Last Wednesday the American Humanist Association (AHA) announced it will host the Secular Social Justice 2018 Conference, an all-day event that will center the sociopolitical insight, leadership, and strategies of secular, humanist, and atheist activists of color who believe social change will only come through human intervention.
Two years ago—before joining the AHA as a staff member—I wrote an article for theHumanist.com that described the context, implications, and necessity of Secular Social Justice 2016, which was held at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
In all my years of being involved in humanist and atheist communities and attending secular conferences, Secular Social Justice 2016 remains the most educational and meaningful secular humanist event I’ve ever attended. One of the chief pioneers of Secular Social Justice was feminist and humanist activist Sikivu Hutchinson. According to Hutchinson, Secular Social Justice (SSJ) was developed because “neither organized atheism nor organized humanism” had “ever addressed social, economic, gender, and racial justice from the perspective of communities of color.” She went on to elaborate the emergence of this focus:
Challenging the secular movement’s dominance by white elites, the secular social justice conferences that we spearheaded in previous years were designed to bring social justice activism to the fore of radical humanism and atheism.
SSJ was intended as a platform for activist humanist, atheist, and skeptic organizations of color from around the nation to share their intersectional organizing work. It was in direct response to the Eurocentric notion that addressing institutional racism, sexism, homo/transphobia, and white supremacy within the context of secularism was unnecessary or “distracting.”
Our focus was the particular struggles of people of color within the context of state violence, hyper-segregation, economic inequality, mass incarceration, and the neoliberal gutting of public education. These systems have had the most devastating impact on our communities, and have only intensified the grip of organized religion precisely because there is no comprehensive social welfare safety net that addresses these disparities.
The rise of Trumpian neo-fascism makes secular social justice activism even more relevant to communities of color grappling with the anti-human rights backlash of the current administration.
White America benefits from a white-oriented society saturated with white-centered ideas, culture, preferences, mores, and ambitions. This obviously doesn’t mean that all white people have it “good” or “easy.” It means that, at varying degrees, white folks benefit from norms that position whiteness as the default. It also means that these norms permeate every dimension of society—and atheist and secular humanist institutions aren’t magically precluded from this social reality.
It comes as no shock, then, that many of the interests or issues of racial minorities subsumed within atheist and secular humanist communities are often interpreted as “divisive,” or as gratuitous, or as being less significant when they deviate from reinforcing the interests of whiteness.
These circumstances are what motivate racial minorities to carve out spaces in which they can parse matters that impact communities of color as a direct consequence of living and navigating the smother of this social configuration. The space SSJ has carved out will be one that delivers action and solutions-oriented workshops, interactive engagement, and skill-building for attendees.
Topics to be analyzed next year at SSJ include (but aren’t limited to) economic justice, decolonizing social justice activism, a humanist approach to immigration, confronting internalized oppression, the intersection of racism and “the war on drugs,” intersectional advocacy and trans justice, the school-to-prison pipeline, and eliminating racial inequality in the criminal justice system.
The conference will be held April 7, 2018, at All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, DC. Admission tickets are currently available online.