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March 2013
14

Race, Gender and Connecting With Other Atheists

I read a great essay titled This Female Atheist, and Where She Is on Shakesville by a White feminist @Shakestweetz regarding her experience of moving away from theism and identifying as an atheist, but then confronting misogyny among White male atheists.

The comment that I left on her post:

I relate to these experiences, though race (Black) in addition to gender (female), makes my situation different in some ways as well.

Even in the absence of theist privilege, White supremacist and patriarchal thinking amidst movement atheism genuinely disgusts me—the way it manifests. As you pointed out, it is hierarchical and offensive, in the way that organized religion is (though atheism itself isn’t a point of sociopolitical power without these kyriarchal planes intersecting in the way that theism, primarily Judeo-Christian theisms are). Thus, I don’t really “gather” with atheists in the sense that I would when I was forced to attend church as an adolescent. I don’t go to conferences; I’m not in any clubs. I mostly study atheist perspectives from Black atheists and a few White women who are atheists and talk with a few online, and that’s about it. My social and cultural organization (as a Black person) is outside of the church (which is of course difficult as there is an element of social and racial outcast status that comes with it) with people—some who are atheists, and some who are theists (but still critically think and are anti-bigotry despite being theist).

As I discussed with some Black atheists on Twitter some days ago, many theist agnostic and atheist agnostic Black people STILL attend church. Fear of being a social outcast because of the cultural/racial component and networking/socializing are among the reasons why they still attend. I’m no good in any space where bigotry is rationalized, whether the space is religious or secular.

To be clear, facing bigotry from individual Whites who identify as atheists, based on their White supremacist and patriarchal thoughts (which mimics those of Whites who identify as theists) has to be understood with nuance. Atheism itself is merely the tool by which their White supremacist and patriarchal thoughts can manifest. Atheism itself has no corresponding privilege in American society and many others.

It is theism which has the corresponding privilege, which I explained in an essay Black Non-Believers Are NOT Oppressing Black Christians. Thus, when Black theists, primarily Christian, suggest that I should “return” to theism solely because some White atheists are bigots (who I admonish in the aforementioned link), I explain to them that I did not abandon theism solely because some Black Christian theists are sexist, misogynist and/or homophobic. I left the church for that reason. I left theism altogether many years after that.

The last time that I attended a Black church regularly was 2000. (I was in undergrad and visited a Black Baptist church [despite growing up in even stricter and more oppressive Black Apostolic churches from birth through age 14; my late mom remained theist but stopped attending when I was at that age] for part of 1999 and 2000). Between 2000-2010, I visited two Black churches once each (in 2006 when visiting a family member in Texas; in 2010 when I lived in California). I also semi-regularly (1-2x per month) attended a non-denominational, mixed race church in parts of 2008 and 2009. However, I knew what truth was brewing inside of me, though as I mentioned before in my writing, while I will tell anyone who will listen that I am a Womanist, I do have some trepidation about identification as an atheist agnostic because ultimately, as much as womanism/feminism and true liberation for Black women is despised among some Black people (and White, and others in this White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society), being a Black atheist in some ways feels like a bigger source of scorn than even being a Black feminist does…at times.

I doubt that I will ever become an avid proselytizing movement atheist as some are or socially “hang out” with White atheists who aren’t committed to intersectional feminism (because these do not automatically overlap as her essay and my comment clearly reveal). I do think that Black people who do not identify as Christian or even theist need emotional support and communion because culturally, theism or not, it is what we know. Even as an introvert, I know that the feeling of communion and understanding is important to me, culturally. This is why at least for now, I digitally connect with other Black atheists, and perhaps in the future I will personally connect with some offline.

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    This commentary, and the original post, are super important.
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