Black Non-Believers Are NOT Oppressing Black Christians
When I think about the racist attacks on Black churches that peaked during The Civil Rights Movement and I think about how Christianity itself was used as a tool of force, abuse and domination for Black people during slavery—so whether I am examining religion as a tool of personal liberation for Black people that was attacked by racists (i.e. the bombings) or examining religion itself as a tool of oppression and inherently its own attack on critical consciousness—the fact that some Black Christians on Twitter could fix their fingers to type that Black atheists are “oppressing” them or are collectively “just as bad” as Christians/theists, is the most grotesquely ahistorical and inaccurate thing that they could come up with, and it deeply offends me in a way that I can barely articulate.
Theism, in terms of the political, social, legislative and financial power it confers cannot be equally stated about atheism. Christian, Catholic and Jewish theists above any type of theist have incredible power in this country and many Western ones, despite their claims of mass oppression. (Certainly there is hierarchy, especially historically, in regards to which theism is valued most. However, none have been devalued in the way atheism and secular humanism are. Research has confirmed that people rank rapists as equally trustworthy as atheists, for example.) Christian theists have used all three branches of government to bend to their will, even in the oppression of others. The privileged never want to acknowledge privilege.
There is theist privilege. What happens is once someone privileged begins to lose the space to oppress others, as the oppressed fight for the space to freely exist without subjugation, that loss of power in that space is perceived as a loss of rights (as if the “right” to oppress should be an actual right) and in the "if we can’t have everything then you can’t have anything" mantra of privilege, not having “everything” makes a privileged person think that they are being “oppressed.” When the oppressed no longer have to fear even addressing the privileged, even speaking to them, the privilege are appalled that the oppressed might be considering themselves “equal.” This manifests with White privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, thin privilege, class privilege, cisgender privilege and yes, theist privilege.
Black people who don’t know that there’s a legacy of Black thinkers, both men and women, who didn’t identify as Christian, but as secular humanists, agnostics, and atheists, think that Black non-believers are a new thing born in the era of Twitter. Further, if they’ve never had to discuss their faith beyond blanket unquestioning belief, anyone wanting to do so will be viewed as an immediate threat.
Certainly there are those who will cite the cultural and historical role of Christianity in the community and amidst social justice for Black people. I’m not interested in rewriting history or ignoring what good may have existed when churches were/are used as social and political cornerstones. I’m also not interested in ignoring how this religion was force introduced into our ancestor’s lives, how it facilities patriarchy, sexism, misogynoir, and homophobia in the Black community and how most of the labor and stress of this faith is carried on the backs of Black women, not Black men, who instead reap the material and social spoils of leadership or avoid the church’s work altogether, but instead maintain belief solely as justification for the subjugation of Black women.
Ultimately, it’s not a question of behavior but one of theology for me. Even if every church was perfect, the concept of a Judeo-Christian White male deity isn’t one for me—as a manifestation of White supremacy, or as a “spirit” without demographic affiliation. As a Black atheist agnostic who is highly skeptical, however, what power do I have to oppress Black Christians? What systematic oppression have they faced that primarily White Christians or the religion itself hasn’t inflicted? The sheer fact that Black people, of any faith outside of Christianity can speak online, without being killed for not practicing Christianity, a reality that’s fairly modern, does not mean that atheists, Black or otherwise, are now oppressing Black Christians. (To be clear, intersectionality here, Black Christians CAN BE oppressed by atheists through OTHER facets including race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity/representation, weight etc. Also, I am NOT HERE for White atheists who think Black non-believers need a White “leader” of sorts, or who use slavery to demonize Black Christians as that reeks of White privilege; who are they to do so, as if slavery is something that did not involve Whites?) The fact that Black Christians understand that rudeness isn’t oppression when it comes to dealing with Whites and White privilege yet would dare accuse any Black non-Christian or atheist who disagrees with them of oppression, are making as much sense (which is none) as a White person calling any Black person who fights against White supremacy a “reverse racist.”
To be clear, sure, some Black non-believers antagonize and mock Black Christians online (who gladly argue back and insult with the power that religion confers in this society on their side). Sometimes it’s funny. Other times, it’s disrespectful and cruel. But so what? Why is the tone policing and politeness always the burden of the one without the privilege? Even so, again, rudeness is not oppression. When every institution bends to the will of Christianity, even to the detriment of society and the liberation of all people, atheists being rude on Twitter is the least of my concern. I’m concerned about the individual and collective liberation of all marginalized people in this society. Disagreement with whomever has the most power and privilege doesn’t turn the oppressed into oppressors. It’s resistance critical to existence—to truly living.