Check Out the Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta June 17, 2011

Check Out the Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta

Remember the Black Atheists of Atlanta and the homophobia that came through in a recent public access TV show?

Well, the Ask An Atheist podcast recently brought on Mandisa Thomas, president of the Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta.

She wants you all to know her group (BNoA) has nothing to do with the BAoA and she condemns those remarks. It’s clear from her interview that the African-American atheist community in Atlanta has a positive, LGBT-accepting group to join if they’re interested. It’s a group deserving of growth.

BNOA freely welcome all free minds, regardless of characteristics. Our message is not of racism, sexism, or any matter of prejudice. Free-thinking is beyond such petty matters. We promote free-thought and freedom from religion for all people. Thank you to everyone who supports us.

Mandisa’s segment begins at the 5:40 mark of the podcast. You can learn more about BNoA’s events here and become a Facebook fan here.

Kudos to the Ask An Atheist team for raising this issue in the first place, following up on it, and reminding us that just because people are atheists doesn’t mean they’re automatically rational.

(Thanks to Claudia for the link!)

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  • Lau

    Sorry, but what is this? It’s been a general concern that atheist communities have been predominantly “white people clubs”, but what message are you sending when you label yourself in such a segregated way: “Black Atheists”? Why not join bands with whatever other atheist community that is in the area, instead of continuing the promotion of “black and white communities”? Sorry, it’s simply downright racist.

  • Watoosh

    I’m all for Mandisa and her group, but I can’t help thinking that an outsider might see this as absurdly “People’s Front of Judea”-esque infighting. I don’t blame her, though – it’s not her fault that the already very marginal set of people she belongs to (blacks ? atheists ? Atlantans) has loud bigots in it.

  • Watoosh

    Those question marks were meant to be intersection symbols. Guess I got a little too clever for the font…

  • SeekerLancer

    Why have a black atheists group at all? Shouldn’t we be beyond that and just have an Atheists/Non-Believers of Atlanta? I’m all for more diversity within the atheist community but is there really a need for sub-sections like this? I’m just wondering what everyone else thinks.

    I suppose if having a black atheists group makes it more likely for blacks to come out as atheists and feel more comfortable in doing so then I understand the need.

    Regardless of that I think it’s unfortunate that they have to deal with the homophobia thing. I personally find the whole thing pretty absurd. Supporting/not supporting gays really has nothing to do with being an atheist ultimately but I’ve still never heard a rational argument, secular or not, against civil rights for homosexuals. I guess in this particular community there is some sort of cultural nonsense going on.

  • Rhodent

    SeekerLancer: I would say that if enough black atheists feel the need for a black atheist group, then there probably is a need for one. I won’t claim to understand why they need one, but nor will I question their judgment on the matter.

  • The Dallas/Fort Worth Coalition of Reason recently launched a Diversity Council, not with the aim of creating a “black atheists group,” but with the aim of promoting diversity across all ethnic and sexual identity backgrounds among the DFWCoR member organizations.

    The monochromatic nature of the modern secular landscape has much to do with minority populations simply not being exposed to the idea that there are nonbelievers that look like or have similar backgrounds to them. Alix Jules, chair of the Council, wants to make atheists of color and LGBT atheists more prominent in DFW. It’s his hope that, if the Council is successful, individual secular groups in the DFWCoR will better reflect the general population that surrounds them.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Wow, sad to see these comments already reflecting such blind white privilege. “Why do black atheists want to have their own group? Why can’t they join the predominantly white atheist groups where virtually no one is going to have any sense of (or even care about) the experience of black atheists in Atlanta?” It’s just depressing, because those comments reflect the very kind of white privilege that probably discourages African American atheists from joining predominantly white groups in the first place.

  • ^


  • Nik

    @Lost, thank you. You said exactly what I was thinking, and better than I ever could.

  • Cortex

    Yeah, what’s wrong with these black people? Why wouldn’t they rush to hang out with a big group of white people in the South?

    *reads seriously any American history book*

    Oh right. That.

  • AJ

    Black atheists need black atheist groups because non-black people keep asking why black atheists need black atheist groups. Like Lost Left Coaster stated, that is a symptom of white privilege.

    The black experience with religion is a tie to the black community. Religion is black people’s family base, where the civil rights movements were born. To deny religion is equated to be denying your history, your culture, your family, YOUR RACE. Black people need arenas to address the special needs that come with being godless, to feel a sense of community with those who understand. Sorry, but white folk just won’t understand what it means to be cut off from your entire CULTURE just because you are godless. However, you’re WELCOME to come and learn the hows/whys, etc. of the black atheist experience.

    Having BLACK in the name of an atheist group does not denote who can or can not participate, it is merely a marker of what the group is about.

  • First couple of comments made me chuckle. Thanks for spelling it out so well, Lost.

  • Michelle

    The last few comments give me a bit more hope and Cortex just made me laugh. This homophobia issue is not special to the ‘black atheist’ groups, it is just more noticeable because they are such a specific group. More heavily ‘white’ groups are just a susceptible, it depends upon how the individuals that make up the group were socialized and how they decided to respond to this as adults.

  • jarppu

    Hmmm. I wonder what people would say if someone founded “White Atheists of Atlanta”( WAoA)? How fast people would have blamed that group being racist?

  • A Black Atheist

    The whole debate about why do black people need a Black Atheist group is lost on the white majority, and it isn’t surprising. Lost said it very well, but I would like to also say that if you google Tim Wise, he can explain it better than all of us. It isn’t a racist move & it isn’t black people not wanting to be around white people. You can’t understand that not because you’re white, but because of your white mentality. It’s a hindrance, and it really isn’t your fault. You weren’t raised to know any better.

  • Thanks, Lost Left Coaster. Also, historically marginalized groups tend to self-segregate when they want to be HEARD as opposed to stereotyped, objectified, patronized, or outright ignored.

    Why is everybody so goddamned smart and rational until it comes to race, sexuality, and gender?

    How embarrassing that a black atheist group has adopted the notion that “gay is a white man’s thing.” I’ve frequently encountered black folk who think this way; that anything they consider perverse or bizarre was introduced by the white man. I love to invite these types to read a little about the male rites of passage of very dark skinned people, to include the Sambians, who have their own little NAMBLA thing going on.

  • Rich Wilson

    Speaking being wrong about things- Trying to explain religious privilege to someone else has helped me to see my assumption of white privilege. At least I think so. It can be a hard glare to see through sometimes.

  • Chris aka "Happy Cat"


    I’ll assume you aren’t just trolling so I’ll respond. Do you understand the degree to which the African-American (or black or whatever designation you prefer) community at large is centered around church and Jesus?

    My current roomie is black and Christian. He had never met an avowed atheist and I’ve learned just how entrenched religion is in this particular subculture. Read up on American history and the reasons why are pretty obvious.

    Why would anyone hate on black atheists for wanting a group of people that understand where they are coming from? I’m white and support this Atlanta group that addresses specific societal and family issues arising from their lack of belief.

  • Michelle

    White privilege is something that most of us ignore as is male privilege. I really noticed it after I married my husband. He’s Hispanic and my look is one that can ‘pass’ so when we are together people assume we are both Hispanic, which has been a real eye opener at times.
    To be honest, the straight white male privilege would be the hardest to see because it is the most accepted, it is the ‘default’ setting for person the rest of us are ‘other.’ Furthermore males are, the world over, more powerful. Much kudos to those who do get past these.

  • jenea

    After I heard the interview on the AaA podcast I sent Mandisa a congratulatory message, and her response was very gracious. With such leadership, I have great hopes for BNoA.

    People who are calling this group racist should chill the fuck out. Take a moment to consider the context: we discover the Black Atheists of Atlanta are a nest of racist, homophobic black separatists. I say that not because they have a group just for black atheists, but because they *went on television spouting these beliefs.*

    Then we have another group for black atheists who intentionally and explicitly call out this other group for their anti-rational, racist and homophobic views. And the first thing we say is “wow they’re racist.”

    Do you give the “Recovering from Religion” group a shitty time for creating a splinter group? Would you rail against an “atheist parents” group for discriminating against non-parents? Would you cry sexism against an atheist women’s group? (Yeah, probably some of you would.)

    We atheists need to band together in large groups for visibility and political power, yes, and I would be dismayed if I thought the BNoA wanted to distance themselves from the larger movement. But the reality today is that the “mainstream” non-believer movement is dominated by older white dudes. That’s changing–halleluiah!–but in the meantime the movement has no clue about the unique challenges of being BOTH black AND atheist–in Atlanta of all places! The point is, people like to join groups based on common experience or interest, and right now the mainstream atheist groups aren’t really offering much of either to atheists from minority groups.

    It’s not racist to want to not be in the minority at every meeting you attend.

    Let’s save the label “racist” for people who deserve it.

  • Rich Wilson

    Their site says:

    We strive to connect with other Blacks (and their allies) who are living free of religion and irrational beliefs who might otherwise be shunned by family and friends.

  • aproustian

    jarppu, no one *has* to make a specifically White Atheists group, because most atheist groups are already dominated by white people. That’s the difference here.

  • jarppu

    aproustian, that’s true, but it’s mostly because most atheists *are* white currently. Not because of intentional segregation by those groups. It’s just sad to see the blacks still feel like they can’t join a ready made community, but have to form their own.

  • Siamang

    I’m just going to use one of my stock jokes to counter this bullshit concern-trolling on the Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta.

    White Bigot: Hey, why can they get a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People? Why can’t we have a National Organization for the Advancement of White People?

    Me: We do. It’s called the US Congress. (Chamber of Commerce, Fox News, etc….)

    Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta, keep being awesome!

  • Deep3172

    The need for a black atheist group stems from the fact that African Americans tend to be the most “zealous” spiritual ethnic group in America, being so, many black people are in the closet with their atheism because they are afraid of backlash from the AA community. Black Atheist groups proves that the myth amongst the black community that atheism is for white people is just that. Many black people feel that black atheists must be or act a certain way in order to be an atheist. They call it “acting white”… you know, when a black person has predominantly white friends, “talk white” ..etc.. all those other stereotypes. Truth be told there are many black atheists out there who look and talk just like any other black person who dont fit the “stereotypes”.. For the African Americans who are still in the closet to see that there are other who are not afraid to say, we dont believe the BS either and we are just like YOU, will allow them to feel more comfortable with their position and not feel isolated or ostracized by the overwhelming number of African AMericans who are zealously or ignorantly religious. This is especially necessary in many places in the South where being black and atheist is almost like being a leper. People in the south are not so liberal minded to accept atheists but black people are even worse and accepting.

  • Anonymous

    For those who are complaining, any chance you could actually listen to the podcast, read the BNoA’s site, and then come back and apologize for commenting too quickly?


    right now the mainstream atheist groups aren’t really offering much of either to atheists from minority groups.

    The rest of your comment was good, but this part wasn’t fair. CFI, Dawkins, Greta Christina, PZ, Ophelia Benson, and many others have been proactive on this and I think right now most of the community is standing at the doorway, waiting with open arms. Heck, the very fact we know about Blackson’s comments is because the Ask an Atheist guys were interested in that fledgling show from the beginning (and they weren’t the only ones).

    Here’s a positive version of the critical comments: I hope we can all work together to support each other and learn from each other.

  • aproustian

    jarppu, I agree with you, in as much as I understand your point to be it’s the responsibility of the majority in the atheist movement to make it welcoming for everyone (as Anonymous has pointed out, it’s a goal that more people are becoming aware of and proactive about.) I think that’s different from saying that forming a minority focused group is racist.

  • jenea

    Anonymous, thanks for your feedback.

    I absolutely agree that there is a lot of interest in making the mainstream movement more relevant for minority members, and I applaud those efforts. I am grateful to AaA for breaking this story (so to speak).

    I think my comment still stands, however. We may aspire to a mainstream movement that is relevant to all of us, but we’re not there yet.

    Example: I know I wouldn’t want to be the only black person at the atheist meeting when the topic of trying to attract more minorities to the movement comes up!

  • Nakor

    AJ: I really appreciate your thoughts. This is one area I will readily admit I’m not (and probably can’t be) fully understanding of, but that certainly helped.

  • Some of the comments on here are exactly why Mandisa and I started BNOA. It gets tiring walking into atheist groups and your race becoming the center of attention.

    I ran a multicultural group of almost 200 in Long Beach, CA and couldn’t get another black person to come and stick around even though the city has one of the largest black populations in the state. I was the type that would go to groups and just tell ignorant whites what I thought of their white privelege directed at me when I needed to and move on to enjoy the meetings.

    I had had enough of it all when I attended an atheist Meetup here in Atanta where Mandi and I met. Mandi was at the end of the table. Next to her was a white woman. I sat next to the white woman. Everyone else to my recollection was white. As soon as I sat down, the white woman looked back and forth at Mandi and I and said, “Wow, black people!” Mandi responded, “We don’t bite.” That woman had no idea how offensive she was being. I’m sure she couldn’t imagine walking into a group of blacks and having the fact that she is white thrown into conversation as soon as she arrives. Then a white guy across the table proceeded to disagree with everything the two black people said on every subject even yelling at us across the table while everyone else was having civilized conversations. So, in fact, this bad racial experience in an atheist group gave birth to BNOA!

    There absolutely is a good reason to have groups like BNOA! While most groups can’t get 5 blacks to show up at one time, we had 35 people to sign up the first weekend we put up the web pages and we’ve have up to 30 people at meetings. BNOA has multiple meetings a month and doesn’t seem to have a problem drawing people out. We were featured on several shows at the local Pacifica Radio affiliate, written about in Atlanta’s large newspaper and have appeared elsewhere. Top that THEN tell us black atheists there is no need for what we do. I’m glad Mandi is continuing the lead the charge since I stepped down from directing. She deserves support.

  • Heidi

    Wait.. where is the problem with a subset of atheists wanting to have a group that specifically addresses the challenges they face? I can’t even believe anyone has to explain this.

    I’m not black, and I don’t live in Atlanta, but I would like to hear more from Mandisa’s group. It seems obvious at this point that our community is largely unaware of the issues black atheists face.

  • Anonymous

    Benjamin, I understand you’re a former minister and that you’ve given a speech to the Atlanta Freethought Society. You’ve got a fascinating perspective. Is there any video, or blog/transcript of the event?

    I ran a multicultural group of almost 200 in Long Beach, CA

    This one?

  • To Anonymous –

    Wow! I hadn’t seen that blog before. At first, I thought, “Somebody was secretly blogging about the group?” Then I realized it was a different group. Our name was Long Beach Freethought Society until it was changed to The Secular Community in Long Beach. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to take over when I had a lengthy illness last year and things fell apart as I became housebound. It looks like this other group existed before mine. I had no idea and no one ever mentioned it. I started mine in 2009. This blog was in 2008. Go figure!

    For a recording of my talk (it was more of a conversation with the audience), you’d have to contact AFS. I don’t think it was recorded though. I’ll be one of the speakers at Freedom from Religion Foundation’s conference at Lake Hypatia next month. The title of my talk is “There Are No Black Atheists”. Some of the historical info I cover will be the same as what I gave at AFS. I’m betting the talks will be recorded things.

  • Jamie

    Black Atheists of Atlanta? Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta? This reminds me of that South Park episode…

  • Chris

    Ah, that eternal quandary: “Why do they have to be all separate all the time?…that’s RACIST!”

    Many have already answered the question quite clearly, so they already took the words outta my mouth. Some of y’all still got a long-ass walk ahead of you, though. C’mon, guys, pull out some of that logic and reason.

  • Brian Macker

    How does this sound: “SeekerLancer: I would say that if enough white atheists feel the need for a white atheist group, then there probably is a need for one. I won’t claim to understand why they need one, but nor will I question their judgment on the matter.”

    I don’t think you would if it was white. I think you would question it. In fact many of the commenters here are questioning the legitimacy of no race specified atheist groups for black members.

    What a bunch of segregationists.

    Some other commenter repeats what we all have heard before “They call it “acting white”… you know, when a black person has predominantly white friends, “talk white” ..etc.. all those other stereotypes.”

    Yes, there are a lot of black racists out there and best to cater to their hatred than to stand up, be proud, and be a black person who founded an “Atheist” not “Black Atheist” group. If you do so in a black neighborhood then you will naturally have more black neighbors due to proximity.

    Or if you are a black founder then you write the rules and therefore the agenda. You talk about issues relevant to black atheists, and whatever other things you don’t think you are getting in the other meetings. Then if whites choose to join you still have control. You don’t have to make it democratic.

    What you shouldn’t do is exclude people based on race. That makes you a racist and it doesn’t matter if there is some other black group more racist than you that you criticize.

    For some reason I don’t feel welcome by the BNoA about as much as the Black Atheists of Atlanta. Maybe it’s the fact that they put race discrimination right in their name.

    “It’s not racist to want to not be in the minority at every meeting you attend. ”

    In fact it is racist. You are only a “minority” if you are attending the meeting because you are black. If you are attending the meeting because you are atheist then you are the majority.

    BTW, “White privilege” is a Marxist based myth and I’ve debunked it in a prior comment. It’s actually irrational and ridiculous. Of course, I use reason and thus think like a “white person” according to the black racists.

    It’s ok there’s nothing contradictory about being an atheist and irrational, just like there isn’t a contradiction between being black and racist, or atheist and racist. So you find comfort in that.

  • Deep3172

    As I review the comments posted, I think some of us are missing the bigger picture here. I dont see the point of interest as separating white from black atheists, but to attract black atheists seeking the cultural support they will probably lose coming out or already out but feeling ostracized. The way I see it, black atheists groups serve as a gateway for those black people who aren’t able to take that final leap, because they dont at this point possess the courage to do what the rest of us black atheists have done. Some of you might have missed what AJ posted so I will quote,

    “The black experience with religion is a tie to the black community. Religion is black people’s family base, where the civil rights movements were born. To deny religion is equated to be denying your history, your culture, your family, YOUR RACE. Black people need arenas to address the special needs that come with being godless, to feel a sense of community with those who understand. Sorry, but white folk just won’t understand what it means to be cut off from your entire CULTURE just because you are godless.”

    This is probably the most important comment on this topic. You cant imagine the fear I hear from in-the-closet black non believers, and the amount of them out there. Many of them are literally TERRIFIED to express themselves, in particularly black women that I’ve encountered.

    Prime example, I have an atheist black female friend who moved her mom in with her after her mom took ill, has not told her mom, who is very religious, that she is an atheist yet, in fact none of her family knows. I am the only person who knows and her only atheist friend. She has been that way she said, since a teenager. She married in a church to a christian man, attended church all her life and marriage, never once letting on who she really was. She is 39 years old and one of the most rational thinking adamant black female atheists I know personally, but her fear of the backlash from her family and friends keeps her closeted.

    THESE are the types of black people I feel that black atheists groups can help. Because our cultures are different from that of white atheists, as AJ stated, you couldn’t understand what the confrontation must be like regardless of how common our skepticism and rationale is. I’ve experienced it. These black people dont fit the stereotype of the black community of what a black atheist might be. Therefore it is important that these closeted black doubters and skeptics have a portal out of that closet. I dont see it as feeding into the stereotype, but providing a means to an end for those who are afraid.

    I am a member of a local atheist group where I am only one of 3 black members out of 60 plus. I also attend The Atheist Community of Austin events when I can and a big fan of Matt Dillahunty of The Atheists Experience TV Program and try my best to make their after program lunches when I can. All of which there are barely any black atheists in attendance. Yet, I would still love to have a black atheist group to join locally for the sense of culture! That doesn’t mean Im racist, that means I’m black!

    I dont know if any of the black posters here are from the rural south, but being from there myself (S.C.) I can tell you that it is NOT PLEASANT being labeled the “village leper” in a closed minded, ignorant, fundamentalist christian small town because you are the only black person (that you know of) in your entire community who doesnt have a god and everyone knows it! Atlanta is the south, home of numerous mega churches and holy rollers! I think its the idea place for such a group to help others.

    Finally, the bigger picture; what’s more important here, Another person breaking the chains of religion through a comfortable avenue, come out of hiding and doubt, released from enslavement to their culture and fears, or having them remain in hiding because we cant understand why they opt for a cultural based group of like minds? If the black atheist group can help those individuals then by all means, let there be one. Its not about racism or segregation, its being comfortable in coming out! Im sure once they do they would have no problem interacting with white atheists on any level. I certainly don’t!

  • Brian Macker

    “Yet, I would still love to have a black atheist group to join locally for the sense of culture! That doesn’t mean Im racist, that means I’m black!”

    In this case the door swings both ways. If black culture is different than white, then white is different than black. It can’t be different in one direction and same in the other. If your rationale for having a “Black Atheist” groups isn’t racist then the same rationale for having a “White Atheists” group would apply.

    I’m pretty sure however that a southern white baptist atheist has far more in common with a southern black baptist atheist culturally than a white Russian Jewish atheist like Issac Asimov.

    Perhaps you should be creating “Southern Baptist Atheist” groups.

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