The Controversial Duckling

Fourth with Zach (3 of 16)

Sometimes it feels like I just don’t belong. I can talk to colleagues that are Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, etc., and except for that whole atheist thing, they understand me. Controversy free. We are separated by language, but on issues of equality, they usually find a way to understand. They may not agree, but on occasion they get it, even the church folk. However, that whole atheist thing can be a problem. Its a big hurdle for many of them to overcome, so I’m usually dismissed, then dammed on issues of morality, even though we seek similar strides in freedoms. That one controversial thing, oblongs me into the clichéd peg that just won’t fit.

Then when I find myself in a sea of atheists, I experience a similar phenomenon. I can talk using a shared language of exonerated godlessness, and except for that whole black thing, they understand me. Controversy free. Yet, in the same vein, part of who I am is denied, leaving me less than whole, and somehow, that one controversial thing, makes me again, not fit.

Circumnavigating those repellant poles makes it hard to find the right crew to flock with, especially when I really still am a duck. My identity overlaps, intersects, and is unique, but what I share with both I can not bridge. Hence, it is my hold on both, that takes flight.

What I learned during my initial hazing into atheism is that being Black really wasn’t an issue. Not entirely. It helps. And as long as you’re willing to graduate from Invisible to Token, it shows others that the community is inclusive, somehow diverse, and better than the gaggle that we so desperately fail to not reflect.

But when I consciously ‘state’ that I am Black, then the problem appears, ruffling every stunted, malformed YouTube jockey’s quill. I’m indicted, labeled as complicit in America’s racism, even though in honesty, I am a mere second and a-half party observer.  My legacy isn’t rooted in America’s Slave trade, its rooted in the French. I am an immigrant, who’s port of entry was by way of America’s financial slave hub, New York City, not the urban plantation.  I am Sowell’s mythic model minority realized.

My family escaped the preexisting narrative of the American Negro, having missed decades of Black devaluation, medical experimentation, forced segregation, and concrete housing reservations, where hunger continues to be used as a political tool to feed voting booths. I have not land, nor direct ancestral loss in this nation, nor am I a recurring generational victim as some suggest. Of those that would be thankful for the sacrifice of the fallen I am one. But again, I’m different, because I would not silence myself from the observable injustices. And my pride is not at stake, neither is my hypersensitive nationalism.  In retrospect, perhaps it is the fear from those injustices befalling me, that propelled my own successes. It is that unspoken choking hand that provides the muted responses of the voices of the millions like me, who say nothing against evil. Or worse, it lends itself to the megaphone of those that tout their own rugged independent successes as proof that no other disadvantages exist. Evidence be damned. Their dissonance fed by the same watering hole that gluts the other’s faith.

“If you’re a white, evangelical, Republican, you are less likely to think race is a problem, but more likely to think you are a victim of reverse racism. You are also less convinced that people of color are socially disadvantaged… This dilemma demonstrates that those supposedly most equipped for reconciliation do not see the need for it. – Barna

I sully my hands delivering a truth that I do not own, as a social justice sojourner, gifting in good faith responses that should’ve bridged understanding. And for  my remuneration, I’m called a sell out, again.  Damn, they sure as hell can make it clear that my kind really isn’t wanted here, yet in the same sputtering breath, stand as dumfounded cocks wondering why they can’t seem to attract a stray feather. You can’t say you want diversity, then do everything in your power to prevent it.

I recently did an interview with Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist (link below). We covered everything from race, religion, and other things in the year of the Trump. Nothing too controversial, except for the community that amusingly hijacks Seth’s moniker as their own. It took less than 24 hours for the comment section and my inbox to show me why so many Atheists of Color don’t feel welcomed in “this” community. I’ve spent 5 years of my life traveling the country giving talks addressing the recurring question “How can we make the Atheist community more diverse?”

And I think I’m ready to append that talk with a bit of  show and tell. You may not agree with my observations, everyone brings biases when examining social problems. But read the comments section (with caution) and understand that for many Atheist of Color, when branching out for the first time, these online resources are their first exposures.

You can call this duckling controversial all you want, but its the ugly in the comments section that should concern you.

The Controversial Duckling

5 thoughts on “The Controversial Duckling

  1. 1

    I am so looking forward to the appended talk.

    I think I’ll skip reading the comment section of this episode enough. I’m already too familiar with that song and dance *shudder*

  2. 2

    I’ve learned that many people don’t actually want change or want diversity, they just want the appearance of it. A truly diverse atheist conference, or organization, usually FREAKs out the ALL LIVES standard bearers. They often feel as if they’re loosing their organizations. Just like they did their neighborhoods when the “Coloreds” moved in. Of course, some of that is more generational.

    I’ve also been doing this long enough, that I’ve given workshops and have had the opportunity to revisit the MOST enthusiastic of local atheist groups. Checking up on their progress… And even after giving them a near blueprint – MOSTLY Nuffin.

    Have to caveat that because “Not All Groups” … right.

  3. DJ

    Thanks for this article. I went to Seth’s site to watch the interview and read the comments. Cannot say I made it through all of them; they are too brutal. They make it pretty damn clear that many in the atheist community want to see you but they do not want to hear you. A voiceless figure used in photo ops would work best. Then no one needs to examine the diversity of experiences and their role in maintaining the status quo.

    I often find myself thinking of something Greta Christina often says, “Just because we get one thing (atheism) right doesn’t mean we get everything right.” It’s as if being atheist gives some people an excuse to otherwise be horrific assholes. There is a lot of this in the comments.

    I think there are a lot more odd ducklings out there than there are ones that blend right in with the flock. I am glad you are writing and speaking from your “controversial duckling” stance. Helps the next person speak out.

  4. 4

    All of this. A million times over. And then some.

    I feel you. We share the same yoke. I think James Baldwin made the most apt summation of this dilemma when he said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

    And yet, no matter how much we tease out these issues, we continue to be met with disregard, denialism or ideological recoil. Mahy times, a mixture of these.

    Keep doing what you’re doing though. Allow the degradation to stoke the fire (of passion, of nuanced activism) rather than extinguish it.

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