CNN Fails to Capture the Glorious Diversity that Exists in the Atheist Movement’s Mind

CNN Fails to Capture the Glorious Diversity that Exists in the Atheist Movement’s Mind March 27, 2015


Please stop saying the CNN special on Atheism did not properly represent diversity in Atheism. It did. Let’s be real.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that we are seeing greater steps towards inclusion by the “New Atheist Movement”, especially with the adoption of social justice and diversity issues into the national platform. I am excited about the future of where organizations like Hispanic Atheist and Freethinkers, Black Nonbelievers, Black Skeptics,  EX-Muslims of America, and others are going. I am equally optimistic about the embrace that many secular organizations are extending to them. We are beginning to bridge very important issues. I love that.

But reality check:

Although not exclusively a white thing, atheism is still overwhelmingly a white thing.

The average atheist was the centerpiece of the show, an educated young white male. He was representative of the millennial numbers David Silverman referenced:

“A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%).”

That difference is astounding.

If you look at the numbers, you’ll see religious adherence rates increasing with age across the general population, suggesting lower religiosity with youth. Again, progress.

However, if you look at the minority population – that’s simply not the case. There is no statistically significant variance between ages 18-29, 30-49, 50-64, etc.., in religiosity for African Americans. The decreasing rate of religiosity just is not there. It’s a little better within the Latino community, but again, not as sharp. So I’d not expect these atheists of color, to represent a significant portion of the atheist community within the movement at conferences or among the general population.

Though becoming more visible, atheists of color are still anomalous. We could double in growth and still not be heard in many of our own communities.

We’re far from average.

The fact that you see more diversity within the movement shows that the movement is working on diversity “visibility” not necessarily becoming more diverse (yet). We have a lot of work to do before we can claim that.

We have to concede more time and greater collaborative efforts. We may be ideologically open and inclusive, but the numbers don’t reflect it. We are seeing more diversity in some of the speaking and leadership opportunities, which I hope will entice more of us to come out, but have you been to an atheist meetup or conference and looked behind and next to you?

We still mimic the segregation you see in the rest of America, although I believe it is a byproduct of where we live, study, and cultural demographics as opposed to design. However, bridging relationships outside of our atheist meeting places so we can universally work on the reconciliation of racial issues is still problematic for the average person. All those studies on whiteness, privilege, and the racial divide, include my white atheist colleagues too. Does the average atheist try to overcome those? How many friends of diverse ethnicity, origin, gender, etc., does the typical atheist have outside of the atheist special interests groups? (And when I say friends – I mean, lunch, sleep overs, deepest thoughts, relationships, etc.). Did you know that the average white social media user had only 1 in 10 or less nonwhite friends? (And yes, the numbers are better for black and Latinos – but we have work to do there too!)

I’d like to introduce another distinction on Atheism which I’ve found myself having to make and remind people of, since the airing of the special.

There is “the Atheist movement” then there is the population of atheists that fall into general atheism and don’t necessarily identify as movement members. That’s the majority.

In my experience the typical atheist doesn’t go to atheist conferences or belong to American Atheists, CFI, BN, etc… They don’t write or read Atheist blogs and they don’t start or lead organizations, and they usually don’t take it on the chin weekly from the ALL CAPS gallery of genuinely pissed off atheists that don’t like what you say – or worse – get pummeled by religious colleagues or trolls.

That’s not average – even for atheists. So movement members, don’t get it twisted, we’re not there yet.

If you are reading this, you may be average among the self-selecting vocal atheist demographic which is a tip of a much larger untapped iceberg (presumably a massive white one) or part of the much smaller self-selecting group of “other”. If you have friends from the other camp – GOOD, but you’re even less average.  If you’re a liberal Christian reading this, there’s something definitely not average about you, unless you clicked on this by accident trying to find my Kirk Franklin or my Pulpit Profiteering articles (they’re good articles, read them).

I am different from you because I am not the typical atheist, although I know many, so pride aside, I would not necessarily expect to be portrayed in a national TV special showing the typical and average atheist. With that said, there is so much work that needs doing in the minority communities to make nonbelief an acceptable norm, so that my own criticism of the next special is valid. But first we must be honest with ourselves with where we really are and address our distinct realities on race and religion (or non-religion).



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