As one of the most religious and racially segregated communities in the U.S., African Americans generally view atheism as a form of race betrayal. Socially conservative on abortion, same sex marriage and church/state separation, the Black Church has largely abandoned its historic emphasis on civil rights, making destructive alliances with the Religious Right while urban black communities flounder economically. Although black women are traditionally portrayed as the “backbone” of the Black Church, the “values wars” have further solidified institutional sexism and homophobia in black communities. Historically, visionary freethinkers such as Frederick Douglass, A. Philip Randolph, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen and Alice Walker have questioned the role religiosity plays in black identity and black liberation struggle. Nonetheless, a majority in the African-American community believe that “real black folks,” particularly black women, should be in church on Sunday getting the Holy Ghost (or at least professing to). Yet, as the nation has become more religiously conservative, a growing number of progressive African American non-believers are challenging black religious and social orthodoxies online and in atheist advocacy groups. In this probing analysis, black feminist social commentator and author Sikivu Hutchinson examines the cultural and historical influence of African American humanist and atheist social thought. She situates this tradition within the broader context of public morality, exploring the dynamics of civil rights and Christian activism, feminism and social justice, the whiteness of “New Atheism” and the science debates, and the insidious backlash of Tea Party-style white nationalism against social welfare public policy.
Author Bio: Sikivu Hutchinson is a writer and educator. She is the author of Imagining Transit: Race, Gender, and Transportation Politics in Los Angeles (Lang, 2003) and has published fiction, essays and critical theory in Social Text, California English, Black Agenda Report, Secular Nation and American Atheist Magazine. She is also the editor of blackfemlens.org and a senior fellow for the Institute for Humanist Studies.