Black Atheists Step Up

WLP scholarship winners
Young scholars from South L.A.

Some atheists are constantly bashing faith-based organizations AND believers of color for being backwards, ignorant and discriminatory.  But at the end of the day, what are mainstream secular, humanist, atheist and freethought “human rights” organizations doing to actively fight for social and racial justice in American communities of color?  How many know or care about the following human and civil rights crises in a nation that poses as the most civilized “democracy” on the planet:

FACT: 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

FACT: African American youth are severely over-represented in foster care, homeless populations, and juvenile jails

FACT: Foster care and homeless youth of color have some of the lowest rates of college transfer and graduation amongst college youth populations

FACT: LGBTQ youth of color have disproportionately high suspension/expulsion and push-out rates in U.S. public schools

FACT: Black females are consistently suspended at greater rates than ALL OTHER groups besides black males

FACT: So-called inner city schools have fewer Advanced Placement, college prep and honors courses and highly qualified STEM teachers than their white suburban counterparts

FACT: Due to Congress’ failure to pass the federal Dream Act undocumented youth are ineligible for most forms of financial aid–feeding the school-to-prison pipeline

Because we live, work, and teach in communities that are under siege by these and other human rights issues, Black Skeptics Los Angeles is pleased to announce its first annual “First in the Family Humanist Scholarship.”  Four $1000 scholarships will be awarded to college-bound Los Angeles Unified School District students in South Los Angeles.  Preference will be given to students who are in foster care, homeless, undocumented and/or LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning).  Students must have a record of service and participation in school and/or community-based organizations.  Scholarships will be awarded in June 2013.

Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to providing Humanist public education, media representation, and cultural resources for African American non-believers and their allies.  BSLA’s programming and initiatives seek to promote greater awareness and understanding of African American secular humanist, freethought, and atheist traditions, beliefs and practices in Los Angeles communities of color and beyond.  Since 2010, BSLA has hosted roundtables on secular social justice, sponsored interfaith dialogues, conducted Humanist professional development trainings, and published articles on a broad range of issues pertaining to gender equity, racial justice, economic justice, and progressive education.

We are currently soliciting matching fund contributions for these scholarships, which will help support under-represented first generation college students with room, board, transportation, books, and other living expenses.  Your valuable tax deductible donation can be made to our Paypal address ([email protected]), mailing address or online at the following site:

Black Atheists Step Up

On Faith, Mante Te’O’s fake girlfriend and the Age of Narrative

by Frederick Sparks

Manti Te'O
“Faith is believing in something you most likely can’t see, but you believe to be true”  – Manti Te’o

In what has to be one of the oddest stories of the new year, the story of celebrated Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’O’s triumphant performance against arch rival Michigan after losing his girlfriend to leukemia was revealed to be a hoax.  Questions remain as to the true perpetrator and victims.

Te’O and Notre Dame claim that, to the recent surprise of both, the athlete was the victim of an elaborate twitter hoax in which he was fooled into carrying on a year long, online relationship with an internet impersonator claiming to be a female Stanford student battling leukemia.  Presumably sources have identified the perpetrator of the online hoax as Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a fellow athlete and family friend of Te’O’s.  The university claims to have investigated the matter and stands by the story of a hoax.

Yet certain facts don’t appear to conform with the notion of Te’O as an until recently unwitting dupe. For one, news outlets reported details of the relationship between the two that implied face to face interactions, specifically their first meeting in 2009 after the Stanford-Notre Dame game. Where did this story come from if the entire relationship happened on line? If it came from Te’O, he lied.  If it didn’t, why didn’t he correct it or become suspicious at the time? And Notre Dame also claims to have adequately investigated allegations against a Notre Dame football player for the rape of a young woman who later committed suicide, yet the investigation appears to have been perfunctory. It clearly wouldn’t be the first time a university covered up sexual assault to protect its interests.

Te’O himself also relayed stories of nightly phone calls from the hospital and notification of his girlfriend’s death from a family member that seem incongruent with claims of an online hoax. Friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, while implicating him, also speculate that Te’O was in on the scheme. The defensive standout collected numerous prestigious college football awards on the way to one of the Heisman competition’s highest finishes for a defensive player.  In addition to outstanding play against Notre Dame’s opponents, the poignant story of Teo’O’s victorious play days after losing not only his girlfriend but beloved grandmother (that part is true) enhanced his profile and image, and possibly his projections as an NFL draft pick. The assessment of Te’O’s potential as an NFL defensive player may have slid considerably though after a less than dominating performance in the Irish’s blowout loss to Alabama in the national championship game.

Te’O, a Mormon of Samoan descent, said that his decision to attend Notre Dame over his childhood favorite USC came down to faith. If he were truly an innocent victim, then may his story stand as a cautionary tale and testament to the limitations of knowledge claimed purely on the basis of faith, and that skepticism has day to day application, including confirming that someone you declare on national television to be your girlfriend actually exists.

But if he is complicit, it not only speaks to a personal callousness bordering on pathology, but to a larger obsession with and emphasis on constructing media narrative, in a way that marginalizes the lived experience those narratives are supposed to represent.

These yarns nonetheless can determine outcomes, particularly with a news media complicit through volition or lack of diligence.

See Wag The Dog.


On Faith, Mante Te’O’s fake girlfriend and the Age of Narrative

Code Red Homophobia: Homelessness, HIV and Black Religiosity


By Sikivu Hutchinson

(Excerpt from Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels, March 2013)

For the past several months, Crenshaw Boulevard in predominantly black South Los Angeles has featured a series of striking billboards condemning homophobia and its role in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  The billboards are the work of the black gay activist group In the Meantime Men, headed by Jeffrey King.  Sounding a “code red alarm” on the raging HIV/AIDS epidemic amongst African Americans King said, “The staggering rates of increased teen suicides in the last five years, and the uncontrollable increase of teen homelessness in America have awakened our senses to the damaging effects of homophobia in the Black community.  Every year, thousands of Black LGBT people are displaced from their homes, families, churches, and communities due to their sexuality, gender, gender identity, and gender expression. This has resulted in a mass influx of homeless youth on the streets of Los Angeles and other cities throughout the nation.”  [King will be a panelist at the upcoming “Confronting Homophobia in the Black Church” roundtable hosted by Black Skeptics Los Angeles at Zion Hill Baptist Church on February 27th]  With African Americans comprising the majority of new HIV cases in the U.S., the epidemic has devastated black communities nationwide.  Yet the refusal of mainstream black America to seriously confront how homophobia and black religiosity drive homelessness and HIV only deepens the killing fields.

In her book Invisible Families Mignon Moore notes that “some in the Black gay community use religion to validate their identities as same-gender loving people.”[i]  Rejecting the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, gay African American Christians focus instead on what they believe to be the loving, compassionate, universalist message of Jesus.  As one respondent in Mignon’s book says, “I do believe God loves me and even though they may not agree with what I am I think that this is between me and God.”[ii]  For many African American LGBT folk, faith is intimately tied to cultural identity and is not easily shorn even in light of the social conservatism and heterosexism of mainstream black America.  Indeed, according to a study by UCLA’s Williams Institute, when compared with their white counterparts, African American LGBT folk are more likely “to attend religious services, to engage in prayer, and to self-identify with a religious affiliation.”[iii]  Straight, gay, bi and trans African Americans live together in segregated communities where racism, white supremacy, and criminalization shape their shared lived experiences.  Save for the drumbeat of white normalcy portrayed in TV, film, and advertising, our worlds are overwhelmingly black and brown.  Thus, it is not surprising that gay African Americans are invested in the same religious cultural traditions that prop up straight normalcy yet may afford them with a sense of community.  Despite the overall increase in secular Americans, people of color have not embraced secularism in significant numbers.

Yet, countering the homophobic dogma of organized religion is only one aspect of LGBTQ enfranchisement.  And it is for this reason that existing Humanist organizations are inadequate for queer youth of color.  The needs of LGBTQ youth of color can’t be adequately addressed by culturally homogeneous or colorblind approaches that don’t acknowledge the intersection of heterosexism, white supremacy, and racism.  For example, queer youth of color are especially vulnerable to becoming homeless.  Family economic instability, sexual abuse, religious dogma, discrimination at school and in local neighborhoods often precipitate homelessness amongst African American queer youth.  The nexus of foster care and mass incarceration has also dramatically increased homelessness amongst youth of color.  Youth who age out of foster care have few resources to fall back on, putting them at risk of becoming homeless.[iv]  Youth who come out of the juvenile or adult prison systems may be unable to find jobs or housing due to employment applications that require criminal felony disclosures.

With its illusion of glamour and accessibility, the city of Hollywood is a popular magnet for runaways and homeless youth.  The majority of Hollywood’s homeless youth are African American.  Forty percent of all homeless youth in the community identify as LGBTQ.[v]  Floating spectrally in the hills above the workaday traffic, the old Hollywood Continue reading “Code Red Homophobia: Homelessness, HIV and Black Religiosity”

Code Red Homophobia: Homelessness, HIV and Black Religiosity

Rape, American Style

India Gang Rape

By Sikivu Hutchinson

When I was five years old I was sexually assaulted by neighbors.  Ours was a tranquil post-white flight neighborhood of beautiful single family homes, obsessively tended lawns and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses home improvement.  It was the mid-seventies; before black women’s experiences with rape had come into broader public consciousness through works like The Color Purple and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  The term sexual assault was largely unknown.  The language that rape prevention activists now use to validate the everyday terrorism girls and women deal with was not a part of our vocabulary or classroom curriculum.  In my critically conscious upbringing I was raised to clearly understand the racist police who abused and murdered us, the racist criminal justice system that jailed us, and the racist cultural history that rendered us invisible.  I was taught to revere the black warriors who crusaded against the holocaust of slavery and its aftermath.  But I was not taught to know, understand or identify the casual predators that moved in and out of our lives without detection or censure; the parasites who posed as strong upstanding black men in the light of day and terrorized with impunity behind closed doors buttressed by violent silence.

Last month’s barbaric gang rape and murder of a 23-year old female student on a bus in Delhi, India was a stark reminder of this violent silence and the global expendability of poor women of color in so-called democratic societies.  The suspects—who were recently charged with rape and murder—allegedly attacked the young woman in order “to teach her a lesson” for being out with a man.  Commenting on the international outrage that the crime has elicited against the backdrop of India’s economic ascent, writer Kishwar Desai reflected that “a certain class of men is deeply uncomfortable with women displaying their independence, receiving education and joining the work force.  The gang rape becomes a form of subduing the women, collectively, and establishing their male superiority.”  India is dead last on Trust Law’s 2012 list of 19 best and worst countries for women’s rights.  Muslim fundamentalist Saudi Arabia is number 18.  The U.S. is number six.  But like South Africa (number 16) and Brazil (number 11), institutional racism, sexism, and heterosexism determine access to health care, reproductive rights, and economic opportunity in the U.S.  In her article “Black Women, Sexual Assault, and the Art of Resistance,” Brooke Axtell writes that “the Department of Justice estimates that for every white woman that reports her rape, at least 5 white women do not report theirs; and yet, for every African-American woman that reports her rape, at least 15 African-American women do not report theirs.”  Between 40-60% of African American women have experienced sexual assault by the age of 18.

Decades after “Denim Day,” “Take Back the Night” and other global rape awareness movements were popularized my students are still living the reality of violent silence.  Nearly every girl in my Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) feminist mentoring program has been the victim of sexual assault or abuse.  Initially, most have no language to articulate their anger, much less their post-traumatic stress experience.  The repressed rage that girls of color carry with them about rape and sexual harassment comes out in shame, blame, and self-hatred.  It’s spit out in the casual misogyny of their embrace of epithets like “bitch” and “ho.”  It’s displayed in the yards of Rapunzel-esque hair that they swath themselves in to obliterate their “ugliness.” And it is manifest in the increasing number of “very young girls” that are sucked into prostitution; brutalized by gang rape and “pimped out” by men they view as father figures.  During a recent day of dialogue moderated by WLP students at Washington Prep High School many girls were loath to identify sexual violence as a significant factor on campus.  There were numerous anecdotes about girls being threatened with gang rape as well as adult male campus security guards sexually harassing girls.  Nonetheless, it was female behavior, and not male behavior and the culture of the school, which was criticized.  In the grand scheme of the community the experiences of girls of color don’t matter.  Far too often in mainstream discourse, rape is only politically significant when it is framed as a phenomenon that happens “over there”, in the backward “third world,” or “here” to a young white female victim in the civilized U.S.

In the aftermath of the young Indian student’s death, the outcry against the country’s misogynist culture of rape, murder, and dehumanization will hopefully be a watershed for legislation protecting women from sexual assault and intimate partner violence.  But the patriarchal nationalist resentment that writer Desai portrays as India’s affliction also drives the savage anti-feminist backlash in the United States and its culture of violent silence.

Rape, American Style