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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism

By These Hands; A Documentary History of African American Humanism is a collection of writings from a number of African Writers and a welcomed book, indeed. Professor Anthony Pinn has added a welcomed incite into understanding the many worldviews that shape the struggle for the liberation of black people throughout the years. First, however, I am opposed to Professor Pinn's view that the word “religion” should be part of the nomenclature of black humanism or black non-theism. Professor Pinn hinges his argument on the original meaning of the word religion which means: to link, to bind, to connect. And one can connect to anything, people, places or things.Thus, as a word, religion” has no specific connection to theism per-say. He also points out that because “humanism function[s] as a religious system within African American communities”, “religion” should be used as part of the name. He argues that the word should be reclaimed from the theistic world.
Indeed, the word “religion” is in no way connected to theism, but because it has been co-opted by the theistic world, “religion”, as a word, is contaminated with  centuries of theistic baggage that makes it an obstacle to humanism and non-theism.
However, despite my disagreement with Professor Pinn on this nomenclature issue, I, as an Afro-Caribbean, non-theistic humanist, strongly endorses this book. Professor Pinn has shown light on an aspect of the black liberation struggle that has been neglected by almost all black authors writing on black peoples struggle for dignity, power and justice. By These Hands has peeled back the cover that, for years, has prevented many of us from recognizing the fact that it was not only the theistic religions that contributed to the black liberation struggle. It shows that many regular and intellectual African Americans has, from the beginning, embraced a non-theistic and humanistic approach to improving their conditions. By These Hands has exposed as myth the idea that all slaves were obedient lambs who obediently rolled over and accepted the slave masters' religion.
In one essay entitle, Experiences of a Chimney Sweeper, for instance, we are introduced to John Junior. A man who denounced the commonly held position that says if you put your burdens in Christ/God, all will be taken care of. To John, he recognized that his condition could only have been changed by him becoming the doer/active agent. In other words;By his own hands, and not through prayer. The Black abolitionist, Fredrick Douglass, expresses it this way, “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs”. Douglas, of course, was talking about his eventual escape from slavery.
By These Hands has brought to light the deep historical roots and influence humanism and non-theism have had in shaping the struggle for liberation. This book is an excellent book that should be read by all who are interested in an often overlooked dimension of Black history. It is a must read for the black population.

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