I mentioned before my concern about the lack of people of color at the few gatherings of nonbelievers that I have attended. But it is not that they are not out there and this weekend there is a gathering in Los Angeles where they will speak out about their concerns and the need to combine atheism with social justice concerns.
Called “Moving Social Justice,” the conference will tackle topics beyond the usual atheist conference fare of confronting religious believers and promoting science education. Instead, organizers hope to examine issues of special interest to nonwhite atheists, especially the ills rooted in economic and social inequality.
“Atheism is not a monolithic, monochromatic movement,” said Sikivu Hutchinson, an atheist activist, author and founder of Los Angeles’ Black Skeptics, one member of a coalition of black atheist and humanist groups staging the conference.
“By addressing issues that are culturally and politically relevant to communities of color, we are addressing a range of things that are not typically addressed within the mainstream atheist movement.”
“Most communities of color don’t have access to the kinds of social, recreational and economic resources provided by secular institutions and nonprofits in predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods. So in order to be relevant to communities of color . . . atheists and humanists of color must collaborate with progressive religious organizations.”
Indeed, the slate of panel topics reads like a to-do list of progressive Christianity: confronting homophobia, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and battling racism, among others.
Organizers say social justice is a greater concern to atheists of color than the church-state separation issues the broader organized atheist community often focuses on. Why? Because social justice issues are more pressing in their communities.
“There are people in our community that, while they may not believe in God, they are only going to sit down and listen to you talk about separation of church and state for so long,” said Kimberly Veal, a Chicago-based black atheist who helped organize the conference. “What is really on their mind is decent housing, feeding their children and affording school clothes.”
“Atheism,” she continued, “is not enough.”
The Sunday Assembly movement also seeks to have collaborations with other institutions, including churches, on common social justice concerns. This kind of broad coalition building is what we need right now.