What Not to Say to Radical Atheists/Humanists of Color

Tagged: diversity / events / Sikivu Hutchinson

Preliminary observations from this weekend’s virtually all-white Moving Secularism Forward conference:

1. We are all Africans—so don’t you (people) know that race is just a social construct

People of color say this all the time to:

a. The white police officers who stop them, frisk them and/or beat the shit out of them because they (five foot two and dark skinned) look like the identical twin of some black or Latino (six feet and light skinned) person suspected of criminal activity in the area

b. The white salespeople who follow them around in stores or the host/hostess who seats them and their families in the back of restaurants

c. The school administrators who suspend them for being “defiant” in the classroom while their white peers get a slap on the wrist for more serious offenses like theft, fighting/assault or drug use

d. The counselors of all races/ethnicities who don’t program them into AP or honors classes because everybody knows black kids can’t cut it in an academically rigorous environment

e. The film studio heads who don’t hire black, Latino, Native American or Asian directors, producers and casting agents due to corporate insider politics that keep them draining the same pool of connected white power brokers; thus giving the impression that the U.S. is a lily white nation in which only white heroes/action figures/politicians/historical figures/professionals/freshly scrubbed or dysfunctional middle American families and romantic heroes and heroines define American culture.

f. Add your favorites to this list

2. I don’t see color


3. How do “we” diversify the “movement”

If you are not willing to do the serious work, reading, re-education and organizing then don’t go there. Diversity in and of itself is a bromide. Anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism and destroying white supremacy—that is what this work is about for many radical humanist/atheists. Trotting out “diversity” is guaranteed to make ears bleed rivers of pus when posed by the umpteenth clueless individual not willing to put the work into coalition building across issues with non-secularist organizations with a social justice, gender justice and/or LGBTQ orientation. Homelessness, reproductive justice, educational equity, and prisoner re-entry, and scholarship development are all intersectional issues that secular humanist groups can get involved in if they simply got up off the privilege of not seeing these as pressing daily bread and butter concerns.

4. I don’t understand why black people identify with the religion of the oppressor

And I don’t understand why white working class people (according to liberal-progressive theorists) supposedly vote “against” their economic interests and support Christian fascist oligarchs like Rick Santorum. This must have something to do with the very real economic interest of white race/class privilege or what DuBois termed the wages of whiteness. Number 4 is the rhetorical equivalent of non-black people saying the “N-word” out of either racism or because its hip/cool/cute and everybody else does it. When poor people of color need shelter, utilities’ assistance, computer access, etc. they don’t trot down to the local “inner city” humanist foundation of reason and science or, for that matter, the local community center. The former is an oxymoron. And due to the systematic dismantling of social welfare resources in urban communities of color the latter doesn’t exist. So don’t say this shit unless you have some nuanced historical grasp of the institutional and historical factors that inform black religiosity as a function of segregation, cultural identity formation, resistance to white supremacy and adoption of capitalism, heterosexism, patriarchy and sexism.

5. There are no legal barriers to equality anymore

21st century de facto segregation, in which people of color have been virtually denied equitable access to living wage jobs, housing, and education, is more pernicious now than during legal segregation. A recent Brown University study reports that residential segregation is greater now than it was 20 years ago. Even black and Latino middle class people still live in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods that are more economically depressed than are the neighborhoods white working class people live in. The most segregated cities are in the more enlightened secular “north” and post Brown v. Board public schools have re-segregated in this so-called era of post-racialism. The criminal justice system disproportionately convicts and assigns harsher sentences to black juvenile offenders who are more likely to land in adult prisons than white juvenile offenders accused of identical crimes. Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book the New Jim Crow chronicles how a perfect storm of racist perceptions, racially disparate sentencing and discriminatory prisoner re-entry policies have effectively disenfranchised generations of black and Latino youth.

6. “We” still have a lot to do on “race” but “we” are mostly anti-racist

See above

Sikivu Hutchinson
About the Author: Sikivu Hutchinson

Sikivu Hutchinson is a writer and an intergroup specialist for the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission. She is the author of Imagining Transit: Race, Gender, and Transportation Politics in Los Angeles, Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars and Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels. She is also the founder of Black Skeptics Los Angeles and a senior fellow for the Institute for Humanist Studies.