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!
In 2013, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), spearheaded the First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative, which provides scholarships to undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. Nationally these young people are at greatest risk for being pushed out of school due to discriminatory discipline policies and criminalizing police practices (foster care youth of color have some of the highest juvenile incarceration rates among all youth groups). For example, in big city school systems like the Los Angeles Unified School District, spending for school police and paramilitary weapons far outstrips spending for restorative justice initiatives which have been proven to keep students in school. And in many South Los Angeles schools fewer than 20% of high school seniors go on to four year colleges and universities.
Responding directly to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis, BSLA is the first atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color with an explicitly anti-racist multicultural emphasis. Listen to our 2013 & 2014 scholars talk about how FIFHS helped them in their freshman and sophomore years and please share this post with the secular community. Indiegogo link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/first-in-the-family-humanist-scholarship-fund–2/x/2451283
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 19th century human rights giant was no passive consumer of religion or religiosity. Douglass frequently criticized the complicity of organized religion in the barbaric institution of slavery. He often locked horns with black church leadership who faulted him for not “thanking” God for the progress the country and the abolitionist movement made in dismantling slavery after the Civil War. In 1870, Douglass said “I dwell here in no hackneyed cant about thanking God for this deliverance,” and “I bow to no priests either of faith or of unfaith. I claim as against all sorts of people, simply perfect freedom of thought.” Douglass’ rebuke of the knee jerk dogma of religious observance was made in response to the passage of the 15th amendment during an Anti-Slavery society convention address in which several speakers waxed on about God’s divine intervention and influence upon Emancipation. Then, as now, a group of Negro preachers came out of the woodwork to wield their “God-given” moral authority like a bludgeon. Outraged by Douglass’ opposition to teaching the Bible in schools, they quickly passed an anti-Douglass Resolution that said:
That we will not acknowledge any man as a leader of our people who will not thank God for the deliverance and enfranchisement of our race, and will not vote to retain the Bible…in our public schools.*
Buried in the over-heated rhetoric about the critical role of organized religion in the African American experience is seminal criticism of Christianity by Douglass and other forerunning African American activist thinkers. So Douglass’ example is important for two reasons. One it highlights the intellectual resistance to the received norms that prevailed during the post-bellum period. Secondly, it allows African American skeptics, freethinkers and others to claim a parallel humanist tradition amidst the theologically tilted legacy of black liberation.
*From Herbert Aptheker, “An Unpublished Frederick Douglass Letter,” ed. Anthony Pinn, By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism.