By Sikivu Hutchinson
Adapted from The Humanist
Over the past several years, secular feminists of color have pushed back on the reductive single variable politics of a mainstream secular movement that has all but anointed swaggering white patriarchs like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris as the global face of secularism. Black women have stepped up to assume leadership roles in the movement by creating their own groups and organizations. They have done so in response to a predominantly white context that is still hostile to the intersectional realities of people of color in a white supremacist society. As activists, educators and writers, they’ve connected their humanism and atheism to addressing segregated education, state violence, reproductive justice, rape culture, heterosexism, homophobia and misogyny in the Black Church and economic inequality. In a Huffington Post piece I wrote during Women’s History month last year, I profiled activists like Mandisa Thomas, Bria Crutchfield, Diane Burkholder and the Secular Sistahs who fearlessly go beyond belief by putting a black feminist progressive face on atheism in their communities.
As women around the world observe a “Day Without a Woman”, a strike of non-theist women would have the same grave socioeconomic implications for atheists and agnostics (estimated at around 7% of the U.S. population) as it would for religionists. Who, for example, would do the leading, planning, troubleshooting, organizing and caregiving that powers families of all shapes and sizes from sunup to sundown? In households across the country, women of all classes and ethnicities continue to do a disproportionate amount of domestic and family caregiving tasks. While white women earn 85 cents to the dollar of white men, African American women (who earn 65 cents to the dollar of white men) and Latinas (who earn 58 cents to the dollar of white men) are still the lowest paid workers in an increasingly segregated, neoliberal service-driven economy that depends on their cheap labor. In communities of color, these disparities reinforce higher involvement in churches and other faith-based institutions that may provide the kind of cultural and social welfare resources wealthier white “secularized” communities take for granted. It’s also important to note that queer black and Latino families are more “churched” than their white counterparts. This seeming paradox speaks to why there continues to be a gargantuan divide between people of color and whites of all religious orientations. For secular white folk, white wealth and privilege is embodied in the jobs women of color do—from low paid domestic work to farm work—to their status as fodder for and laborers in the nation’s mass incarceration regime. Specifically, a day without the poor and working class undocumented women of color who have been targeted by Trumpist terrorism means less profit for the police state apparatus. For progressive secular folk, the Day Without a Woman demands heightened awareness of the role racialized and gendered “others” play in validating state violence and imperialism. It also demands that the conservative Religious Right assault on reproductive health and women’s right to abortion and contraception should continue to be exposed as a human rights crisis that has been especially catastrophic for poor communities of color.
On the Day Without a Woman, students from my South Los Angeles-based Women’s Leadership Project will be in school writing, publishing and demanding their voices be heard on the impact sexual violence has on the lives and wellbeing of black and Latina girls and communities of color. Last week, students co-facilitated a sexual violence forum in conjunction with a presentation by black feminist lesbian activist Aishah Shahidah Simmons, whose trailblazing work addresses global resistance to rape culture and misogynoir. Many of the young women who participated stated that the forum was the only time sexual violence had been addressed in their school-community. Resisting the marginalization of sexual violence survivors and victims of color (of all genders and sexual orientations) is one of the many reasons the work of women of color atheists and humanists has been critical to pushing change in a polarized secular movement.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of the Women’s Leadership Project feminist humanist mentoring program for girls of color in South Los Angeles and Black Skeptics Los Angeles. Her most recent book is White Nights, Black Paradise, a novel on Peoples Temple and the 1978 Jonestown massacre.