Tuesday, August 9, 2011
A Long Overdue Tribute to Black Women Non-Theists, By Norm R. Allen Jr.
One of my great regrets as a full-time secular humanist activist is that I never started my proposed pamphlet of quotations from African American women non-theists. Compared to when I first became involved with organized humanism, there are quite a few African American women that have come out of the closet and are eager and willing to make their voices heard.
Why not begin with Sikivu Hutchinson of the Black Skeptics? Hutchinson is the author of the excellent book Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars. She has taken an impressive leadership role with the Black Skeptics. Her strong focus upon feminism, LGBT rights, and other progressive causes makes her refreshing among Black women non-theists.
Hutchinson and other Black women non-theists are able and willing to critique biblically based patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny in ways their religious counterparts never would. (NEWS FLASH: The biblical writers were primarily patriarchs living in a rigidly patriarchal society. How could biblical teachings regarding women not be sexist to the core?) Hutchinson has demonstrated that paradoxically, the same Bible that gives so many Black women solace is the same book that is responsible for so much of the suffering from which they seek solace. That is to say, the Bible causes the sickness and then suggests a cure.
Debbie Goddard has taken an active leadership role in organized humanism for quite some time. Even during high school she founded a philosophy group that appealed to atheists. While at Temple University she started a freethought group, and she eventually became a major leader in campus outreach throughout the U.S.
Goddard is an “out” lesbian that has been engaged in LGBT activism. She now heads African Americans for Humanism (AAH), the organization I founded in 1989. She and I shared offices near one another for many years, and we were usually the last ones to leave the building. It seems unlikely that anyone in the humanist movement has a stronger work ethic than Goddard.
Ayanna Watson heads the Black Atheists of America. She has conducted and broadcast interviews with Black atheists from all over the U.S. She has made her thoughts known on You Tube. She hosted a conference in New York. She has generated much controversy as a result of her biblical critiques.
Elayne Jones was one of the first African American tympani players with a major U.S. symphony. She rejected religion as a young adult and sought a sense of community with the Ethical Society. She has strong roots in Barbados, and she and I made attempts to start a humanist group there. Jones started a humanist group in a retirement community in Walnut Creek, California, where she has lived for several years.
Crystal Coleman was actively involved with the Black American Freethought Association (BAFTA) headquartered in Albany, New York. Coleman worked closely with McKinley Jones, the group’s founder. Coleman and Jones did research to uncover the history of Black American humanists in the Civil Rights movement.
Jamila Bey of Washington, D.C. has become a major humanist spokesperson in recent years. Bey has written about the need for African American women to come out of the closet and openly acknowledge their unbelief. She has spoken at conferences in Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, Boston (at Harvard), and other cities. She has been featured on major radio programs, including National Public Radio with me.
Mercedes Diane Griffin is the former managing director of the Institute for Humanist Studies. She writes a blog titled “Unscripted.” She is attempting to attract more African Americans, women, LGBT people, and young people to organized humanism. Her outreach includes combating HIV/AIDS among African Americans, in particular. For Griffin, an emphasis upon social justice will do far more to attract African Americans to humanism than mere atheism or scientific issues. As a full-time African American humanist activist, like Goddard, she is in rare company.
Carolyn M. Dejoie is a professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a former Catholic, who, out of a sense of frustration and a need for community, joined the Unitarian Universalist Society. Later, she founded the Secular Humanist Society of Madison, Wisconsin and networked with like-minded people throughout the U.S. She might have been the first African American woman to have established such a group.
Last, but not least, is the atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ali, a Somali author and activist, now lives in the U.S. She has written such books as Infidel, in which she castigates Muslims and glorifies Western civilization. Not surprisingly, she was warmly embraced by the Bush administration and the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute. Still, her critiques of Islam have often been on the money.
I hope to one day start and finish my proposed pamphlet for African American women non-theists. Meanwhile, let’s honor these women and hope that, soon, Women’s Studies scholars will do likewise.