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Feb 20 2013

“We” Only Do “Diversity” When We Want to: Atheist Silence & the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers

Donald Wright book

By Naima Washington

It is a sad fact that people of color, particularly African American nonbelievers, are alienated within the secular community.  Among the ‘faith’ communities, even those with the most racist and sexist doctrines, continue to do whatever it takes (and make no apologies) as they aggressively recruit and make space in their communities for people of color.  Based on their disinterest in any recruiting efforts, the leadership of the secular community is apparently very proud of the fact that they, on the other hand, have few people of African descent in leadership positions as well as very few members.  While there is no genuine intent or concerted plan to change this situation, many attempt to explain this phenomena by claiming that black folk are just too addicted to religion; otherwise, those of us who aren’t addicted to religion are either nominal or closet atheists, and therefore, need not be taken seriously.  During the past 25 years, I belonged to many secular organizations; it was indeed a challenge to remain in them.

When African American atheists attempt to expand their visibility and participation in the secular community by organizing with other nonbelievers—especially those who have been historically ignored by the leadership of the secular community—to publicly celebrate their freedom from religious dogma; when we ask everyone in the secular community to celebrate along with us, and we set aside one day out of the entire year to do so, there’s a problem! Last year, some very intelligent and insightful atheists declared efforts to organize a Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers as segregation! Those same people are otherwise dead silent about the segregation, hostility, and alienation directed towards black atheists within the secular community year-round.

In 2012, author Donald Wright and I sent out nearly 400 written requests to secular organizations as well as individuals asking that they support the Day of Solidarity by posting a promotional piece on their websites and asking that they plan a Day of Solidarity in their own communities.  Over 90% of those requests were met with silence, not only from white atheists, but from people of color as well. There were also positive responses to the Day of Solidarity. And, quite frankly, the secular community is better off because of those responses and the entire secular community ought to celebrate not only independent thinkers but independent activists as well. Yet the current trend is to support inertia, self-promotion, and those who aren’t particularly motivated to make waves.

While I can think of none, there may be legitimate reasons to not support the Day of Solidarity; however failing to support it because it represents independent actions on the part of independent thinkers in the secular community isn’t a legitimate reason. The Day of Solidarity can be celebrated by anyone who cares to do so; and while it is hoped that many people celebrate it, that fact is that its ‘success’ isn’t dependent on any one group and whether two people in 20 communities or 20 people in two communities plan events is irrelevant. Its success lies only in the fact that those who want to mark the fourth Sunday in February—Black History Month—will do so in their own community in their own way. Who would be harmed by these independent actions?

In 2011, Donald Wright first proposed holding a Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers without asking anyone’s permission; he didn’t wait to see if hundreds of people would line up behind the idea before taking that first step and creating a Day of Solidarity in Houston, Texas. Although there doesn’t seem to be much promotion for the Day of Solidarity this year, no one has to wait for permission to celebrate the Day of Solidarity either. If anyone, anywhere, wants to celebrate the DoS, please, go right ahead and create your own event; contact other nonbelievers in your own community and decide how you’d like to spend that time with each other: share a meal; visit an art gallery or museum; go see a movie or a play; go ice-skating; etc. Make some phone calls, post your event on your own Facebook page as well as on the DoS Facebook page; celebrate, and remain an activist—not just a joiner—for the rest of the year; make a commitment to social change. Right now, what society needs are people who are committed to social change; we have enough talkers, and in order to create meaningful change, we must each assume leadership by doing the right thing—with or without company!

The future as well as the integrity of the secular community depends not on people who do as they are told, but on those of us who are both independent thinkers and activists.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    Brianne Bilyeu

    Thanks for writing about this. I put links to the DoS blogspot, this article, and the DoS FB group on the Minnesota Atheists Facebook group. I’ll write back if I hear of anything happening in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

    1. 1.1
      Naima

      And, thank you for taking time to respond. Meanwhile, please don’t wait for someone else to plan an event! If YOU are interested in celebrating the Day of Solidarity, MAKE something happen by planning a get together in your own community. An event will take place in Minneapolis/St. Paul if you want an event to take place.

      1. Brianne Bilyeu

        Unfortunately I’m in California for travel this week, so I can’t commit to organizing an event in the Twin Cities this year. But I can commit to a blog post for Sunday.

        1. Brianne Bilyeu

          err…for work, rather. …in California for *work* this week.

  2. 2
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    I’m not a member of any sort of group, bu8t I would be more than happy to display solidarity as the occasion presents itself, on the Day of Solidarity or any other day.

    I find the 90% silence sad, disappointing, and disconcerting.

  3. 3
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I’m disappointed but not surprised, considering the treatment women get. Even the Republicans understand that they need to do outreach towards people of color, and the atheist community is largely unwilling to do so… there’s something broken on a fundamental level. The atheist community doesn’t even seem capable of paying lip service to diversity, let alone making a real go of it. Is there a time when any of the larger groups ever want to “do diversity”?

    1. 3.1
      Lucette

      Maybe the atheist “community”is not a community at all. Just a club for for white boys and girls. Atheism is just the absence of a belief. That may not be enough for a real community, specially in our racist environment.

      1. Michael Brady

        Last I checked the “Atheist (Mostly White Men and a Few White Women) Club” was busy tearing itself apart from within. They’re so busy deciding “who’s out” they haven’t taken the time to notice there are other co-non-religionists who “want in.” There is precious little community to join just now so good for those who strive to create and maintain their own. Be well.

        http://eclecticbreakfast.blogspot.com/2013/02/alone-in-growing-crowd.html

  4. 4
    Cari

    This inaction and fear of offending is more prevalent in the atheist/freethinker community that I thought possible. It extends to all fronts, and is heedlessly exclusionary.

  5. 5
    Paulino

    I don’t know how hard it would be to do this, but why not set up a temporary “Day of Solidarity” blog here at Ftb, where Ftbers and guests can write about the theme? Is it feasable?

    Also it should be set up above all other blogs for the duration.

    Cheers.

  6. 6
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Cari:

    You can tell the priorities though, because the “fear of offending” isn’t equally distributed in all directions. There’s not much fear of offending people of color, and a whole lot of fear of offending angry white men shouting against “political correctness.”

  7. 7
    watch stream

    very good

    1. 7.1
      Naima

      I am appreciative of every response. There is an urgency for members of the secular community to use our meetings as well as our face-to-face and online discussions to find, share, and ultimately implement thoughtful solutions to some of society’s problems as well as the many problems which exists inside the secular community. More talk, more buck-passing, and more finger-pointing aren’t substitutes for thoughtful activism.

      The secular community continues to rescue our society from the stranglehold of religious dogma and has virgorously engaged the religious establishment as well as the state. While there will always be more work to do, we can also point to many victories. But, the fact remains that many of us have continue to accommodate bigotry and exclusion within our own camp, Anyone who has been paying any attention understands that the secular community’s failure to support the Dayof Solidarity simply mirrors its failure to support and be responsive to the membership, especially people of color, year-round.

      We must individually and collectively BECOME the leadership that we need. Consider what would happen if we offered our support, time, talents, and money only to those entities which promote and practice ethical values and social justice, and which perpetuate compassionate and connected relationships between human beings as opposed to encouraging frightening, disconnected and alienating ‘virtual’ contact.

      For the most part, theists, especially those who may join a new faith community, expect to be welcomed and befriended; otherwise, they go elsewhere. In many secular organizations, visitors and members may find themselves in environments where avoiding eye-contact as well as face-to-face conversations are viewed as acceptable social interactions. Of course, just because we are nonbelievers, that doesn’t mean that we will automatically like one another. Yet, if our offline contacts (aside from skeptical drinking) are limited to sporadic meetings and annual conventions, how will we ever know if we like one another? If we think that only religious doctrines are what actually keep theists returning to their respective houses of worship week after week, decade after decade, we have failed to understand the human need–the human imperative–for community!

      People in the secular community will continue to argue, disagree, and contradict one another and just generally get on each other’s nerves, But if we have failed to create friendships and not engaged in the time-consuming, sometimes disappointing, sometimes rewarding interactions needed to create friendships, we will remain as strangers, and our disagreements will often lead us to easily become enemies. The exclusion, avoidance, etc., which takes place among the members of the secular community comes with a very high cost, and I think one of the most important things it has cost us is the creation of a genuine community. Meanwhile, I remain fascinated by those nonbelievers who are always chastising other nonbelievers to make nice with theists…to not openly criticize theists…to not be angry (as if only atheists are angry), etc. When will someone start reminding us to embrace, care about, and care for our own as well?

      As I write these things, I’m doing so fully aware that everyone knows what I’m talking about…it’s just that too many of us refuse to do anything different. I’m hoping that more of us will leave our comfort zones and challenge ourselves to personally and collectively take on the many roles of leadership; to become more engaged with people in the secular community and to address the suffering and injustice where we live.

  8. 8
    sheila

    I chipped in for the scholarship fund. I wish it could be more.

  1. 9
    Day of Solidarity with Black Non-Believers | Diax's Rake

    [...] is the Day of Solidarity with Black Non-believers. You should go and read Naima Washington’s article or the excellent “Moral Combat” by Sikivu [...]

  2. 10
    Day of Solidarity with Black Non-Believers | Sally Strange

    [...] Today, February 24th, is the fourth Sunday in February, and as such it is the third annual Day of Solidarity with Black Non-Believers. [...]

  3. 11
    Day of Solidarity with Black Atheists/Nonbelievers « Jadehawk's Blog

    [...] Naima Washington’s blog-post on Black Skeptics noted, these sort of events tend to be decried as “balkanization”, “dividing the [...]

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