February 3, 2011
* To Be Atheist, Feminist, and Black
* By Sikivu Hutchinson
Sikivu Hutchinson received a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University and has taught women's studies, cultural studies, urban studies and education at UCLA, the California Institute of the Arts and Western Washington University. She is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and Secular America (2011) and Imagining Transit: Race, Gender, and Transportation Politics in Los Angeles (Lang, 2003). She has published fiction, essays and critical theory in Social Text, California English, Black Agenda Report and American Atheist Magazine and is a Senior Fellow with the Institute for Humanist Studies.
o Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars
o Sikivu Hutchinson
o Aardvark Global Publishing (2011)
What inspired you to write Moral Combat?
As an African American feminist atheist I found that there were virtually no books that explicitly addressed the intersection of gender, race, sexual orientation, and humanist ideology from the lens of progressive politics. The most visible, widely-touted representatives of the atheist movement are white and generally male. This disparity is reflected in the leadership of most prominent secular institutions and organizations. The book deconstructs these issues and situates black humanism within a culturally relevant tradition of critically conscious scholarship and political analysis.
Further, over the past few years there has been greater interest in atheism and humanism in black and Latino communities. Black atheists/humanists struggle to make their voices heard amidst a values backlash. This backlash has had both internal and external consequences. Non-conformist African Americans are policed inside their communities by black institutions like the Black Church — they are also policed externally in a conservative reactionary climate in which public morality is based on rolling back human rights and civil rights for oppressed peoples. Religious conservatives in black and brown communities have embraced the fascistic tendencies of the Religious Right; demonizing LGBT folk, women of color and non-believers. This has occurred against the backdrop of deepening racial inequality, segregation, and economic disenfranchisement.
So the book not only attempts to contextualize African American religious fervor vis-à-vis institutional racism and white supremacy but also in relation to patriarchy, heterosexism, and capitalism.
What is the most important take-home message for readers?
An understanding of the ideological complexity of African American communities and the connections between secular belief and social justice.
Sadly, there is still a fair amount of ignorance and bigotry toward black non-believers in African American communities due to the stereotype that atheists are immoral, rudderless, and not authentically black. This belief is especially insidious for black women. Mainstream African American culture places a high premium on black female caregiving, piety, and sacrifice. The patriarchal traditions of the Black Church, with their emphasis on charismatic black male leadership and biblical literalism, play a key role in socializing black women to be subservient and self-sacrificing.
Black female churchgoing and religious belief are the highest in the nation — making African American communities the most unwaveringly religious in the U.S. At the same time, African American communities are among the most economically and racially disenfranchised; in the U.S., African Americans are still disproportionately poor, under-educated and over-incarcerated. Black incarceration rates and black homelessness parallel each other. And for all of the sound and fury of black religiosity, black women experience the highest rates of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and HIV/AIDS contraction.
So the book tries to make sense of these relationships vis-à-vis the paradox of black downward mobility in the so-called post-racial post-affirmative action era. It also attempts to show the immense benefits of radical/progressive humanism for African American women given the religious underpinnings of patriarchy and sexism. Finally, the book makes practical connections between racial justice, gender justice, humanism and the myriad health and educational challenges that African Americans face.
Read the rest here:
Interview with Sikivu Hutchinson