Where Are All the Non-White Atheists? April 24, 2009

Where Are All the Non-White Atheists?

There never seem to be many of us minorities in the atheist crowd. You go to a conference or a local meeting, the percentage of minorities are a lot smaller than in the general population.

Quick: Name ten non-white atheists! (Can you do it? Are you struggling?)

Vjack has a theory about this:

This is mere speculation on my part, but I wonder if minority group members tend to view atheism as a less important part of their identity than do White atheists. For example, I wonder if more White atheists may place “atheist” ahead of “White” in prioritizing the various components of his or her identity whereas African American atheists are more likely to place “African American” ahead of “atheist”…

I don’t know if it’s an identity issue as much as it is a cultural one. I can speak for Indians at least: our culture is deeply tied into religion. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re religious; everything ties back to religion: how you meet a significant other, where people gather, how you celebrate important moments in your life, etc.

If you’re white and non-religious, though, you may be able to find decent secular alternatives. That doesn’t work as well for the rest of us.

I think the same thing can be said about African-Americans. Church is a big part of their lives, whether or not they’re religious.

Saying you’re an atheist when you’re a minority may carry a lot more weight — you’re not just turning your back on a religion, you’re turning your back on the entire culture.

Am I way off? Does anyone else have an explanation?

How many atheist readers here are not white?

(via Atheist Revolution. Thanks to Corey for the link!)

"The way republican politics are going these days, that means the winner is worse than ..."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."
"It would have been more convincing if he used then rather than than."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Claudia

    Wading into issues of race is always difficult, even more if you’re a white person seeking to comment on non-whites.

    I think that “non-whites” is far too broad a term when talking about religiosity. Both the Japanese and Chinese are non-white and if I’m not mistaken are majority atheists, though I don’t know how that breaks down amongst Japanese and Chinese Americans.

    But leaving that aside let’s take the two biggest non-white groups in the US, Latinos and African Americans. Beyond self-identification I think both groups unfortunately share some things that make atheism more difficult.

    The root problem would be poverty. Latinos and African Americans are disproportionately poor. Atheists overwhelmingly tend to be middle class or above. I expect there are different reasons for this. A tougher life full of injustices may make you more inclined to believe in a “better life” after you die and a divine justice than will one day make up for earthly injustice. Poverty correlates closely with lack of education and lack of education correlates closely with religiosity (and education with atheism). Finally the lack of structure in many poverty stricken communities, particularly in the case of African Americans, may make the structure of a church appealing. As an anecdote, my best friend in high school was the daughter of a single mother with substance abuse issues and lived in a poverty and crime stricken ghetto. Her church gave her a rock, a loving and nurturing community. I’m convinced that her religion and religious community gave her the strength to stay out of trouble and go on to college.

    As real equality grows amongst the races and a middle class black is as likely as a middle class white, I’m betting (and hoping) that a black atheist will become as likely as a white atheist.

  • I am a member of a university faculty and some of the professors in technical areas (many?) are atheists; this includes many Asians.

    I am brown (Mexican American).

    So, to answer your question, I’d say “look at the major science departments”.

    As an aside, you might like this

  • Kate

    Quick: Name ten non-white atheists! (Can you do it? Are you struggling?)

    Oooh, ooh!!!

    1) Hemant
    2) the guy who sings that rap song about atheism

  • It shouldn’t take long to compose a nice long impressive list of non-white atheists.

    From Ollies’s link, we can add “P Funk” to the list.

    As some have mentioned, there might be some cultural differences in expression.

    “Atheists walking” vs. “Atheists typing”

  • weaves

    I am an australian mixed-breed indigenous lesbian atheist.

    Of my identity, I consider the lesbian and atheist parts the most important.

    and the majority of asians i have met are not religious. they’re not atheists, they just lack a religion and have never thought about it

  • I’m a white guy and I don’t know any non-white atheists in my day to day life. Unless you count the internet, but I’m talking about in my community.

    The African-American community where I live has a very strong religious identity and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Mostly Baptist Christian but there is a little Voodoo here as well.

    The Asian community is split between a couple of buddhist temples and Christianity.

    We don’t have much of an Indian community here but what interaction I have had indicates a split between Hinduism and Christianity.

    The local Native American community pretty much keeps to itself. And the small casino.

    The distrubing part for me is most of the people I talk to that have a faith of some form aren’t in it for the religion so much as the comfort of supposed salvation (however it is applied in their particular faith). If more people in my community would step back and question everything I believe I would have more atheists around me.

  • I believe with your theory, Hemant, more than Vjack’s. For the black community, the church is *incredibly* important.

    It’s been interesting…since as I’ve discussed Proposition 8 with people (I’m ex-mormon, so there’s a lot of stuff to talk about with regarding to the church’s actions there), people have always been quick to say things like, “Why focus on the Mormons? Black people also overwhelming voted for Prop 8. How do you explain that?”

    And I think the flaw people make is in thinking that to point out this correlation is to point out some racial difference.

    But really, the story is that the religion and the black church are *extremely* prevalent in the community (even to the extent that even when I identified as Mormon, even that wasn’t good enough since that isn’t a “black church”)…so, the more plausible explanation is that certain religious groups tend to be more socially conservative, and black people just happen to be a part of these religious groups.

    I’ve heard arguments from other people. For example, many gay rights groups are indignant that black people could not support civil rights for the gay community, even though we know what the struggle is like, and they have been more indignant whenever certain black media personalities have said, “well, black civil rights are a righteous civil rights cause and gay civil rights aren’t.”

    What I’d try to explain here is that this *once again* roots down to a cultural pervasiveness of religion. The black community’s foundation in civil rights is tied closely to the church. So, Dr. Martin Luther King is a doctor in theology or philosophy and is a minister. That changes things up, because that means that *today*, some people unfortunately still cling to archaic ideas from the Bible to justify prejudices.

  • Daniel

    I guess I am a non-white atheist. Even though I am mostly Irish and Scots, my Native American heritage shows. Like I tell people I am a white boy with a Native vainer.

  • I’d say check out the computer science departments. I’m not even an atheist, but I have two college friends who are athesist and are non-white. Well, one is Vietmese (his family practices Buddhism, but he went to a Catholic school) and he is a self-identified atheist. The other is a guy from Iran. He moved to Canada two years ago and was living in my dorm.

  • Well, the identity theory would probably have some validity. We tend to identify ourselves with the identity marker that receives the most attention from society. As whiteness is hegemonic, society tends to racialize non-whites. Racialized people experience discrimination based on their racial identity and they in turn may identify more strongly with it than with their atheism, which is an invisible identity after all.

    Also, religion is very strongly tied into culture. For those belonging to the dominant culture, it would probably be easier to distance oneself from religion and still feel one’s culture all around oneself. Minority cultures are much more different to hold on to without community ties, like religion, because there are so many factors pushing for assimilation. I know that the religious element is very strong in the Bulgarian community in Ottawa, maybe even stronger that in Bulgaria itself. It lets us feel like a community and come together.

    Anyways, it’s probably much more complex, as previous commenters have brought up important points about poverty etc.

  • Also, to address what Claudia has said,

    I think that there is a kind of double consciousness or tresconsciousness nowadays that has to be faced for every black individual. One is a desire to be connected to the black community (or perhaps even to Africa) as a result of shared struggles. Another is a desire to move beyond the “warts” of the lower parts of the black community, but maintain black identity. And the final is the desire to embrace the westernization of living in America as opposed to Africa or anywhere else.

    And I think that even for middle class blacks, you still may not see clearly which two will be prevalent. I think this is important because since the black church is rooted in the struggles of the black community, someone who has that in their identity may not publicly embrace atheism, which still is seen as a “betrayal.” So, it’s partially socio-economic, but in some ways, culture is sticky.

    Generally, when people move to the latter two (the middle desire is, I think, the prevalent “middle class” black attitude, and the latter is one that I think can finally allow people embrace things like atheism), then you see more black people who are willing/able to say, “I’m atheist, and I don’t have a problem with this.”

    But I mean, if we look at Barack Obama, I think you can see part of this conflict. I of course don’t think he was in cahoots with Reverend Wright (and I think he’s closer to atheists’ side than he can publicly allow), but it made an incredible amount of sense that he would be in that position, because from his books, it seems that he went through a period of time when he *did* want to get back that first desire and reach with the black community.

  • For most of the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries, African-Americans were a politically marginalized group. Any attempts by them to acquire political or economic equality was violently resisted by the White majority. The only place where they could successfully practice any kind of organized community was in the church, because if not totally deterred from violent actions against these institutions, the white majority always thought twice before attacking religion. Hence the church has always been at the very center of the African-American community and as a result the Civil Rights movement grew out of these religious institutions. So even though there are probably thousands of African-Americans who don’t believe in a God or Gods, they remain very loyal to the churches that are still very much at the center of the African-American community.

  • Claudia

    Andrew S. I absolutely agree that the “black church” is irrevocably tied into black cultural identity to the point that I wouldn’t at all be surprised if middle and upper class blacks still are more religious than their white counterparts. By no means is the fact that the Civil Rights movement was so centered in the churches a meaningless detail, I merely wanted to point out that blacks and latinos have circumstances that make atheism less likely for any race. Naturally there are race specific factors as well.

    As to Barack Obama, I tend to agree he’s a lot less religious than he could ever safely let on. I’m now reading “Dreams of My Father” and it seems glaringly obvious that he turned to religion out of a lifelong hunger for a community and a culture to call his own. He saw how the churches were the only anchors in the wastelands he was trying to lift up. He desperately wanted an anchor, a full identity, and he knew that only a full embrace of religion would ever allow him to be truly member of the community.

    My only doubt is how fully he embraced it. I wonder whether he’s convinced himself that there is indeed a god, a father figure to always be there and not abandon him as his own father did, or whether he is still an atheist on the inside, deep into the closet by political and familial neccesity.

  • Vic

    I don’t think I can name 10, but off the top of my head:

    Greydon Square (1) is one of the coolest atheists around. As is Neil degrasse Tyson (2). Hemant (3). The Infidel Guy, Reggie Finley (4). Dr Hector Avalos (5).

  • I’m white but being an atheist isn’t a big part of my identity. It was for a while, mostly in reaction to all the BS of the Bush Administration. But I’ve mostly dropped out of the online communities, and I never really participated in any f2f groups. I don’t really want religion to be a big part of my life in any way — either as a participant or as an outsider. I have better days when I just don’t think about it at all.

  • It’s really so nice to see people discussing issues of race and religion intelligently and compassionately. Everybody has their own perspective and these are the issues that usually nobody discusses.

    Andrew’s “treconsciousness”, in particular, shows how far down the ladder atheism would be for black people’s self-identity.

  • I have another question:

    Where are all the Native American atheists?

    It bothers me that I am the only Native American atheist I know of.

  • Erp

    I should point out that the African-American opposition to prop. 8 was exaggerated. The initial exit poll said 70% voted against but a later more complete study (Egan Sherrill, “California’s Proposition 8: What Happened, and What Does the Future Hold?”) showed the numbers were closer to 58% voted against (which is probably about where the European-American were less than 10 years ago). A definitive factor seems to be religiosity (though oddly religious African-Americans were less likely to vote for prop. 8 (66%) than their equally religious counterparts in other ethnic groups (from 68% to 74% averaging 70%)).

  • Though I’m what one might call a minority, the difference is that I have neither cultural nor familial ties with religion. Though I was brought up a good old American Christian, I can’t say with sincerity (childhood naïveté excluded) that I ever truly accepted it. Even so, while it’s absolutely true that I am an atheist and probably always have been, I think it’s silly to identify myself by what I’m not (a believer in a deity). That is, I would identify myself a humanist and a bright before I would an atheist. Yes, “atheist” is both descriptive and absolutely true, but it explains nothing. I don’t know if the same rationale applies for others or not.

    Why don’t we see so many other “minority” atheists? I doubt there’s any one reason, but there are both cultural and social influences. Familial pressures, cultural roots, respect for tradition, the community aspect, etc. Sorry, but Christians are much better than atheists at “community.”

  • White supremacists on the internet keep telling me I’m not white because of my Jewish ancestry.
    I guess I’m a non white atheist who has no problem telling people about it.

  • Claudia

    I’m surprised that no one has yet mentioned Ayaan Hirsi Ali!

  • Another issue that I don’t think has been mentioned is simply that minorities may not want to lump on additional minority statuses…especially not ones like atheist. White males may not have a concept of being a minority to start with, so they don’t have a fear of becoming an atheist. A woman, or racial minority already knows what’s it’s like to have one or more minority statuses…why add one like atheist if you don’t have to.

  • Pinoy Heathen

    I am a Filipino living in California for the last 26 years, and once considered myself an above-average believer, along the teachings of the Roman Catholic church. It is here in America that I started questioning those beliefs ten years ago. If I were still living in the Philippines, I probably wouldn’t have been an atheist because religion (and superstition, believe it or not!) is a part of daily life. You just never question your family’s beliefs. There are very few Filipino atheists that I know of and the ones I personally know, I met them here in the US. Most Filipinos are intellectual slaves to god and religions, and easily swayed by sweet-talking preachers. Roman Catholics are the majority, but more and more are leaving to join Protestant denominations, moving from one fairy tale to another.

  • I’m also brown fellow (NatAm). I think your comments may exclude me entirely, but it may serve to prove your point. I have quite literally no connection what so ever with any tribe or tribal organization. I am culturally a middle class white American.

    I was raised in protestantism but it was more religion than culture. That’s not so say that leaving my religion was any small matter. My mom and my sister are still pretty devout. But it’s not as if my family (immediate or otherwise) uniformly attends any one church or adheres to any one religion.

    Then again… I’m a poor grad student (a phrase which may be redundant) so you won’t see me at any fancy schmancy conferences any time soon.

  • Brooks

    For non-white atheists, there’s also the Black Atheist blog: http://theblackatheist.blogspot.com/ Speaking of atheist minorities, where are all the LGBT atheists? Is it just me or does it seem like we don’t have that many? It just seems like when I go to atheist sites, there’s more straight atheists than there are LGBT atheists. I’m white, but I’m a gay atheist and I can count how many other gay atheists I know on one hand although I know plenty of straight atheists online. I also can’t seem to find any support group forums or sites specifically for LGBT atheists (does anyone know of any, by the way?), although I can find Christian-friendly LGBT sites. I just don’t feel comfortable posting at a Christian LGBT site since I’m not a Christian. I just wondered why there doesn’t seem to be that many LGBT atheists. You’d think there would be a lot more given Christianity’s opposition to the LGBT community.

  • I’ve always been confused about race. If evolutionary scientists are correct then we all came out of central Africa anyway. Some of us evolved a greater degree of pigmentation in skin and hair, slightly different facial features, some small blood protein anomalies and a number of other minor differences. Racial groups have diversified and intermingled for hundreds of generations. Hemant is an African-Indian-American, I am an African-European-Franco-Englishman, Barack Obama is an African-American\African-European-American.

    Black, white, yellow, red, brown or grey we’ve got fewer differences between races than we have between members of our own race. I really wish we could see past the obvious and concentrate on how we’re alike rather than how we might be different.

    An interesting titbit: Aboriginal Australians are genetically further from black Africans than white Europeans despite appearances to the contrary. African genes remained in Africa while Aboriginal genes traveled through what is now the Middle East, India, Asia and Indonesia before arriving in Oz. They are closer to the Chinese that Africans yet share skin colour and the wider nose and mouth.

    It turns out that race is literally skin deep.

  • Escualidus Arrechus

    Depending on country, non-white can be the majority. So I guess you’re looking for “non-white atheists living in a European-founded, majority-white country” :p

  • Re Claudia:

    sorry for not getting back to your message in a while, but I’d say that Barack Obama is atheist on the inside. I don’t think you can trick yourself into actual belief…and Obama doesn’t seem like the true theist type.

    And from his actions (not having a church decided as Pres, a sketchy record even with his old churches), it seems like it’s more a facade anyway. I do agree that he probably maintains the facade (and searched for religion out of a lifelong hunger, as you pointed out from Dreams of My Father), but I think he and every other person has to come to the realization that one can’t just jump into a community and *become* fit for that community. He can’t fully be black-church black (and that’s where the tresconsciousness comes in…)

  • Re ArchangelChuck:

    I agree with several things that you said: atheism is very mere…explaining very little (other than, of course, a lack of belief). However, I like that freedom, because it means I’m not committed to one other thing. My ethical structure can be blended, my actual beliefs can be blended, not rigid, etc., I don’t have to “own up to” any one philosophy.

    So while the lack of atheist community could lower our numbers (and in particular, I *still* think my Mormon upbringing is a big part of my “culture” despite my not believing and, similar to you, never *truly* accepting. There’s not to many things (esp. not atheism) that can have that kind of cultural integration, but that’s why I *like* atheism, because it doesn’t force me into a mold.

  • D

    I’m brown myself, and having lived in Indian and Chinese communities for quite some time now, I have to agree with Hemant that religion is much more embedded in these cultures at least. Renouncing religion when in such communities is a much bigger challenge; it’s just too big a part of everyday life.

    Its also possible that a lot of people in non-white communities are simply not ready to publicly out themselves as atheists; the societal stigma of being an atheist in such communities is often too much to handle. I have only one friend who publicly identifies himself as an atheist, although I have many others who have admitted to me that they’re atheists, but in public don’t dare to go beyond identifying themselves as agnostics.

    Right now, atheism is the most important part of my identity, although I imagine it wouldn’t be if I was living in a culture which wasn’t thrusting religion on me left, right and center.

  • Quick: Name ten non-white atheists! (Can you do it? Are you struggling?)

    Famous ones? I should be able to answer it since I more or less keep abreast of Freethought, etc. in India via nirmukta.com, but living in Canada doesn’t help in keeping up.

    Now, I don’t know that many Indian people, but all family members of my generation with whom I am in regular or semi-regular contact are atheists. My Indian friends (or rather, friend) is also an atheist. Completely different story with my East Asian friends, however.

    For me, atheism isn’t a big deal. I don’t pay too much attention to stuff (I keep up, but don’t really participate) because I just don’t care enough. In my ideal, atheism is something that should be the default (id est, passive not active – but this is only possible in the absence of religion), so it’s not something in which I should invest my time. Frankly, I have so many other things I’d rather be doing. This, I believe, is how atheism (and skepticism) is for me, my friends and family (with one notable exception, but he’s white). Those of them that are atheists and skeptics know that the notion of a deity is preposterous and that e.g. homoeopathy is ridiculous, but they’re not active in it because it isn’t a big part of their identities. It’s not like our parents even go to the mandir (temple) every week. I don’t know how well this generalizes, however.

  • Interesting thread. One thing I’d say is that I’d be careful about over- emphasizing the “religion is very important in (X) culture” aspect. I mean, religion is very important in lots of cultures. Religion is very important in Irish- American culture. In Italian- American culture. It’s an important part of white Southern culture. It was important to my German immigrant ancestors.

    I think poverty and marginalization are more central. Poverty is definitely strongly linked to religiosity — look at Phil Zuckerman’s research. And I think the point about “do I really need to deal with a whole other set of bigoted stereotypes about me?” issue is a big one.

    And part of the issue may also be that, right now, the atheist community is largely a virtual community… and so unless the topic of race comes up, or a blogger has their photo on their site, I don’t actually know the race of many of the people in the community.

    Oh, and Brooks: LGBT atheist, over here. I write about it a fair amount, actually. Also check out Homosecular Gaytheist.

    And to add to the list: Check out the Black Woman Thinks blog.

  • Robyn

    I’m a black atheist. Yay.

    It’s kind of the same in the African-American community–that I can see, anyway. Religion is supposed to be this HUGE thing in your life. So when it’s not a part of your life, it can really affect the identity. I mean–and I’m sure many others with intense religious roots in their ethnicity can identify with this–you get the “If you’re not religious, you’re not really black” crap all the time.

  • Brian

    I am a very vocal and active Colombian (non-white) atheist living in Canada. Does that count?

    I have encountered several southamerican atheist groups, and that is amazing considering the deeply catholic roots in those countries. Unfortunately, “atheist” literature does not get translated as much as “christian” leteratura to Spanish. Evangelical/pentecostal churches are growing. There are excellent Spanish writers but don’t get as much attention in the media as in the States.

  • Jodie

    In non-internet life I only know two — and you’re both Indian…Maybe that means that Hinudism and Jainism are false, where as Southern Baptists are on to something 😉

  • ksd

    I suppose some of the non-white atheists have their priorities in race issues, not atheism.
    Being European, the question reminds me a bit of the socialism-feminism questions 100 years ago (including identity issues). For some working class feminists socialism was just more basic a problem than feminism, so most feminists of the time were middle class. Or take Algerian women fighting againt French imperialism, or Iranian woemn figthing against the dictatorship of the shah in the 1970s. – Of course they fared badly and basically became servents of their male “comrades”…

  • :: There never seem to be many of us minorities in the atheist crowd. You go to a conference or a local meeting, the percentage of minorities are a lot smaller than in the general population. ::

    I find it interesting that most of the commenters seem to be starting with the assumption that atheists of color are rare, and then trying to figure out why that is so. Perhaps they exist in great numbers than you see at the meetings, but are not all that interested in coming to the existing array of meetings?

    Speaking as a feminist and a lesbian, both feminist groups and LGBT groups have had a history of similar issues — looking around to discover that nearly everyone in most organizations was white. Generally speaking, the problem wasn’t that feminists of color were rare, nor that queer people of color were rare. The issue was often that these mostly-white groups tended to behave in ways that felt non-inclusive to many people of color, or worse, tended to push them out of the group.

    For example, conversations would default to the problems of middle-class white people; issues especially relevant to feminists or queers of color would be considered to be fringe issues, or otherwise unimportant; discussed “solutions” to problems would often be things that worked for middle-class white people but not so well for communities of color. People of color would be discussed in “them” terms instead of “us” terms (when they figured in a discussion at all); when discussing why people of color weren’t coming to meetings, the opinions of white people on that matter was often given more weight than the opinions of people of color. Mind you, this behavior was usually regardless of how “open” or “welcoming” the group considered itself to be, and largely unconscious. The group would intend to be welcoming, but wouldn’t look at its practices to determine if it actually was welcoming or not.

    In order to overcome that, said groups had to stop asking “Why are feminists/queers of color so rare?” and start asking “What are we doing that is inadvertently pushing feminists/queers of color out of our group? What are we doing that is unconsciously unfriendly to people of color?”

    Just as a Christian group asked Hemant to come into their churches and tell them what their churches actually looked like to a non-member atheist, mostly-white atheist groups might very well need to discover what they look like to atheists of color, especially atheists of color who aren’t already members of the group.

  • Great post, great question. I never thought about it before, but I do put “atheist” ahead of “white” in the way I think of my identity. I have definitely noticed more non-white atheists recently, particularly black atheists, and speculated the same way that some of you have, that increasing economic equality has correlated to a larger non-white middle and upper class, and therefore more atheists. I also think that the internet has an impact. 20 years ago it would have been difficult of a kid with doubts at a religious high school to meet like-minded kids, but that’s no longer true, and it cuts across ethnic lines. Because the social aspect of belief-changing cannot be overstated, I make a point on my own blog of having links to atheist sites from various communities so people can find someone they relate to.

  • I’m half-Asian (Parsi Indian). By the way, would anyone know the easiest way of getting in touch with Greydon Square? Please do let me know if so.

    Thanks a lot,


  • DeafAtheist

    I’m white, but I’m a minority due to my deafness and I only know one other deaf atheist. The majority of the deaf people I know are Christians. Most of my life I identified myself as “Deaf” before “atheist”. This is simply to fit in to an already rather relatively small community.

    Being deaf and atheist isn’t easy. I feel more comfortable dating deaf woman than women with normal hearing and Christians tend to prefer to date other Christians. So I never made an effort in my life to find a Deaf atheist woman, and instead struggled to be accepted by a Deaf Christian.

    My outlet to the atheist community only exists online. I’m not aware of any local atheist groups here, and even if there were I’d require a sign language interpreter to participate and I wonder if I’d be able to find a sign language interpreter willing to interpret an atheist group as I can imagine there would be very few if any who were atheists themselves and would feel comfortable in that environment.

  • Aj

    Religion is part of cultural identity for Europeans too, I haven’t seen any genuine studies on the subject suggesting that Europeans are different from other people in this regard. Plenty of European atheists identify with Christianity, most of them were raised involving influence from one of the major Christian denominations. Christianity is highly influencial in European culture, even of highly secular societies.

    Religion for minorities in Europe gained greater influence very recently. For a long time cultural identity was almost independent, even when groups were part of the same religion they practiced it very differently, separately. There was also a much greater amount of assimilation into the majority culture, which for some didn’t include adopting Christianity, but definitely practicing a less observant brand of religion.

    Minority concerns will seem less important to a majority, I think this is fair and essential. It’s an oppression on a majority to be subject to the concerns of a minority above their own concerns. Majorities should be concerned with fairness and equality more than special interests of smaller groups. Be inclusive by all means but don’t bend over backwards, be unfair, or sacrifice goals, that’s going down a path of bankruptcy many groups have gone down.

  • Brian Ahuja

    Fellow Indian atheist here.

    My big observation with respect to American-born Indians is that many don’t seem to be that religious and yet they don’t go so far as to identify themselves as atheists. I think that for us it is much easier to be on the outside because the general discourse (at least in this country) seems to be between atheists and Christians.

  • I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog today. You can all add me to your ‘non-white’ atheist list. Yesterday I posted about my ideas on secular weddings. I realized that I may be alienating many people and turning people off of my site. It’s a shame that people mistake disdain for organized religion as negativity. I don’t really like to categorize myself as an atheist, but I have been questioning the concept of God since I was a child, and logic and science seems to win every time.

  • vivian

    Like Daniel, I also have native american in my background mixed in with german, irish and a few other nationalities (I’m a total Heinz 57). I’m constantly being asked if I’m native american even though I have the palest skin!

  • Ok, we’re not famous, but my dad, my sister, and I, we’re completely non-white (S.E. Asian, to be precise) and we’re completely non-theists. Oh, and my Japanese-American close friend is non-theist too.

    Just wanted to give some examples. 😉

  • Beijingrrl

    What is non-white? Are you basing that on skin color? Even then, that may depend on your perspective.

    My mother is Colombian. My father is American of German descent. I was raised culturally as an American. My skin color can range from quite pale to quite dark brown depending on how much sun I get. When I’m in a group of predominantly white people, I would most likely be considered white. When I’m in a predominantly Spanish-speaking crowd, people usually assume I have some Spanish background. When I lived in Beijing, for some reason some people thought I was German despite not inheriting any German features or coloring.

    Personally, I don’t identify myself racially. Sometimes people ask me where I’m from. I tell them I’m American. If they’re unsatisfied with that, I tell them where my relatives were born and leave them to make of that what they will.

    Perhaps there are more non-whites at these conferences than you realize because you are seeing them in a predominantly white crowd and that is coloring your perspective.

  • llewelly

    Speaking of atheist minorities, where are all the LGBT atheists?

    Greta Christina’s blog , maybe?
    There are also a few who comment on Ed Brayton’s blog, Dispatches From the Culture Wars (though Ed himself is not gay).
    And I may be mistaken, but I seem to recall D.J. Groethe is gay too.

    Speaking of D.J., he has interviewed Norm Allen three times on the topics of skepticism, black history, religiosity, and black humanism. All highly recommended.

  • Saint Splattergut

    not white! 🙂

  • The Unbrainwashed

    HERETIC ALERT! The following is extremely politically incorrect.

    Look we all know atheists (well at least the intellectual kind who frequent sites like this, not the voodoo, witchcraft variety) are more intelligent than the general population. We know that leading scientists, who are surely smarter than the general population, have a much higher rate of dis-belief than the general public. We know top colleges have higher rates of disbelief (i.e. Brown University) than lower ranked colleges (i.e. pick a big state school in the South).

    The connection between mental acuity and disbelief/atheism is well documented and ostensibly logical. (Of course, other factors affect rates of disbelief, but intelligence seems to be a primary aspect of disconversion.)

    OK here’s the crazy part. I don’t know why, but blacks, at any given socio-economic levels (i.e. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1995-SAT-Income2.png), score about 1 standard deviation below whites on intellectual exams (IQ, SAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, HS exit exams, etc…). Let’s not argue about why. You can attribute the significant gap to anything you want, but there seems to be an intellectual chasm between the races. On the other side, Ashkenazi Jews outscore European whites by about the same margin.

    Unsurprisingly, the gaps amongst these groups on intelligence examinations mirrors the gaps in rates of disconversion. Blacks have an extremely low rate of disconversion, whites have in the middle, Asians (who score halfway between whites/Jews) have less fundamentalist and less God-centered religions and probably more atheism, and Jews are heavily represented amongst the atheist community.

    SO maybe it has something to do with intellectual ability.

    Thoughts? Accusations of heresy?

  • Aly

    *raises hand*
    As an Indian, I have to agree that religion and culture are hard to separate. Living in the USA almost seems to make it even more important for Indians to stick together. Every Indian-organized celebration or “cultural school” or whatever in my area is more religious and less cultural. I ended up quitting cultural school because while I wanted to learn the language, the moral and religious crap was getting a little much.

  • AxeGrrl

    being a pasty Canadian, I don’t have much to add to this particular subject, but I just wanted to thank everyone who’s posted here…..

    This is precisely the type of great discussion that really makes me appreciate this place (and all participants) as much as I do 🙂

    Honestly, I can’t think of another forum/blog that inspires such consistently articulate and respectful discourse…..so, kudos to all 🙂

    (and no, i’m not running for any kind of office:)

  • Claudia

    Thoughts? Accusations of heresy?

    Both, actually. The graphic you link merely shows SAT scores and the objections that can be raised to this are numerous:

    -SAT scores are a very poor indicator of core intelligence.
    -The results are not broken down by socioeconomic status and therefore do not back up your claim.
    -The division of race is a tricky one at best. More on that later.

    Let’s not argue about why.

    No, actually let’s please argue why. A much more complete link to the issue can be found here. There you will find that the so-called “chasm” between the races has been getting smaller throughout the decades, something that you would not expect if the difference was due to anything biological and not external. Also the article discusses the difficulties in making IQ tests that do not depend on the level of education and the fact that no genetic or neural factor has yet been found to support your claim.

    The definition of “race” is also problematic if you want to start discussing scientific tests. In society, the child of a black father and white mother (like Obama) is classified as black, and in the data for test scores reflect that. Biologically however, he is as white as he is black and it makes no sense to not note that. The studies have used a societal definition of race that is utterly worthless to science if what you are trying to find is innate (and therefore biological) differences between the races.

  • dvsrat

    My ancestry does contain some African and some Native ascendants. I look like a white guy. I have been an atheist as long as I can remember. That is to say that religion never made sense to me. I don’t think I ever believed it.

    Other than being atheist and left-handed there are no other minority issues that I can claim. Unless you want to count being male as a slight minority in the United States — I don’t for obvious reasons.

    I look at this on being an emotional issue. How hard is it for a person who is, such as myself, not looked upon as a ‘threat’ to tell others that he does not believe in God?

    Sure it takes some boldness, a pinch of chutzpah, and a dash of unmitigated gall. But this issue is not at the top of the list of issues that people are victimized by on a large scale. The atheists are doing fine. It is an issue that I pursue because I’m interested in it but if it were an issue that I were asked to fight for, to put my life on the line for, I would not. I would instead choose person’s right not to be murdered, have enough food to eat, not be tortured in prison, not to have to work 16 hours a day in a factory where they’re are paid just pennies for doing so, etc. When justice prevails at the highest levels then more non-white people can be free to come out of the atheist closet.

    Yes I know all about the hatred, hostility, and violence that religion can inspire. It’s ugly as can be. But I would choose to solve the problem that children around the world starve to death before I would make it make it OK wear an atheist t-shirt to work.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    SAT scores are a very poor indicator of core intelligence.

    Yea that’s why they’ve only been used to weed through college applications for 50 years. That’s why the Ivy League coincidentally has the highest SAT scores and seems to dominate high-intelligence careers (law, medicine, finance, government). In fact, I’ve seen studies that followed high SAT scorers at a variety of schools and the income outcomes are roughly independent of college choice. But no, let’s dismiss anything objective.

    The results are not broken down by socioeconomic status and therefore do not back up your claim.

    Yes they are. x-axis is income level and y-axis SAT score. For example at the 50k – 60k income level, blacks lag whites by 150 points and Asians by 200 points.

    The definition of “race” is also problematic if you want to start discussing scientific tests. In society, the child of a black father and white mother (like Obama) is classified as black, and in the data for test scores reflect that. Biologically however, he is as white as he is black and it makes no sense to not note that.

    I agree. Races aren’t rigidly demarcated. Where do Jews fit? Where do North Africans fit? Where do biracial people fit? Yes, the boundaries between races are fuzzy.

    But so are the boundaries between climate zones. But are you going to wear shorts in Minnesota in February b/c that climate zone is only fuzzily disconnected from Florida’s? In simple terms, fuzziness is not mutually exclusive with the existence of definable categories.

    Also the article discusses the difficulties in making IQ tests that do not depend on the level of education

    Yes, people have been dismissing objective measures of intelligence for years. It’s the politically correct thing to do. Look at what happened to Larry Summers for making un-PC remarks about women vs. men in mathematical ability. Look at what happened to James Watson for remarking on racial differences.

    Yes and it’s also just a coincidence that Jews have the highest IQ average and while being about 2% of the world’s population have won 25% of the Nobel Prizes. Just coincidence, right? Or culture, right? Because you can create Nobel Prize winners through hard work? And Hall of Fame Basketball players too?

    There you will find that the so-called “chasm” between the races has been getting smaller throughout the decades

    Not really. According to James Flynn maybe, who has made it his lifelong ambition to invalidate IQ testing. According to Charles Murray (MIT/Harvard graduate and leading social scientist), the gap has been relatively unchanged for 80 years. Any positive change has not been seen since the 1970’s as well.


    But anyone who advocates an entirely genetic component is misguided. So I agree with you there.

    I also agree that anyone who makes judgments on individuals based on group averages is a moron. Charles Murray once said: “Be assured that anyone who purports to know your intelligence based on race is surely dumber than you.” However, group averages give us insight into large scale trends amongst various groups.

  • cassiek

    Where are the Native American atheists?

    My father is Native American, and an atheist. My mother (also a nonbeliever) is of European descent. They raised me to question everything, especially any belief system that promotes bigotry and exclusion.

  • animation student

    i’m a black guy from AL. (in SF)

    Mother is baptist. Father is AME.
    Relatives are all (as far as i know) religious to some extent.
    This has already been said, but I think ‘the church’ is so ingrained in black america because it’s provided hope/strength and etc to the community in seemingly hopeless circumstances. (slavery, civil rights, etc) But I’m not saying that makes it ok.

    I don’t know of any non-white atheists outside of television/internet/books.
    (not to minimize the impact of said media)

  • Gary

    I am Japanese-American, 4th generation. i am an atheist. My parents are non-religious, though mon dragged my resistant ass to christian church as a young boy, though she hasn’t gone for decades. My father’s side are Bhudists though I think it’s a very superficial. I think very few of my cousins regularly attend services, though I beleive they would not claim to be atheists. I have attended a few Bhuddist funeral services and have two things to say about them:

    1. They are incredibly boring and what is said has no practical usage in everyday life. I can see why they complain about the dwindling attendance.

    2. American Bhuddism seems to be some amalgamation of Eastern and Western faiths now to broaden the appeal. I asked the Sensei about reincarnation when my Grandmother died and he said she reached Nirvana by dying. Wow! if so a bunch of monks in Asia are wasting their time with all that 24/7 meditation.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stynecer/3319433683/

    Here’s an atheist/agnostic conference with nary a white person. Find out more at Filipino Freethinkers.

  • GribbletheMunchkin

    I’m a pasty white Brit, but i know more than a few gay atheists, but not many non-white atheists. I’ve noticed that over here in England there are many churches that cater very much for certain communities. I’ve got a sihk temple and a black church very near my house and to say the congregations are homogenous is an understatement. In a secularised nation like England i’d be very interested to see the percentage of church goers broken down by ethnicity.
    I’m also well aware that the catholic faith is dying in Europe (slowly, unfortunately). Africa is the new bastion of catholic strength and once that old devil Ratzinger shuffles off the mortal coil i wouldn’t be overly surprised to see an african pope.

    After living in Asian communities in England for many years (in Bradford and Manchester) i’ve got to say that most of the young guys I knew from those communities gave very little thought to god or religion but would not consider themselves atheist. To many of them Muslim means the same thing as Pakistani. Its something you are rather than something you do.

    To me as a white guy i have the luxury of picking and choosing my minority status as an atheist. Especially since its one i can reveal at will or hide as i choose. Given how strong the church is as a community lynchpin in some non-white communities it must be incredibly hard to break away, even if you think the whole god think is daft.

  • Marcus

    I am an African American atheist male. I did not read all of the comments, but GribbletheMunchkin hits on what I think is the reason. As a minority you already have a visible reason for other races to separate from, discriminate against, and judge you. Adding the stigma of atheism to the burden can be too much. Besides, atheism is more about who I am not than who I am.

  • Aj


    There you will find that the so-called “chasm” between the races has been getting smaller throughout the decades, something that you would not expect if the difference was due to anything biological and not external.

    That’s not right at all, at least a change doesn’t exclude a genetic explanation. If we’re talking about more than one generation, and “black” is charaterized as anyone with at least one “black” parent then any change does not exclude a genetic explanation. If the number of children with only one “black” parent increases, or children with one or more “white” ancessors are selected, then if the difference was due to genetics then you would expect an increase. I’m sure there are more scenarios that would work as well.

    Also the article discusses the difficulties in making IQ tests that do not depend on the level of education and the fact that no genetic or neural factor has yet been found to support your claim.

    This is a far better challenge, one I’m inclined to accept. It would be very difficult to create a study to find a genetic factor affecting IQ differences between populations that controlled for enviromental differences. That there is no evidence of any specific genetic factor in IQ is unsurprising given our lack of knowledge in this area, and is not required to suspect a heritable trait.

    The definition of “race” is also problematic if you want to start discussing scientific tests. In society, the child of a black father and white mother (like Obama) is classified as black, and in the data for test scores reflect that. Biologically however, he is as white as he is black and it makes no sense to not note that. The studies have used a societal definition of race that is utterly worthless to science if what you are trying to find is innate (and therefore biological) differences between the races.

    The definition of race has more problems than just classifying “mixed” parentage as “black”. Race concepts are based on arbitrary biological characteristics. A random person from one population is more likely than not to be more genetically similar to a random member of another population than a random member of their own population. Therefore, I agree that using race concepts is worthless to science for looking for genetic causes for differences in IQ as race concepts are societal definitions. Not only that but I have yet to see a non-societal definition of race that would be worth something in this context.

  • I absolutely agree with you Hemant. My husband and I are non-white atheists (we are from Pakistani Muslim families). You said:

    Saying you’re an atheist when you’re a minority may carry a lot more weight — you’re not just turning your back on a religion, you’re turning your back on the entire culture.

    We are more or less excluding ourselves from important events and occasions in our family by announcing ourselves as atheists. We’ve “come out” to our immediate families, but we are aware that it might have negative repercussions for our immediate families if the extended families (or folks from our previous religious community) knew about it!

  • Christina C

    I can unfortunately name only 3 off the top of my head, myself of course included.I myself being an “African-American” (by governmental standards even though my family lineage is more prominently from the Caribbean as well as Europe before Africa)Atheist as well as female feel that I am an extreme minority by visual appearance but this does not bother me since in college I have formed a comfort group of like minded people who help to make these minorities less painful. I was raised with a bit of religion, mostly from my fathers side who is Jamaican and my mother who is African American but may pass for Caucasian never enforced anything on us after their divorce. She even took us to multiple churches to find a sense of community, which I feel we never truly found one. This look at various theism allowed me to come to terms at the fact that I thought all the worship and groveling was rather disgusting when it was used as a ploy to wipe away ones “sins” of the week. I never shared my feelings and not till my circle of friends told me there was a name to go with this collection of feelings about this one thing did I come to realize that my beliefs, actually had a title. With this title there were people that would quicker look at my human worth rather than my human genes. And that gives me a great sense of security that while I am a minority, I am not alone and it matters not what my DNA decided to do to code me darker than the majority. And for a side note, no I have not told my parents and only one of my siblings knows my decision because I know that they would be disappointed.

  • Christina C

    Speaking of atheist minorities, where are all the LGBT atheists? Is it just me or does it seem like we don’t have that many? .

    To make a side not because I decided to read through the comments, all of my friends who are atheist happen to actually be bisexual, myself included (tag on another minority, sort of). Being LGBT and out gives you more of a barrier between yourself and religion which helps you remove yourself even further from religion. Then again I think having a biology/psychology major for a roommate who can spout textbooks back at you and rant about the bible helps as well.

  • Christina C

    SO maybe it has something to do with intellectual ability.

    Thoughts? Accusations of heresy?

    I must say The Unbrainwashed that as a student who is finishing her college degree, an african american student who did poorly on her ACT as well as SAT and a soon to be teacher who understands those scores and teaches those who have the higher rankings on those tests I must agree and proven data states that no the ACT and SAT are not a correlation to inteligence or much else but that they are a good test taker.

    Which is why they are still trying to correct the SAT and ACT in the first place


    I have to argue that I am not very intelligent in comparison to my other white atheist friends but I understand that, and so do they. However that has not hindered me being an atheist, I think it took me longer of course because I never knew their was a title for what I felt, but just like those students who have high SAT and ACT scores, I learned it. That makes me no different from anyone else who decided to break from theistic ideals.

    As a final note, it is that problem of feeling that you are higher than others that gives fuel to the fire of theists who are already sniffing like dogs to find something to complain about.

  • Rationalist

    Don’t know if anyone is still reading this old post (funny how a few weeks is ancient in blog-time), but I am surprised by the general lack of awareness of the critical role Black American atheists played in the civil rights movement in the US and continue to play in American life. (not addressed to you, Mehta, you’ve written about this before).

    Asa Randolph Hutchinson, known as “the grandfather of the civil rights movement”, besides founding the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was a vice president of the AFL-CIO.

    Hutchinson actually came up with the idea of the March on Washington, and brought in:

    Bayard Rustin, who was an openly gay black American, to actually organize the March.

    Yes, that’s right MLK’s March on Washington, where he gave the “I Have A Dream” speech, was conceived by an atheist and organized by an atheist.

    Chandler Owen, who co-founded The Messenger with Hutchinson.

    James Foreman, Executive Secretary of SNCC.

    George Schulyer, to whom Hutchinson gave his journalistic start at The Messenger.

    Hubert Henry Harrison, a mostly forgotten towering intellect who was well known and respected in his time, whom Prof. John Jackson has single-handedly been responsible for reviving from the historical trash-heap. Harrison was, among other things, editor of The Negro World, a publication which became, under his leadership, the largest selling black newspaper in the world.

    Anthropologist J.A. Rogers, author of From Superman To Man.

    Not to mention D.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, Marcus Garvey, Walter Everette Hawkins and many other members of the Harlem Renaissance movement.

    Or, Arturo Schomberg, or Carter G Woodson, who started Negro History Week. Gwendolyn Brooks. James Weldon Johnson. Paul Robeson.
    Not to mention Lucy Parsons.

    More contemporary prominent Black atheists include:

    Ralph Bunche, 1950 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and 1963 recipient of the Medal of Honor, awarded by JFK.

    Ishmael Jaffree, who went before the Supreme Court in 1982 to fight against prayer in schools in Mobile Alabama, and was named Freethinker of the Year in 1998 by FFRF.

    Author Octavia Butler, recipient of the MacCarthur Genius Award.

    Huey Newton, founder of the Black Panthers.

    Maulana Karenga, creator of Kwanzaa.

    Norm Allen, Jr., executive director of African Americans for Humanism.

    Gladman Humbles, first Black president of the International Firefighters Union.

    I could go on, but I think the point is made: the list is abundant.

    There is a long, strong tradition of atheist black intellectuals, activists and patriots in America, and we should celebrate them and honor them.

    No matter what the particular level of melanin in our own skin.

  • NYC Atheist

    I’m an atheist and I’m of 100% East Indian descent. My family is Hindu and I even had a Hindu wedding (to appease my parents’ culture), but I am a devout atheist. Of course, they have no idea of this. I live in NYC, so I run into many more atheists here. So far, I know of a few more other East Indian atheists, one African-American atheist, and a few Asian atheists. People here in NYC don’t care much about what religion you are and it’s not talked about much so there could be more that I’m just not aware of.

  • Noodle2Chimp

    Because you’re stupid.
    You’re going to hear a lot of “you can not do” in an atheist environment before you figure out you’ve been found a sucker.
    For an atheist political system to exist it has to be absent of conscientious conjecture or your input so it reflects atheism (the supreme atheism) the same as it has always existed within communism. -Karl Marx “Where atheism begins communism begins”
    It has to be absent of spiritual embedded natural freedom from where we achieve our notorious liberties desired by almost all peoples around the world.
    I live on Indian land as a tribal member and our Cheif is a Christian man that also believes in the Great Spirit and he doesn’t want no atheist telling him he can’t have spirituality in his government. Spirituality has always been a part of life with Native Americans.
    Our second Cheif is a sunday school teacher.
    All 100 or more of our governing officials including our police officers are Christians and they don’t seem to have a problem with it.
    Even before our Chief commanded the entire air assault during World War II he realized the dangers of atheism and what system of government it creates.
    No one’s forgotten.
    These people are very smart.

  • does it really matter if there are POC atheists or not? considering the consequences of over 500 years of white supremacy, colonialism, rape of land and people, i think whether a person of color believes in god is the least of our worries.

    when we have the free time and leisure that white folks have to have intellectual debates then we can worry about whether religion is true or false. but since we live in greatly unequal world i don’t think it really matters?

  • Justin

    I am black. I am not religious and I just think white people have to figure it all out in their brain. Over thinking trying to catch their tail like a dog. I just think that white people can be extreme on what they believe. “we are the gay movement” “We are the Christian blah blah” ” we do not believe in a God” Ok, honestly, I don’t care if you are an atheists why should that even matter?
    So this is what you believe now what?

  • EastCoastSkeptic

    I’m an American atheist and I’m of 100% East Asian descent. To be an Asian American atheist is to be a total outsider within the Asian American community. I attended a large university on the East Coast that also had a large number of Asian American students and it seemed like the majority of them were Evangelical Christians, for me to tell other Asian American students that I was a skeptic was like marking myself an outsider, so anyway I’ve only known of two other people of my ancestry who are atheist, at least openly atheist…

  • Seek9879

    This is just based on my observations, but I think African Americans were in such a horrendous situation during slavery (Whites took away from them everything that gives a human life meaning – family, the chance to work hard at something you care about and reap the fruits of that labor, personal freedom, education, etc) that they employed a survival tactic that enabled them to get through.  Namely, they TOLD THEMSELVES A STORY.  It would be better in the afterlife.  There was a God who would love and reward those who are good, and punish those who are evil.  The idea that they would never be able to enjoy any of the things that give life meaning, and that this had been the case for generations, and that it would continue to be the case for many more generations – that was simply to much to bear.  African Americans took the story that was forced upon them (Christianity), and made it into a kind of salve that would help them make it through an incredibly bleak existence.  They had to stick together as a group in order to survive, and thus, the interests of the group surpassed the needs of the individual.  This is how I feel African Americans came to such a strong stance of forcing group adherence to Christianity on their fellow community members.

  • Seek9879

    It matters if religion is a primary cause of the inequality.

  • Seek9879

    Those silly white people and their intellect.  And those silly black people and their overly-emotional superstitiousness.


    One of the first things you mentioned is that you’re not religious.  You followed that up by saying that it it doesn’t matter if people don’t believe in God, so why bother saying it.

    My guess is that you are quite young, or simply immature.  You need to think things through a little more.

    Like those silly white people.

  • SaVenASL

    Likewise, it’s difficult to find Deaf atheists who are fluent in American Sign Language. Only my Deaf best friend and I are atheists and we are still searching, after 10 years to find other fluent ASL signers who are atheists. 

  • Sopagendun

    I’m over here! LOL…. Deaf atheist and EDUCATED! 

  • Aslmastertutor

     Hooray! Pah another Deaf atheist! Nice to “meet” another Deaf atheist, finally!

error: Content is protected !!