By Naima Washington
It is a sad fact that people of color, particularly African American nonbelievers, are alienated within the secular community. Among the ‘faith’ communities, even those with the most racist and sexist doctrines, continue to do whatever it takes (and make no apologies) as they aggressively recruit and make space in their communities for people of color. Based on their disinterest in any recruiting efforts, the leadership of the secular community is apparently very proud of the fact that they, on the other hand, have few people of African descent in leadership positions as well as very few members. While there is no genuine intent or concerted plan to change this situation, many attempt to explain this phenomena by claiming that black folk are just too addicted to religion; otherwise, those of us who aren’t addicted to religion are either nominal or closet atheists, and therefore, need not be taken seriously. During the past 25 years, I belonged to many secular organizations; it was indeed a challenge to remain in them.
When African American atheists attempt to expand their visibility and participation in the secular community by organizing with other nonbelievers—especially those who have been historically ignored by the leadership of the secular community—to publicly celebrate their freedom from religious dogma; when we ask everyone in the secular community to celebrate along with us, and we set aside one day out of the entire year to do so, there’s a problem! Last year, some very intelligent and insightful atheists declared efforts to organize a Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers as segregation! Those same people are otherwise dead silent about the segregation, hostility, and alienation directed towards black atheists within the secular community year-round.
In 2012, author Donald Wright and I sent out nearly 400 written requests to secular organizations as well as individuals asking that they support the Day of Solidarity by posting a promotional piece on their websites and asking that they plan a Day of Solidarity in their own communities. Over 90% of those requests were met with silence, not only from white atheists, but from people of color as well. There were also positive responses to the Day of Solidarity. And, quite frankly, the secular community is better off because of those responses and the entire secular community ought to celebrate not only independent thinkers but independent activists as well. Yet the current trend is to support inertia, self-promotion, and those who aren’t particularly motivated to make waves.
While I can think of none, there may be legitimate reasons to not support the Day of Solidarity; however failing to support it because it represents independent actions on the part of independent thinkers in the secular community isn’t a legitimate reason. The Day of Solidarity can be celebrated by anyone who cares to do so; and while it is hoped that many people celebrate it, that fact is that its ‘success’ isn’t dependent on any one group and whether two people in 20 communities or 20 people in two communities plan events is irrelevant. Its success lies only in the fact that those who want to mark the fourth Sunday in February—Black History Month—will do so in their own community in their own way. Who would be harmed by these independent actions?
In 2011, Donald Wright first proposed holding a Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers without asking anyone’s permission; he didn’t wait to see if hundreds of people would line up behind the idea before taking that first step and creating a Day of Solidarity in Houston, Texas. Although there doesn’t seem to be much promotion for the Day of Solidarity this year, no one has to wait for permission to celebrate the Day of Solidarity either. If anyone, anywhere, wants to celebrate the DoS, please, go right ahead and create your own event; contact other nonbelievers in your own community and decide how you’d like to spend that time with each other: share a meal; visit an art gallery or museum; go see a movie or a play; go ice-skating; etc. Make some phone calls, post your event on your own Facebook page as well as on the DoS Facebook page; celebrate, and remain an activist—not just a joiner—for the rest of the year; make a commitment to social change. Right now, what society needs are people who are committed to social change; we have enough talkers, and in order to create meaningful change, we must each assume leadership by doing the right thing—with or without company!
The future as well as the integrity of the secular community depends not on people who do as they are told, but on those of us who are both independent thinkers and activists.