CNN Finally Featured a Black Voice in Their Atheism Coverage March 29, 2015

CNN Finally Featured a Black Voice in Their Atheism Coverage

A week after CNN published a longform profile of a happy atheist family and days after CNN aired an hour-long special called “Atheists: Inside the World of Non-believers,” they’re still squeezing as many pageviews as they can get out of this topic.

This weekend, they published a story about what atheists “want you to know”… and the atheists they spoke with were “Stan Bennett” (an atheist who still works as a minister), Jerry DeWitt, David Silverman, and Greg Epstein.

If you haven’t noticed, all the people mentioned so far (including the family) have been white. In the case of the special, they were almost all white men. The follow-up article featured only white men.

There was a lot of chatter on my Facebook wall and elsewhere about how awful this decision was, especially on the heels of the special. Why pick four white guys again?!

Not to defend them, but here’s why: CNN obviously just contacted the people who were featured in the special — the people whose contact information was readily available to them — to create a fast, easy article that required little additional work on anyone’s part. Finding new voices would’ve taken effort.

Should CNN have tried to do that, anyway? Of course they should’ve. The gender/race imbalance was one of the criticisms about the special I saw mentioned everywhere the next day — and not correcting it, even for a lazy article like this one, shows that they’re less interested in presenting a fuller version of atheism and more interested in capitalizing on this topic while people are still paying attention.

But there was one black atheist’s voice on CNN’s website yesterday, and I saw virtually nobody talking about it. Mandisa Thomas, the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., wrote a fantastic piece that even called out the network for ignoring people like her:

I am atheist — and I am black.

Yes, we exist — even if many in the media sometimes don’t notice us. In a CNN special that aired on Tuesday, for example, people of color were not as well-represented as American atheism’s more familiar face: You know, white males.

Most blacks identify as religious. Belief in God is touted with pride, and the church is intricately tied to tradition, history and culture. It is not uncommon to assume that I attend services as a black woman. The question often isn’t if I go to church — it’s where. And even if one doesn’t go to church, surely they still have faith — because our people have endured and overcome so much hardship that it had to be the work of a god.

My experience in the secular community as a black atheist has ranged from feeling totally welcome to feeling totally isolated, and even ignored.

Go read the whole piece. It’s a welcome viewpoint and one CNN would’ve done well to include in the special.

In case you’re wondering, Thomas told me that she wrote the piece at the request of editors at CNN, so they didn’t completely ignore the issue. But it’s hardly the same as having included Thomas in the special itself.

Blame the network if you want for not understanding the complicated race issues we have in our movement and further exacerbating the problem by not featuring a more diverse group of atheists. But the best way for us to respond is to point that out publicly — and then make sure that those of us who ought to know better (online activists, group leaders, conference organizers, etc) aren’t making the same mistakes on our end by ignoring those non-traditional voices.

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