Shades of Black Atheism #12: Jack-of-All-Trades, Alix Jules

To learn more about this series please click here or here.

Alix Jules… where do I even begin? First, let me explain the big blocks of quoted text you’re about to read. Summarizing much of what he said would have been a huge disservice to this article. I didn’t want to leave anything out and distort his message. I’ll start with what he’s doing today and work my way back.

Alix is the President of the Black Nonbelievers of Dallas. He’s the Coordinator and Chair for the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason as well as the Chair for their Diversity Council. (No, not done yet!) He’s the Executive Director for the Fellowship of Freethought–Dallas. And, just to round all of this out, he sits on the speakers bureau for African Americans for Humanism.

Impressive, right?

The best part of getting these details is that Alix felt “uncomfortable with titles.” He’s just humbly doing what he can to help. I’m not the only one who is impressed with Alix, either; he was even featured in Ebony magazine:

Alix was born into a Catholic family and attended a small church in Brooklyn, New York “where diversity was measured in Caribbean accents and different shades of brown.” He envisioned himself entering the priesthood when he was older. The Church was his existence. Living in an Afro-Caribbean household, he now realizes that it was slightly more superstitious than most black households and probably more religious than most, too. He attended private religious schools until high school. Still, he was a freethinker at heart and eventually examined other religions in depth, including Islam, but obviously none of it stuck.

To my surprise, Alix stated that it took him a long time to call himself an atheist even though he had “severed [his] relationship with god years prior.” He just has an issue with labels. He went on to say:

I was spiritual and agnostic for some time. The term “atheist” was very charged. I now wear my scarlet letter with a qualified amount of pride, always with the understanding that the words I choose can either reflect my moral freedom from religion, and equally be mistaken in emoting arrogance. That word causes so much consternation generally, but within the African American community specifically where race, religion and culture mix — it can be poisonous to any discourse.

I applaud Alix for being open and honest about his beliefs and he has helped a lot of people, including myself, do the same. Unfortunately, this has not been without much sacrifice. Alix stated me that his personal story has left him with very little contact with his family. Still, he said he had found “worthy freethinking surrogates” and has a very supportive wife named Amanda.

He acknowledged that his story of familial rejection is not uncommon in the black community. It also “shares many of the sentiments shared by many former white evangelicals or Islamic apostates. It was very painful at first, but you cope. Different levels of acceptance run in varying circles across different geographies and demographics, even within the Black community.”

When I asked Alix if he felt the black atheist experience was different from non-black atheists, he started off by saying that there are commonalities across the various groups. Many are rejected and losing family and friends hurts. Pain is pain regardless of race. Please let that soak in. A common response I hear when I bring up what it’s like to be a black atheist is a reminder that others have a hard time being atheists, too. No one is denying that!

Alix then went on to make a couple of points worth taking a long look at:

Race and culture nearly dictate what “Black” is and who you are as a person of color. To an extent — it defines the black experience (race, religion, sexuality — and politics). It’s a stereotype to some — it’s an archetype for most. My non-black counterparts may be challenged, as I am often, by claims of being less human, less compassionate, less caring, full of hubris, etc., but I have yet to hear them doused with the insults of being “less white” — or race betrayal.

Although Alix holds positions within several race-based secular groups, he was originally opposed to the idea of them. His primary concern was “white fear and the eventual marginalization of those groups.” He felt that using the “black” descriptor “could easily be used to evoke the ‘Nat Turner-esque’ fear that comes with combining the words ‘black’ and ‘freedom’ (freedom from religious management).”

Atheists aren’t immune from this type of thinking. Previously, he has argued for diversity as the end goal. Still his own experiences with chasing that ideal has led him to reconsider:

Reality: We don’t live in a utopian post-racial America and just because “’we don’t believe” as a whole, does not mean that we behave as equals, have the same points of view, or have common daily experiences. I still get followed in stores. I still get stopped by police when driving the wrong car in the wrong neighborhood with the wrong colored (or non-colored) woman. These experiences shape us and it is arrogant to believe that the secular community is not subject to the diathesis of privilege.

Alix shared a story with me about having security called on him when he attended a secular conference where he was speaking because “he didn’t look like he belonged there.” This wasn’t that long ago.

“Motives for the movement” are also very different. As the overall secular movement struggles to find the balance between “academia and activism” — many non-white groups are working to implement calls to action that have immediate relevance to people’s lives. It’s less about “who’s academically right” and more about “doing right.” It’s about turning secular humanism into a verb. To ignore the differences between us is not as insulting to me as to most — but emotes hubris nonetheless. You’re an atheist. This does not make you less susceptible to racism, misogyny, or any other “ism.” To believe that comes from a place I can’t relate with. The question “Why must you be a BLACK atheist and not just [an] Atheist?” is why we need race based groups.

Marginalization happens anyway. It will continue until the numbers begin to tip the scale (majority rules). The secular community has made progressive moves toward inclusion and visibility, but for people like me, it’s not enough. Understandably, the numbers just aren’t there yet to support it but I also believe that race-based organizations like Black Non-Believers, African Americans for Humanism, Black Skeptics, etc., will do more in building those numbers that will be eventually counted. Given the mistrust that still exists between the races (in general), the impact of seeing Black Atheist groups led by Black Atheists is nearly invaluable. There will always be a need for integrated efforts, but we have some basics that black people in general are incented to address, that the general population tends to ignore. Same is true in the secular community.”

I really wanted to know what advice Alix had for other black atheists. I’ve called on him for advice several times, so listen up; he knows what he’s talking about. He suggested using the Socratic Method (great advice I was given back when I questioning my religious beliefs). For those of you not familiar, please click the link. It is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with differing points of view based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas. He’s not necessarily talking about formal debates because they can be of limited value. “We spend more time arguing and less time doing,” he said. He also encouraged others to get active and get connected. Value is there and, after all, we’re social animals. He said to check out Meetup, Facebook, and Google.

“Find a non-corrosive discussion group that meets your needs” and then go! He also said that if you show up at an atheist group (without a racial descriptor in the title), be prepared to be the only person of color. “If people seem a little standoff-ish — it’s often because they don’t know how to approach you. It’s unintentional. You’re probably very welcomed — and they want you there. Don’t judge them on the first meeting. Give them a few.”

I can tell you from experience that it can be uncomfortable at first but they really do want you there. If we don’t give it a chance, then any misconceptions that they have will remain. “Diversity matters least to those that are not personally vested in it. I met someone who would later become one of my best friends and most vocal allies on diversity at one of my first atheist meetups where I was the only person of color there.”

Alix offers these recommendations:

  • God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens
  • Moral Combat, Sikivu Hutchinson
  • The End of Christianity, John Loftus
  • The Bible, but he said you need to “read it the way it’s written, not as cherry-picked by a minister to deliver a customized message. It really can work ‘miracles’ in delivering you from your faith.”

In addition, there are groups Alix recommends:

Previous entries in this series include:


About Bridget R. Gaudette

Bridget R. Gaudette is the Executive Director of the Humanists of Florida Association and the Marketing & Grants Manager for Foundation Beyond Belief. Bridget was a contributor to the book, BlackNones, a book highlighting black atheist conversion stories and is currently writing a book, Grieving for the Living: Effects of Disownment in Adulthood.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

    It was an absolute pleasure for me to write this.

  • skruntle

    I would like to see an article about what white people like myself could do to help make atheist groups better for black people without seeming condescending or otherwise insensitive. Reading this series of articles has really opened my eyes to the experiences of black atheists and I want to help, but I can see how this would give of a “white man’s burden” kind of vibe which I don’t intend at all. It’s really shitty to read about people being excluded based on race yet again (like having security called on you when you’re a SPEAKER at a convention?) in what should be a group that’s welcoming to everyone equally.

    I really do want to help, but don’t know where to begin!

    • http://www.facebook.com/alix.jules Alix Jules

      I’ve spoken about this one before and it is a tricky one. I think I cover this in my Houston Oasis Talk in March (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gh1zW8r1cy4) most recently outside of Dallas. I only cover it briefly though, so if there is enough interest I’ll devote a blog or book ;) to it.

      The first thing, is learn our story (Dr. Pinn is a big advocate of this, so am I). You and I have different starting points. If we can help minimize that distance in understanding, you’ll understand me “in context”. Once you do that, you’ll understand why we are different and understand more of why I am the way that I am. Learn our history, our culture, which is relevant. You don’t have to take a college course, just read a book or two. (Both Dr Hutchinson and Pinn have great ones out). Prepare to be uncomfortable.

      Next – don’t be afraid of us. Too often you get us in the door, but you can’t find a way to keep us coming back. Are you talking about what’s important to “us too”? Or are we still talking just academics? Which is nice – I don’t SHY away from the academics, we have many and many BLACK atheist are just as academically interested in those talks – but we like ACTION too. There is more to our story (find out why). Ask – Are you talking to us at all? Many non-blacks don’t know how to approach us to make us feel welcomed, so – we unintentionally get ignored and are made to feel unwelcome. That’s a fail. If you shorten this distance in our understanding of each other (again in context), communications (and fear) become less of an issue. Personally – Dr. Zach Moore of the Foundation Beyond Belief that became my connection. He understood the importance of connecting with the incidental fringe (which I was at the time). He made a connection which I still can not fully quantify. It was interestingly at a time where I too – was about to disappear and that would have ended my story before it even began. That’s a whole other book. Connect – keep connecting. But don’t make us feel like a novelty item. No “oooh shiny black people”. Find balance. Find humanity in humanism.

      Understand the world you live in as it reflects our experience. (HARD ONE). Many memes are out there about “stuff **** say to blacks or black atheist”. There’s a lot of truth in that. Yes we can get comfortable with each other, but understand that my reality – is not yours. Sometimes the only thing that we share is disbelief – then we go merrily away parting at opposite ends of the tracks. Break that trend. Crossover with me. Not as a savior but as a humble ally. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable because that is what brings change.

      Don’t always expect us to come to you – you come find us. We are meeting (sometimes in secret…..almost). Understand that you will get looked at funny the first few times, but that’s OK. That will change. Just keep showing up. We are very accepting. You’ll have to put your pride aside sometimes as well. Sometimes helping us, is doing so by helping us stand, then getting out the way and becoming invisible. Take one for the team. Support, promote – and live diversity. Put us on your billboards – your voice should reflect our voice. Your Coalitions should reflect the diversity that you claim YOU WANT – (not what you may currently have). That will take outreach.

      I think I’ve rambled enough (squeezing a whole lot into a few paragraphs). Perhaps Bridget will have me on again after the series (which I hope is never ending) to talk more on the matter, or guest blog on one of her FABULOUS forums.

      And thank you for inquiring.

      Alix

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

        Wow.. in awe.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

      Alix got to this before I saw it and I think you can see why I am so impressed with him. I fully appreciate your question and I get it all the time and in all honesty, I don’t know how to tell people how to reach out to me. All I can say is, know that although we have the same view (atheist) we are seeing it from a different viewpoint. Try to see things from my viewpoint. In addition to that, Alix hit on such great points I plan to steal them and insert them in to a new blog. All that being said. I LOVE that you care enough to ask. That a GREAT first step. Show others that you have that concern and stick around.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jennie.erwin Jennie Erwin

    Wow. I have relatives in the Ft Worth area. Alix has his work cut out for him, that’s for sure. Forgive the shallow question, but does anyone know what his necklace is a symbol of?

    • http://www.facebook.com/jules.empire Amanda Jules

      Jennie,

      The necklace has a logo of Fellowship of Freethought Dallas on it. Below is the meaning of it. Alix was one of the 20 founding members of FoF Dallas.

      Four petals make up our pansy, representing the different facets of our organization. From the left (clockwise) we begin with Freethought. Atheist, Skeptic, Agnostic, Humanist, non-theist, Bright, or yet uncategorized non-believer, we all have the desire to live a life free of dogma. At the top of our flower is what we think has been missing from many secular organizations and meet-ups to date – Fellowship. It goes beyond socialization. It encompasses outreach, volunteerism, advancing shared goals and enriching the lives of our communities.
      Although we don’t always agree, as freethinkers tend to be opinionated, we think Friendship and respecting each other as individuals, is important. We hope our gatherings allow for the fostering of meaningful relationships between people of like (and sometimes “not so like”) minds. Our last petal is the representation of Family – defined by your own situation. We do not judge. We come together as a family, a family of families, with diverse cultures and unique backgrounds. In the center lies a unifying childlike representation of our future. It is owned by all and serves as a reminder that what we do has an impact on those that come after us. Together this union of ideas creates our unique brand of fellowship.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

        Wow Amanda.. I didn’t know all that..

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

      The necklace is made my Surly Amy a popular atheist jewelry maker. http://surlyramics.com/

      • http://www.facebook.com/jules.empire Amanda Jules

        Thank you for posting the link. I tried posting a response with a link twice and my post didn’t show up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keverwhiter Kevin White

    Alix doesn”t believe in labels but he proudly wears the one that gives the purpose for this article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

      Not sure what you mean. *I* chose the label unbeknownst to him.

      • http://www.facebook.com/keverwhiter Kevin White

        the label that you gave to him he wears with pride like the embelem on his necklace. It says “I am aganist others having a spiritual belief system.”

        • fwesp

          I think you misunderstand his (and the atheist) position. I don’t think anyone is against people’s freedom to have whichever beliefs they choose, but we can certainly disagree with those beliefs, and present evidence that they are inaccurate.

          Lastly spiritual/religious/supernatural are not synonymous. I lack a belief in anything supernatural, but I would assert that I can still experience a sense of spirituality.

          • http://www.facebook.com/keverwhiter Kevin White

            Supernatural, (phenonm that is not logical), have occured in history and take place in modern days. If you do not believe in anything supernatural then you are missing a daily observation of the natural and will dismiss an occurance that you see that is supernatural.

            If a person is an athiest then they have a belief that there is no supernatural being that exist and they should also enjoy life by laughing at those around them that waste their time hoping and wishing and praying and going to church.
            But if Alix is spending his time and money to put up signs on billboards to declare that his life is better than mine because he does it without religion (his words) then he is not just an atheiest. He is a person that that doesn’t want worshipers.

            • http://www.facebook.com/alix.jules Alix Jules

              Actually I never said BETTER, Kevin. I just said I’m good too, just as others can be. Unfortunately, and I do understand how, those that are believers tend to interpret that as “better” or “better off”. If you believe that you “need” God to be good and I say I do not, I do certainly understand why you’d interpret it as an affirmation of superiority (without it being such). Its like me saying I don’t need a reward to behave – but you do, or that I don’t need a punishment to behave – but you do. Its somewhat a false equivalency – so I won’t have that argument.

              Our viewpoints and accepted biases preclude us from agreement on the matter, Kevin. We would come to rhetorical stand still, regardless of the eloquence in the argument. Logically – our standards for evidence differ, as you’ve somewhat implied in your post – so I won’t go there with you on the “super natural” vs “yet to be explained” phenomena.

              However stating that any of the billboards or campaigns that I’ve been associated with or personally part of, or any of the organizations I’m associated with formally – have ever said “better”, is factually errant – pushing slanderous. We’ve said “Good without God” not better – “Doubts about religion? You’re not Alone” – even the Great Families campaign, was showing happiness without for those that don’t need or desire the concept of god. But I do understand what you may infer “better” we construct our realities based on our experiences. The mind is interesting that way.

              But – to continue to make the argument, without evidence, of what you think I believe or what “I want” – is also subject to your own biases and fallacious reasoning. So I summarily, yet respectfully, reject your premise.

              • http://www.facebook.com/keverwhiter Kevin White

                The End of Christianity, John Loftus
                God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens

                As your sugested reading list tells you carry a high distane for religious values but even so you fill your statements in in such a way that what you say is publically acceptable. Why don’t you show your audience how to work through a confrontation instead for telling me that you don’t have the words to explain your higher value system. Explain to me that diety does not exist and that the holidays that others celebrate are just a mask of pretention.

                You won’t because you don’t have a leg to stand on. “more than a carpenter” by Josh McDowell is a book that was written by an athiest why is that not listed in your suggesteed reading list? You have yet to come out of the shadow that you hide in and show what you would really like the result of your teaching to be because you don’t have the courage of your convictions.

                So you reject my reality and insert your own. IF we are both standing on a platform and each drop a rock off the side both rocks will fall, that is a physical reality. You are leading a group of people that believe in physical reality but the question that you can’t answer for them is where the physical came from. So if I were to follow your teaching I need to have two (2) questions answered with verifiable proof. First is the question you can’t answer, “Where the physical came from?” and Two is “Is Jesus real and who He claimed to be?”
                So the table is spread for you. The question is before you. Can you answer them or does you science fail?

                • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1384316579 Byron C Mayes

                  The proper response to a question that one cannot answer is to continue to study/research until one can, not to simply throw up one’s hands and attribute it to an imaginary entity (that one cannot explain either).

                  In other words, if one can’t answer a question now, then science is what one uses to find the answer. The only failure comes from failure to inquire further.

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

              1. NOTHING is SUPERnatural. All things are natural.

              2. Alix didn’t pay for the billboards to go up.

              3. You also have a silly notion of what atheists believe. Look up the work anti-theist, there is a difference.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

          You’re reading something different that what I wrote.


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