Black Folk Don’t: “Do Atheism”–Really?

The new Black Folk Don’t is on atheism. If you can make it through the first three minutes, there’s actually some fascinating info at 3:13, where the usual discussion on atheism takes an interesting turn. They also interview actual black atheists around four minutes in. Interestingly, many of the positions taken in the first half of the video are reasons why black atheists aren’t more forthcoming with their beliefs.

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  • Montclair Mommy

    Oh and I have to say that the day that my husband’s admin assistant ‘let slip’ something about her being agnostic my husband came home practically jumping for joy–he found another black person that didn’t believe. They kind of had this halting discussion where they admitted it to each other and I feel like that was so awesome for him. Both to admit it and to find another black person who feels the same way he does. We know lots of atheists, but no one else that is black. He had kind of assumed his admin assistant was AME b/c when her mom died the funeral was at an AME church. That and its a stereotype that all middle aged black women are Christian…so he assumed. He was so surprised and thrilled to find an ally in the office.

  • Montclair Mommy

    Wow. My husband (AA) and I are agnostic/secular humanist/non-religious and we were both raised in very religious households (mine Catholic, his Lutheran/Methodist). It was really hard for both of us to come to terms with and discuss our feelings, even with each other, because we both kind of felt like a bolt of lightening was going to come out of the sky and strike our disbelieving a$$es into hell. After coming to terms with our feelings on our own, I was able to tell my mother that I no longer could call myself a Christian. She was very upset and still seems to think I will change my mind or be “saved” again. My husband, however, still does not feel comfortable sharing his feelings with his family. The difference, I think, is that even the people his own age in his family are very religious and attend church. In my family, I have a few other adults (an uncle or three), my sister, and several cousins that are all on the same page. He is genuinely afraid of what they will say or do and he doesn’t have any support within his family to share his thoughts on the existence of god/gods. SO right now, I think they just assume we don’t take the time to go to church b/c we are lazy, we have kids, etc when its really b/c we have made a reasoned choice not to attend church because we believe that church is a waste of our family’s time together. Instead of praying we thank each other and those around us. Instead of reading the bible (which we will read someday when the children are old enough to handle the violence), we read other books that enrich our minds. In short, we aren’t lazy. We just don’t believe.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I’m a non-church going person that would say that I “believe” and try to live my life in a thoughtful and kind way, and I can see how it is uncomfortable for Black atheists b/c there are Black people who always assume that you must be Baptist and/or going to church every Sunday for it to count.

    I find it uncomfortable for people to ask me where I go to church or assume that I want to go to theirs. I feel as if that is a personal choice and have never believed in proselytizing in any way.

    I sometimes feel like I’m an anomaly b/c while it doesn’t bother me if people tell me to have a “blessed day”, I don’t feel comfortable ASSUMING that I should say it and it is seen as a positive thing to other people.

    It’s not on the same level but some Black people do act as if everything that isn’t Southern Baptist or AME is pretty much atheism. So I was shocked ot hear people speak of Catholicism as if it was some dangerous and mystical force, as opposed to the original Christian Church. (I’m Lutheran so we don’t think of it as some foreign body).

    I thought I would have some good advice on how to deal with your non-accepting Christian brethren, but after starting this post I’m just struck by why it’s a “tough row to hoe” in the black community.

  • Charles J

    I’m a Black Christian. This trailer was very enlightening as well as the comments below. I try my best to understand my own privilege as Christian and the oppression that comes with being atheist. Two parts struck me in this video 1:07 the lady says “one of the great links with Black people is the belief in God” no matter where you go in the diaspora and 2:20 – 2:47 about the Civil Rights Movement. I have to agree with @twitter-454249917:disqus Socialization and civic engagement have been a huge part of the Black religious experience and the fighting of racial oppression was done through the Christian and Muslim places of worship. WIth that said I believe its very hard for Black Christians to find a place to unite with Atheists when our Blackness and civil rights are so connected to our religion. Honestly

    PS Soap box moment: When I hear people talk about White Supremacy is the misuse of the Bible or ask how can there be Black Christians I cringe. The Bible/Christianity is not what oppressed Black folk it’s the misuse by White people. When Black slaves were given the white washed version of Christianity, we still ended up actually reading the Bible and found scriptures like “For God so Loved The World…” not just blond haired, blue eyed White people! Also please don’t get me started on how a man of color – Jesus who lived on the continent of African has become blond haired, blue eyed with white skin (smh)…

    Anyway, religions is often seen as oppressive, but I look at it as away to fight oppression especially when looking at the writings of Jame Cone on Black Liberation Theology. This was theology of many of the men and women in the civil rights era.

    Religion in the wrong hands can be extremely hurtful, which is not the point of Christianity what so ever. As a follower of Jesus, his entire teaching is about love and IMO if the top three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) would practice the art of loving everyone and sharing that love in a genuine,open and accepting manner like Jesus did, I truly believe that our atheist/agnostics brothers and sisters would not be as oppressed as they are.

  • daydream11

    As a black agnostic (deist), I can very much relate to the black guy whose parents consider his (lack of) belief a “phase.” Based on personal experience, a huge reason why I’m quiet about my agnosticism is because of the severe frustration and resentment that bubbles up whenever my position is inevitably dismissed as such, or else am told that “it’s not about religion, but a personal relationship with God.” Attempts to explain that my relationship with God, whoever/whatever God is, is nonexistent and that my stance is a conclusion arrived at through intense intellectual, psychological, and emotional battles are met with blank stares and some version of a condescending “one day you’ll see.” Therefore, I don’t speak up. There’s always a sense that I’m not being listened to, anyway. I don’t have this problem with my peers (I’m 19), but more with my parents’ generation and older.

  • Lizzy

    I think that this mini-review is kind of harsh. The piece, including the first three minutes, discusses atheism. It shows different points of view and people sharing their honest thoughts, which I think should be encouraged. I understand that you don’t agree with the first part, but I don’t think that makes it unbearable or bad. Reasonable people can disagree on such issues. However, I do think that this episode, like the others, show that Black people diverse beliefs, some which fall along the lines of stereotypes and others that don’t. I’m happy that racialicious introduced me to this webseries and I think this episode was just as awesome as all the rest.

  • ShauneeV

    My critique of christianity has more to do with the history of its adoption among Black people on the African continent and in the diaspora more than anything else (even though there is A LOT to discuss in terms of content). Bishop Tutu said it best when he stated that ““When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” Christianity was (and continues to be) a tool of white supremacy so it has always been a little disconcerting for me to see how zealously Black people continue to practice and defend it. However I think the woman in the video was absolutely correct when she said that the practice of religion among Black Americans has more to do with the community it creates than about actual religious teachings. Socializing happens there; volunteering happens there; civic engagement happens there so at times I’ve felt as if criticizing Christianity is taken as a criticism of all of these other aspects of community.

    • Rayuela

      Yes I absolutely agree with this and I think this is something Atheist/Humanist organizations really need to expand into more. One thing that African-American atheists repeatedly report is particularly a sense of frustration that they don’t get the volunteering opportunities through their atheist groups that they would through a church – I think it’s wonderful if a group of people have that profound an attachment to giving to their community and to not utilize that energy seems like a big shame.

    • Rayuela

      Yes I absolutely agree with this and I think this is something Atheist/Humanist organizations really need to expand into more. One thing that African-American atheists repeatedly report is particularly a sense of frustration that they don’t get the volunteering opportunities through their atheist groups that they would through a church – I think it’s wonderful if a group of people have that profound an attachment to giving to their community and to not utilize that energy seems like a big shame.

  • JP

    Unclear about what would make it difficult to get through the first three minutes.

    • Anonymous

      We’ve published many pieces from atheists of color here – as I said, the beginning assertions are what makes it difficult for atheists of color to speak up. If you are a believer, that’s fine – that’s reflective of your beliefs. But it might be a little weird to have a piece on atheism that doesn’t start talking about atheists until the halfway point. (Though, to be fair, this is how most of the BFD series is framed.)

      • JP

        Ah! Thanks for the clarification.

    • Anonymous

      Well, if I were Black and atheist and all Black people around me spoke about how (as several of the people in the video actually do) that one can only be a part of the Black community if one is religious and that the community derives its sole strength from its faith, thus as a Black atheist one is either not ‘really’ Black or some sort of ‘race traitor’… well, as a Black atheist that would silence me real quick.

      • trooper6

        yep–this right here. I’m a biracial black atheist and it is not easy. Really, it sucks. The vast majority of the black people I meet all assume that I’m religious and want to talk to me about Jesus all the time. And then I come out to them as an atheist, and you can see them shrink back from me. My atheism stops them from associating with me on a personal level–everything becomes all professional, all the time.

        And I say this as an academic where being an atheist isn’t *that* out of the ordinary. But the people who then accept my atheism tend to be non-black people. It is alienating and upsetting. And the justification for the sort of alienation put on my are the things said by the speakers in the first half of the video. The entire first half of that video is just a tad traumatizing.

        • Their_child

          I completely share your pain. Ive always considered myself an agnostic though I also think I do it out of a combination of fear and doubt. Not fear of a higher power but fear of how others around me will react to me saying the dreaded word atheist. Being agnostic is still isolating especially among my friends. In my little click there was a lot of unnecessary pressure for me to go to church with our group for years before they finally gave up. Everyone begged me to go and then when I didnt go I felt left out. If I did go I still felt left out because I would just sit there trying to get into it but never being able to connect and then feeling like I was missing something that everyone else in the room got. But in the end it wasnt interesting enough for me to get in the first place. Oh and dont even get me started on Dating While Agnostic! The min I graduated from undergrad and relationships starting getting all serious and about marriage potential my agnosticism suddenly became a problem. I dred going on a first date and the hot black man in front of me asking what church I go to. Then when I tell them I dont go to church there is this look of dissappointment. It almost feels like revealing that I have an STD or something. Jeeeze!

          • trooper6

            Oh! I feel you Their_child. Dating is a bummer. I have to come out over a number of things and many of them disqualify me right away.

            1) Atheist. Yeah, that is a huge deal breaker for a bunch of people.
            2) Trans. Another big deal breaker.
            3) Don’t want to get married until gay marriage is legal nationally. Boom! Third strike and I’m out.

            Bah! Humbug!
            And seriously, I’m a good catch!