A reader writes:
Thanks for having the thread on black atheists. I feel like atheism is the third rail of black identity. I have spent most of my life not fitting in neatly with any particular group while getting along well with almost everyone. I’m a black Jamaican immigrant raised by parents who were intellectual and black power-y enough to give both their children African middle names and eschew organized religion. My parents were both raised in religious households but when it came to raising their own children they said they’d “let us decide for ourselves when we grew up.” Suffice it to say, that meant the default context was atheism and, no offense, but religious origin stories are a tough pill to swallow if they haven’t been ingrained long before one develops the capacity for reason.
I almost feel like being an atheist is something I have to hide so people don’t look at me funny.
Being black and atheist has really resulted in feeling fairly alienated from “mainstream” black American culture. I just flat out don’t get, don’t want to get and can’t relate to the level of Christian religiosity that is part and parcel of African-American culture.
That said, I’m not ignorant. I’ve been to black church services and appreciate the role the black church has played in sustaining African-Americans culturally, spiritually, and political throughout a brutal history steeped in white supremacy and black oppression. Still, I am not about that life.
Pretty much none of my close friends slides much past “spiritual” on the religious scale, and I don’t think it’s an accident that of my very closest friends, not one is African-American. I almost feel like a bad black person typing that, even though I know my expression of blackness is just as valid as the “praise Jesus, God is good” version of it. But there’s just so little room for expressing it, it feels taboo.
Long story long, what I’m trying to say is thank you for providing a venue for me to express myself and for showing me enough other people like me to normalize my experience. Like the attorney in the piece said, we need more images in popular culture – like a black atheist version of Will & Grace – to expand the perception of what blackness includes.