Black Women, Atheist Activism, and Human Rights: Why We Just Cannot Seem to Keep It to Ourselves!

Article excerpt

Off she goes to college far away from home
The first of her siblings to depart leaving them behind a troubled
familial reality
She returns to visit and begins to exhibit a new level of
consciousness
Three years later she has evolved into a mature young woman
Having experienced the joy of sex, bright city lights and bold new
thoughts she has an open mind
At graduation her family now comes to watch her walk across a stage
To embrace a moment of individual accomplishment, her accomplishment
Then suddenly it dawns on her as she accepts her honor that she is
not theirs alone
Soon, she will be embracing her own newfound life
Alone ~ annalise fonza

When most people think of dialogues that take place at the intersection of gender, religion, and human rights, they are not thinking of atheism. Atheism, in its most literal sense, is simply a non-belief or rejection of a personal, supernatural god or deity. I have offered this article, in part, because of the misconceptions about atheism. It is also written to push the envelope, so to speak, and to highlight the work that black (1) women are doing to eradicate hate in the form of anti-atheist prejudice, which comes in many forms and expressions. There are times, for instance, when the hatred is subtle and personal, but other times when it is pervasive, bold, and openly built into cultural, national, and political practices, for example, through arranged marriages, circumcision, and genital mutilation. In this sense, therefore, this article is constructive and written to assert that black women atheists should be at the table with women who struggle for reproductive rights and with those who fight for religious rights. In this essay, I discuss the ways in which black women such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ayanna Watson, Sikivu Hutchinson, Jamila Bey, Kim Veal, and Mandisa Thomas have risked social status and reputation to raise the awareness that they too struggle for human rights and in particular for the rights of women to choose not believe in a god or supernatural ideas. Indeed, my objective is to assert that black atheist women must be a part of these dialogues and debates on matters related to gender, religion, and human rights, especially at this point in history, when human and civil rights for females/women are threatened worldwide by governance that is informed by patriarchal masculinity that conveys the need to control the fate of the female body. Here in the United States, for example, many arguments against the use of contraception (emergency or regular) are offered by men who are immersed in religious worldviews and standpoints that teach that the female body is the site of uncleanliness and temptation. Recent comments by former Senator Todd Akins of Missouri indicate that some men have a very limited and distorted view of what constitutes rape. (2) The ease at which Akins and others, usually elite or wealthy white men, can delineate and rank different "levels" or types of rape (e.g., a "legitimate" rape) is indicative that they feel entitled to define what happens or not with the female body. This entitlement, which is often articulated in public policy statements and political discourse, can legitimately (no pun intended) be construed as an attempt to silence and subjugate women of all backgrounds and all nationalities.

Recently, a similar attack/attempt was aimed at Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States. As we entered the 2012 presidential campaign season, Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Republican, openly sent an email that advocated--through prayer--for the death of President Barack Obama. In that email, O'Neal referred to Mrs. Obama as "Mrs. YoMama," and he quoted from Psalm 109, "let her children be fatherless and his wife a widow." Consequently, in January of 2012, O'Neal was "forced" to offer Mrs. Obama an apology. (3) This language, that he was "forced" to offer an apology, suggests that he was not willing to offer an apology on his own. …

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