If You’re Not for Racial Justice, You’re Not a Humanist

I just finished reading Prof. Anthony Pinn’s book When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer: Humanism and the Challenge of Race. It’s excellent. It’s a fantastic exploration of race and racial justice from a Humanist perspective, for Humanists. In a series of short chapters Pinn explores issues like the complex role of belief in god in African American history; the position of African Americans vis-a-vis movement Humanism; the nature of white privilege; and hip hop culture as a source of inspiration for Humanists. Pinn’s writing is continually lucid, thoughtful, and kind, and he does a great job introducing complex topics in an inviting way. A particular strength of the text is the way Pinn examines how conversations around race and racial justice frequently go wrong in Humanist spaces, and how they can be turned around – I wish I’d had his wisdom when I first joined the Humanist movement!

One quote in particular stuck out to me:

“From my vantage point to do humanism, to be a humanist, is to have a predisposition to conduct work to decrease racial bias and its consequences.” – Anthony Pinn

This quote is typical of the book: straightforward, clear, unassuming, and polite. Perhaps too polite. If there’s any criticism I would make of When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer, it’s that in the attempt to provide what Pinn calls “ideas as icebreakers” (a charming metaphor), he perhaps sometimes doesn’t strike the ice quite hard enough. So allow me:

If you’re not for racial justice you are not a Humanist. If you are not for an end to white supremacy, you are not a Humanist. If you are not for the liberation of all people from all structures of oppression, you are not a Humanist.

There.

I can hear the complaints now. “This is dogmatic! This is exclusionary! This is the opposite of what Humanism is supposed to be about!”

Stop it. Humanism is about dignity. That’s it, really. Humanism is the name for a set of values grounded on the idea that every person has the inalienable right to live a life in which they have the opportunity to flourish and enjoy full dignity. Racial justice and an end to white supremacy is an inherent part of that program – it simply cannot be excised. Any attempt to exclude racial justice from the Humanist project, or to relegate it to secondary status, is by definition a statement that the lives of black and brown people matter less.

Humanism entails a commitment to the full dignity of each and every person. That commitment doesn’t stop at the color line, or any other line: it is universal and unceasing. What Anthony Pinn reminds us in his necessary book, is that for too long the movement which has grown up around Humanism in the USA has taken on too many of the attitudes, practices, and privileges of white supremacy. That needs to stop now: if you’re not for racial justice you’re not a Humanist.

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