Shades of Black Atheism #13: Abused and Ignored by God, Tierra Hammond

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

Tierra Hammond is a 23-year-old Californian. She describes her mother as “religious” but not “overly so.” She was a seasonal Christian, attending church on Easter and Christmas, but didn’t mind going there… until she was seven and her mother entered the army leaving Tierra with her very devout aunt.

If she deemed a cartoon unacceptable, my younger sister & I were not allowed to watch it. She didn’t let us listen to the radio, unless it was gospel, & had a heart attack at any mention of sex. I went to church 3 times a week until I was 9. Around that time, I began to read the Bible. This was the beginning of my non-belief.

When her mother returned, Tierra reverted back to being a twice-a-year Christian. I asked her why she never adopted religious and her conversion story was very straightforward: She said she suffered from depression her whole life and was abused for many years in her childhood, and although she prayed and begged for help… it never came. If ever there was a reason to be an atheist, I find this to be the most compelling.

The important people in Tierra’s life knows that she is a non-believer. She doesn’t associate with most of her family members for other reasons but her mother, sisters, and grandmother are aware. Her grandmother, unfortunately, has responded negatively to this: “Our relationship has gone from talking at least once a week for hours at a time to talking 3 times in the past 6 months for maybe 15 minutes before she rushes me off the phone.”

I wish this were uncommon and hard to relate to, but it’s one of the realities for many black atheists who live openly and honestly.

Tierra’s partner is a Christian, but she said while laughing that they don’t argue about religion “often, at least.” He is supportive of her beliefs and doesn’t make her uncomfortable with gospel; in return, she won’t watch Christopher Hitchens’ debates when he’s around. When he goes to church she simply goes about her day until he returns. She respects his faith and he respects her lack thereof. They have agreed not to baptize their son or take him to church until he is old enough to make his own decision on the matter.

I asked if she thought that the Black atheist experience is different from that of non-Black atheists:

I think all things are different when you’re black. Life, in general, can be different. Religion is a huge part of black culture. Our ancestors had their cultures stolen and they were forced to take on a new one. We know better now, so we should do better. Not all black Christians can face the fact that they are only Christians because their ancestor’s masters were Christians.

I also asked her about race-focused groups. She felt that all minorities needed groups that catered to their life experiences whenever possible. “Not only is our society dominated by religion, it’s dominated by white men. White atheists don’t understand the unique struggles encountered by the atheist of color, just like atheist males don’t understand the struggles associated with the atheist female.” I agree.

Tierra runs a fantastic website called Feminist Apostasy as well as a Facebook page of the same name. She’s also involved with military atheist groups.

When asked what advice she’d give to closeted Black atheists and/or Black atheists in general, she said they need to take “their time coming out. It’s hard. It sucks losing family and friends.” She further intimated how difficult and confusing it was to break the mental chains that religion has bound so many with. “But they should know that they are not alone. And if your family does disown you, you can find new family in our community. I’ve met lots of great people.”

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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  • Claude

    If ever there was a reason to be an atheist, I find this to be the most compelling.

    Yes.

    • TheAnti-Coconut

      So very sad.

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

      :-(

  • lordsleepyhead

    As a white, male, European atheist I can hardly imagine what it must be like to be a black, female, American atheist. It just comes so natural to me and is so effortless in my daily life. This article made me realize how hard it can be for some, and I think I now have a slightly better understanding why, from my point of view, there is so much “fuss” about being atheist.

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

      The part of my reason for writing this series is accomplished <3

  • Duo

    I believe that the comments regarding white male atheists being unable to understand non-white and female groups while at the same time implying that women and non-whites understand whites and males is true is ridiculously sexist and racist. Insults do not need to be hurled as a matter of course. No one person can fully understand what another person goes through, no matter what demographics they share or do not share. Articles like this one can help people to understand what others are going through, even if the reader is not the same race/gender. Please take more care before blindly agreeing with such comments in the future. We’re all here to help, learn, and grow as human beings.

    • TheAnti-Coconut

      Don’t get your boxers in a wad. All that’s meant by this is if you have had a similar experience of disenfranchisement it’s easier to empathize with other under-empowered people. Of course people realize that there are conscientious white men capable of empathy, but obviously they have a farther gap to bridge. To the extent that “no one person can fully understand what another person goes through,” some people have more work to do in an effort to approach the same level of understanding.

      • Dafuq

        “Under-empowered.” What is that even supposed to mean?

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

      I haven’t seen any women say that they know what it’s like to be a man, nor have I seen non-whites say they know what it’s like to be white. Perhaps a comment was deleted?

  • FelyxLeiter

    Family and tradition, two supposed rocks of one’s upbringing, can be so unbelivably toxic in the wrong application. Thank you, Bridget and Tierra.

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

      I agree.

  • BFli

    After the years of abuse I suffered from my mother-having completely cut her off in the past year and being shunned by my family for doing so-I no longer believe in religion. I’ve just learned that there is no jesus coming back and his story is indeed not an original story. I am devastated but finally feel free from the bondage of religion. I’ve come out as an atheist. I’ve already lost my family anyway.