Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Secularism and Social Justice: Interview at Psychology Today

By David Niose:
From Psychology Today

A generation ago a typical humanist group might be little more than a few older, white men meeting in the basement of a Unitarian church, arguing points of philosophy that have little relevance in the real world. That has changed, as atheist and humanist groups have sprung up in a much wider range of settings, from schools to pubs to workplaces, and as young people, women, people of color, gays and lesbians, and others have helped the notion of personal secularity gain traction in the wider population.

But still, despite this expansion, many would like to see the secular movement experience faster and broader growth in African-American and Latino communities. Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, a Los Angeles author and secular activist, is one of those working to expand the movement in communities of color. With the authority of churches in those communities very strong, she argues that the secular movement is unlikely to challenge that authority unless it firmly addresses issues of social and economic justice. This message resonates with many—especially among those humanists who see such traditionally liberal issues as being central to humanist ethics—but not with everyone. Some would prefer that the movement focus exclusively on church-state separation and other so-called "culture war" issues, for example, while some atheists even describe themselves as conservative. Below, I chat with Hutchinson about her views on this ongoing discussion...More @

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In Cold Blood: The Murder of Renisha McBride

By Sikivu Hutchinson

A white family grieves in outrage after their teenage daughter has been gunned down by a black homeowner in an African American neighborhood. In this parallel universe the killer walks free, enjoying the benefit of being viewed as having defended his home from a violent intruder, while the big city D.A. decides whether or not to charge him.

It is no revelation to many black women in neo-apartheid Americana that being white and female pays deep dividends in everyday life. Among these dividends is the ability to be seen as an innocent victim under dire circumstances and to have the weight of the American criminal justice system behind you upholding that perception. Another is the advantage of secure access to elite suburban enclaves without fear of criminalization. Stranded in the early morning hours after a car crash in a predominantly white suburb outside of Detroit, nineteen year-old Renisha McBride had no such benefits. A recent high school graduate, McBride had just gotten a job at the Ford Motor Company when she was brutally shot in the face by a white male resident after seeking help from the crash. Her family described her as warm and loving. As of this writing her killer has not been apprehended nor charged.

McBride’s killing is part of a long legacy of black female murder victims who have been devalued in a misogynist apartheid system of state-sanctioned violence that thrives on the urban/suburban racial divide. In 2010, seven year-old Aiyanna Jones was murdered by a Detroit police officer in her own home during a botched police raid. In 1999, a homeless fifty four year-old 5 foot black woman named Margaret Mitchell was killed by LAPD officers in an affluent Los Angeles retail district after a dispute over a shopping cart. The officers in the Mitchell case were not charged. The officer in the Jones case was recently granted a retrial after the jury in his initial involuntary manslaughter trial deadlocked. Civil rights activists and community protestors have compared McBride’s killing to that of Trayvon Martin, Emmet Till, Oscar Grant and Amadou Diallo, globally known black male lynching victims whose white killers never saw jail time. But the problem with these comparisons is that they unintentionally minimize lesser known black female victims of white supremacist violence such as Mitchell, Jones, Eulia Love, Eleanor Bumpurs, Alesia Thomas and Mitrice Richardson. Although the circumstances of these women’s deaths were quite different, the lack of sustained national and global attention (relative to black men who have been murdered under similar circumstances) unites them. National civil rights activists and feminist organizations must ask themselves why these names have not become as prominent or high profile in national activism. Mainstream civil rights organizations have long had a sexist, patriarchal blind spot when it comes to critical consciousness about the specific gendered and racialized ways in which black women are demonized, sexualized and criminalized in the U.S. Historically, much of the language around black civil rights uplift has been oriented toward redeeming black men and pathologized black masculinity. In K-12 education, students are typically taught about American history in general and the modern civil rights movement in particular as though they were merely a procession of events spearheaded by Great white men, a few exceptional men of color and Rosa Parks. From MLK to the Black Panthers, black women’s self-determination was never part of the mainstream civil rights’ social justice calculus or platform. Thus redressing the epidemic of intimate partner violence and sexual assault in African American communities has never been a major part of African American civil rights organizing. Nor has the skyrocketing number of black women in prison and the ways in which this regime has led to the exponential increase of black children that are homeless or in foster care.

McBride’s murder underscores how gender, race and segregation intersect in the everyday experiences of black women as policed female bodies. Black women, unlike white women, do not have the social privilege and advantage of the dominant culture’s belief in their feminine “innocence”, “fragility”, gentility or right to be protected from men of another race. But in the justifiable national focus on the criminalization of black men, black women’s daily criminalization—on the highway, in stores, in schools and in the workplace—is minimized. Next to black boys, black girls are the most suspended and expelled student group in the nation. They are typically charged with posing a “threat” or exhibiting “willful defiance”. Black students receive harsher punishments for non-violent offenses than do whites who commit identical or even more serious offenses such as theft or assault. This disparity is a linchpin of the school-to-prison pipeline. Consequently, one of every nineteen black women will be imprisoned during their lives; an atrocity that has had a devastating impact on black families and communities.

The national groundswell of support for Marissa Alexander, a young African American woman who, despite invoking Florida’s stand your ground defense, was sentenced to twenty years in prison after attempting to protect herself against an abusive spouse—has shed a long overdue spotlight on the specific ways in which black female victims of violence are criminalized. Alexander’s well-documented history of spousal abuse didn’t prevent her from being slapped with a mandatory minimum sentence. Conversely, McBride’s killer is still walking free as the Wayne County D.A. “assesses” and “investigates” whether he should even be charged.

McBride was buried this weekend, violently branded as guilty until proven innocent.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sisterhood Ain't Powerful: White Women's Rights

By Sikivu Hutchinson

When reality TV fixture Omarosa Manigault claimed on the Bethenny Frankel show that white women could “walk around” being mediocre and still get rewarded with opportunities—while Black women had to be exceptional—the predominantly white female studio audience gasped, outraged by her “heresy”. Omarosa’s baggage as a tabloid lightening rod notwithstanding, her charge resonated deeply with many Black women. As a Black female Ph.D., much of my professional life has involved navigating and pushing back against a very specific, insidious brand of white female racism and paternalism. In the workplace and academia, this brand has consisted of the delicate nuances of power masquerading as benevolence, the kind that grins in one's face, understanding, sympathetic, worshipping at the cult of the legendarily “strong” Negress; appropriating blackness and using it as a weapon when real world decisions about hiring, promotion, and visibility are at stake. Over the years this display has come in various guises. The white master’s thesis advisor who said my writing was not “graduate school caliber”, then “retracted” her statement two years later when my thesis was given a departmental award. The white dissertation advisor who vehemently opposed my being given a “with distinction” commendation after my successful dissertation defense. The under-qualified white career bureaucrat/manager, armed with an undergraduate degree, who lied about my job performance on my annual evaluation. The white MIA coworker who breezed into the office whenever she felt like it, never published anything, never ran a consistent program yet got a promotion and wound up supervising me. The white British "I feel your pain" department chair at a prestigious private arts college who hired me to teach two token semesters of Women of Color in the U.S. classes then stood idly by while students of color were academically marginalized and shut out of financial aid.

In her article “Job Discrimination Lives On,” Margaret Kimberly writes “Even at the supervisory level apartheid is the order of the day. Black men and women are rarely hired to supervise white people. Black men supervise black men, black women supervise black women, and white men are in positions to manage everyone else.” The majority of my supervisorial “gatekeepers” have been white women. And since its inception, white women have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action. Yet there are very few white feminist political commentators, activists, academics or pundits who vigorously champion affirmative action or make it an explicit focus of their public advocacy. According to the U.S. Labor Department “Six million women workers are in higher occupational classifications today than they would have been without affirmative action policies.” Of course, this isn't counting the “unofficial” legacy of white affirmative action which undergirds generations of white wealth accumulation, white residential segregation and white upward mobility in higher education. When Tea Party fascists to "moderate" whites, and even some "liberal" ones, savage affirmative action and lazy shiftless pathological Blacks the “unearned” advantages white women reap are never part of the diatribe. As has been well documented, white families and communities actively benefit from the job opportunities, business loans, government contracts, increased wages and private sector access that affirmative action has conferred onto white women. In her article “The Death of Affirmative Action,” University of Minnesota law professor Michele Goodwin notes that, “White women benefit significantly from state and federal affirmative-action programs in the private sector with hiring… and recent efforts to diversify boards of Fortune 500 companies…Prior to revamped admissions practices in direct response to civil-rights laws, women had much less possibility of success in suing a university to admit them.” In an article on the new Jim Crow of administrative hiring at Ivy League campuses, The Chronicle of Higher Education maintained that the number of (white) women in upper management has increased but representation of people of color remains stagnant.

As bell hooks argues in a recent critique of the Cheryl Sandberg Lean in phenomenon, Black feminists are especially rankled by white women’s shopworn white supremacist resistance to even identifying themselves as white. In corporate hyper-segregated sectors like the film industry, behind the camera stasis (vis-à-vis directing, casting, technical and production jobs) or in front of the camera “progress” for white women is routinely framed by white women entertainment journalists as a step back or a triumph for all women. It has only been recently that some white feminists, spurred by feminist of color criticism and high profile Twitter campaigns like that of #solidarityisforwhitewomen, have begun to own their privilege, if not the considerable capital that white femininity carries with it in the workplace, residential communities, the criminal justice system, and education.

Last month, when a white female student (the first ever) began participating in our Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) sessions, “Rene”, a Latina student, objected to her inclusion in a space for women of color. Without consulting my students beforehand, I had personally invited the white student to come to our meeting after she’d made insightful anti-racist comments about gender, sexuality and discrimination in a Teen Health workshop I was teaching. But Rene was right—WLP is supposed to be a safe space for women of color, a rare commodity even in schools that are predominantly African American and Latino. By unconsciously assuming “sisterhood”, and not consulting with students about the inclusion of a potential white “ally” in our group, I had failed to absorb the lessons of my own lived experience. In my rush to be inclusive I’d been exclusive, forgetting the very basis for the organization in a culture where white girls will never have to worry about being affirmed, reinforced and humanized on a playing field with the dark other.