Over the past several years, the Right has spun the fantasy of colorblind, post-racial, post-feminist American exceptionalism. This Orwellian narrative anchors the most blistering conservative assault on secularism, civil rights, and public education in the post-Vietnam War era. It is no accident that this assault has occurred in an era in which whites have over twenty times the wealth of African Americans. For many communities of color, victimized by a rabidly Religious Right, neo-liberal agenda, the American dream has never been more of a nightmare than it is now. Godless Americana is a radical humanist analysis of this climate. It provides a vision of secular social justice that challenges Eurocentric traditions of race, gender, and class-neutral secularism. For a small but growing number of non-believers of color, humanism and secularism are inextricably linked to the broader struggle against white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, capitalism, economic injustice, and global imperialism. Godless Americana critiques these titanic rifts and the role white Christian nationalism plays in the demonization of urban communities of color.
“Godless Americana is a MUST READ!” Kimberly Veal, Black Non-Believers of Chicago (GOODREADS REVIEW)
“Hutchinson notes that being an atheist is not enough to affect any real change. One can be an atheist in isolation simply by not believing in God. Becoming a humanist, by contrast, entails working for social justice. For blacks to make atheism relevant to the larger African American community they cannot simply emphasize science and critical thinking but must instead help feed people, train them for jobs, and offer assistance to prisoners trying to reenter society, among other issues.” Chris Cameron, University of North Carolina
By Sikivu Hutchinson
The percentage of white feminists who are concerned about racism is still a minority of the movement, and even within this minority those who are personally sensitive and completely serious about formulating an activist challenge to racism are fewer still. Barbara Smith, Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology
In the American imagination, Black women are the poster children for disreputable irresponsible motherhood and Latina “illegals” a close second. From birth to adolescence every girl of color must navigate a political climate in which Ronald Reagan’s racist welfare queen caricature casts long shadows. Ending its noble boycott of covering black women, the L.A. Times recently served up some red meat for welfare queen watchers. The front page featured an extensive profile of 27 year-old Natalie Cole, a jobless unmarried unskilled black mother with four kids. Entitled “Caught in the Cycle of Poverty” the article trots out an expert from Harvard who sagely proclaims that “poverty is bad for kids”; offering no further analysis on how the richest most militarized nation on the planet pimps out its children. Instead, we are regaled with Cole’s hot mess of personal failure and pathology. Coming from a long line of young single mothers, by the time she was 17 she was raising two children. She can’t be bothered to do a résumé or use birth control to avoid having a fifth child. The prayer “God in heaven, hear my prayer keep me in thy loving care” is taped to her bedroom wall. Needless to say she will not be getting her Oxygen, TLC or Lifetime reality show any time soon.
The article was especially timely, tragic, and enraging because I recently found out that one of my most inquisitive students is pregnant at 16. Several of my Women’s Leadership Project alums, who worked their asses off to become the first in their families to go to college, speak of friends that have had children shortly after graduating from high school. As budding feminists they are overly familiar with the “validation” pregnancy supposedly provides working class young women of color inundated with media propaganda that hyper-sexualizes black and Latina bodies and demonizes abortion.
In this South Los Angeles school-community only a small fraction of the student body goes on to college and many youth are in foster care, often having to raise themselves. Small evangelical store front churches grossly outnumber living wage job centers, God and Jesus are touted as some of the biggest “cultural” influences, and high teen pregnancy rates are a symptom of the expendability of “other people’s children” (to quote education activist Lisa Delpit). Thirty years ago scoring a living wage job with benefits was still a possibility for a South L.A. teenager with only a high school diploma. Now, having a college degree is the bare minimum for getting a decent paying job. However the regime of mass incarceration has made the barriers to college-going even higher for youth of color. One in six black men has been incarcerated and in some instances whites with criminal records elicit more favorable responses from employers than do black or Latino applicants with no records. Mainstream media focus on the staggering unemployment rates of men of color has eclipsed attention to the economic downturn’s equally devastating impact on black women. Deepening segregation, diminishing job prospects due to the gutting of public sector employment (23% of black women are employed in public sector jobs) and mental health crises have pushed more women of color into the church pews, or, alternative spirituality, with a vengeance. Continue reading “Return of the Welfare Queens: Feminism, Secularism, Anti-Racism”
Excerpt from Moral Combat at the New Humanism:
Faith’s smorgasboard beckons irresistibly from America’s city streets. A cross-country drive tells the story of its market value and allure, its unshakeable hold on the schizoid psyche of sex and Jesus-obsessed Americana. There is a church for every family, every true believer, every providence haggler, and every fence sitter; a supernatural crack fix for every creed, taste, and predilection. In the one mile radius from my house in South Los Angeles to the corner of Florence and Normandie, there are fourteen churches. Most of these structures are storefronts, austere and unobtrusive, denominations flowing from Latino Pentecostal to black Baptist to multiracial Catholic. Woven seamlessly into the workaday facades of other businesses, they offer quiet testimony to the area’s shift from a predominantly African American enclave to a mixed Latino and black community. In the aftermath of the 1992 Rodney King beating verdict, Florence and Normandie gained national notoriety as a bellwether for black rage. There is an auto parts store on the northwest corner where white truck driver Reginald Denny was pulled from his vehicle and beaten by four African American young men after news of the verdict exploded across the city. On the other side of the street two gas stations bustle, fronted by a strip mall to the northeast. Emblems of the Southern California trinity of cars, faith, and quick cheap retail, these spaces each tap into different yet similar reservoirs of urban yearning.
In the seventeen years since the verdict and ensuing civil unrest, these streets have not dramatically changed. Whereas development in predominantly white communities to the west has flourished, the grand photo-op promises of federal redevelopment made about South L.A. by then President George H.W. Bush have gone largely unfulfilled…