Magazine article The Humanist

Why "Five Fierce Humanists"? A Comment on White Supremacy and the "Movement"

Magazine article The Humanist

Why "Five Fierce Humanists"? A Comment on White Supremacy and the "Movement"

Article excerpt

Several months ago, after seeing issue after issue of the Humanist magazine with white folks on the cover, I approached editor Jennifer Bardi with the idea for a feature story on Black women humanists that would be modeled after my 2016 Huffington Post piece, "Ten Fierce Atheists: Unapologetically Black Women Beyond Belief." The article featured ten Black women activists, writers, and educators who have been pioneering voices in atheist, humanist, and freethought organizing. Leading by example, these women have pushed back against sexist, heteronormative religious dogma and discrimination in communities of color. They have brought a uniquely intersectional, Black feminist vision to humanism while also challenging white supremacy and racist exclusion in historically Eurocentric atheist, humanist, and freethought circles. Although there has long been a robust tradition of Black secular thought, the reductive association of atheism, humanism, and freethought with an agenda based almost exclusively on church-state separation and science has stymied participation by people of color in secular movements. Moreover, white atheist and humanist cosigning of racist perceptions of African Americans and people of color, as well as backlash against social justice organizing, further underscore the racial divide that informs secularism.

The recent flap over white Yale graduate student and secular writer Sarah Braasch exemplifies this divide. In May, Braasch called 911 on a Black female grad student who was sleeping in the common area of their dormitory. Braasch viewed the woman as suspicious because she didn't know if she was a resident. Although the impetus for the call was deemed to be dubious by law enforcement, Braasch had a history of making racist, Islamophobic claims and endorsing hate speech. Some of these claims were published by and tacitly validated in the Humanist in 2009 and 2010. In the 2010 piece, which argued in favor of the burqa ban that was being debated in France at the time, Braasch made an analogy to American slavery and discussed a middle school assignment she'd been part of, in which students had to debate the pros and cons of slavery. Arguing the pro side, Braasch describes having a "eureka moment" that some Blacks were actually cool with being slaves. "In a democracy, in the land of the free, who are we to tell people that they can't be slaves, that (they) have to be regarded as fully human?" she asks, then proceeds to compare her plight as a former Jehovah's Witness to being a slave and argues that societal laws (like one banning Muslim women from wearing face-covering veils) should "make it a little easier to reject slavery. …

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