Shades of Black Atheism #14: CEO of Affinis Apparel, Robert Peoples

Robert Peoples is the CEO of Affinis Apparel (pronounced uh-FIN-is) — a clothing company promoting human rights and freethinking through urban indie fashion. Undoubtedly, Robert has been an atheist for more than half of his life, an aspect he concealed from family and friends until recent years. His childhood rearing was geared toward a Christian (specifically Baptist) upbringing in central New Jersey. Although Robert’s mother was involved in the church, her perspective was not a fundamentalist position. Like his mother, Robert believed during his adolescent years that Jesus Christ was his Lord and personal savior and did not condemn others for possessing alternative views about “God.” Robert remembers saying as an adolescent: “I know what the preacher says about homosexuality [and other worldviews], but some of my closest friends are lesbian, gay, Muslim, and atheist, and guess what? They are human beings with love just like me.”

Robert’s family and friends did not hold other people of different beliefs and sexual orientations in contempt like so many Christians and other people do today. The attitudes and behaviors exuded around Robert from his personal relationships kept him waddling a little longer than needed under the Christian fold. However, it was not the people within his intimate circle that decimated his belief in a god — when Robert started reading the Bible for himself instead of accepting his church’s interpretations, the journey to atheism began unfolding. I can relate to this: Recently, on another blog, I wrote on the expectations of Black atheists and stated “it wasn’t someone’s philosophical arguments that led me to my atheism, it was science classes and a lack of answers to my prayers.”

Juxtaposing the Bible with Nietzsche’s dissection of philosophical and ethical flaws pertaining to Christian theology, Robert was awakened to the realm of “existentialism.” By about the age of 14, Robert had studied literature such as The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach, The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the ultimate life changing work for Robert — On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche. Needless to say, Robert’s atheism was secured by age twenty. He read the aforementioned literature on the advice of his cousin Harold, the first genius Robert personally knew — “May you rest in peace, cousin.”

Recently — within the past three years — Robert openly admitted he was an atheist to his family and friends. Ironically enough, no one was very surprised by his atheist leanings. Robert’s family even said: “We all knew you were a non-believer; we just thought you would turn around, but…”

The non-belief factor did not interfere with Robert’s relationships with his family and friends — more importantly, some of his friends are now atheists due to conversations about philosophy and theology. People are not always fortunate enough to maintain the love and respect from peers and family after a mind-blowing admission of atheism; however, in Robert’s case, he was one of the lucky ones.

Robert’s advice for those in the Black community struggling with the perils of atheism and its public disclosure is this:

Never live your life through the eyes of other people’s expectations; in turn, happiness will forever flee from you. When talking with several black folk, I remind them of our ancient Egyptian ancestry and how the Egyptian priests were not religious at all — rather, they were scientists, shrouding higher knowledge in the form of societal religiosity; preserving it from foreign exposure. Indeed, the curators of the higher sciences were animists and atheists before the Maafa (African Holocaust) of Christian and Islamic captivity of Northern Africa.

As to why “Black Atheism” needs to be highlighted, Robert had this to say:

It is presumptuous to assume atheism is of European persuasion. Indeed, the erudition of Greek philosophy was foreign to Greece — as it traveled from the lands of Timbuktu and Egypt aspiring the greatest of Greek (?) philosophers to risk [and/or] give their lives in opposition to the Greek gods. Because this knowledge was abased from our memories due to Christian and Islamic occupancy, it is sensible to pay tribute and patronize black non-believers in America and abroad to keep inspiration flowing and encourage those rattling in the closet to come forth flat footed and squared shouldered in this fight for mental freedom.

Robert is a member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Robert is also the founder of the Revolution in Photography Project; a provision of Affinis, LLC. He was also the book designer for Dr. Darrell C. Smith’s wonderful literary collage — You Are Not Alone: Blacknones, a work that is a must-read highlighting personal testimonies of black folk through their journey into atheism.

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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  • Hamilton Jacobi

    Not many 14-year-olds have a reading list like that. I was thinking that I wished I had my own cousin Harold to guide me at an early age. But realistically, I probably wouldn’t have been interested until much later.

  • allein

    Hey, I’m from central NJ…I wonder what town he’s from..

  • Cornelius Kappabani

    My appreciation goes to R.Peoples and Affinis! Being a Zen-Taoist I generally wonder why people fight over belive or more precisely “WORDS” for whenever you take a closer look you’ll find they all belive in the same thing but just like you call a thing with four legs and a board “table” the spanish call it “mesa”, in Poland its “stol”, in italian its “tavolo” and in albanian its “tryeze” and in the end its a freacking stupid table. HOW you call it doesn’t alter the THING. People can not change the being of something just by pronaucing it in a different way. Different land, different language – same crap! Especialy all christian belivers should be aware of this since the story on Babel goes like: “And God came down to earth and confused the speach of the people so that one couldn’t UNDERSTAND the other anymore!” It does NOT read “… that one talks about something completly different and knows better then everyone else!” Jawe, the Lord, Allah, Buddah, Tao, Jehowa, Manitou ….. different words for one and the same thing!

  • Robert Affinis

    Hi Hamilton; my mom was the driving force behind me being an ardent reader during my adolescence. My cousin Harold…well, the first and only person that encouraged me to think outside the box. He is indeed missed.

  • Robert Affinis

    Hi Cornelius; I’m inclined to agree with you regarding linguistic acrobatics people use to differentiate their ideologies from others. It’s like the word “spirit” [greek for spiritus meaning "air]-however, I say energy in a most formal sense. In the end, our dialectic should not be the focal point; more so, the intent behind the words

  • Robert Affinis

    Hi Allein; I’m from the Mercer County area; West Trenton. What part of NJ are you from?

  • allein

    Monmouth County (Freehold area)

  • Robert Affinis

    Cool; I’ve been there a few times myself.