MY BLACK ATHEIST FAQ

  • Why do you call yourself a “Black” atheist?
    • Short answer: Because I can. I’m allowed to self-identify.
    • Long answer: Because I am a member of an oppressed group of people that has its own  history, culture, and institutions. Because despite the gains of the civil rights movement my community remains economically and politically disenfranchised and is systematically targeted by unfair practices in the legal/criminal justice systems, education, housing, employment, etc. Because not calling myself black will not do anything to address these problems.
    • Also, many of the questions that I’ve been asked or heard asked below…
  • Why do you have your own groups? Why aren’t I as a white person welcome?
    • Because black atheists have some particular challenges to coming out as atheists. Coming out as an atheist can be particularly isolating for black atheists, as churches play a major role in  providing space for social interaction, cultural expression, and political action- also, FRIDAY FISH FRYS (J/K but not entirely) 🙂
    • Due to the behavior of many mainstream atheists/ atheist orgs, there is a perception that atheism is hostile towards religious believers whether or not they are progressive. The insensitivity, racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia that some atheists/ atheist orgs exhibit along with the very narrow range of issues that secularists tend to focus on, adds to the perception that atheism is a “white male thing”. Having our own groups makes us visible, allowing us to find each other and address issues that are marginalized within the mainstream movement.
    • To quote Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson:

“…when people of color are constantly bombarded with bullshit claims from Internet cowards about separatism, reverse discrimination and “self-segregation” when they point to the absence of social justice, anti-racist community organizing, coalition-building and visibility (outside of white suburbs and gentrified urban centers) amongst secular organizations, it merely underscores the burning need for authentic real-time grassroots organizations of color beyond the mainstream atheist power structure.”

    • To my knowledge most black atheist groups (with one exception, “The Real Black Atheists”, formerly known as the Black Atheists of Atlanta) don’t exclude white people entirely. Though some white people in general, due to their privilege, are offended by the existence of spaces that do not assume their inclusion.
  • What if I go and start a white atheist group?
    • Go start one, then I won’t have to guess which group I should avoid.
  • But “we’re all Africans”, right?
    • You cannot negate the reality of systemic racial inequality by proclaiming “We are all Africans”!
  • Why are black people  Christians when Christianity was forced on black people through the institution of slavery?
    • At one time, conversion to Christianity was once a means of achieving freedom under the law in Virginia. Later the law was changed so that the freedom or enslavement of a person was based on the condition of the mother- this is when slavery became a condition based on racial heritage. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1narr3.html
    • The African Methodist Episcopal Church & other black churches were instrumental in the abolitionist movement and  in helped educate & house escaped and former slaves, in addition to organizing to fight for political, economic, and social equality. Many black  people drew inspiration from the bible and belief in god to resist slavery including Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, etc. Many black scholars and theologians would develop doctrines and theologies which would challenge slavery, racial apartheid, and even capitalistic exploitation based on a different interpretation of the bible.
    • Because of  racial dichotomies/ hierarchies that were created by white supremacy, blacks were viewed as not only the intellectual or cultural inferiors of whites but the moral inferiors of whites as well. Though slaves who practiced Christianity could no longer be freed as a condition of their conversion, adherence to Christianity along with assimilation conferred a sense of respectability. Black people, who were enslaved or otherwise were viewed as more moral, upstanding, civilized, and acceptable if they were Christian and didn’t disrupt the racial order. Performing this particular type of respectability could mean the difference between employment, safety, housing, etc. because “good” negroes (those who knew their “place”) were not perceived as a great  threat to white people. (see http://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/brute/)

*Note that none of this is said to suggest that the black church should not be criticized at all. 

  • What role did the black church play in the Civil Rights movement? Was it a religious movement?
    • The answer to this is not exactly straight forward. Though there were many churches and religious people who participated, there were many churches that did not. In fact many churches were against the Civil Rights Movement.
    • There were some religious organizations that were instrumental in furthering the movement like the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but there were also several secular organizations like SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), The Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, and The Black Panthers.
    • Atheists/humanists like A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, James Forman, and others also played significant roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Many people were reluctant or fearful to be open about their non-belief, political views, and affiliations due to intense surveillance and intimidation by the FBI and other entities.
  •  You seem to defend the black church a lot. Are you sure you are an atheist?
    • I just refuse to attack the black church wholesale. There are many toxic religious influences in the black community, namely the prosperity gospel and many mega-churches.
    • Though some black churches are extremely opposed to gays rights, reproductive rights, etc, there are many churches/ religious groups who are leading the way in progressive social justice activism (ex. Moral Mondays).
  • Why can black people use the word “nigger” but as a white person I can’t?
    • Short answer: Because you can’t. 
    • Long answer: Because that word is a tool of white supremacy and the systematic dehumanization of black people. Although some black people have appropriated it and decided to use it as a term of endearment or in other ways, that does not entitle a member of the privileged group to use it. The real question is why would you as a non-black person want to use that word? What do you get from using that word?
  •  Isn’t it racist to tell one someone they can’t (or in this case really shouldn’t) do something cause they aren’t black?
    • Not when the “something” is telling a person from a privileged group not to use dehumanizing language against members of an oppressed group. Call me when black people start create a system or racial apartheid where white people are systematically disenfranchised.
  • What is “white privilege”?
    • White privilege is a set of tangible and sometimes intangible privileges or benefits that white people (or obstensibly white people) receive just by virtue of being white. Examples of areas where whites are privileged include differences in sentencing and conviction rates, obtaining employment and job security, securing home and business loans, interests rates (even with similar credit scores/histories), etc.
    • For more information on white privilege (That is if you aren’t feigning interest) Google or Bing that shit!
  •  But I was born poor/grew up around black people/(insert other claim that doesn’t debunk that fact of racial privilege here), so how can you say that I benefit from white privilege? Also, look at all the exceptional black people who are successful that I can name.
    • Short answer: So what?
    • Poor white or lower class white people still benefit from white privilege for example, research has demonstrated that white people with felony convictions fare as well or better than black people without a criminal record. This is just one example of the reality of racial discrimination which gives an unfair advantage to white people.
    • FYI, pointing out FEW “exceptional” black people is not a sufficient counter argument in discussions of SYSTEMIC racial inequality. The key word is systemic and that doesn’t mean that no black person can achieve. It simply means that their are significant barriers to achievement for most.
  • It would probably be easier to accept what you are saying if you weren’t so angry/bitter. Could you please change your tone?
    • My tone isn’t the problem, it is merely an excuse for you to ignore my arguments/ my lived experiences.
    • You don’t get to determine how I should feel about these matters.
    • And you don’t get to use my tone or emotional state to minimize my experiences.

 

 

Additional Reading:

Bridging the STEM  Divide Youth Conference & White Atheist Hypocrites <<<<Just Added

Six Reasons Why There Aren’t More Blacks in the Atheist Community << Just added

Black, Atheist & Hiding 

I’m a Black Unicorn Baby: I am a Black Woman Atheist!

What Not to Say to Radical Atheist-Humanists of Color

Black Atheists and The Failure of Black Academia

Freethought Giant: A. Philip Randolph and the March on Washington

The Black Church

God in America: The Black Church

Black Women are Among Country’s most Religious Groups 

Why Did So Many Black women Die?: Jonestown at 35?

Black Woman on the Atheist Tip

We Only Do Diversity When Want To: Atheist Silence on the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers

Welfare Queens, Feminism, Secularism, Anti-Racism

Open Letter to Dave Silverman

“Can’t All Fights for Equality be Basic and Foundational?” 

Why I Need Spaces for POCs

Ain’t I a Skeptic?

Billboard Brouhaha

The Lobbying Game << Just Added

Godless Americana

Moral Combat

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

The New Jim Crow

Clinging to Mammy

The History of White People

 

 

Web/ Podcasts:

Big Think: Nell Irvin Painter, Author of The History of White People

Exposing your non-belief & Why the decision can be paralyzing

 

People of Color Beyond Faith Roundtable Discussion

People of Color Beyond Faith Roundtable: Debunking Post-Racialism

People of Color Beyond Faith: Religious Oppression and Women of Color

People of Color Beyond Faith: Radical Humanist Traditions of Communities of Color

People of Color Beyond Faith: Sex, Sexuality, & Gender Politics

FTBCon2: Social Justice and Young Women of Color

BFT Radio: Interfaith, Social Justice, Atheism

BFT Radio: Social Justice Community Activism and the Atheist Community

BFT Radio: Freethought History- A Conversation with Norm Allen

BFT Radio: Freethought History- A Conversation with Dr. Chris Cameron

BFT Radio: A Conversation on Godless Americana with Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson

BFT Radio: Atheists of Color FAQ & Comments

 

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13 thoughts on “MY BLACK ATHEIST FAQ

  1. jian726 says:

    I could just hug you! This is spot on target! I’ve had to deal with some of these exact same questions – haven’t we all? – in various other venues. The principle, nevertheless is the same.

    I told one fellow who took it upon himself to chide me for what he believed to be my less than helpful attitude, “when Black people murder 100 million of your people, rape your women and yes children, enslave your people for over 430 plus years, make your people build our country for free… You look me up and then I’ll be instructed by your wisdom!” Needless to say, that ended the discussion.

  2. Yes! Great points!!! When we come from a culture where religion is so intricately intertwined walking away from religion is like walking away from a part of yourself. It is a reality that is unique for black people and one that can be tremendously isolating and overwhelming. When you couple this with the reality that the atheist community is not void of racism, there is no question that these groups must exist and that they are, without question, essential for the emotional, psychological, and social needs of black nonbelievers.

  3. I really like your answer to the first question (not to say I don’t like the others – I do). Coming from an outside perspective (white atheist), but also as a feminist woman, I’d say the general atheist community is not generally friendly to women or to people of color, and you’re right, not distinguishing yourself would do nothing to address that. Really interesting post!

  4. Yes, yes and Yes. So proud of you Raina

  5. Bravo, Raina! This is just phenomenal.

  6. […] Why do you call yourself a “Black” atheist? Short answer: Because I can. I’m allowed to self-identify. [Read more] […]

  7. NoaAthena says:

    Yaaaaaaaaaas. I bookmarked this!!! 😀 Thank you.

  8. […] Everything Else -Gentrification is not inevitable. -Eldercare: the forgotten feminist issue. -Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about sexism and racism in science (transcript here). -Two decades after Oslo, a look at life in Israel and Palestine. -Latest publishing trend: books that teach women to be overconfident blowhards, just like men. -Huzzah! Scarleteen has met the minimum goal they needed to avoid shutting down any of their services (see update at the top of this post). If you still want to donate, a generous donor will match your donation dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000, until May 1st. -Watch this father sing “Home” with his daughters and help fight for family reunification. -Suicide is not selfish. -Medicating the jerkbrain and the single story of mental illness. -My black atheist FAQ. […]

  9. Misty says:

    Excellent! We are minorities within a minority. I told someone the other day, I came out of the “closet” years ago and I’m not going back in…
    It is so liberating and freeing!

  10. […] black atheists are forced to form their own organizations, often getting pushback from some whites about creating “separatist” groups. Ultimately, if people of color don’t see […]

  11. See, now I like you, dammit. Can we try this again?

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