Black Skeptics talk Scientific Racism at CFI Los Angeles

by D Frederick Sparks

This past Wednesday, the Black Skeptics of Los Angeles were featured at CFI Los Angeles’ Cafe Inquiry for a presentation titled Debunking Science as Savior: Is Science Infallible.  The talk focused on the history and present reality of racism and racist exploitation in science, specifically with respect to medical science and medical research.

Black Skeptics members Frederick Sparks and Daniel Myatt gave a brief overview which covered several topics, including the history of scientific notions of racial superiority, exploitation of African Americans in medical reasearch (which included discussions of Thomas Jefferson’s experiments on his slaves and more recent testing of AIDS drugs children of foster care in addition to the wider known Tuskegee syphilis study) , and medical misdiagnosis based on race including the overdiagonosis of schizophrenia in African American Men.  This history was then connected to current mistrust of the scientific and medical establishment among African Americans today, and how this affects attitudes towards everything from the  Theory of Evolution to HIV denialism.  The lack of diversity within scientific fields  (notwithstanding rock star astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson) was also touched upon as a continuing contributing factor to cultural myopia and racism within the practice of scientific and medical research,

Black Skeptics of Los Angeles members Daniel Myatt and Frederick Sparks with CFI’s Jim Underdown

The question and answer session that followed was lively and covered such topics as how even the basics of the scientific method, making observations and forming hypotheses, are affected by cultural perspective.  And while this specific talk focused on black Americans, it was noted that those who are marginalized in society due to economic circumstances are also more vulnerable to abuse from the medical establishment.  The group also discussed the challenge of increasing African American participation in needed medical studies given the historical back drop of abuse and exploitation.

Special thanks to Jim Underdown from CFI Los Angeles for coordinating this event with BSLA.


Black Skeptics talk Scientific Racism at CFI Los Angeles

African Secularists and the Missionary Legacy

By Moses Alusala

To some, African freethought may seem like an oxymoron; contradicting traditional stereotypes.  Most Africans are ignorant of the role freethought has played in the social, cultural, and political development of the continent and continues to play in its evolution. This is because the life, work and deeds of African freethinkers is often ignored or misrepresented by mainstream books of history.  Freethought in Africa emerged mainly as a critique of missionary Christianity for advancing and colluding in the colonial enterprise. It is a conceit of religious adherents in Africa that religion always leads the way in combating morally reprehensible situations. However, this is not always so, religious bureaucracies are often very conservative, accepting the status quo. In the major issues of the 20th century, colonialism, apartheid and neocolonialism, mainstream religions have been slow to react if not opposed to change. However there has always been considerable secular response.

Dr. S. Clarke Ekong once said that “one cannot understand Africa without first knowing African history, and in order to understand African history one must first understand colonialism.” Colonialism in Sub-Saharan Africa introduced conflict across gender, race, class and sexuality. African freethought therefore developed largely as a direct response to concrete historical conditions, (colonialism, and neocolonialism.) which transformed both the function and ideology of the secular activist.

Freethought was largely influenced by the concept of an African cultural identity (negritude), a literary and ideological movement developed by Leopold Sedhor Senghor, the Senegalese poet-statesman. (Senghor’s Negritude served to reverse the system of values that had informed Western perception of blacks since the earliest voyages of discovery to Africa.) The Harlem Renaissance gave negritude both its form and content. The form was poetry and the content was pluralism. Continue reading “African Secularists and the Missionary Legacy”

African Secularists and the Missionary Legacy

College Dreams, Social Justice: Activist Lizeth Soria

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Recently, the L.A. Times reported that California’s community college system, the gateway to jobs and university transfers for the majority of the state’s students of color, is in a state of deep fiscal crisis.  Fees are increasing, core classes that students need are scant, math and English remediation is the norm for incoming freshman, and vocational training is being pared to a nub — impacting the already abysmal transfer rate.  The implications of the community college crisis will be exacerbated by the low four year college-going rate for youth of color.   For example, at the end of each year in the main hallway at Gardena High School in Los Angeles there is a  display of seniors who’ve gotten accepted to four year colleges.  At a school of over 2300 students this cohort would only fill one classroom.

Gardena High student and AB540 Dreamer activist Lizeth Soria is an undocumented young woman and former student of mine who I have had the pleasure of mentoring through the Women’s Leadership Project feminist civic engagement program.  Liz has written the following appeal for support in her dream to go to college:

Hello Friends, family, and Allies: Hope you’ve had a great summer. My most exciting day so far was June 15th, when president Obama announced Deferred Action. Deferred Action is a progressive policy change that will grant undocumented youth the ability to work legally, obtain a Driver’s License, and walk through our neighborhoods without fear of being deported for at least 2 years.
In California, we also have the California DREAM Act (which will allow undocumented youth to access financial aid) going into effect in January 2013. While these are huge and exciting steps for undocumented youth, Deferred Action may be revoked if President Obama doesn’t win a second term and the California DREAM Act only allows undocumented students to access funds that are left over after citizens and residents have been awarded financial aid. So, I have decided to do the next best thing and fundraise my college tuition by recycling and/or asking for donations. Last year I met an undocumented college student at UCLA who fundraises over $2,000.00 each semester by recycling cans and plastic bottles–so I know this is  something I can accomplish, especially with your help.
Can you help me get to college by thinking green and recycling? THE PLAN:
Aside from collecting cans and bottles on my own, I am asking my friends, allies, and family to collect your own recyclables on my behalf.
I will collect your cans and bottles the last Saturday of each month.
Or, if you want me to stop by your home or work earlier that that, please call me at 424-731-6953 or email me at [email protected]
If you don’t have cans or plastic bottles you will and you would like to help me I am more than happy to accept donations.
Please let me know if you can make donations for $15 or more.  I will be very grateful to you.
Liz Soria

College Dreams, Social Justice: Activist Lizeth Soria

Massa Mitt Does South of the Border

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Over the past few months, the GOP has proudly reveled in Ronald Reagan’s old chestnut that “facts are stupid things.” First, Anne Romney told us at the Republican convention that her bootstraps moxie enabled her to work hard enough to marry a multi-millionaire.  Then Mother Jones broke the story that Massa Mitt rhapsodized at a private fundraiser in May about being Latino.  Romney joked about an alternative south of the border heritage shortly after he delivered his now infamous condemnation of 47% of the American people who suck up government handouts. He joked that “had he been born of Mexican parents (he) would have had a better shot of winning this” and that “it would be helpful to be Latino.”

Despite the mainstream media’s apoplexy, Romney’s sweeping dismissal of working class Americans—who, even though they pay payroll, property, and sales taxes, are still bonafide welfare queens—and his fantasy island paternalism should not be surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to the campaign.  His shucking and jiving about possible political gain from being Latino, while promoting nativist anti-undocumented immigrant policies that criminalize all Latinos regardless of citizenship status, attests to the business as usual racism of 21st century post-racial America.  His suggestion that simply being of Mexican parentage would help him win the election is a racist insult to a Latino electorate which has consistently rejected the GOP’s divide and conquer platform.  Exploiting the politics of white resentment, his entire campaign has been an affront to hardworking people of color who have higher poverty, unemployment, and foreclosure rates than whites with comparable income or education levels.  Both Obama and Romney are delinquent when it comes to specific remedies for racial discrimination against African Americans and Latinos in hiring, lending, home ownership, and wealth generation.  Yet, unlike Obama, Continue reading “Massa Mitt Does South of the Border”

Massa Mitt Does South of the Border

Taskmasters for the Gods: On Religious Terrorism

By Naima Washington

When I’m seeking clear political analysis, I don’t depend on others (particularly politicians and/or celebrities) to help me to understand what is going on, but recently I listened with a great deal of annoyance as Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, et al. expressed their dismay about a film made in the US which supposedly insults Mohammed. Both Whoopi and Barbara agreed that the people (Americans) shouldn’t ‘insult other people’s deities,’ (Mohammed). Apparently, being well-informed isn’t necessary in order to have access to millions of television viewers five days a week. In spite of those two uninformed defenders of Islam, the fact is that no Muslim would dare refer to Mohammed as a deity. Neither would a Muslim refer to Jesus as a deity; a prophet, but certainly not God, even if over one billion Christians claim that Jesus is God, which once again demonstrates that ‘respect’ for the religious views of others isn’t a two-way street! Whoopi and Barbara may be surprised to learn that many theists are certain that they are required or otherwise directed by their deities to ‘insult’ rather than respect the deities and beliefs of others. After all, those other beliefs are false, offensive, and displeasing to their own true god! Free thought, free speech, and free inquiry have no place among the great religions of the world.

The pastor in Florida would be the first to say that he has no duty to respect the false beliefs of others and that his deity instructs him to condemn/insult/offend all other believers including Muslims. Our Constitution gives him the right to condemn/insult/offend other points of view. But, according to author and publisher H.L. Mencken, “The meaning of religious freedom…is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion.…even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities…to argue for them…to teach them to his children…provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force…he has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred…”

In the 21st century, what we continue to see are many theists—religious authorities as well as individuals—demanding the right to practice their religions, to be free from government control, and to be immune from public opinion as well. Some theists also think that they have the right to not only argue for their religious beliefs but to also inflict them on others by force as well as to persecute those who disagree with them along with those who may be insufficiently devout. That’s a lot of power to wield over other human beings! Religious terrorism (whether carried out by individuals, religious establishments and/or state-sponsored armies) is always directed not at false beliefs and/or false gods, but towards people: women and children; members of rival religious groups; journalists, artists, and musicians whose works fails to support the views of the religious terrorists; etc.

I hope Whoopi and Barbara use their television platform to relentlessly condemn religious terrorism whether foreign or homegrown.  I hope that they will condemn terrorists who burn any private home as well as a house of worship.  I hope that they will demand justice for women anywhere in the world who demand their human rights only to be kidnapped, raped, and murdered. And I also hope that they will condemn the growing numbers of innocent people who are arbitrarily persecuted by religious terrorists, such as the young non-Muslim girl who was imprisoned after being falsely accused of destroying pages of the Koran. Whether they are in the East or West, religious terrorists aren’t interested in those who believe in so-called higher powers (those who are ‘spiritual, centered, or at one with Nature, in-tune with the cosmos,’ etc. Religious terrorists) just like state-sponsored terrorists (although they may be one and the same) are only interested in unquestioned obedience to the deity and beliefs that they espouse.

The world continues to become an even more dangerous place when those who ought to know better cannot bring themselves to condemn mob violence simply because it is wrapped in religious dogma. At the same time, all too often, the hungry, unemployed, and oppressed citizens who lack social, economic, and political empowerment can be coerced to take to the streets as their political rulers encourage them to direct their rage at external forces. These frustrated citizens can also be encouraged to take out their pent-up anger on the nonbelievers, tourists, foreigners, and heretics within their borders while their incompetent, corrupt, and oppressive rulers go unchallenged. At the end of the day, after the fires have burned out, when the streets are littered with bodies and all that remains is the wreckage of another city or town, there is still hunger, unemployment, poverty, and oppression along with perennial economic, social, and political disenfranchisement. Furthermore, at the end of the day, those who have created, profited from, and/or maintained the status quo remain in power.

We continue to be assured that acts of religious terrorism do not represent the sacred essence of the great religions of the world. After every social upheaval, murder and atrocity we continue to hear from nearly every quarter that these senseless acts are the work of a small, insignificant minority. When there are bloodlettings, stonings, bombings of women’s clinics, schools, and private homes; brutal beatings; gang rapes; kidnappings and murders, where are those who represent the true sacred essence of these great religions of the world? Why can’t the civilized majority of religious adherents, those who supposedly represent peaceful religious beliefs, take to the airwaves to issue unambiguous condemnations of those calling for blood? Why aren’t they demanding justice for those who have been wronged? Why don’t those who claim to represent the truly compassionate side of religious belief fill the streets and sidewalks of towns and cities by the millions? Why aren’t their voices drowning out the voices of those who are calling for blood? If they supposedly outnumber this tiny minority, why hasn’t this religious silent majority taken center stage and faced-down that tiny, vocal, murderous minority once and for all?

Most theists seem to insist on only believing in those deities which are utterly incapable of defending themselves! Their gods always seem to need the efforts of human beings to think, speak, and act on behalf of their gods. There is a wall poster which says, “Don’t make me come down there!” Supposedly, this threat is issued by a god who is unhappy with the behavior of human beings. Considering all of the injustice, inhumanity, and suffering that is endured by people and often inflicted in the names of the gods, I can’t help but wonder as to just what it would take to make a god come down here.  What does it take to make him come down here and end all of the confusion about his existence; all of the misunderstandings about exactly what, if anything, he could possibly want from human beings.  What is it that needs to be done in order for him to come down here and defend himself against those who have dared to disobey, insult or disrespect him; what does it take to get him to do his own raping, killing, and otherwise clean up his own mess?  I don’t particularly care if someone believes in one god, many gods, or no gods. That’s not my business. But, I’d like to see human beings step back and leave to the gods all of those monumental tasks which can only be accomplished by the gods.

Human beings can begin to perfect their own work, and we can begin by addressing the threat of global annihilation by dismantling all weapons of mass destruction in our own backyards.  The cost of only storing them is outrageous and is money that can be used to the benefit as opposed to the destruction of human beings.  We can take on the task of preventing and curing many more illnesses; ensuring that no one ever has to beg for food.  Access to food must become not only a universal human right but all people must actually have access to food. We need to make sure that everyone has access to clean water and gets to live in a sanitary environment. We must address both local and global environmental issues.  We can house the homeless, renew infrastructures, and create mass transportation systems.  We can build more schools and provide quality education; build more hospitals, playgrounds, parks and recreational centers; support the arts; build more theatres and concert halls.  We can aim high by addressing alcohol and drug addiction; mental illness; and see to it that the end of life is dignified and compassionate for everyone.  We can aim to assure that every woman, man, and child is free from acts of domestic, religious, and/or state-sponsored violence.

Until and unless the human race begins to address the problems that we face it is guaranteed that the theists of the world who claim to be the righteous representatives of peaceful deities will continue to expect and accept all of the privileges and well as the immunity that comes with religious belief just as these privileges and immunity will continued to be exercised by their so-called less tolerant, more devote, and ultimately more violent co-believers.  But it is up to human beings, and not the gods to create civilizations worthy of the name.

Naima Washington is on the board of the Washington Area Secular Humanists and publishes the D.C. Atheist Advocate.



Taskmasters for the Gods: On Religious Terrorism

Books by Black Atheists

Contrary to popular belief, there have been several books published by African American atheists over the past decade.  Despite the growing number of African American atheists, and stock calls for “diversity” within the movement, scholarship by black authors and academics has received little critical visibility or popular support from secular/atheist/humanist communities.

New and old offerings from prolific Rice University scholar Anthony Pinn and more:

The End of God Talk: An African American Humanist Theology, By Anthony Pinn (2012)

Pinn challenges the long held assumption that African American theology is solely theist, arguing that this assumption has stunted African American theological discourse and excluded a rapidly growing segment of the African American population – non-theists. Rejecting the assumption of theism as the African American orientation, Pinn poses a crucial question: What is a non-theistic theology?


Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars, By Sikivu Hutchinson (2011)

Moral Combat provides a provocative analysis of the political and religious battle for America’s soul. It examines the hijacking of civil rights by Christian fascism; the humanist imperative of feminism and social justice; the connection between K-12 education and humanism; and the insidious backlash of Tea Party-style religious fundamentalism against progressive social welfare public policy. Moral Combat also reveals how atheists of color are challenging the whiteness of “New Atheism” and its singular emphasis on science at the expense of social and economic justice. In Moral Combat, Sikivu Hutchinson highlights the cultural influence of African American humanist and atheist social thought in America. She places this tradition within the broader context of public morality and offers a far-reaching vision for critically conscious humanism.

The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray: Let My People Go, By Donald Wright (2010)

A stirring call for blacks in America to critically examine their loyalty and dedication to religion and to begin adapting a lifestyle centered on rational thinking. It is time to break the chains of mental bondage caused by religious dogma. This book is a compelling presentation of practical reasons using a common sense approach that encourages blacks in America to disregard their need for religion. It provides a perspective on the harmful influences of religion. Author Donald R. Wright addresses the effects organized religion, primarily Christianity, has had on blacks in America from slavery to the present. He gives a brief but concise explanation as to how slaves were converted to Christianity. He has decoded this Matrix called religion. This book presents the case as an advocate for an alternative view.

Black and Not Baptist, By Donald Barbera (2009)

Known only to each other, they walk among us, invisible and undetected. Now, the secret is out! Atheists exist in the African American community. In the African American community there is an unspoken rule to never air dirty laundry in public, and for years the inner workings of the black community stayed hidden beneath a veil of dark silence, but with integration came a mingling of the races and now few secrets remain. Now, there is one there is one less. Not only do black nonbelievers exist, they walk unnoticed among the “true-believers” along with a host of other religious skeptics and freethinkers. Any hint of atheism or freethought in the African American community remain virtually invisible, camouflaged by indignant denial and indistinct expressions, which help conceal clear atheistic, agnostic or freethought connections . Despite more than 90% of African Americans claiming Christianity, Black and Not Baptist explores how there is a significant chasm between belief and behavior with a searing look at the statistics for adultery, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, gambling and other social problems in both the white and black communities.

The Black Humanist Experience: An Alternative to Religion, By Norm Allen (2002)

As the first book exclusively dedicated to humanists of African descent, “The Black Humanist Experience” gives Black humanists the opportunity to discuss their many and varied reasons for leaving the religious fold and embracing a humanist life stance. As a minority within a minority in the United States, African American humanists often feel isolated and misunderstood. And across the globe humanists are in the minority among Blacks just as they are among all races. These thoughtful essays help to draw attention to the vitality of the humanist movement within the Black community while putting to rest many myths about humanists. Contrary to popular stereotypes, most humanists do not reject religion out of disillusionment, ignorance, desperation, or misanthropy.


Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels, By Sikivu Hutchinson (forthcoming 2013)

So much conversation regarding atheism and humanism gains no  traction, and does little to push beyond areas of comfort and well  worn arguments.     Sikivu Hutchinson’s work offers an important  corrective to this.  With clear and sharp insights, Hutchinson pushes  readers to recognize and tackle the patterns of thought and action  that limit any real ability to respond to issues of race, gender, and  sexuality from a transformative and humanist perspective.  Read her  work, but fasten your seat belt first!”

– Anthony Pinn, author African American Humanist Principles and The End of God Talk: An African American Humanist Theology


Books by Black Atheists

Black Skeptics L.A. at CFI







Is Science Infallible? Debunking Science As Savior

Where: Center for Inquiry, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA

When: September 26th @ 7:30-9:00 p.m.

Contact: [email protected]

Although scientific inquiry trumps religious and astrological doctrine as a method used to understand the mysteries of the  universe and the human condition, it is not without its own flaws.

Our panel will explore, from a non-European perspective, how science, in some cases, has gotten it wrong, the ramifications that followed, and the challenges this presents in promoting skepticism and secularism in the black community.

Black Skeptics L.A. at CFI