Atheists are publicly chastised 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.
There is some effort to incorporate black Americans into atheist organizations; it’s not an active antipathy, but more an oblivious neglect. To make atheism relevant to black Americans will take, I think, structural changes: we need to openly recognize that issues of importance to the black community cannot be set aside as non-atheist issues.
It’s that nagging gate-keeping problem again. We need to realize that atheism and skepticism are universal ideals, not narrow ways to address a particular subset of questions. And it really is all about the questions: too many atheists think atheism is simply the answer, without doing the hard work of negotiating the human problems…and they get defensive when anyone tries to tell them that there are many concerns out there — social justice, feminism, black civil liberties, to name a few — that belong on the godless table. The current infighting that some people are moaning about is actually an example of the resentment of those holding the status quo: how dare we suggest that atheism has implications beyond just disbelieving in god and religion? How dare we try to expand the scope of atheism when we haven’t eradicated religion yet? How dare we suggest that the way to expand our base is to also consider the more pressing concerns of other people beyond our traditional white middle class conventionalities?
And so we watch the opportunities pass by, because our current constituencies simply don’t comprehend that women or black Americans or any other second-class group might be interested in something other than talking about how stupid the Bible is. Sometimes silence is as self-defeating as hostility.
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.
I didn’t see anything local to Morris happening on the Day of Solidarity (this Sunday, the 24th). I checked Minnesota Atheists to see if they had plans to honor the day this weekend, and no, they have nothing. Again, it’s not because their is an antipathy to black issues: it’s more of an absence of awareness. And hell no, the problem isn’t the black community, it’s the existing atheist community that seems unwilling to reach out.
Can we fix this? I don’t know. We might all start by looking locally to see if there are any Day of Solidarity events going on around you, and join in.