Saturday, October 24, 2015

#ITLQBM: Atheism & The Black Community

Intersectionality Through the Lens of a Queer Black Man


Today I finally had the pleasure of meeting Mandisa Thomas a fellow Atheist and founder and current President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. The Houston Black Nonbelievers put on an event called "'Growing Secularism in the Black Community' - HBN Presents Mandisa Thomas" and at the event Mandisa spoke about taking the lead as a Black woman and her experiences over the last five years with founding and running Black Nonbelievers. What I found out is that me and her share, literally the same sentiments as it pertains to acknowledging our existence and being more visible in the Black community. This is something I do every chance that I get, and like Mandisa, many of my interactions are peaceful and have great outcomes.

But, there are more often than not, experiences that we share and are made to feel like Black folks cannot be bigoted toward those who look like them. For context, a Bigot is a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions. As I stated in my original Intersectionality post that "We are forced fed to believe in God even if some of us know in our hearts that Christianity is not what we truly believe in. As Black men, regardless of sexual orientation we are forced to live in some type of closet where we have to hide mental illnesses, health issues, atheism and then we have to wear a smile and be conscious of our society that is steeped in White supremacy...Could you imagine what it is like to be a Black Queer Atheist? I the eyes of some, Atheism is seen as worse than even being Queer!" and in a subsequent post where I said that "I have friends from all walks of life and many different belief systems as it pertains to religion, rites and rituals. While I pride myself on being an ally to my religious counterparts, I can't help but to feel belittled and left out when some of them speak. I actually feel bad for other faiths that constantly and consistently have to take a backseat to Christianity and those who choose to use their Christian Privilege in unsavory ways."

Christian privilege - is the system of advantages bestowed upon Christians in some societies. This system arises out of the presumption that the belief in Christianity is a social norm, leading to the exclusion of the nonreligious and members of other religions through institutional religious discrimination. Christian privilege can also lead to the neglect of outsiders' cultural heritage and religious practices.

Religious discrimination - is valuing or treating a person or group differently because of what they do or do not believe. Specifically, it is when adherents of different religions (or denominations) are treated unequally, either before the law or in institutional settings such as employment or housing.
Religious discrimination is related to religious persecution, the most extreme forms of which would include instances in which people have been executed for beliefs perceived to be heretic. Laws which only carry light punishments are described as mild forms of religious persecution or as religious discrimination.

The funny thing is that I always joke about knowing where the cameras are at all times, and Mandisa was just recently put in a position where someone refused to check their religious privilege. As featured in a post on Patheos:

"A black Christian woman approached Mandisa Thomas and immediately began insulting her. This woman told Mandisa that she had a “slave mentality” for simply being an atheist and also called white atheists “white demons.”...It was admirable how Mandisa could keep her composure while defending the attacks thrown at us. This event demonstrated another example of Christian privilege (can you imagine the media attention if atheists behaved this way), but also the important intersection of race and religion."


Garrett Lovejoy also recorded some of the altercation.

The idea that Black folks can question another Black person's Blackness is not far fetched and the sad part is many Blacks use Christianity to justify it. They do it to the LGBT element of the Black community quite often (pictured right), so being an Atheist isn't far behind on the list of reason to question one's Blackness. Like I said before, "I will not tolerate is being made to choose between my Blackness and being Gay, as neither are a choice. Some may disagree, but do take note that without Bayard Rustin and so many others, the civil rights movement of the 60s would look nothing like it did. The Black LGBT contributions to our Black community is undeniable!" and in that same vein I will not tolerate the erasure of what Black Atheists have contributed to Black and American history.


It is bad enough that there are some elements of the White population who use Christian privilege to justify racism and this privilege feeds into White supremacy and ultimately White privilege. In general there is an unfounded hatred toward Black and Brown bodies and things get worse when ethnicity and religion are intertwined into the scenario. So why should we have to deal with it in our own community?