullying “true” Christian values, even as his flock predictably rallied around him with “he’s a true Man of God” declarations. So what would Jesus, protector of the meek and defenseless, do? He would cast out the false prophet Dollars of the world and protect the lambs from their predations. Why hasn’t this happened? Why do the prosperity gospel predators continue to rake in tax-exempt billions decade after decade with no divine oversight or intervention? The standard Christian rationalization is that they will pay in hell. But instead of punishment one can see collusion, deftly skewered by Harlem Renaissance author Nella Larsen in her book Quicksand: “How the white man’s god must laugh at the great joke he had played on them! Bound them to slavery, then to poverty and insult and made them bear it.” Indeed, there is no evidence that Jesus was simply a kinder gentler Michael Jackson milquetoast lover-not-a-fighter vision of tolerance and forgiveness. In the New Testament he slams Jews, smacks down non-believers and wants to kill the babies of adulterers (John, 3:18, 15:6). But the propagandists for a sanitized Christ always want to have it both ways. They want to cherry pick scripture to amplify Jesus’ essential benevolence while keeping critics from cherry picking the bad “out-of-context” stuff. As Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation notes, “Believers often accuse skeptics of ignoring the good while picking out only the bad parts of the bible. Believers ask why we don’t join them in emphasizing that which is good and beautiful in the bible. This might appear to be a fair question until it is turned around and we ask them why they don’t join us in denouncing the ugly parts. Then, they don’t see the questions as being quite so fair.”

It’s precisely this kind of hyper-masculine license that allows the cult of the charismatic preacher to dominate the landscape of black America. Because the Bible is filled with so much rot, hatred, and anti-human rights vitriol, Christian propaganda about its moral righteousness is a schizoid enterprise. Although Larsen’s caveat about the gullibility of African Americans within the context of religious debasement rings true, the white man’s God has long since morphed into the God of black bootstraps opportunity. The legacies of slavery and racial apartheid have made the church one of the easiest venues for black entrepreneurialism. Drive down any urban street and the explosion of small ministries, makeshift spiritual centers, inner-city temples (one right around the corner from me is headed by a man who calls himself “Prophet”), and other low-rent vehicles of worship attest to the enduring power of this entrepreneurial hucksterism.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mad Science or School-to-Prison? Criminalizing Black Girls

By Sikivu Hutchinson

High stakes test question: A female science student conducts an experiment with chemicals that explodes in a classroom, causes no damage and no injuries. Who gets to be the adventurous teenage genius mad scientist and who gets to be the criminal led away in handcuffs facing two felonies to juvenile hall? If you’re a white girl check Box A, if you’re an intellectually curious black girl with good grades check Box B. When 16 year-old Kiera Wilmot was arrested and expelled from Bartow high school in Florida for a science experiment gone awry it exemplified a long American-as-apple pie tradition of criminalizing black girls. In many American classrooms black children are treated like ticking time bomb savages, shoved into special education classes, disproportionately suspended and expelled then warehoused in opportunity schools, juvenile jails and adult prisons. Yet, while national discourse on the connection between school discipline and mass incarceration typically focuses on black males, black girls are suspended more than boys of every other ethnicity (except black males). At a Georgia elementary school in 2012 a six year-old African American girl was handcuffed by the police after throwing a tantrum in the principal’s office. Handcuffing disruptive black elementary school students is not uncommon. It is perhaps the most extreme example of black children’s initiation into what has been characterized as the school-to-prison pipeline, or, more accurately, the cradle to grave pipeline. Stereotypes about dysfunctional violent black children ensure that the myth of white children’s relative innocence is preserved.

Nationwide, black children spend more time in the dean’s office, more time being opportunity transferred to other campuses and more time cycling in and out of juvenile detention facilities than children of other ethnicities. Conservatives love to attribute this to poverty, broken homes, and the kind of Bell Curve dysfunction that demonizes “welfare queens” who pop out too many babies. Yet there is no compelling evidence that socioeconomic differences play a decisive role in these disparities. The fact remains that black children are criminalized by racist discipline policies regardless of whether they’re privileged “Cosby kids” or are in foster care or homeless shelters. According to Daniel Losen and Russell Skiba, authors of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Suspended Education” report, “ethnic and racial disproportionately in discipline persists even when poverty and other demographic factors are controlled.

National research such as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s study and the Indiana Education Policy Center’s 2000 “The Color of Discipline” report has consistently shown that black students do not, in fact, “offend” at higher rates than their white and Latino counterparts. Middle class African American students in higher income schools are also disproportionately suspended. This implies that black students are perceived by adults as more viscerally threatening. “The Color of Discipline” report found that black students were more likely to be referred out of class for lower level offenses such as excessive noise, disrespect, loitering and “threat.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “race and gender disparities in suspension were due not to differences in administrative disposition but to differences in the rate of initial referral of black and white students.”

When it comes to black girls, the widespread perception that they are dangerous, hostile and ineducable is promoted and reinforced by mainstream media portrayals. Historically, black women have never been regarded as anybody’s “fairer sex” because white women have always been the universal standard for femininity, humanity, and moral worth. On contemporary TV and in film, heroic white women abound as “new” models of bold, adventurous, breakthrough femininity. Writing on “women’s” TV portrayals recently in the L.A. Times, Mary McNamara gushed about how the current crop of small screen female protagonists were complexly layered, daring departures from the typical crone, slut and mother roles of the past. According to McNamara, “TV's female leads are breaking ground with their unexpected choices. Thanks to the feminist revolution and TV's increasing ascendancy, women are allowed to make mistakes without paying the ultimate price. It's all quite refreshing.”

Yet once again the “feminist revolution” is lily white and over-exposed. The article hails characters from “House of Cards,” HBO’s swaggering white-fest “Girls” and “Homeland,” then blithely acknowledges that the female protagonists of these shows are all white and mostly middle class. Previous pieces from both the L.A. Times and the New York Times have saluted the rise of ass-kicking female adventurers like those in the “Hunger Games”, “Zero Dark Thirty” and (even) Pixar’s animated movie “Brave” as evidence that Hollywood is becoming more receptive to strong independent female characters.

But back in the image ghetto, substantive, much less starring roles, for women of color are still less abundant than Aunt Jemima’s head scarf. The endless parade of reality show swill featuring hyper-sexual “out of control” brawling black women has long dwarfed dramatic mainstream portrayals of black women’s lived experiences, ambitions and narratives.

Thus, Kiera Wilmot’s arrest and expulsion is a national travesty. It is an indictment not just of the inveterate racism and sexism of American public education but of an image industry that still loves to see black women doing mammy, Jezebel and welfare queen to white women’s heroic explorers.