Herding Racial Ignorance: Interview with White Nonsense Roundup

The original version of this interview can be read at Notes From An Apostate.

The advent of the Black Lives Matter hashtag and the corresponding movement has inspired individuals, groups, and organizations to mobilize for racial justice—And not all taking part in this activism are people of color.

A growing number of whites are choosing to take a stand and directly communicate with other whites on the pervasive role of racism in everyday life. I felt it important to highlight such an attempt at raising race consciousness through a new social media campaign called White Nonsense Roundup (WNR).

 

Sincere Kirabo: What was the inspiration for getting this project started and why do you feel it’s important?

Layla Tromble: I wouldn’t say there is a single inspiration for WNR. It was sort of a culmination of conversations, world events, and a meeting of the minds so to speak.  I have been very vocal in my life and on my social media for years about issues of social and racial justice and had been feeling a level of frustration and helplessness when it comes to making a lasting difference outside my more immediate circle.

I had been following BLM since the live stream videos coming out of Ferguson two years ago and trying to boost the signal of Black and Brown voices doing the hard work of creating social change to what small ability I had as an individual. I watched news story after news story of the violence and destruction being perpetrated against Black and Brown bodies, the seemingly weekly news of another Trans Woman of Color being killed, the shooting in Orlando and the ways the Latinx Queer community was erased from the narrative and the way Queers were being pitted against Muslims as though there was no intersection between those communities.

I watched my fellow white Queer community buy into those narratives and try and center themselves in the pain and heartache as though it was ours alone. I watched the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in horror and again watched white people try and write the narrative as though it was ours to write.  At that same time, my friend Terri Kempton sent me a link to a video made by a woman named Brandi Riley.

This video was a turning point for Terri and inspired her to bring up the idea of White Nonsense Roundup to me. She had been seeing friends of color increasingly exhausted by the burden of educating white people about race, and white friends rally to take over some of those duties. It was so inspiring, that we thought: ‘What if we could do that on a larger scale?’

We know that our privilege gives us the power to reach other white people and to work to change the expectation around how white people discuss race.  We were raised to believe being colorblind would stop racism; we were raised to believe that there are topics that don’t get brought up in polite conversation – and that it is more important to make people comfortable than it is to confront difficult topics. Talk about white privilege!

This has got to stop. We white people need to change the national dialogue so that it is more important to confront racism than it is to protect someone’s feelings. We need to get over our fragility and be willing to listen, willing to make mistakes and learn from them. We need these conversations about race to be the expectation not the exception.

A common stumbling block for many whites when it comes to confronting cultural prejudices is extreme discomfort with certain terms used to describe specific kinds of racial discrimination and oppression. How do you understand terms like “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” and “racism” when it comes to anti-racism work?

Our approach to these terms is that they reflect widespread structure and systems. What we mean by that is that inequality is a part of how our culture and institutions work – everything from education to banking to environmental threats to policing and prison systems. Racism is what happens when bias becomes part of those systems. White supremacy is the driver for racism – since its founding, the history of this country has been built on the backs and bodies of Black and Brown people.

The construction of “whiteness” as something outside of simple European ancestry has been a means of keeping power and access in the hands of the few. YouTuber Kat Blaque did an excellent series this year called White History Month that breaks down this history very clearly. We white folks are raised to believe that our history is the central history of the world and that our thoughts and opinions are central to all discourse. In short, that we are entitled to lead the way in everything, to dominate conversations and deem what is worth discussing or not. What a mess this has created!

Through our efforts as an anti-racist organization, we are attempting to expose the structural nature of this fight rather than the idea that racism is just some bad people doing bad things. We have distanced ourselves from the structure of white supremacy by continuing the narrative that if you are a “racist” you are also a bad person. This allows us to dismiss being called out ourselves because we don’t see ourselves as bad people and therefore can’t possibly be racist. That’s what the term “white fragility” refers to – that knee-jerk response of fear and unwillingness to listen to the experiences and pain of marginalized groups, and change behavior accordingly. It’s time we stop letting those racist jokes pass by without comment, that we stop perpetuating a culture of white silence or allowing hesitation keep us from action.

What are the goals and tactics of White Nonsense Roundup? Who are the kinds of people you typically encounter? 

White Nonsense Roundup (WNR) was created by white people, for white people, to address our inherently racist society. We believe it is our responsibility to call out white friends, relatives, contacts, speakers, and authors who are contributing to structural racism and harming our friends of color. We are a resource for anti-racist images, links, videos, artwork, essays, and voices. These can be used by anyone for a DIY white nonsense roundup, or by the WNR team to support people of color upon their request.

The response has been overwhelming and humbling! With just two weeks of experience behind us, we are starting to outline longer-term goals this project.  The continuing directive is a desire to carry some of the load for educating other white people about structural and institutional racism as well as the ways in which we perpetuate those structures through micro and macro aggressions toward people of color.

We do this in multiple ways: we respond to requests for back-up when tagged into a public post on Facebook or through emails and messages. We contribute to the dialogue in constructive and informative ways, with a tone of education and frankness. We provide support for folks trying to have conversations about race on their own by helping craft responses and offering resource links.  We also boost the signal of stories and resources created by people of color who are already doing this work and can tell the facts of it better than we ever could.

We have heard from so many different people so far.  We have been tagged into conversations that range from well-intentioned but casually racist statements, to avowed racists, to POC asking for our thoughts on topics they are discussing. We try to approach each conversation assuming the intention is for dialogue until it is proven otherwise – this is not always easy, especially in the online world where bullying has become an acceptable means of exchange – but we feel this method is necessary for furthering our work.

Our greatest challenge so far has been white fragility and how resistant even the most well-intentioned of us are to hearing areas in which we need to do better.  This reflects back to my earlier statement about how we have convinced ourselves that racism is a moral failing rather than a learned structure of our culture.

For those interested, how can people join and get involved in this initiative?

Anyone who wants to engage with us can message us directly through our Facebook page or on our Twitter. If people are interested in volunteering their time to our efforts, they can send an email with “Volunteer” in the subject line.  We have had some truly fantastic engagement on our page and in our messages, and we welcome anyone interested in learning more about us or about combatting racism online. Even more importantly, we encourage white readers to visit the page to collect information and gather resources that they can use themselves in these conversations. Reversing racial inequality will take all of us.

Herding Racial Ignorance: Interview with White Nonsense Roundup
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Putting Humanist Thought Into Action

An extended version of this article can be read at The Humanist.

Humanism has always been about putting critical inquiry and social concern for the world into action.

In 1933, the first Humanist Manifesto was crafted to communicate a need to transcend the limitations of religious belief systems. Those who penned and signed this comprehensive document on humanism affirmed the necessity of establishing “conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few.”

Forty years after the first official statement, the updated Humanist Manifesto II voiced a vision for a time that craved direction. Its authors and signatories agreed that we must rectify social injustices, that compassion and empathy were just as necessary as scientific reason, and that a commitment to all humankind is the highest commitment of which we are capable.

The third installment of the Humanist Manifesto was published in 2003. It affirms that humanism is a lifestance “guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience” and emphasizes that humanists are “committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity.”

Humanist philosophy and the need to combat various forms of social, economic, and political inequality is a rational merger of common goals.

In fact, social justice activism goes hand-in-hand with humanism, a philosophy of human ethics and reason premised on human accountability.

In Humanism As the Next Step—a brilliant, accessible presentation of humanist philosophy—notable humanists Mary and Lloyd Morain state, “If ever there was a point of view which inspires considered action, and the application of theory to practice, it is that of humanism.”

To this end, the American Humanist Association created three adjunct groups to spearhead this type of social justice work: the Feminist Humanist Alliance (formerly the Feminist Caucus), the LGBTQ Humanist Alliance (formerly the LGBTQ Humanist Council), and the Black Humanist Alliance. These three programs will mobilize humanist volunteers to create real, impactful, lasting social change in their communities and put a humanist face on the advocacy and charity work for social justice taking place in their communities. Each of these adjuncts is led by volunteer advisory councils and headed by passionate co-chairs who were enlisted because of their strong humanist convictions and their dedication to fighting injustice.

The Feminist Humanist Alliance supports feminist and womanist efforts seeking the social liberation of all women through critical dialogue and grassroots organizing. As an official partner with the Act For Women campaign, they advocate for the advancement of reproductive rights. Additionally, the FHA looks to mobilize humanist volunteers for voting rights through the organizing efforts of the League of Women Voters.

The Black Humanist Alliance teams with Black Lives Matter to combat anti-blackness and racialized oppression through direct action. The alliance also focuses on doing its part to curb recidivism and encourage hope through restorative justice. To achieve this, BHA works with the Lionheart Foundation, an evidence-based nonprofit dedicated to providing social and emotional learning programs to incarcerated adults, highly at-risk youth, and teen parents in order to significantly alter their life course. Volunteers are often in demand for Lionheart Foundation’s One-on-One Houses of Healing Correspondence Course. BHA also works with the Insight Prison Project, an organization working to transform lives through evidenced-based programs designed to develop behavior inspired by insight, accountability, and compassion. Volunteers are essential to supporting this restorative justice service.

To effectively address issues disproportionately impacting the queer community, the LGBTQ Humanist Alliance supports and connects with Get Equal, a grassroots network focusing on immigration, religious discrimination, reproductive justice, and criminalization that targets LGBTQ people.

In addition to the above programs, the American Humanist Association has become a collaborator with Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ), a national network of individuals and groups organizing, mobilizing, and educating white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. Members from each group are urged to participate in SURJ’s Super Volunteers program that consists of digital media and communications outreach.

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The AHA is determined to show that humanists are kind, caring, rational people who are committed to applying reason and empathy in solving the problems of inequity that plague marginalized communities.

Embracing an inclusive humanist worldview and living those values through compassionate activism is the answer to widespread prejudice and disparity. As poet and activist June Jordan said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

For those who wish to join #TeamHumanist and express a more socially active humanism, please either email me or visit the Feminist Humanist Alliance, LGBTQ Humanist Alliance, or Black Humanist Alliance to fill out a “Join Us” form.

Putting Humanist Thought Into Action

Humanist Flavor In Ya Ear: Spreading The Ether Through Podcasts

I know I haven’t been very active on The Orbit since its launch. I’ve been bogged down with prior obligations and writing commitments. Anyway, a question I’m regularly asked is if I ever considered starting my own podcast. The quick answer is no, I haven’t.

The longer answer would be that podcasts have never interested me insofar as me wanting to create a space within this form of media to express thoughts. Also, I’m not much of a talker. I prefer articulating ideas, positions, and criticism through written word.

Words are often misremembered, quotes misconstrued, and meaning reinterpreted to make for better kindling for strawman counter-arguments. To me, it’s more difficult for people to do those things when responding to things I’ve written rather than going off hearsay or snippets of a discussion lacking context.

That said, I have made guest appearances on podcasts from time to time. I thought it would be neat to have a centralized location for all my podcast appearances along with a brief overview of what’s discussed.

So, here’s that. I don’t do these kinds of spots often, but when I do, I will update this page accordingly.

 

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The Humanist Hour #130: Sincere Kirabo on the Complex Issues of Ferguson (Part 2) – 12/24/14

With host Kimberly Ellington, I break down the what and why behind Black Lives Matter. We also discuss divisions within the atheist movement.

 

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Life After God – Interview with Sincere Kirabo – 12/9/15

Me and Life After God host Ryan Bell discuss the challenges of pursuing social justice in our divided society, the progress that is still needed in the secular and freethought community, and the false dichotomy between safe spaces and freedom of speech.

 

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Bi Any Means Podcast #9: Humanism and #blacklivesmatter – 5/15/15

With Bi Any Means host Trav Mamone, I speak on my deconversion, Black atheism, my Secular Voices of Color project, Black Lives Matter, and allyship.

*Warning – The transcript provided on the Bi Any Means website isn’t that accurate.

 

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The Humanist Hour #191: Sincere Kirabo on Building Social Justice – 3/23/16

I speak with Peggy Knudtson and Jenn Wilson about my role with the American Humanist Association, what social justice and intersectionality mean, and ways social media can be used to further the cause of social justice.

 

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Secular Stories – Interview with Sincere Kirabo – 5/29/16

With host Jonathan Tindell, I discuss the history and social context that brought about the Black Church, growing up in a Pentecostal household, challenges of being a Black atheist, and more.

 

 

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#67 – Unapologetic Humanism – 6/2/16

Along with Gaytheist Manifesto hosts Ari Stillman and Callie Wright, I discuss why secular activism still matters and humanism’s involvement in social justice work through the AHA’s new initiatives surrounding, feminism, LGBTQ rights, and racial justice.

Humanist Flavor In Ya Ear: Spreading The Ether Through Podcasts

Humanist Scholarship Fund Needs Support From Humanist Community

Attention fellow humanists and social justice activists: there’s a scholarship program designed to aid disadvantaged secular youth that needs your help.

The Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA) currently has a crowdfunding campaign underway to make this program possible. Here’s a breakdown of the “what” and “why” behind this program:

In 2013, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), a 501c3 organization, spearheaded its First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative, which focuses on providing resources to undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college.

Responding directly to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis in communities of color, BSLA is the first atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color with an explicitly anti-racist multicultural emphasis.

If current prison pipelining trends persist the Education Trust estimates that only “one of every 20 African American kindergartners will graduate from a four-year California university” in the next decade. In addition:

• The school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately locks up African American and Latino youth, leaving many with criminal records and no possibility of “re-entry” to employment, housing or higher education
• African American youth are severely over-represented in foster care, homeless populations, and juvenile jails
• Foster care and homeless youth of color have some of the lowest rates of college transfer and graduation amongst college youth populations
• LGBTQ youth of color have disproportionately high suspension/expulsion and push-out rates in U.S. public schools
• Black females are consistently suspended at greater rates than ALL OTHER groups besides black males
• So-called inner city schools have fewer Advanced Placement, college prep and honors courses and highly qualified STEM teachers than their white suburban counterparts

With your support, we hope to award at least four youth $1000 scholarships to assist with their books, tuition, housing and other living expenses. BSLA 2013-2015 scholars are now at USC, UCLA, UC Riverside, Cal State University Long Beach, Babson College, University of North Texas, UC Merced and El Camino College.

If you can give, please do. Whether you’re able to contribute or not, please share news of this humanist scholarship widely across social media among humanist-oriented friends, associates, groups, and so on. Let’s show what goodness without god looks like by helping this humanist initiative achieve its goal!

Humanist Scholarship Fund Needs Support From Humanist Community

Baptism Into The Ether

Last month, I was honored by the opportunity of being made the American Humanist Association’s Social Justice Coordinator. In the press release, I went out of my way to note the following:

“Humanism’s dedication to critical thinking should not just be applied to matters of religious faith and supernaturalism but also to racism, sexism, and other harmful prejudices within our society that impede progress.”

This can easily be extended to the secular community. And by secular community, I’m referring to atheist and secular humanist individuals, groups, organizations, associated activists, and public figures. Though we’re a subculture that shares certain beliefs and desires contrary to widely accepted views, we don’t exist in a vacuum. Nonbelievers are greatly influenced by cultural attitudes and behaviors that make up the national ethos. Because of this, we retain intellectual vices that uphold social stigmas and prejudices.

As I mention in my About section, my use of the term “Ether” is a well-known AAVE colloquial term that means “to dismantle” or “to critique mercilessly.” Rapper Nas first popularized this connotation with his 2001 Stillmatic diss song “Ether,” which is legendary in hip-hop circles for its eloquent, ferocious, and no cut cards takedown of Jay-Z. Within the context of me addressing social issues, “Missives From The Ether” will refer to unbridled, tenacious critiques. Thus, my words (missives) are transmitted through parsing, unapologetic means – the ether.

Philosopher John Rawls had a theory of social justice that posited “justice as fairness.” His theory branched out from a social contract notion, one that affirmed social justice as being a mutual agreement between individuals (pieces) to follow certain rules for the betterment of all (whole). Said rules “specify the basic rights and duties to be assigned by the main political and social institutions, and they regulate the division of benefits arising from social cooperation and allot the burdens necessary to sustain it” (Rawls, 2001: pg. 7).

Dr. Matthew Robinson (government/justice studies) summed up a key to Rawls’ philosophical system of social justice as being “The Equal Liberties Principle,” which he defines as “Each person has the same indefensible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all.”

I try to reflect this morality in interactions with others. For this reason, I find myself compelled to promote social equality and liberation while confronting injustice that exists both flagrantly and embedded in more subtle expressions of power and privilege dynamics granted to some and withheld from others.

As an atheist, I can’t help but focus not only on inequality perpetrated in the public but also within secular spaces where the alleged tenets of “logic and reason” are supposed to prevail. The American Humanist Association’s president and vice president co-wrote a piece titled 2016 Humanism that illustrated this issue by stating,

“While atheists and humanists reject the existence of any gods for lack of evidence, atheism and humanism are not synonymous. Most atheists and humanists are good people, but atheism in and of itself is not supported by an ethical system to guide behavior. Not all those who don’t believe in a god have fully moved past societal prejudices and old programming—and not all have cultivated empathy in a way that engenders compassion for others and builds a sense of egalitarianism.”

While The Ether will focus on a myriad of subjects related to social inequalities, the primary goal of this blog space will be to treat two subjects in particular: Racism and toxic masculinity.

We live in a white-oriented, white supremacist culture. As a result, whites are inherently racist, have white privilege, and often engage in social transactions that reinforce this universal social ill that’s baked into the social fibers of this country.

Likewise, we live in a male-centered, patriarchal society. As a result, men are inherently sexist, have male privilege, and routinely take part in daily forms of marginalization that perpetuate this interpersonal and institutional imbalance.

These are facts; ones that I will flesh out time and again by blending research, science, and everyday experiences into accessible narratives that will make it possible for people to achieve greater awareness.

Please note: I don’t exist to comfort fragility or to cater to egos.

My work deals with addressing matters of widespread miseducation, encouraging the unlearning of harmful social practices, and engaging in educational, relearning dialogues.

Yes, I will inevitably step on toes. No, I will not apologize for it. There is no progress without confrontation. I look forward to dismantling false narratives and rebuilding with you all.

Baptism Into The Ether