Statement on Anti-Black Brutality

We recognize this statement may seem a bit late. And that assessment would be correct – it is, in fact, late. In the last few days, we have used our Facebook page to boost other organizations more directly involved with the response in the aftermath of the brutal and unjust murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. But we are committed to anti-racism, including the fight against anti-Blackness, and part of this commitment involves using our own voices, using every avenue possible, alongside those who are already affected by and doing this work.

These three names are only the latest high-profile ones in a long line of Black people and entire Black communities that have been subjected to state and social violence in this country. It shouldn’t escape us that many of the murders these protests are attempting to address were not carried out by law enforcement at all, but by civilians. These civilians took it upon themselves to exert potentially fatal force to defend their community from its own members, because they did not consider these Black folks in their community to be truly part of their community. 

Even in just the past few weeks, we have witnessed civilian violence being attempted by Amy Cooper, a white woman who simply did not like being told by a Black man in a public space to follow a rule meant for the safety of its patrons. She attempted to use a proxy to carry out retributive violence, in the form of a fabricated call to the police. Ahmaud Arbery was also not killed by an officer on duty, but a retired one. The retired officer chased him down in his car with his son, who is also not part of law enforcement, before killing Arbery extrajudicially.

Though we must and do condemn police brutality, it is not enough. We must go further to condemn the police brutality and civilian brutality that Black people in the US and around the world are subjected to and targeted with, especially those who are poor or working class. We must also condemn the strong undercurrent of casual anti-Blackness that runs through our society, that comprises the platform of covert violence on which this overt violence can stand, that allows this community to repeatedly be subjected to insult in addition to injury, that permits many in our society to view brutality against Black folks as more palatable and less egregious than they otherwise would.

We should also not neglect the fact that Black women are frequently forgotten in efforts around combating police brutality. The truth is that Black women are also disproportionately targeted in our society for this kind of violence, which frequently starts early, as Black children are disproportionately policed in schools and outside them, and continues unabated throughout their lives. Nor should we neglect Black LGBTQ+ people, who face heightened risk of violence, limited access to resources, and additional indignities when the violence targeting them is publicized.

In the fight for justice, we must love good more than we hate evil. It is not enough to simply condemn police brutality. It is not enough to decry these instances of overt violence while continuing to neglect this platform of covert violence that acts as its base. We cannot simply lobby to condemn perpetrators – we must also uplift their victims, and we must ensure that there are no more victims. In order to truly counter the poison that permeates our ways of life as they currently exist, we must sustain our efforts towards dismantling these systems as a way of life rather than a set of isolated instances of action, and we must do it wherever and everywhere we are.

As part of our responsibility in dismantling the systems of oppression that uphold anti-Blackness at their center, we are renewing our commitment to not only amplify the voices of Black and other women of color, but also lend our own voices in service of their struggles in the anti-Black, cisheteronormative society we live in. This responsibility requires us to acknowledge the fact that Secular Woman currently has a mostly white board. As we are also in the middle of a board member search, we believe this is the right time to both interrogate and redouble our efforts to have a diverse board that is also knowledgeable about and responsive to the complex realities that multiply marginalized women, particularly Black women, must face.

Secular Woman logo: stylized radium icon in dark red and light orange. Text: Secular Woman.

Board Updates and Openings

The new year brings several changes to Secular Woman’s board. Monette Richards stepped down as president to try to take her own advice about avoiding burnout. She remains on the board as vice president, providing continuity and counsel. We thank Monette for her leadership and all her hard work to make sure Secular Woman has carried on beyond its founding energy.

As of January 1, Stephanie Zvan is the new president of Secular Woman. She’s looking forward to continuing to build our relationships with other secular organizations at the national and local level, as well as Secular Women Work’s capacity to train activists and speakers. Keep an eye out for more announcements along those lines coming soon.

Felicity Kusinitz has also stepped down from both her position as treasurer and from the board itself. We’re sorry to see her go. We will be the poorer without her practical and grounding presence. Thank you, Felicity, for your service and for recognizing when it was time to put yourself first.

Secular Woman is currently bringing on new board members. If you’re interested in working to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women, we’d love to hear from you. We’re particularly interested in adding board members with a wide variety of perspectives on what this work means and looks like. 

Living Our Secular Values

The following was originally delivered by Stephanie Zvan for the Day of Reason event organized by the Minnesota Atheists in the capitol rotunda in Saint Paul.

Hello, everyone! You may know I’m the associate president of Minnesota Atheists, but I’m here today as a member of the board of Secular Woman. Secular Woman is an organization of women and men dedicated to amplifying the voices and concerns of secular women within the movement and outside it.

Last month was the 100th anniversary of the birth of American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair. O’Hair had something of a reputation for being a difficult person. Yes, really. She would have that reputation even correcting for the smaller leeway we give to difficult women, but part of her reputation was almost certainly due to her militant feminism. Among the many fights she took up was her fight against the idea that women were created for men’s pleasure.

As atheists, we understand that women weren’t created at all. We evolved. And I hope that after so many years of fighting for good education on evolution, we understand that evolution is not directed. It has no end goal. So any discussion of our secular values must be informed by the knowledge that women, like men, exist for themselves, not in service to others.

This means we value bodily autonomy. I’m referring to the current assaults on abortion and birth control, of course, but it goes further than that. We want women to make their own decisions about when or even whether to have sex and with whom.

It also means we want women to decide for themselves when to put their bodies at risk. You can’t see the current administration rolling back the ability of trans people to serve in the military and not know restrictions on women’s roles are coming. And the same is true for so many jobs and industries we’ve had to fight our way into because they were considered too dangerous for us.

It means we understand that women don’t exist to be pleasant to talk to or look at. When we see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar, who has championed secularism in these halls, or other women in the freshman class in the House subject to the same harassment so many of us have faced for speaking up, we see it for what it is and say it’s wrong. And we do the same when people try to cast “women’s issues” as a distraction or “special interest”.

These aren’t things the secular movement has always been good at. Too often, we’ve been content to benefit from the work of women without recognizing that work should also benefit the women who do it. You can see this when you look at our organizations and compare the people who do the work on the ground to those in leadership positions and on boards.

I’d like to stop here for a moment to recognize August Berkshire. Over the last several years, he’s worked to recruit just about every woman volunteering for Minnesota Atheists to take on the additional thankless task of serving on the board, including me. He’s made sure that those of us doing the work at least have the opportunity to make decisions that direct our organization.

This is one of the main projects of Secular Woman as well. With our Secular Women Work conferences here and workshops at Skepticon in Missouri, we’ve highlighedt the skills of women and genderqueer activists in the movement and helped them help each other to grow. And yes, we do also train men—at least those men who are able to learn from women—because this is going to take all of us.

With everyone’s help, we can put our secular values into action. Thank you.