So you’re a new atheist, and you’re Black? Welcome! My name is Alix and I too, am a Black atheist. You’re not alone. In fact, we’re growing at a staggering pace, though you’re not necessarily seeing it in the polls yet. The latest surveys show America shedding religion by the millions:
In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).
Except in the Black population which mostly remains religious (with well over 90% claiming religion). However, through many grassroots endeavors in Black nontheistic awareness, those of us who no longer identify as religious are finding each other in droves. I think it’s a start that leads to a wishful tipping point. The more visibility, perhaps we can normalize what was once commonplace and explain to others what you may now know, Blacks weren’t always Christian (or Muslim).
I’ve been out of religion for years, and I’ve seen this movement change. The growth has helped increase numbers, but can leave one a little lost. There are many subgroups in general Atheism, I can’t possibly list them all, but they include focuses on Secular Students, LGBTQ communities, rights, and issues, as well as your standard Atheist and Skeptics groups. CampQuest is wonderful if you have kids, but sometimes diversity is an issue. Nonetheless, there are also many Atheistic groups that exist outside of the movement, in different arenas and have different focuses. Many of them, don’t even show up in the movement. In fact, you can find two different groups called Black Atheist that don’t seem to even occupy the same universe. One exist for Pan African or Nationalistic reasons, while the other is mostly an online collective of thousands of diverse secular voices. They both, like any group, can be filled with rancor at times, but they serve the communities that make them up.
There is even a thriving multi-lingual community for those of you with roots that branch continents and cultures.
I know there are other guides out there, and some are awesome, but your journey is your own. I wanted to impart my view on what I see, in hopes of helping you navigate Black, or not so Black, Secularism.
1. The ‘Atheist Movement’ & the Atheist Demographic Aren’t Synonymous
Many people would argue that there is no Atheist Movement, to which I’d disagree. There is a larger Atheist demographic which pays no mind to the dealings of atheist leaning secular organizations. They don’t listen to podcasts, belong to any organizations, where the t-shirts, etc. They may just be religiously unaffiliated and content with living life without joining. That’s the majority of atheism in the US. I was one of them. However, when you find that you want to move something socially or politically, you then recruit a percentage of similarly motivated individuals, and these individuals push agendas, trying to achieve this change. This is Movement Atheism or the visible faction of the atheist movement. They’re the conference organizers, writers, activists, educators, movers, shakers, personalities, the quiet supporters, and occasionally the pompous voices of the entitled… (Just being real). We come in all shapes and sizes, regardless of race or gender identity, with all temperaments, just like the world you existed before you became an atheist. You’ve not entered the land of unicorns.
2. Get online, then quickly get off and connect
The online Atheist presence can be a little caustic. We’re a global community and all of the ideas and opinions don’t necessarily sound familiar or reflect your particular worldview. We disagree, sometimes vehemently. We have firebrands and bridge builders of all colors, they all serve a purpose. Atheism, just means lack of belief in a god. Don’t try and conflate it with anything else. Expectation management is critical. Expect nothing more than nonbelief from atheists, it helps. If you’re just coming out, find people online to connect with in person. Use Meetup and Facebook, but make sure you’re going to the right groups. Your first experience can be crucial in setting the tone for your journey. What you’ll find is wonderful people that want to connect, but like any other segment of the population, it has its detractors.
I’ve been to a few secular meetups where I was the only Person of Color. That’s not atypical given population statistics. I was invisible or people approached me as if they’d never met one of me before, so expect awkwardness. Sometimes they just don’t know. If you’re just coming out, find a local group that reflects not just your brand of secularism, but the stuff you like doing, including hobbies. If you’re into reading, find an atheist book club. Science or Philosophy your thing? Find an atheist philosophy group. If you want political activism, that’s everywhere too.
Three resources: Meetup.com / Facebook.com / Google.com
- Keyword Search in your area: Atheists, Freethinkers, Black Skeptics, Black Nonbelievers, African American Humanism, Black Humanism, or Freethought
3. Prepare Yourself for Debates, or Don’t!
One of the things I did as an emerging atheist, is find myself in a world of hurt when it came to debating. I had to do it, just like when I wanted to convert YOU to my theism. You are no longer compelled to convert or de-convert. Yes, you can learn a tremendous amount about what you really believe through debate, but sometimes just listening is enough. If debating is your thing, go for it. I encourage public discourse, but don’t feel that you need to. If you’re more of a hands on Humanist, find service work or other ways to help throughout your community – or don’t! Dogma no longer compels you. You can find yourself in verbal entanglements as described here, by fellow writer . If that’s your thing great, if not, you’re under no obligation to justify your atheism. Though, its a little more difficult when its family.
4. Despite commonality, realize divisions exist
Just because you shed your religious belief systems, doesn’t mean you’ve shed any other biases. This goes both ways. Atheism doesn’t make you a unicorn. Some Black atheist groups are polarized and segregated, but most are extraordinarily welcoming to all races, but with a specific focus on the Black experience. They often exist because other groups aren’t always so welcoming or ignore their specific needs, or… just because! We don’t find ourselves justifying other groups existence, so I won’t do it here. Yes, the atheist demographic is brighter and tends to be more statistically intelligent than the general population, but that doesn’t mean they’re any more, or less, anything else, and same may be true with you.
5. Remember that Black Secularism is like Regular Secularism
Different people come to nonbelief through their own paths. Some of us came through academic rigor, others came through moral arguments, or any variation of human experience. There’s no right way. Don’t let anyone tear you down because you haven’t read a particular book or taken a particular course in cosmological, philosophical, or other academic studies. You just need your natural senses to make the case against God – not a PhD. No matter how you got here, you’re not any more or any less different than any other secularist, ok, maybe you don’t burn in the sun so easily, but sunscreen is still a good idea.
6. Not every Atheist is a Humanist or a Skeptic, and that’s OK
Groups like Black Nonbelievers and Black Skeptics run the gambit covering most issues and needs. Mandisa Thomas and Sikivu Hutchinson have propelled those organizations into secular visibility, but there are other deity denying groups out there for the Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latinos. We are not monolithic.
We even have godless “conscious” groups, Pan-African groups, and even the Hoteps. Not everything is for everyone, but align yourself with the one that fits you. I tend to push for diversity, having found strength in many friends of diverse backgrounds, but secularism is not one size fits all. Not all the groups, leaders, members, etc., are liberal – some lean conservative. Racism, Homophobia, Gender issues, etc., all here. You didn’t enter a magic bubble when you became an atheist and you’re still not a unicorn.
7. You ain’t got to do sh!t!
You can be just as political or apolitical as you want. I want to meet you, but that’s up to you. Though I find power in numbers, my solitude is my shield. I pass on someone’s righteous indignation pressuring me into doing something when I lost my religion. I can sit back and listen to Greydon Square or other popular Black atheist artists all day instead. Some groups are going to have charismatic leaders with cult like followings, some ironically call themselves cults in an effort to be ironic, just to literally take on cult- like qualities. Keep your eyes open and your wallet close, especially when you hear nonprofit status. The secular community isn’t immune to financial problems. Give plenty to valid, credentialed 501(c)3 organizations if you expect transparency, reporting, and tax benefits. For instance, both BN and Black Skeptics LA are verified 501(c) 3s, but don’t take my word on it – check here. The nonprofit status is not necessary to give, but you just won’t get the benefits, so eyes open. And FYI, turns out that atheist can be just as challenged when it comes to giving and bookkeeping. Even if they have MBAs, they’re still not a unicorn.
8. You may belong to as few or as many groups as you want
To my knowledge, no group prohibits your membership through exclusivity. Feed every side of you, while finding more opportunities to explore who you may be. If you were religious, you’ve just lost a set of lenses, explore. Welcome to a new way of seeing the world. This is an opportunity to partner up, maybe even go searching for unicorns together.
9. Stay Out of the Comments section, Everywhere!
The last time I went into the comments section of an atheist YouTube channel, I had to sanitize my triple layered rubber gloves. This is where unicorns – go to die. It can sour you quickly. It isn’t always reflective of the greater population. Although, sometimes sadly, it is. You’re still in America and some demographics appear to have magnification. You may be in a diverse world at work or at home, but atheism is predominantly White. Though I have my opinions, that’s not a criticism, its a statistically defensible observation. Yes, Movement Atheism (see above) has diverse voices. We’ve seen strides in gender and racial diversity, however even there, as would be expected, the overwhelming majority reflects the reality through representation. If you want to change that, there’s a movement within this movement for you too!
10. Make Reading a New Hobby, or share yours with others
It’s not a prerequisite, but many of us like talking about ‘every and different’ things. We want to learn from you, whatever it is you like doing, bring that and meet us. You don’t have to be an expert. It is highly likely that you’ll find others that enjoy what you do, or that share your experiences. That’s one of the reasons groups like Black Nonbelievers (that’s a very gratuitous plug), exist. We’re here to support you. Many of us have lost families or social connections due to nonbelief. It can be difficult and some of us are looking for human interaction and connection which, straight up, also includes romantic ones. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t creep.
I recently got to meet BN ATL’s first baby. A black atheist couple that met each other through BN, had a child. Ya’ll may not want all that, but its an option – and that’s the big thing I want you all to realize. There are many options available to you as a New Black Atheist. Get connected.
I’ve also added a few additional resources for you all below.
My Must have Resources:
Here are a few Reading Resources. There are many, but I can’t possibly list them all. Here are some of my favorites that many other atheists have in their libraries. (Note: God is Not great by Christopher Hitchens, helped build my fire and vocabulary on moral outrage, but its not the end all).
- The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, exposed me to how many atheist address the religiosity and provides “some” foundational arguments against theism.
- God the failed Hypothesis by Victor Stenger, was just a really good book on science that dared asked for the proof of God in science through natural testing.
- The End of Faith by Sam Harris showed me it was ok to be critical of more than just Christianity
- Life Driven Purpose by Danniel Dennet and Dan Barker (a two-fer), upends the belief that God gives you purpose. (Dennet also has Breaking the Spell, Religion as a Natural Phenomenon).
Those are all good, despite the valid criticisms that you’ll hear about some of the authors’ stances on feminism, Islam, race, war, etc. I can’t discount many of the seminal works that helped bring me and countless others out of a religion. In fact, as an apostate of many traditions, the End of Faith, rocked me. It personally helped me find the courage to talk about religions critically, not just Christianity.
But what’s OFTEN missing from the list are a few of my other personal favorites, my must reads, that’ve rounded me out:
- Why Are You Atheist So Angry by Greta Christina, helped me voice my moral outrage through a conscious voice.
- Moral Combat by Sikivu Hutchinson, exposed me to some of the Black historical legacy of freethought and its role in equality.
- Ebony Exodus by Candace Gorham, exposed me to many of the struggles women of color deal with in particular when leaving religion.
- Raising Freethinkers or Parenting Beyond Belief, by Dale McGowan amazing resources for addressing children without the church, and some of the messiness handling religious family.
Again, not at all an exhaustive list.
Also, if you’re interested in reading Blogs, Patheos offers various voices including some of the big names in Atheism (and Liberal Christianity), The Orbit may be as diverse it gets, and Freethought Blogs offers another level of atheist views. Between them, there’s an array of authors and bloggers that discuss EVERYTHING from science, news, politics, culture, art, and equality. You won’t agree with them all. Passions can run deep with activists who write, but it’s exposure to new ideas.
If you’d rather go audio, you’re going to be a little limited for popular Black Secular voices, though you can occasionally catch me raising hell, or being the funny one, on Dogma Debate. There’s also the popular Angry Black Rant, amongst others.
But you don’t have to just go Black.
- StarTalk Radio with Neil Degrasse Tyson and Leighann Lord (atheist), again funny and entertaining with a secular spin. Both happen to be Black and have mass appeal. (Leighann’s hilarious)
- The Thinking Atheist podcast with Seth Andrews is a wonderful and thoughtful podcast and his youtube channel addresses everything in the smoothest radio voice in secularism. Massive Variety.
- Skeptics Guide to the Universe episodes (especially the ones with Rebecca Watson). Amazingly informative and entertaining. I still go back and listen. Lack of Skepticism hurts the Black community where hope and faith take on various forms.
- This Week in Tech isn’t Atheist specifically, but talks about a lot of rational science based goodies.
- Joe Rogan and Adam Carolla are atheists and wildly popular, but they don’t often get into atheist issues, but sometimes get into race, religion and politics. Mileage varies.
As for all of the aforementioned, remember, enter the comments section with caution.
Those are just some of the resources I wish I had when coming out, and there are pages more I could include, so please don’t be offended if I didn’t include your network, podcast, blog, channel, link, mention your name, label, faction, your particular incarnation of secularism, liberations group, etc.
This was meant to give a high level introduction to someone who’s just left religion and who may have just googled New Black Atheist.
They’ll find you.
-Alix… Nope, not a unicorn either.