This Monday I had the great privilege of appearing on Jamila Bey’s “Sex, Politics, and Religion Hour” radio show. As you may remember, I have appeared there once before, where we discussed the Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). This time around, we brought the topic a bit closer to ‘home’ (so far as this blog is concerned) and discussed the “Black Folks Don’t… Do Atheism” film. I was lucky enough to be invited alongside series creator Angela Tucker.
The audio from the interview is available below the fold, along with some of my own thoughts:
All in all, I was very happy with how the segment went, and the things that were edited out were incidental to the point. There are a few things I wish I had said though.
Black ‘nones’ represent the same proportion as black people
According to a Pew Research Forum study, those black Americans who identify as ‘atheist’ is less than 1% of the total population. Those who identify as ‘agnostic’ comes in at around 1% – it would be easy to state that the population of black nonbelievers is as negligible as the stereotype suggests. However, the number that identifies as ‘none’ (which includes the thin slice of atheists and ‘agnostics’*) comprises a full 12% of the black population. This is a much larger slice, incidentally, than those who identify as Catholic, Muslim, or Jehova’s Witness – not exactly things that black folks stereotypically don’t “do”.
According to numbers from the 2010 census, black folks make up about 12.6% of the American population. Consequently, making the statement that black people believe in God is only slightly less accurate than saying that black Americans don’t exist. I think this would have made a really powerful soundbyte, but I didn’t manage to work it in. Don’t worry – I’ll find a way to launch this fact into the memeosphere soon enough.
There are probably a lot of non-believing “believers”
One of the consequences of the intersection between black identity and religiosity is that a lot of people who genuinely do not believe in the god of their religion, but for whom there is abundant psychological pressure to affirm a religious identity. As what it means to be black becomes conflated with religious expression, choosing non-belief can inhibit even an anonymous survey respondent to select something that is more in line with normative social pressure. These people exist in every group, but I suggest that the element of race makes this kind of behaviour more likely.
Aside from that, I was pretty happy with how the whole thing turned out. It will be interesting to see if more projects like this emerge and push the conversation about black atheism into the mainstream.
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*For the record, “agnostics” are not a category that I recognize in fact. Whether people identify as such is an entirely separate argument from whether or not such a category is factually real.