Review: Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars
"A radical progressive humanism recognizes that hand-wringing about diversity—be it in education, corporate America or cultural movements—without challenging the power dynamics of access and visibility, makes white supremacy a self-fulfilling prophecy." ~ Sikivu Hutchinson After 10 years as the most prominent tool in my moral and intellectual arsenal, Ancient Future has been supplanted by the fierce effluence of ideas Sikivu Hutchinson has assembled in this manuscript. Moral Combat is easily the most extensive modern black humanist examination I have encountered as I discovered myself on this sojourn to disconnect from the spiritual yoke which held me bound in years past. A yoke that I thought essential to exist as an ethical being whose grip I pursued through Pentecostal, Rastafari, Islamic and the Black Liberation Theological construct finding no satisfaction.
The sojourn eventually found me accepting solitude as the most perfect personal practice when group formations were given to paternalism and authoritarian instruction. In that solitude, I discovered that I was gradually more open to question all manner of ritual and tradition which gave rise to a rich skepticism. The skepticism began to pervade all areas of life until I had renewed my understanding of feminist tradition, black humanist social critique, and the history of power, race and privilege. All of these topics are investigated exceptionally by Hutchinson throughout Moral Combat.
Sikivu Hutchinson, true to occupation, writes with a densely packed professorial tenor striving to make every word explode upon impact. Upon first read this can be off putting because in conjunction with the multitude of ideas covered, one occasionally struggles to keep up. But once you reach a reader’s stride which occurred for me after the second chapter, you move into the space where you desire to mark a notation upon every page where language strikes a chord or spurs you toward action. As I found myself rounding the corner of chapter three, my head was dizzy from all of the various cross references that made themselves apparent in my recent reading schedule.
As Hutchinson was remarking upon the government sponsored “white flight” and reinforcement of class divisions, I was meditating on Beryl Satter’s “Family Properties” and pondering how those policies took root on the local level in Chicago creating the racially stratified city that now exists in the present day. When she invokes the notions of artificially earned white social mobility, I am reminded of Ira Katznelson’s “When Affirmative Action Was White”. Even her critique of the white atheist obsession with lambasting “religious identity” in the privileged pursuit of scientific aims caused me to recall that a generation of Black freethinkers were lost to a certain betrayal at the hands of Communism during the period of the New Negro Renaissance.
In Moral Combat, Hutchinson provides not only a present day lesson on the most pertinent aspects of the American culture and values wars, but she also reaches deep into the historical context in order to extract an understanding of how the tree was grown from unmistakably deep roots. No person of interest is held sacred from her examination from the white atheist or feminist unaware of their own sense of privilege to the black woman complicit in her own religious subjugation to the black man whose interpretation of masculinity reinforces all of the worst patriarchal forms of an enslaved past.
Hutchinson reminds in this text that a rich and enlightening skepticism requires not simply that we question religion or government, but that we question gender roles and privilege and power dynamics and leadership. She reminds us that a deep and moving humanism must overwhelm all of our previous notions about the world which were each and every one formed in a poisoned vacuum and now need to be rebuilt from the ground floor. So grab a hammer and smash that sacred cow to your left.