I Don’t Tell Black People I’m an Atheist

Author Bridget Gaudette

I'm an ex-Jehovah's Witness with a focus on Black atheism, humanism, and sex-positive dialogue. | @BridgetGaudette

Yes, I’m Black. Yes, I’m an Atheist. During the last year I have made baby steps towards being more out and open about the latter (since the former is obvious). I have gone to atheist meetups and conventions. I have volunteered my time for several atheist groups. I changed my Facebook “Religious Views” to Agnostic Atheist (we all know it’s official when you announce it on Facebook). My twitter also reveals my disbelief in gods. I started a women’s organization (Secular Woman) focused on empowering nonbelieving women. If you Google my full name it’s no secret I’m an atheist.

All that being said, I am still living a double life. It occurred to me just a few days ago that, while I am fairly comfortable telling White folks I am an Atheist, I tend to be less open with Blacks. When asked about subjects related to my religious belief I will usually say, “I don’t go to church” or “I’m not religious”. Strangely enough, I’ve never been pressed to give more information beyond this.

Why don’t I take advantage of these opportunities?

Fear. I can trace my discomfort back to my childhood. I remember in elementary school being told I “acted White.” This was meant as a serious putdown (for more on Acting White, read the Wikipedia entry on it). It meant, “you’re different” or “you think you are better than us.” Is Atheism “acting White” or somehow not Black? Well, it’s difficult to even find statistics on Black Atheists because it is still very rare. Certainly less than a percent of Black Americans are openly Atheist. So, being a Black Atheist basically epitomizes “different,” moreso than even being a Black Republican, etc. I think most of us can admit that one of the most important things for children is to feel accepted, to be a part of the group. Growing up in a cult, but still going to public school, I was desperate to fit in. For a time I even attempted to change my speech patterns and behave in a way that I thought was “Blacker.” It never really worked, the comments about me acting or sounding White are still commonplace and guess what? It still stings. So, basically, I don’t tell Blacks I am an Atheist because, in my mind, that separates me from over 99% of all other Blacks and it results in a very uncomfortable feeling.

Okay, now watch this video, Black Folks Don’t Do: Atheism.

A comment was made, “There’s a huge connecter between god and community and being together as a people and for one to say that “I don’t believe in god” almost disconnects you from the culture as if you lose your card as being a part of the culture and I think that’s scary for many people.” It is scary. I know I’m a grown woman, but I still struggle with being accepted, possibly because I always felt disconnected as a child.

Rest assured, I find my behavior unacceptable. It’s not unusual to have to do things we find uncomfortable in order to progress. Plus, and more importantly, it is likely that I am interacting with other Blacks who are doing the same thing: denying our Atheism for fear of being abnormal. We’re keeping ourselves from building up a valid and important part of the Black community: Black Atheists. Today it stops. I will openly be an Atheist to all people.

Also see A Minority, Within a Minority, Within a Minority.

I am the co-founder of Secular Woman, whose mission it to is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. Your generous contributions will go towards my travel expenses to secular conventions and help to keep me blogging. Thanks in advance!  -Bridget