Recent Articles Examine Black Atheists, a “Minority Within a Minority”

Tagged: atheism / diversity / gender/feminism

Two recent articles take a look at African American nonbelief both historically and as a contemporary movement.

Professor Chris Cameron from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte wrote "Black atheists matter: how women freethinkers take on religion" about atheism in African American history and the role that women play in the movement today:

Christianity has played a central role in African-American life from the late 18th century to the present. Black churches raised funds for fugitive slaves, served as schoolhouses, and provided space for political meetings and activities, among other functions. Leaders of black congregations such as Richard Allen or Daniel Payne were often leaders of the broader black community. The spiritual messages of redemption and justice appealed to a people who experienced the brutality of slavery and the indignities of Jim Crow segregation laws. However, while many black churches were radical advocates for political and economic equality, others remained conservative institutions that failed to challenge the status quo. This conservatism helped give rise to an increasingly vocal and influential group of African Americans ­– the new black atheists.

Who are the new black atheists and what is behind their recent growth? First, let’s briefly look at the ‘old’ black atheists.

Brandon Withrow at The Daily Beast interviewed AAH Director Debbie Goddard and AAH speakers Alix Jules, Mandisa Thomas, Candace Gorham, and others on "What It’s Like to Be Black and Atheist":

While honesty may be said to be the best policy, for American atheists who are still in the metaphorical closet, it may also come with a price tag. And this can especially be the case for African-American atheists—often referred to as a minority within a minority.

But just what does this designation mean and how representative is it of the black atheist story?

AAH director Debbie Goddard was one of several individuals interviewed for the article, saying: “If the secular community wants to be sure that we’re building a strong movement, then representation and diversity must be important to us...I’ve been glad to see more representation and a growing number of local groups in the last few years and look forward to seeing more in the future.”