While the mainstream media slobbers over breast cancer survivor Ann Romney’s ‘just folks’ performance at last night’s Republican Convention thousands of poor and working class women across the country won’t get breast cancer screenings due to the GOP’s relentless war against providers like Planned Parenthood. It wasn’t surprising that Romney’s rich empress trumpeting of love for women, stand by your man true grit and bootstraps Americana went over like gangbusters with the nearly lily white GOP crowd. The fantasy that privileged political dynasty scion and hedge fund offshore account secreting multi-millionaire Mitt “made it on his own” is like crack for a GOP eager to trot out welfare queens at the eleventh hour to shore up its Timothy McVeigh base. But Ann Romney’s speech also evoked the disgusting travesty of all the patriarchy-besotted right wing women who are fighting tooth and nail to deny working and middle class women the right to control their own bodies, destinies and families through access to basic abortion, birth control, and health care services. With all of their fake soul love of ‘just folks’ moms who have to live off of tuna in basement apartments Romney and the GOP lynch mob’s message to American women who will have to travel one-hundred miles to find a healthcare provider because their local Planned Parenthood office has been gutted: just charter a Gulfstream.
By Sikivu Hutchinson
It’s always been the secret wish of people of color to play down home Deliverance-style crackers in a special trailer trash fantasy league like those Civil War enactment confabs where white men get off on pretending Dixie never died. Better still, it’s always been my personal ambition to enact a trailer trash fantasy league at a public school as an official observation of authentic white culture.
Weeks after Anaheim—home to Disneyland, i.e., the “happiest place on earth”— was still reeling from a series of police shootings in the Latino community, the city’s predominantly white Canyon Hills High celebrated its fourth annual “Seniores and Senioritas” day for graduating seniors. The day featured white kids sporting sombreros, sagging pants, gang paraphernalia, ICE and Border Patrol gear as well as girls with fake pregnant bellies pushing baby strollers. The racist display was only shut down due to the activism of 19 year-old Jared Garcia-Kessler, a former student who was told to “get a sense of humor” when he initially complained to a school official.
Anaheim and Orange County (the “O.C.”) have long registered in the American popular imagination as sun-kissed playgrounds for white Middle America. Despite having a predominantly Latino and highly diverse Asian community the O.C. is widely perceived as one giant tanning bed for spoiled rich white trust fund babies and their gated community sequestered parents. This perception is part and parcel of the media whiteout of Latinos, who, despite being 45% of California’s population, are grossly under-represented in West Coast-centric film and TV productions. Mainstream representation of Latinos is little more than a goulash of illegal alien, gang banging, spicy Latina broken English spewing stereotypes. A recent New York Times article focused on the TV industry’s attempts to court growing Latino audiences with the same old stale racist themes about breeder Latino families, border jumping and criminality.
The 85% white faculty at Canyon Hills High mirrors the faculty composition of UC San Diego; which elicited a firestorm in 2010 when white UCSD fraternities staged a Black History Month “Compton Cookout” in which participants were asked to wear gold teeth, cheap clothes, FUBU attire, etc. The Compton Cookout inspired massive protests, renewing discussion about admission, retention and graduation rates for black students and the miniscule number of tenured black faculty. Given the fever pitch xenophobia, nativism and anti-undocumented immigrant hysteria in the U.S. it is no surprise that the Seniores event was allowed to roll on for three years with virtually no incident or protest. Garcia-Kessler’s intervention is a commendable strike against the business as usual apartheid that defines K-12 schools.
By Sikivu Hutchinson
Decked out in a white lab coat straight from central casting, the African American science teacher featured in Target’s latest “Back to School” commercial is a cartoonish reminder of the dearth of images of black scientists in American popular culture. Riffing about school supplies to the tune of Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science,” the teacher declares, “Parents, this year I’m going to teach your kids that magic does exist. It’s called science,” as he makes the rounds in a magical classroom filled with mostly white students. When youth of color see scientists in mainstream film, TV or advertising it’s usually the lone wolf, trailblazing bullet proof-Einstein white male (or the sexualized white female variant, typically buried behind thick attitude glasses ready to be whipped off before a sex scene) peering through a microscope with furrowed brow. Mainstream representation codes heroism, scientific discovery, scientific genius, and rationality as white. Recent media coverage of the Mars Curiosity rover’s ecstatic predominantly white Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) crew was yet another affirmation of this link.
As an aspiring oncologist enrolled at a South Los Angeles high school not far from JPL, college-bound twelfth grader Karly Jeter’s role model is African American surgeon Ben Carson. He is the only person of color in the medical science field that she looks up to. She says that this is partly because he “made it on his own” and partly because she doesn’t know of any other examples. Karly’s desire to be an oncologist stems from being a cancer survivor herself. She describes finding a cure for cancer as her biggest passion. On the other end of the college spectrum, planetary geologist Devin Waller has a Bachelor’s in Astrophysics from UCLA and a Master’s in Geoscience from Arizona State University. As a graduate student her concentration was in planetary remote sensing on Mars. At ASU she was also a research analyst for projects involving the predecessors to Curiosity. Although they are at two different stages in the science education pipeline, these young women both represent the challenges that confront African American women in science and technology.
In her book Swimming Against the Tide: African American Girls and Science Education, Sandra Hanson explodes the myth that black girls are somehow disinterested in science due to hyper-religiosity or “culture.” Hanson found that, despite significant institutional and societal barriers, there is greater interest in science among African American girls than in other student populations. She frames this seeming paradox in historical context, stressing that “Early ideologies about natural inequalities by race influenced the work of scientists and scholars as well as the treatment of minorities in the science domain. Racism is a key feature of science in the United States and elsewhere. This has a large impact on the potential for success among minority students. Early work on science as fair has not been supported.”
Hanson outlines some of the obstacles that confront budding African American women scientists from elementary school to the postgraduate level. Stereotypes about girls of color lacking proficiency in science, the absence of nurturing mentors, the dearth of education about people of color who have contributed to science research (i.e., culturally responsive science instruction), and academic isolation often deter youth who would like to pursue science careers. Science researcher Diann Jordan, author of Sisters in Science, notes that her study of black women scientists helped her combat the sense of isolation she felt in a field where she was often perceived as an interloper. Nonetheless, Jordan, Hanson, and other researchers have found that “African American girls in particular are very positive about science.” Stem cell scientist Valerie Johnson McCullar stresses that black girls begin with high interest in math and science in elementary school then begin to lose interest in quantitative subjects because “if there is not someone around you to constantly show you the beauty in certain things you get channeled in certain ways.” Hanson notes that black girls, as opposed to white girls, are actually more inclined to stay engaged with science throughout their K-12 careers. In elementary and middle school girls tend to outperform males in math and science. However the “trend tends to reverse itself in the white but not the African American communities as the young people enter high school.” Indeed, “African American girls have been found…to be in more advanced math classes, to get better science grades, and to participate more in science than their male counterparts.” But Hanson emphasizes that greater participation amongst African American girls does not necessarily translate into high achievement. Academic outcomes for students of color still lag behind their white counterparts. Indeed, the presumption of underachievement that dogs even the “best and brightest” science students underscores the depth of educational apartheid in the U.S. Continue reading “Beyond Starship Enterprise: Racism, Sexism & The Science Pipeline”
Moses Alusala is the Chair of the Kenyan Humanist Association. Recently he discussed his advocacy work, influences, and the political connections between African and African American non-believers with Black Skeptics.
What was the catalyst for your journey to humanism and non belief, if you consider yourself a nonbeliever? Let me first put you in context. I was raised in a doctrinally conservative protestant Christian denomination and had a fairly strict religious regimen on the home front. My childhood was marked by the dogmatic (confessional) approach of Christian evangelism, indoctrination and nurturing that developed in me cultural bias and prejudice, leaving little room for skepticism. As a youth, however, I cultivated an interest in literature on the ideologies of the liberation movements, African nationalism/renaissance, and Black consciousness which explored the dynamic relations between religion and society, and revealed Judeo-Christian and Islamic ideologies of conquest and domination. For example, there is a whole body of prejudices about African traditional religions which have their roots in the ignorant or malicious misinterpretations of missionaries. I awoke to the reality, and ultimate consequences of acceptance of a religious hegemony. Observation of the nature of current movements such as the Evangelical and Pentecostal, as well as hearing views from an otherwise closeted African humanist, affirmed my inchoate doubts on missionary theology. In short, my journey to humanism and non-belief was essentially an African centered liberatory process and orientation.
Which thinkers and or social historical figures influenced you on your journey? Franz Fanon, W. E. B. Dubois, Wole Soyinka, and Ngugi wa Thiongo.
What kind of advocacy work do you do around humanism in Kenya? Our main area of advocacy work is human rights and social justice advocacy through community forums where we challenge religious and social orthodoxies. Issues such as combating of harmful superstitions e.g. witch-killing, and patriarchal dominance are discussed. We also hold forums on science literacy and critical thinking among the youth.
How might ties between African humanists and African American humanists be developed? By participating in collaborative projects related to economic development, conferences, joint publications, as well as mentoring/exchange activities in a bid to develop a pan-African worldview. Participation of students, younger scholars, and younger women is a source of possibility for the future of liberationist agenda in African and African American humanist practices and discourses. I think it would be a wonderful thing too for African non-believers to join in on the Day of Solidarity for Black Non believers.
Do you see common ground between the two groups? Yes. I see both groups as concerned with the liberation struggle of disenfranchised peoples as a result of social inequalities experienced along lines of race, class, gender and sexual orientation. This is because, besides the fact of having a common ancestry, both are minorities and have a shared history of racism whose historical underpinnings is in slavery and colonialism perpetuated through the neocolonisation of globalization reinforced by organized religion.
Historically many African American secular humanists embraced freethought as a rejection and critique of western colonialism and imperialism do you find humanism of value to people of African descend in this regard? Yes. In fact to appreciate the value of humanism in this case, one needs to understand the legacy of colonialism in contemporary Africa. Colonization leaves many cultural legacies that perpetuate after nations liberation. In postcolonial Africa the greatest, most overt legacy left by white settlers is religion. The survival of Christianity in postcolonial countries is one way in which colonial mentalities are perpetuated. This signifies a loss of tradition and culture and a recognition and acceptance by native people of the superiority of western faith. The longer an oppressive force succeeds at dislocating traditional culture from the people, the further away people feel from their history and ancestry. As more and more generations are taught the new ways they fail to question their education and beliefs. Western ways become so effectively integrated into indigenous culture eventually becoming social and cultural norms persevering even after the colonizing forces have left. As Oscar Lewis notes, “poverty of culture is one of the crucial traits of the culture of poverty”. Humanism, therefore, provides an opportunity for peoples of African descent to question colonial cultural legacies and their influence on their education and beliefs, as well as rediscover their history and ancestry as a form of liberation struggle.
How has your involvement in the emerging community of nonbelievers changed your outlook on life? It has enabled me to learn the importance of identity politics. A group cannot gain acceptance when its members are closeted and accepting marginalization. As the movement gains momentum we can expect more identity-based activism, more reminders from the secular community that non believers are part of the Kenyan landscape. Coming out is therefore is a powerful means of demanding recognition, speaking out against religious based public policy, harmful superstitions, and opposing the vilification of secularity. Many Africans are in the closet about their religious skepticism. We only know too well how hard it can be to let go of the security of a belief system inculcated from childhood – and which for many of us is intimately intertwined with our identities, our families and our entire community support networks. This serves to validate and legitimize religious fundamentalism and orthodoxy because it suggests that there is something wrong with the secular worldview. All the same, it is a good thing that the non-believer community here is beginning to awaken to the necessity for a support system for those who face ostracism and vilification from various social circles. Additionally, involvement in the emerging community of nonbelievers has affirmed my belief that the most reliable allies in any moral struggle will be those who respond to the ethically significant aspects of life, whether or not they conceive these things in religious terms. Some of the most moral role models I have had are secular people who are very ethically motivated persons and do not see right and wrong as artifacts of a divine protection racket.
By Sikivu Hutchinson
In an effort to clarify his racist comments about backward Palestinians and prosperous Israel Romney let loose with more exceptionalist flatulence at the National Review: “But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? In the case of the United States, it is a particular kind of culture that has made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth. Many significant features come to mind: our work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor and oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism. But one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom.”
The American dream, and the manifest destiny notion—held by believers and non-believers alike—that the U.S. is the greatest, most just, most civilized, exceptional, culturally and technologically advanced nation on the planet, has always been the genius milk of Magnesia myth in the midst of terrorism. Suckle the masses on the belief that having a choice of one hundred pair of Nike shoes is democracy and you’ll have them for a penny or a trashy reality show. Snooker them with the bootstraps ethos that anybody—not just privileged white male Harvard dropouts blessed with the advantage of generations of discriminatory entitlement programs—can be Mark Zuckerberg and you’ve manufactured a nation of blissful historical amnesiacs. Since the election of Barack Obama the robotic bleat of American exceptionalism has become legion amongst white conservatives for whom Israel’s apartheid regime is sweet freedom. Opining on Israel’s cultural superiority Romney also declared that, “America’s culture enabled the nation to become the most powerful and beneficent country in the history of humankind.” In the white imagination this coupling of power and beneficence is critically important. First, it obscures the tradition of European American social welfare, principally, how whites have systematically benefited from affirmative action policies that built white wealth, institutionalized segregated residential patterns that stubbornly persist today, and rendered black and Latino capital a virtual oxymoron. Second, it suggests that the pursuit of power at the expense of the Other is not just good for the powerful but is good for the Other as well. So what if the taxes of people of color fund sub-standard schools and housing and breaks for robber barons like Romney and the Koch brothers?
Central to Romney’s message is that American power is fundamentally moral. There was a moral reason why white progress and upward mobility were brokered through New Deal entitlement institutions like the FHA, GI Bill, and Social Security; entities which excluded African Americans for decades and are now savaged as evil big government by the white nationalist right. In Romney’s world the Darwinian influence of American culture fueled suburban manifest destiny for whites, enabling them safe passage and escape from urban ghettoes. People of color who were able to assimilate to Anglo American values took advantage of equal opportunity and prospered; those that weren’t were simply mired in backward ancestral traditions. As Glen Ford notes in his piece “Romney and the Culture of White Supremacy”:
“White U.S. southerners also insisted, during slavery and Jim Crow, that “their” Negroes were the best off in the world because of their exposure to white folks’ religion and way of life. Left to their own devices, however, Black folks’ innate cultural inferiority – i.e., depravity – would do them in…White liberals also believed in the Culture Demon. In the 1950s and early 60s, it was considered politically correct to describe African Americans as “culturally deprived” – meaning, Blacks are disadvantaged by lack of exposure to white culture. Power has nothing to do with it.”
Comparing African American wealth to that of the Palestinians Ford argues, “The 20 to 1 disparity between Israeli and Palestinian per capita income matches the wealth gap between American Blacks and whites (app. $5,000 vs. $100,000 for median Black and white households). The fact that such numbers do not provoke general shock and calls for reparations is proof enough that most whites view the disparity as more a natural phenomenon than evidence of cumulative injustice. Daniel Patrick Moynihan spoke for white folks of the past, present and future when he posited, in 1965, that a Black ‘culture of poverty’ is what keeps Black people poor – not pervasive white racism.” Moynihan, author of the infamous 1965 Johnson administration report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” is a fitting reference given the blizzard of exceptionalist propaganda fueling the 2012 election. With his nod to manifest destiny and cultural imperialism Romney is set to party like its 1965, or 1865.
Proving that there’s no fool like a God-fearing fool, William Owens, founder of the Coalition of African American Pastors, recently announced the launch of a national campaign against President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage. Speaking at a press conference Owens condemned Obama’s “Judas” like ways for “bowing to homosexual money,” blustering that he didn’t march “one foot or one yard” in the civil rights movement “for a man to marry a man.” Owens’ posse brings to mind a similar campaign waged against gay rights advocate Reverend Eric Lee in 2009 at the height of the Prop 8 debate. During Lee’s tenure as head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference he was threatened with removal because of his outspoken support of same sex marriage. Then as now, conservative black pastors argued that support for same sex marriage was contrary to civil rights. But Owens has ramped up the invective with the suggestion that same sex marriage breeds child molestation. According to Owens, “If you watch the men who have been caught having sex with little boys, you will note that all of them will say that they were molested as a child.”
Straights are always fond of playing the gay predator card, ignoring evidence that most child molesters are heterosexual men. Heterosexist fixation on gay “pedophiles” (the term pedophilia refers to attraction to children and not to behaviors of sexual abuse) further marginalizes the epidemic of sexual violence against women and girls; violence that is often perpetuated within the sanctity of straight marriage in all the good straight Christian families that Owens wants to save. The tired debate over whether LGBT liberation is a civil rights issue hinges on proprietary claims to a legacy of struggle that presumably only straight black folk are entitled to. Thus, not only do Deuteronomy and Leviticus say gays are aberrant—but white gays speciously ride on the coattails of self-proclaimed “movement” blacks like Owens. According to this logic, equality for gays and lesbians isn’t a civil right because there were no state sanctioned segregation laws barring gays and lesbians from employment, schools or housing—an argument which is just as absurd as asserting that gender equity is not a civil rights issue because there were no poll taxes, grandfather clauses, or literacy tests for white women at the voting booth before 1920. In this reductive universe all women are white and all gays are white. The notion that systematized oppression, as well as systematized privilege and entitlement, intersect via multiple identities is unheard of. Yet black gay and lesbian slaves worked the plantation alongside straights while having their lives, identities and right to love tacitly if not violently suppressed by a regime that brutally exploited black bodies and black reproduction. Black gay and lesbian youth sit in classrooms where they are ritualistically called out of their names, dehumanized and rendered invisible by cultural norms that equate attractiveness, social acceptance and authentic masculinity and femininity with being heterosexual. And black gay and lesbian partners live in segregated neighborhoods, struggle with inequitable access to health care, jobs, and housing while being denied the privilege of marital benefits that provide straight families economic stability.
Owens is a consultant to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an outfit that has schemed to make same-sex marriage a “wedge issue” between gays and African Americans. The pastors’ campaign is timed to undermine black support for Obama in the 2012 election. By fingering Obama as a Judas to black religious interests Owens will find plenty of common ground with fellow Christian fascists in the Tea Party. They have a nice ropes course to guide him through. In the meantime let’s keep the family safe for hetero predators—the one’s protected and sanctioned by the Bible.