Norm Allen - Skepticism and Black History

February 20, 2009

Norm Allen is executive director of African Americans for Humanism, an educational organization primarily concerned with fostering critical thinking, ethical conduct, church-state separation, and skepticism toward untested claims to knowledge among African Americans.  He is the editor of the ground-breaking book African-American Humanism: An Anthology, AAH Examiner, and Deputy Editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He has traveled and lectured widely throughout North America, Europe, and Africa and his writings have been published in scores of newspapers throughout the U.S. He has spoken on numerous radio and television programs and his writings have appeared in such books as Culture Wars and the National Center for Science Education’s Voices for Evolution.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Norm Allen discusses black history in the context of science and secularism. He talks about the Senegalese physicist Cheikh Anta Diop, and his humanistic views which were coupled with his science advocacy. He talks about Charles Drew, and his influence on setting up the first blood banks, as well as urban legends that have developed around him. He talks about the pseudoscience of supposed alternative medicine cures for AIDS, and their prominence in the black community. He talks about other black scientists and freethought figures, and defends the argument for the need for a "Black History Month." He describes the need for skepticism in the black community, focusing on how the black media covers psychics and belief in prophecy, citing examples of Tony Brown and Montel Williams. He also details some of the current black leaders in the skeptical movement, recounting the first African skeptical conference that he attended last year in Senegal.

Books Mentioned in This Episode:

Related Episodes

Michael Lackey - Science, Postmodernism, and the Varieties of Black Humanism
October 3, 2008

Comments from the CFI Forums

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I haven’t listened yet, but I sure will! Welcome back, Mr. Allen.

Yay!  :lol:

Posted on Mar 21, 2009 at 8:31am by T. Ruth Comment #1

We sure has so much to learn from Mr. Norman Allen.
His advocacy and guided knowledge might what we need to make a stand on some certain issues of the society today.
Looking forward to hear great resource that he has to share.

[Edited to remove linkspam. dougsmith—Admin]

Posted on Mar 24, 2009 at 1:10am by rafaelapolinario Comment #2


I have been listening a few months, but this is the first time I reply, or post about a topic.

I want to know something:  Why is it OK for someone in the USA to be so racist?  Please hear me out.  I know this is a skeptical podcast, and one should be skeptical about all things, not only the politically correct things.

The interview with Norm Allen was very informative, but overall it was very interesting for me to find out that the US is still a very racist society.  Why is there “Black universities”,  “Black Intellectuals”, “Black newspapers”?  Is this not blatantly racist?  Should DJ not have asked Norm about this fact?  Why is it OK for a Black man in the USA to have “black” associations.  As far as I understand it, if a white person wants to do this he will quickly be called a racist or something similar.

For the record, I am a white South African, who didn’t support the Apartheid government.  It is still a very sticky point in out country, and most people try to look beyond the colour of his skin to define themselves.  (aside from the politicians, that is…)

Posted on Apr 03, 2009 at 4:05am by Hermanvv Comment #3

Most minorities here in the US feel as if the predominate Western European based culture tends to overwhelm and crush any other ethnic differences and diversities. So they attempt to preserve their ethnic heritage by race or ethnic based organizations and groups. The NAACP or La Raza Unita, etc. are groups trying to keep a smaller, less politically powerful ethnic identity alive. They also work for greater power within the predominate white-based culture.

Most caucasians like myself don’t feel the need for this, as we are already well represented in the American financial and political landscape. With the election of Barak Obama I feel a relaxing of the ever-present racial tension in the US, as some of the fears of minorities concerning political power have been reduced. Nevertheless, racism is still alive in America, and many minority members are not ready to give up their attempts for ethnic and cultural preservation.

Barak Obama is a rock star in Europe because he is a political anomaly there. While the Europeans are quick to point out America’s history of prejudice and racism, they still try to deny their own problems with those issues. The EU is run by white folks. That may change as the European minorities take a cue from America and strive for greater political and financial power. In the US, Obama will be judged by the same political criteria as any other politician, even though his election made history. He is our President, and just happens to be black. We watch and judge him on his policies and performance as we do all Presidents. Already we see the ‘socialist’ label being thrown around, and this is pretty much par for the course of US politics.

In our history, white-only groups tend to be racist and bigoted. True, some white people are afraid of minorities ‘polluting’ America with their cultural differences, but I welcome them. Those that are wacky like voodoo, or just don’t work here will be weeded out eventually, and what remains will be absorbed into the most dynamic culture in the world. Absorbed, but not destroyed or mangled.

I play and love the blues. I give absolute thanks and respect to the thousands of nameless people who worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, and still had the desire to play the blues on a porch or in a juke joint. Blues is the father of jazz, the godfather of rock, and the mother of reggae. I can’t imagine America without it. I believe this nation would be unrecognizable without the contributions of millions of ‘minorities’. And I’m a white guy!

Those are just my opinions and views. I’m sure others can give some better/different perspectives.

Posted on Apr 03, 2009 at 7:08am by omnibus09 Comment #4

Forget racism. People can be a lot more irrational than that. Forty out of the forty-three US presidents have been taller than the average american man. I don’t know if Obama’s race (whatever race he is supposed to be) worked towards his advantage, but his hight (and his age when compared to McCain’s age) surely worked in his favor. Were McCain twenty years younger and a foot taller, the US’s 44th president would have been another “white boring guy.” Mammals we are.

Posted on Apr 03, 2009 at 7:46am by George Comment #5

Agreed. We are hard-wired to like beauty. Height implies power. Youth implies vigor. It’s a big popularity contest, for the most part.

However. a tall, young, good-looking idiot that can’t talk very well will not be elected. The power of prose is also very strong.

Posted on Apr 03, 2009 at 8:58am by omnibus09 Comment #6

Hermanvv, I didn’t find Norm Allen’s words racist at all.

Here are two items that may answer your questions far better than I can.

One is The Jim Crow Museums “Question of the Month” (March 2009): Can Blacks Be Racist?
The other is Tim Wise’s essay Reflections on the Brain-Rotting Properties of Privilege.


Why is it OK for a Black man in the USA to have “black” associations…. As far as I understand it, if a white person wants to do this he will quickly be called a racist or something similar.

I’m reminded of something Jane Elliott, an Iowa school teacher, said in the documentary “A Class Divided” following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “As I listened to the white male commentators on TV the night before I was hearing things like who’s going to hold your people together, as they interviewed black leaders. What are they going to do? Who’s going to control your people? As though this was—these people were subhuman and someone was going to have to step in there and control them. They said things like when we lost our leader [President Kennedy], his widow helped to hold us together. Who’s going to hold them together? And the attitude was so arrogant and so condescending and so ungodly that I thought if white male adults react this way, what are my third graders going to do?

Posted on Apr 04, 2009 at 11:40am by T. Ruth Comment #7