Shades of Black Atheism #1: Lauren Anderson Youngblood

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A few months ago I was fortunate enough to have lunch with Mandisa Thomas, the President of Black Nonbelievers. One thing that struck me during and after the lunch was how differently we were raised regarding religion. While my parents felt that heavy indoctrination was proper, Mandisa said that religion just wasn’t that important in her household. I was pretty shocked. I realized that I was guilty of putting all blacks into a super-religious category, when in reality, all of our experiences are unique.


When it comes to black speakers at atheist/skeptic/humanist/secular conventions, there are only a handful that get consistent invitations as a show of diversity, but there are dozens that have varied experiences and expertise to share. Although being a black atheist has specific challenges, a few people hardly represent the many shades of black atheism that exist. 

Being a minority within a minority within a minority, I feel the onus is on me to be out there and open and so do the individuals who are participating in this blog series. Inspired by Steven Olsen‘s blog posts in which he highlights four or five standout atheists a week, I have chosen to do something similar, but focusing specifically on black atheists.

Each week, I will highlight one black atheist in a series called “Shades of black atheism.” I chose this title because, well, we are literally different shades, but also because we have unique stories. Some of us were raised in upper-middle-class secular households, while others were raised in cults or fundamentalist churches. Some of us were raised in the islands while others grew up in Africa. One barrier to diversity within the movement is access to participants. I am partially addressing this by providing panelists and speakers and stories from black atheists across the U.S. to call upon. If you organize atheist/skeptic/humanist/secular events, I offer you this resource.

Written By: Bridget R. Gaudette
continue to source article at patheos.com

25 COMMENTS

  1. “I was pretty shocked. I realized that I was guilty of putting all blacks into a super-religious category, when in reality, all of our experiences are unique.”

    How is putting all blacks into any particular atheist category any different?

  2. I don’t view race as relevant regarding atheism. What difference does it make? It seems to me that you are driving yet another wedge where one should not belong. It distracts from the real goal.

  3. @aquilacane, I wasn’t aware there were sub categories within atheism? I thought it was only the lack of belief?

    In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

    “I was pretty shocked. I realized that I was guilty of putting all blacks into a super-religious category, when in reality, all of our experiences are unique.”

    How is putting all blacks into any particular atheist category any different?

  4. @holysmokes, race isn’t directly relevant general atheism but it is specifically relevant to specific atheists; if you are brought up in a different society that is more religious it’s different and it’s not racist to point it out or irrelevant to address it.

    In reply to #2 by holysmokes:

    I don’t view race as relevant regarding atheism. What difference does it make? It seems to me that you are driving yet another wedge where one should not belong. It distracts from the real goal.

  5. In reply to #4 by alaskansee:

    @holysmokes, race isn’t directly relevant general atheism but it is specifically relevant to specific atheists; if you are brought up in a different society that is more religious it’s different and it’s not racist to point it out or irrelevant to address it.

    In reply to #2 by holysmokes: That same “different society” argument can be made for everyone …in every race. As such, race is irrelevant to this cause.

    I don’t view race as relevant regarding atheism. What difference does it make? It seems to me that you are driving yet another wedge where one should not belong. It distracts from the real goal.

    In reply to #4 by alaskansee:

    @holysmokes, race isn’t directly relevant general atheism but it is specifically relevant to specific atheists; if you are brought up in a different society that is more religious it’s different and it’s not racist to point it out or irrelevant to address it.

    In reply to #2 by holysmokes:

    I don’t view race as relevant regarding atheism. What difference does it make? It seems to me that you are driving yet another wedge where one should not belong. It distracts from the real goal.

  6. Alaskansee: Sorry, but I seem to be having difficulty figuring out how to use this “block quote” thing. Not sure if it worked or not, so I’ll repost.

    Anyhow to respond to your last comment: That same “different society” argument can be made for everyone …in every race. As such, race is irrelevant to this cause. We ALL had differing upbringing.

  7. In reply to #7 by holysmokes:

    Alaskansee: Sorry, but I seem to be having difficulty figuring out how to use this “block quote” thing. Not sure if it worked or not, so I’ll repost.

    Hit the ‘reply’ button–just once–and a copy of the text will be pasted into the edit box, along with a handy link.  A second hit will copy a second block of text–which is actually useful if you’re replying to two different posts.

    Make sure there’s a blank line between your text and the quote, or they’ll be mixed up.  The system needs two hard returns to register a new paragraph.  Examine the preview below the submit button to ensure everything looks okay before posting.  Without an edit feature it as too bee rite first time.

  8. Like I said I agree, it isn’t.

    In answer to your question “what difference does it (race) make” a great deal. I was lucky, my journey to atheism was the short cut; no fairies, no gods, no problems, guilt or fear of death form fellow worshipers.

    As I said in my following post there is only one category of atheist but race/religion/culture makes a huge difference in the journey, expect to hear more of it! Different is not equal and it maters.

  9. Thank you Bridget. You go girl!!

    When it comes to black speakers at atheist/skeptic/humanist/secular conventions, there are only a handful that get consistent invitations as a show of diversity,

    Clues to the reason why can be found right here within these posts! :

  10. “Being a minority within a minority within a minority”
    There is no minority within a minority. The colour of your skin doesn’t matter, however your atheism does – and this really does make us a minority. If there is to be a “community” among atheists it should not be viewed in terms of black atheist or white atheist. The whole point is our shared, real perception of the world, not superficial, socially-constructed differences.

  11. In reply to #13 by Byrneo:

    “Being a minority within a minority within a minority”
    There is no minority within a minority. The colour of your skin doesn’t matter, however your atheism does – and this really does make us a minority. If there is to be a “community” among atheists it should not be viewed in terms of black atheist or white atheist. The whole point is our shared, real perception of the world, not superficial, socially-constructed differences.

    So does that mean you have no room for any subgroups of atheism gathering together for mutual support and common interest? No Clergy Project, no ex Muslim atheists, no ex Catholic atheists, etc … As a non-US citizen I don’t really understand the furor this black atheist issue raises every time it comes up here. It seems completely obvious to me that there are issues of common experience and common interest that I share with other Australian, ex-Catholic atheists that I don’t share with say an Iraqi ex-Sunni atheist.

    Michael

  12. In reply to #3 by alaskansee:

    @aquilacane, I wasn’t aware there were sub categories within atheism? I thought it was only the lack of belief?

    In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

    “I was pretty shocked. I realized that I was guilty of putting all blacks into a super-religious category, when in reality, all of our experiences are unique.”

    How is putting all blacks into any particular atheist category any different?

    Apparently there is the subcategory of black

  13. In reply to #14 by mmurray:

    In reply to #13 by Byrneo:

    “Being a minority within a minority within a minority”
    There is no minority within a minority. The colour of your skin doesn’t matter, however your atheism does – and this really does make us a minority. If there is to be a “community” among atheists it should not be viewed in terms of black atheist or white atheist. The whole point is our shared, real perception of the world, not superficial, socially-constructed differences.

    So does that mean you have no room for any subgroups of atheism gathering together for mutual support and common interest? No Clergy Project, no ex Muslim atheists, no ex Catholic atheists, etc … As a non-US citizen I don’t really understand the furor this black atheist issue raises every time it comes up here. It seems completely obvious to me that there are issues of common experience and common interest that I share with other Australian, ex-Catholic atheists that I don’t share with say an Iraqi ex-Sunni atheist.

    Michael

    Hi Michael.
    Former clergy, Catholics and Muslims each share common ideological backgrounds/belief systems, or a common understanding of being raised in a particular set of beliefs.
    If someone is black, it tells us nothing about them other than their skin colour.
    I’d have no problem with an ‘Atheists Against Racsim’ group that might be of particular interest to people who come from an oppressed minority.
    Indeed the group might specifically deal with the arguments of segregation based on skin colour or ethnic origin, the current implications of those arguments and the history and consequences of racism.
    However, the idea of a ‘Black Atheists’ group seems profoundly regressive to me. Can I join? No. Why not? Because you’re not black, you’re white.
    I take the view that it is self-segregation – reinforcing the erroneous view that there are different races of humans divided by skin colour.
    We’re in this together, lets not build walls.
    Also I’m Irish.
    Luke

  14. In reply to #16 by Byrneo:

    Hi Luke

    Former clergy, Catholics and Muslims each share common ideological backgrounds/belief systems, or a common understanding of being raised in a particular set of beliefs.
    If someone is black, it tells us nothing about them other than their skin colour.

    Not really in this case. First like a lot of things on this site the implication is that they are black and living in the US. Second if you follow the link to Black Nonbelievers you will find they are really Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta narrowing the group down again. So there is probably a commonality of experience. Although I guess the point of the article is that growing up black and religious in the US is not as narrow as the movies would suggest

    … the idea of a ‘Black Atheists’ group seems profoundly regressive to me. Can I join? No. Why not? Because you’re not black, you’re white.

    Follow the link to Black Nonbelievers. Any race can join. Are you interested in joining ?

    I take the view that it is self-segregation – reinforcing the erroneous view that there are different races of humans divided by skin colour.
    We’re in this together, lets not build walls.

    As far as I can tell as an outsider growing up black in the US is often different to growing up white. That’s all this is about. Not building walls just special interest groups with something in common.

    Also I’m Irish.
    Luke

    So in that case you can definitely join:

    Jimmy Rabbitte: Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.

    (The Commitments)

    Michael

  15. It *uckin’ amazes me every time this happens: Someone (or group) wants to gather/bond/socialize about their experiences regarding atheism. Then, like clockwork, people on this site actually make time to belittle them or give silly pedantic logic to show their disapproval- it’s astounding.

    Never the less, I get really happy when I hear about these groups and all that they accomplish.
    The more theists see these people/groups, the more they will begin to realize they’re not the monsters of lore.

    Better still, they will notice how there is the whole gamut of good traits and bad traits in both theists and atheists.

  16. People not from the US should keep in mind that slavery was only just abolished about 150 years ago and that racism is still a huge problem. It would be advisable to listen to the concerns of African Americans instead of diminishing their efforts.

  17. “I realized that I was guilty of putting all blacks into a super-religious category, when in reality, all of our experiences are unique.”

    Blacks are individuals too? How shocking! I hope RDFRS will remedy this by adding a “Blacks” subcategory next to their their upcomng “latinos” and “LGBT” atheist sites. I wouldn’t want them to become offended by having to share a website with the atheist subcategory “white people”.

  18. Author here! We are all the same race: human. I ask you to look at “black”, not from a biological/genetic standpoint, but from a societal/cultural one. The black American community in general is church-centered. Yes, there are outliers, like Mandisa who weren’t raised with such heavy indoctrination, but if you look at statistical data regarding religiosity, blacks are at the top. Less than one percent of blacks openly identify as atheists.

    This blog series is meant to help closeted black atheists (among other things) see that, despite feeling alone in that one percent (which I did and hundreds more), there are others out there that have rejected God-belief and have found a way to be open about it. To date, I have not met an openly black atheist outside of a conference or convention. Ans yet, I’ve had a flood of emails from closeted blacks asking how to deal with family and asking about local groups, etc.

    We don’t yet live in a post-racial world despite our desire. The black community is highly religious. There are only a handful of black role models who aren’t religious (yes, NdGT and a few others), but there aren’t a ton of black secular role models.. so.. I want to give some.

    These comments are being read by closeted black atheists.. please help them feel welcome into the realm of freethinkers. There’s no effort to downplay the struggles of others, this is just a highlight, like we’ll highlight ex-clergy who have community-related struggles or ex-Muslim Arabs who are also highly religious.

  19. In reply to #23 by Bridget Gaudette:

    Author here! We are all the same race: human. I ask you to look at “black”, not from a biological/genetic standpoint, but from a societal/cultural one. The black American community in general is church-centered. Yes, there are outliers, like Mandisa who weren’t raised with such heavy indoctrination, but if you look at statistical data regarding religiosity, blacks are at the top. Less than one percent of blacks openly identify as atheists.

    This blog series is meant to help closeted black atheists (among other things) see that, despite feeling alone in that one percent (which I did and hundreds more), there are others out there that have rejected God-belief and have found a way to be open about it. To date, I have not met an openly black atheist outside of a conference or convention. Ans yet, I’ve had a flood of emails from closeted blacks asking how to deal with family and asking about local groups, etc.

    We don’t yet live in a post-racial world despite our desire. The black community is highly religious. There are only a handful of black role models who aren’t religious (yes, NdGT and a few others), but there aren’t a ton of black secular role models.. so.. I want to give some.

    These comments are being read by closeted black atheists.. please help them feel welcome into the realm of freethinkers. There’s no effort to downplay the struggles of others, this is just a highlight, like we’ll highlight ex-clergy who have community-related struggles or ex-Muslim Arabs who are also highly religious.

    Hi Bridget

    I don’t live in the USA and have a major problem. I am in Australia and I struggle with the American way of categorising (categorizing!) people according to race/skin colour. I see descriptions such as black/latino/hispanic/afro-american etc etc. “Black atheists” I just cannot handle! Sorry! Atheists are atheists, there is no colour.

    Whew, for a country that describes itself as “Christian” then I want absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. It is nasty, racist and totally devoid of equality among people, no matter what race, creed, etc.

    I have, by marriage a niece who is Austro-African, whatever that may be! She is a totally lovely human being who per chance has an Australian mother and an African father.

    I would love to see your “Black Atheism” dissolved, but realise that you have a point to prove.

    Much love

  20. In reply to #23 by Bridget Gaudette:

    Author here! We are all the same race: human. I ask you to look at “black”, not from a biological/genetic standpoint, but from a societal/cultural one. The black American community in general is church-centered. Yes, there are outliers, like Mandisa who weren’t raised with such heavy indoctrination, but if you look at statistical data regarding religiosity, blacks are at the top. Less than one percent of blacks openly identify as atheists.

    This blog series is meant to help closeted black atheists (among other things) see that, despite feeling alone in that one percent (which I did and hundreds more), there are others out there that have rejected God-belief and have found a way to be open about it. To date, I have not met an openly black atheist outside of a conference or convention. Ans yet, I’ve had a flood of emails from closeted blacks asking how to deal with family and asking about local groups, etc.

    We don’t yet live in a post-racial world despite our desire. The black community is highly religious. There are only a handful of black role models who aren’t religious (yes, NdGT and a few others), but there aren’t a ton of black secular role models.. so.. I want to give some.

    These comments are being read by closeted black atheists.. please help them feel welcome into the realm of freethinkers. There’s no effort to downplay the struggles of others, this is just a highlight, like we’ll highlight ex-clergy who have community-related struggles or ex-Muslim Arabs who are also highly religious.

    Hi Bridget. I’d be interested to know why you think black people in America are generally more religious and church-centred?
    I’d imagine it’s for much the same reasons that Ireland remained mostly Catholic and devoutly so for so long.
    In the early 19th and 20th centuries Irish Catholics remained poor, uneducated and discriminated against and it was through religion that people found solidarity.
    Marx summed it up well: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

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