Welcome our new social justice programming intern, Ankita Kumar!
What is your educational and work background?
I studied English and Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I started off just doing Computer Science, with a plan to take a few creative writing classes on the side. As time passed, I realized that only the humanities courses–both content-wise and classmate-wise–cared about social justice the same way I did, so I ended up getting two degrees. (There’s something hidden in here about the link between STEM, immigration, financial security, and activism, but that’s a whole other conversation.)
How did you first learn about humanism?
I first heard about humanism on the American Humanist Association (AHA) website, and it helped me put into words so much about my own beliefs! When I was a teen, a major narrative around queer rights in the US (and therefore on much of the internet) was, “God doesn’t actually say it’s bad to be gay–religion is being twisted by homophobia,” which always made me feel uncomfortable. Looking back with humanism as a lens, what I was noticing was the implication that the validity of being LGBTQIA+ was conditional on the approval of gods. Learning about humanism also opened my eyes to how insidiously religion and the state are being intertwined in the USA. In India, where I grew up, it felt a lot more obvious.
Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?
I grew up Hindu, but it was as much cultural as it was religious. Once I was older, it was easy to recognize the barely-veiled misogyny, and seeing how the Indian government wielded Hinduism as a weapon against minorities solidified my decision to not believe in any of it.
I still celebrate the festivals–they help me feel more connected to a home that’s 9,000 miles away. In fact, the amount I care about following traditions is inversely proportional to the number of people around me who care about the same.
What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association?
I really love that there are different alliances that are connected to the AHA. It’s a great way for marginalized and silenced communities to lead themselves, and I’m really excited to work with them. It’s also clear how important and valued intersectionality is, which I’m really thankful for. In my experience, that has been uncommon.
What book has influenced you the most?
It’s really hard to pinpoint a single book, but one that comes to mind is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Reading it made me confront a lot of my misconceptions and my class privilege. It’s also beautifully written.
If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?
The first person would be Amonute, the Powhatan woman whom the myth of Pocahontas is based on. The main account about her life is from one of the colonists, and I would love to talk to her and learn the truth. I also think she’d have so much to share about what life was like pre-colonization.
Next would be Fred Hampton, an activist and the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. His work in Chicago was very focused on helping and building the community, which I think is really important in activism.
The third person would be Arundhati Roy, an Indian activist and writer. I came across a quote of hers about the role of non-violence in resistance, and it really stuck with me. She’s also an award-winning writer, and as a writer myself, I like to think I could learn a lot from talking to her.