The Fetish of Patriotism

By D Frederick Sparks


In July, Hillary Clinton was criticized for not wearing an American flag pin while delivering her acceptance speech as the first woman nominee of a major political party, even though I recall a huge American Flag being projected on the large screen behind her.   Just a few weeks ago, Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas faced the wrath of social media patriots for not putting her hand over her heart during the playing of the national anthem.  Now, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has ignited a firestorm for his deliberate refusal to stand for the raising of the flag and the national anthem, which he explains was a protest against police brutality and other forms of persistent discrimination against African-Americans.

People who criticize what they see as disrespect to the symbols of patriotism endow these symbols with far-ranging meaning,  from the over-arching ideals of American freedom and democracy, to a love of one’s fellow citizens, to an appreciation for those who have served/do serve in the U.S. armed forces.

And that is exactly how symbols function.  They crystallize and communicate large concepts in a succinct and hopefully commonly understood manner.  And when those concepts have particular emotional reverence for people, then a sentimental attachment to those symbols naturally follows.

I can personally relate to this. As many other married couples do, my husband and I exchanged rings on our wedding day that we wear daily.  It is such a constant that most the time I don’t even notice it’s there, but one day a few months ago I realized it was gone.  I panicked and was immediately distressed, as I thought about the happiness of our wedding day and the degree to which the ring represented that.  I was relieved to find that it had slipped off and was nestled in the bed sheets.

But let’s say our wedding day was an unmitigated disaster, and our marriage was characterized by physical and emotional abuse , mistrust, and a lack of intimacy.  How much sense would it make at that point to feel the same emotional resonance around the ring? And it would certainly be absurd for me to place MORE importance on the ring than on the nuts and bolts of the relationship that it supposedly symbolizes.

And that’s exactly how I view those critics who are apoplectic about these instances of “disrespect’ for the flag and the anthem.  For those who say the flag represents our freedom, I say how do you feel about the fact that the state of North Carolina was caught red-handed attempting to make it more difficult for African-American voters to exercise their franchise? Have you expressed your outrage at the continued erosion of the 4th amendment protections against illegal search and seizure?  I am more concerned with the state of our actual freedoms than with the ceremonial deference presumptively owed the putative symbols of those freedoms.

The “disrespect for our troops” line of attack is equally facile.   Here’s how I think we should show respect for our troops:  1) Don’t risk their lives and limbs for bullshit reasons   2) Make sure they have everything they need when they return from combat.  Many veterans and active military members  are also speaking out on being used as pawns in the debate about the Kaepernick protest, with some parsing the difference between disagreeing with his stance and protecting his right to free speech, with others, particularly African-American soldiers, echoing their agreement with the issues he has attempted to highlight.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the use of symbols to represent cherished ideals.  But the symbols should not be fetishized to the point that the symbol receives more attention than the underlying realities associated with the symbol.

The Fetish of Patriotism

Physicians and Social Justice

by D. Frederick Sparks

The classic version of the Hippocratic Oath states that a physician should keep the sick from “harm and injustice”.  A modern version of the oath used in many medical schools declares that physicians should remember that they remain members of society, “with special obligations to all fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.”

For some physicians, living out the promises of their oaths manifests itself in using their platform and medical expertise to highlight issues of social justice and social inequality, and in particular, the degree to which social inequities impact health outcomes.

Physicians and Criminal Justice Reform

In 2013, the venerable television show Sesame Street introduced the character Alex, a young boy who reluctantly reveals to his friends that his father is incarcerated.  Alex serves as a voice for the increasing number of children with at least one incarcerated parent.

The introduction of this character served as an unlikely catalyst for a group of physicians to make a call to action for doctors to address the impact of mass incarceration on health outcomes. In an article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine,  the group of doctors noted that incarceration is a Social Determinant of Health (SDOH), and that SDOHs such as incarceration, poverty, and housing and educational disparities shape patients’  health and access to care.  The article also notes that while incarceration is a finite experience, a history of incarceration may lead to lasting negative health outcomes, as the formerly incarcerated experience  higher rates of homelessness, lower rates of employment, and permanent disqualification from many anti-poverty and health assistance programs all of which are factors associated with poorer health.  Importantly, the health consequences affect not only to the incarcerated person, but also the family members including children.

The organization Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform  (PfCJR) was launched in May 11, 2015, co-founded by  Dr. Edjah Nduom, a  neurosurgeon (all similarities to a former presidential candidate end there) currently serving as a Staff Clinician in the Surgical Neurology Branch at the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Nzinga Harrison, a psychiatrist who is the Chief Medical Officer for Anka Behavioral Health, Inc., a private, non-profit mental health system.   According to Dr. Nduom,  the organization was struck by the myriad of ways in which negative interactions with the criminal justice system lead to detrimental health consequences. They believe that changing the interactions between the criminal justice system and targeted communities will lead to improved health outcomes.  PfCJR has organized its advocacy efforts around three core issues:

  • Decriminalization of mental health and addictive disorders, noting that individuals with severe mental illness are three times more likely to be in a jail or prison than in a mental health facility and 40 percent of individuals with a severe mental illness will have spent some time in their lives in either jail, prison, or community corrections.
  • Reform of the juvenile justice system to identify and divert at risk adolescents, as research suggests that as many as 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder.   And youth housed in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than are youth housed in juvenile detention facilities.   Also,  youth under the age of 18 represented 21 percent of all substantiated victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in jails in 2005, and 13 percent in 2006 – despite the fact that only 1 percent of inmates are juveniles, a
  • Provision of adequate access to physical and psychiatric health care for current inmates. Prison inmates have a higher incidence of chronic and infectious diseases, such as AIDS and hepatitis C, and mental illness than that of the general population.

Since its founding, PfCJR has established several partnerships to help physicians use their specific medical expertise to further the cause of one of the most significant civil rights issues of our time. In a new partnership with the Campaign for Youth Justice, they are using their knowledge of the difference between the brain biology of juveniles and adults to support the need to #raisetheage of criminal responsibility in states that treat juvenile offenders as adults. The group has also been traveling the country, presenting for the American Medical Association Young Physicians Section, the Student National Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the National Physicians Alliance. “All physicians naturally want to find ways to improve the health of our communities,” says Dr Nduom. “When we let our colleagues know the many ways that healthcare intersects with the criminal justice system, many physicians find that they are already working on our core issues, but did not realize that their work was actually part of a social justice movement.”

Targeted Services to Underserved Populations

In addition to specific political and civic advocacy, physicians contribute to the push for social justice through targeted services to underserved populations. The French founded group Doctors Without Borders is one of the most well-known groups providing medical services and supplies to disadvantaged populations globally.   More locally, In Los Angeles and other cities, many doctors are practicing ‘street medicine‘ ,  in which healthcare providers go to where homeless patients are, rather than waiting for them to come to offices and emergency rooms.  Other physicians have specifically targeted under-served populations within their research and clinical practice.  Dr. Sande Okelo,  Division Chief of Pediatric Pulmonology at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA,  focuses on developing tools and strategies to improve asthma care, particularly for poor, minority and under-served children who are most at risk for poor asthma care and poor outcomes.

Public Trust and the Medical Profession

A study completed in 2014 found that, in the United States, the level of public trust in physicians as a group ranked near the bottom of trust levels in 29 industrialized countries (though, paradoxically, Americans reported higher satisfaction with their individual health care provider than with providers as a group).  The level of mistrust, particularly when it comes to participating in medical research studies, is more pronounced among African-Americans.   The author of the 2014 report stated that a key to improving this perception may be physicians and professional societies like the AMA taking “more visible stands on issues broadly affecting people’s health.”  The work that some physicians are doing around criminal justice reform, access for underserved populations, and other social justice issues may help not only in providing a more comprehensive level of care that considers various societal inputs to health outcomes, but may also serve to enhance public trust in the profession.

Physicians and Social Justice

Welcome to the new Home of Black Skeptics!

By D. Frederick Sparks

The Black Skeptics blog is pleased to announce our new home here at The Orbit! We share this space with a collection of atheist/secular bloggers with a specific commitment to diversity and social justice, and we are excited about what the future holds.  We will continue to serve as a forum to highlight issues specific to secularism and communities of color and social justice.

We will be forever appreciative for the support we received from PZ Myers and everyone at our old home, FreeThoughtBlogs. While we are working on transferring our old posts to the new site, they will still be available at FTB .

I also want to take this opportunity to plug our organization Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), a community-based, all volunteer, non-profit organization that provides resources and education for non-believers, humanists and secularists of color.

One of BSLA’s most important undertakings is our First in Family Humanist Scholarship, an initiative launched in 2013 to provide resources to undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college.  As a member of the scholarship committee tasked with reading the applications, I have been moved and humbled by the stories of young people from the most marginalized segments of our society who strive to attain their goals through education and who have already demonstrated a commitment to bettering the world around them.  We hope that you will join us in supporting this worthwhile endeavor.

Welcome to The Orbit!



Welcome to the new Home of Black Skeptics!

Environmental racial disparity and Keystone

by Frederick Sparks

My hometown of Port Arthur, Texas may be considered “famous” for a few things: natives Janis Joplin and former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, rappers Pimp C and UGK, who collaborated with Jay Z (“big pimpin down in P-A-T”), and for its past as a central point of vice and corruption in Texas; in the late 1950s a special state legislative committee convened to investigate the complicity of law enforcement with open and notorious illegal gambling and prostitution (the actor Steve McQueen once worked as a bouncer at one of Port Arthur’s bawdy houses).

But Port Arthur’s most notorious legacy may be related to its status as home to one of the largest oil refining capacities in the world, and the disproportionate rate of cancer and other diseases and ailments experienced by Port Arthur’s poorest black residents, who live in close proximity to Port Arthur’s refineries.  Now, Port Arthur is the terminus for the Keystone pipeline.

In a 2013 article awarded a prize for social justice journalism, writer Ted Genoways highlighted the health challenges of residents of a housing complex built in close proximity to the refineries:

“Cancer rates among African Americans in Jefferson County are roughly 15 percent higher than they are for the average Texan. Shockingly, the mortality rate from cancer is more than 40 percent higher. And cancer is only part of the story. A study by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that residents of Port Arthur were four times more likely than people just 100 miles upwind to report suffering from heart and respiratory conditions; nervous system and skin disorders; headaches and muscle aches; and ear, nose, and throat ailments.”

The article also notes that while African Americans make up only 12 percent of the Texas population, people of color make up more than 66 percent of residents near the state’s most hazardous waste sites.All of this is of course made easier by state and local officials who receive financial incentives from energy companies in exchange for lax or nonexistent enforcement of environmental regulations.  It took years for the Texas legislature to close the loophole exempting refineries and power plants built before 1971 from regulation.  And in 2001 when the EPA was poised to impose ozone limiting restrictions affecting the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) carried the water of the energy industry and convinced the EPA that the levels that were being measure represented pollution drift from Houston, not local refining.  Thus additional regulations were delayed until 2007.

The addition of the pipeline only adds to the risk of environmental degradation and related health consequences.  And Port Arthur is not unique in that there is nationwide pattern of the poor and people of color being far more likely to live close to environmental hazards and to bear negative consequences from that exposure.

So it is particularly disheartening to see Congressional Black Caucus members Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) and James Clyburn (Florida) cross party lines to vote in favor of the pipeline.  I suspect their votes were influenced by big money energy constituents (particularly in the case of Lee) and by the promise of “job creation”… though as it has been noted, the State Department review shows that only 35 permanent jobs would be created by the pipeline.  Thirty five.  How many cancer deaths are those jobs worth?


Environmental racial disparity and Keystone

Framing Black Queer Resistance: An Interview with Black Lives Matter L.A. Activist Povi-Tamu Bryant


By Sikivu Hutchinson

Last week, activists from the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (BLMLA) coalition spearheaded the Occupy LAPD encampment, demanding a meeting with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck as well as the firing and prosecution of the officers who murdered Ezell Ford. The issue of black self-determination—queer, trans, disabled, undocumented—is at the forefront of this thriving mass movement, which not only challenges white supremacy but challenges the orthodoxies of mainstream patriarchal hetero-normative civil rights organizing. On Tuesday I spoke to BLMLA activist Povi-Tamu Bryant, who was waiting to address the LAPD Commission after the dismantling of Occupy LAPD’s encampment and the arrest of fellow BLMLA organizers Sha Dixon and Dr. Melina Abdullah. Dixon, Abdullah and Bryant, along with fierce black women BLM founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, have brought an intersectional lens to the movement in an era where black youth of all genders and sexual orientations don’t see the complexity of their communities represented in hyper-segregated classrooms with apartheid curricula. Bryant’s comments on Ethnic Studies and the need for culturally responsive education were especially relevant in light of the recent implementation of a new California law banning suspensions for willful defiance in grades K-3. Willful defiance has long been used to target and criminalize “unruly” black children as early as preschool. For children of color, criminalization at the preschool level is often the first phase in a path that leads to pushout in later grades and incarceration in adulthood. It is also one of the most devastating tools in the destruction of culturally responsive education. This partial victory is important in context of the growing leadership of community organizers who have waged daily resistance to police and state violence which has resulted in the stolen lives of black youth like Ford, Aiyanna Jones, Tamir Rice and Rekia Boyd.
SH: Historically when we look at civil resistance to state violence there has been a lot of focus on black male leadership and black male victims, often to the exclusion of black women who’ve been murdered, as well as of black women activists who have been on the frontlines of movement organizing. What motivated you to become involved with Black Lives Matter L.A.?
Bryant: I was motivated to become involved last year after the acquittal of George Zimmerman. I realized in that moment again just how little black lives are valued, and it made me feel like it was important to be around black folks, to share my rage and grief with black folks and to be showing up for myself, my community and my family. BLMLA has a particular frame around the value of all black lives mattering; showing that black trans lives matter, black women’s lives matter, black disabled lives matter and black immigrant lives matter. Having that frame allowed me to show up as myself—as a black queer gender-bending woman—and it has allowed me to really be involved with lifting up the disparities that black communities face. Continue reading “Framing Black Queer Resistance: An Interview with Black Lives Matter L.A. Activist Povi-Tamu Bryant”

Framing Black Queer Resistance: An Interview with Black Lives Matter L.A. Activist Povi-Tamu Bryant

Teaching Against Terrorism

BWW presentation class

Ferguson discussion

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Now that the grand jury in Staten Island has desecrated Eric Garner’s dying breath and re-confirmed fascism in the U.S. what Black person has confidence in the justice system? What descendent of slaves has “faith” that speechifying, praying, and pleading for the system to recognize Black life will have any demonstrable impact on the United Terrorists of America? Who believes that the rule of law means anything other than a jack boot and a lynch rope around the neck of African-descent people who built this country brick by brick?

As progressive educators many of us enter the classroom every day with fierce expectations of change and redress. Working against textbooks that obliterate poor and working class people of color, we teach our students about social history to enlighten, inspire, transform and enable them to think critically about the similarities and differences between past and present. Even among those of us who push back against grand narratives that pimp the obscenity of Western exceptionalism there is an implicit assumption about progress; a secular faith in “advancement” despite the face of insidious institutional racism.

Today, we go into the classroom with that secular faith blown to bits yet again. Today, some of us will tell our students that the Garner decision makes it important to amplify that people of color have always fought terrorism on this soil. Some of us will say that the U.S. has a history of using the Orwellian language of freedom and justice to vilify the non-Western other while waging terrorist war against its own. During World War II black activists fought the hypocrisy of the U.S.’ campaign against fascism in Europe. These interventions were the legacy of 18th century revolutionary war era protests and legal resistance that free and enslaved Africans mounted against the tyranny of “democratic” empire. Social justice pedagogy is designed to empower young people to critique, question and ultimately organize against these contradictions. When we teach we try and lift up these brutal contradictions and show how they inform the present. In an age of wall-to-wall corporate media it’s one of the last bastions of decolonization for youth of color who are told that race is no barrier but see white supremacy at work every day. But in the cold light of unrelenting state criminality and savage indifference to black life it’s difficult to remain hopeful.

Discussing racism and discrimination with South Los Angeles students in a new multiracial leadership group before the Ferguson decision, some were initially hesitant to unpack their experiences. Yet in the same school students reported that some teachers divide their classrooms by seating “smart” Latino students on one side and “underachieving” African American students on the other. In the same school black boys are led away in handcuffs by school police every week. In the same school “out of control” students of all genders are physically restrained. In the same school, and in schools just like it across the district, black students are grossly under-represented in Advanced Placement and Honors classes but pack special education classes and detention halls. Unlike the murder of Eric Garner, these are the routine, everyday acts of state violence that are never captured on videotape but also signal that breathing while black remains a punishable, lethal offense. Our challenge as activist teachers and mentors is to keep pushing students to see that the system doesn’t want them to see these terrorist violations as the same.

Teaching Against Terrorism

In Cold Blood: The Murder of Renisha McBride

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 feet tall 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. Continue reading “In Cold Blood: The Murder of Renisha McBride”

In Cold Blood: The Murder of Renisha McBride

The War Against Black Children


kingdrew boys

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In a predominantly Black South L.A. continuation school class packed with eleventh and twelfth grade girls, only half want to go to college, few can name role models of color and virtually none have been exposed to literature by women of color.  Demonized as the most expendable of the expendable, Black continuation school students are routinely branded as too “at risk”, “challenged” and “deficit-laden” to be “college material”.  Coming from backgrounds of abuse, incarceration, foster care and homelessness, these youth are already written off as budding welfare queens and baby mamas.  They are at the epicenter of the war against Black children. 

State-sanctioned terrorism against Black children is commonly understood as murder, harassment, and racial profiling–overt acts of violence which elicit marches, pickets, mass resistance and moral outrage.  Last week, Republicans and Democrats alike fell all over themselves to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragic murder of four African American girls in the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.  Such overt acts of organized white supremacist terrorism against Black children have largely receded.  Instead, they have been replaced by the socially acceptable state violence of school-to-prison pipelining, racist low expectations and the illusion of equal educational opportunity in the “post Jim Crow” era of re-segregated schools.

 Last spring, in an offensive commencement speech to Morehouse College graduates, President Obama launched into his standard refrain about personal responsibility, sagging pants and absent fathers.  Checking shiftless Black youth has long been one of his favorite presidential past-times.  As progressive Black pundits have noted, this narrative not only plays well in Peoria, but on the global stage.  For a nation brainwashed into believing the U.S. is an exceptionalist beacon, the underachievement of black students has become both shorthand for and explanation of its low standing in academic rankings.  According to this view, the achievement gap between (lazy) Black and (enterprising) white and Asian students “drags” down the U.S.’ global academic standing.  Steeped in a culture of pathology, native-born African American youth “squander” the opportunities seized upon by newly arrived immigrant students of color.

 As a 2013 high school graduate and first generation college student of mixed heritage, Ashley Jones is well acquainted with toxic anti-black propaganda.  She says, “Being Black and Thai…if I do well on a test or in class, then some people will comment, ‘that’s your Asian side.’”  Jones comes from a South L.A. school where it is not uncommon for teachers to reflexively track students into college prep, honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes according to race and ethnicity.  She comments, “If you were to ask these same people about race, they would tell you we are all equal and anyone can achieve anything they set their mind to, but when you listen to them talk at nutrition and lunch, you hear Blackness constantly associated with violence,  ‘being ghetto’, and a lack of intellectual abilities.” A recent L.A. Times article about Kashawn Campbell, a high-achieving African American graduate of South L.A.’s Jefferson High School who struggled to get C’s and D’s at UC Berkeley, exemplifies these sentiments.  The over 700 responses on the article’s comment thread were relentless: the young man’s plight was due to inflated expectations, laziness, outright sloth, and the natural intellectual inferiority of African Americans.  Even the National Review picked up the piece and dubbed it an example of a “Devastating Affirmative Action Failure.” Why, many commenters howled contemptuously, didn’t Campbell’s slot go to a “real” achiever, i.e., a hardworking Asian or white student who genuinely deserved it? Missing from the near universal condemnations of affirmative action was the fact that Campbell’s freshman performance at UC Berkeley reflects the deficits of a neo-liberal public education system in which even high achieving students of color may be grossly under-prepared Continue reading “The War Against Black Children”

The War Against Black Children

#solidarityisforwhitewomen? Calling on atheist orgs to Support Marissa Alexander

marissa alexander

By Sikivu Hutchinson

What happens when an African American female intimate partner violence victim attempts to defend herself after years of domestic terror?  She gets slapped with a mandatory minimum 20 years in prison for aggravated assault.  Such was the case for Marissa Alexander, a 32 year-old Florida mother of three with no prior criminal record who fired a warning shot in her home after a dispute with her chronically abusive spouse in 2010.  No one was injured in the incident.  Alexander’s attorneys attempted to invoke Florida’s notorious stand your ground law as a defense but prosecutor Angela Corey, lead prosecutor on the George Zimmerman murder trial, ruled that it was unjustified.  For the past year, national outrage over Alexander’s 20 year sentence has been mounting as comparisons between her case and Zimmerman’s abound.  However, Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury that was already conditioned to see him as a victim and Trayvon Martin as a criminal.  And unlike white female defendants with no prior records, black female defendants with no prior records have no wage of whiteness to insulate them from harsh sentences that are more suitable for career criminals.  Commenting on the Alexander case in the Daily Beast, Rita Smith of the National Coalition Against  Domestic Violence argues “When a woman or minority is claiming they are defending themselves, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt…Most battered women who kill in self-defense end up in prison. There is a well-documented bias against women [in these cases].” Yet the reality is that black women are three times more likely than white women to be tried, convicted and incarcerated for felony offenses.  One in 19 black women will be incarcerated during their lifetimes versus one in 100 white women.  Ultimately, black defendants receive longer and harsher sentences than white defendants and are more likely to be given mandatory minimum sentences.

Alexander’s case highlights how expectations of innocence are rarely if ever accorded black female abuse victims in the dominant culture.  When it comes to cultural judgments about justifiable defense, stereotypes of violent breeder black women (In 2010, Alexander gave birth to a premature baby after being beaten by her spouse) eclipse any presumption of innocence or reasonableness on the part of the victim.  Even in the face of extreme violence, national narratives of proper female victimhood are never extended to black women, and the Lifetime cable channel—reigning Middle American pop culture fount of white woman pathos—never comes knocking.

Because mass incarceration and criminalization do not directly affect their largely white constituencies, humanist/secular/atheist organizations are silent on this human rights atrocity in their own backyard. The Black Skeptics Group calls on progressive atheist organizations to support the Free Marissa Alexander campaign.  Information on the campaign, volunteer opportunities and upcoming protest actions on September 14th can be found at or To officially support her campaign go to


#solidarityisforwhitewomen? Calling on atheist orgs to Support Marissa Alexander

Prayer Warriors and Freethinkers (on the Texas Freethought Con)


by Sikivu Hutchinson

Excerpt From: The New Humanism

The prayer warriors have descended on the Crenshaw parking lot in South L.A.
The first sentry, a slight man in athletic shorts, weaves through the parked
cars on an old Schwinn. He flags down the driver of a T-Bird. They exchange
quick greetings then bow their heads and join hands, oblivious, for the moment,
to the crash of street traffic, the manic dance for parking spots, the rustle of
grocery bags and runaway shopping carts. On this hallowed plot of blacktop time
is suspended and God vibrates through the chassis of each parked car, as the men
bond in the simple bliss of scripture.

I caught the parking lot prayer warriors a week before I was scheduled to
speak at the Texas Freethought Convention, an annual October gathering of non-believers in
Houston. It was an ironic send-off for my pending trip, reminder of the visceral
grip of everyday Jesus and the unique challenges of black secularism. Five years
ago, two men holding hands in this particular lot might have elicited homophobic
double takes or a beat down. But now, the public performance of prayer, street
preaching and proselytizing in urban communities of color is back with a
revivalist vengeance borne of the vicious arc of recession.

Long before it became fashionable to lament the demise of the American dream,
joblessness, foreclosure and homelessness were a fact of life for many in
predominantly black and Latino South Los Angeles. Indeed, it has been said that
when America catches a cold black America gets the flu. The titanic wealth gap
between white and black America means that fewer young African Americans will be
able to meet much less exceed the standard of living enjoyed by their parents.
Over the past decade, socioeconomic mobility for black college graduates has
actually declined. At 8.7% of L.A. County’s population, African Americans are
50% of its homeless and 40% of its prison population. MORE@

Prayer Warriors and Freethinkers (on the Texas Freethought Con)