Being a Black atheist in America can be challenging; being a Black atheist within the Black community can be seen as criminal. Black folks have long used religion to discover answers for their historical suffering within white America. And though there are Black folks who live a life of contradictions vis-a-vis scriptural rules, there is no place for being a nonbeliever. It was God who rescued the American Negro from bondage. Centuries of lynching and years of Jim Crow created a universal sense of “togetherness” as it relates to the Black church. There are members who do attend church for its spiritual collectiveness and a haven for congregating. However, things have shifted in terms of Black religiosity. Though many within the black community continue to showcase their religious conservatism, others have slowly drifted away. And not just from the Black church — but from religion in general. With the educational attainment of Blacks increasing — more and more are asking the question: Do I believe in God? Or, can I afford to believe in God? Black attainment in terms of education brings about greater financial gains. The bourgeois life opened up a secular window defined by tangible substance, which has long been acceptable for white Americans. Their plight and need for God and religion are different from that of Blacks. Still, for blacks to admit atheism is a misnomer.
“To posture oneself alongside the #AllLivesMatter movement is to erase the true oppression of our Black population….Similar to “separate BUT equal” you have “ALL LIVES matter” as seemingly espousing that all lives do, and should, matter. Yet, white folks did not create this hashtag on their own; its a reaction, similar to how one would view segregation. Segregation is not the normal state of things, its an active decision. One would not need to say “BUT EQUAL” if something were inherently equal. Similarly one would not need to defend that “ALL LIVES” matter in response to “BLACK LIVES” mattering, if there were not something inherent underlying their assertion — namely, racism.”
It was President Lydon B. Johnson that instituted affirmative action legislation via an Executive Order to cut back on discrimination. Much of this policy was aimed to provide opportunities for both women and minority populations. It should not come as a surprise that those who oppose affirmative action the most… are those that will power. And hence, seek to protect such power. Liberal defenders of affirmative action have long noted that white heterosexual males are the greatest critics of affirmative action programs. Many, who are self-described conservative Republicans, find that any type of programs engineered by the federal government, works against the will of the people. That will, of course, notes that state and local governments should make such decisions; yet, it was in part implemented to limit the degree of discrimination at the state level. Conservative Christians operate off a notion of color-blindness. Some will tell you that Jesus Christ does not see race, thus nor should American society. But in the end, it seems almost racist to deny that different races exist, and that one’s race can and does depict his/her/their plight. Christ, of course, often noted the plight of both Jews and Gentiles.
While various different groups argue that affirmative action is reverse discrimination, liberal advocates believe that it promotes a more egalitarian society. Mike Tomlin (my favorite coach) is a great example. The National Football League, for a long period of time, had been the target of racists arguments (i.e., being accused). Organizations such as the NAACP pointed to the fact that Black players were a dominant reason for the success of the NFL, but Blacks could not be found in key front office positions or as head coaches. Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chair of the NFL’s diversity committee, enacted the Rooney Rule. This rule states that all NLF teams must interview at least one minority candidate when a vacancy is available. Unfortunately, many teams do not adhere to this policy. Dan Rooney clearly made a great call with Tomlin. Maybe other institutions will follow the Steelers in actively seeking to promote diversity. It would be nice to see all institutions operate this way. In the end, maybe many institutions would reflect what the world looks like. We still see too many schools and boards that do not reflect the world.
In reading the New Testament book of Matthew today on the birth of Jesus Christ, many Christians proclaim a desire to live a life of Christ. In reading Matthew, here in the Christmas season, it is clear that Jesus was seeking refuge from King Herod, in regions that made him an undocumented brown person. I just read a study on the number of evangelical Christians who favor Trump because he will keep folks out and deport others. Ephesians 2:14, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility”. Would you deport Jesus? Preachers — be radical this Christmas and take your church to the next level and aim to bring radicals to the pew. Be like Christ here. The 21st century church must disavow its complacency and promulgate equality through radical preachers with radical members who love people more than capitalism and party idolatry, and who will subscribe to what Psalm 82: 3-4 notes: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Churches must be diverse and inclusive—as well as radical in how they love the marginalized.
In the Gospel according to Mary Brown and her child Joshua, who represents one of W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black biblical characters, he found comfort among those who were societal outcasts. He, who was [the Black] Jesus Christ, marched with the poor, with sinners, and communists; however, whites did not embrace this Christ. Better yet, the white South lynched this Christ because they could not accept a Christ who accepted all people (Blacks, undocumented, gay, transgender, poor in need, etc). Because of this, the very people who awaited him – the Christian South, killed Joshua. His message of radical love was too much for them to embrace. Thus, many navigated their days professing to love a process and not a mission.
Jesus—a radical who sought to destroy white supremacy— tore down the rules of Jim Crow that existed in his age, and in 20th century Jim Crow, and today—but who is one who continues to be used as a symbol by white supremacists who dismiss his message of radical love.
Christmas is only as great as people who can love their Black and brown brothas and sistas. Who love their trans neighbors, and those willing to denounce the bigots of systems that operate in churches and institutions throughout.
It is my wish that the 21st century church will love to love as Christ loved—in a radical capacity.
This post is not one seeking to articulate my beliefs or the beliefs of my friends and colleagues; it is one offering some reflective thoughts regarding the general nature of religiosity, and its subsequent impact on both the American conservatives and liberals.
Growing up Easter carried very little meaning—however, Christmas did. But, as is the case for many Americans, both provided an opportunity for some discussion on faith. In general, American Blacks are highly spiritual and far more conservative than mainstream white culture realizes. However, the notion of Black liberalism is encapsulated by societal constructs forcing Blacks to eradicate racism, fight classism, and promote cultural views of themselves in the media; it is the latter point that has brought about a false assumption of Black ghettoization; hence, Black folks killing Black folks; promoters of the welfare state; and the perception of dominant sexual beings and predators—as espoused by many white supremacists.
Keep in mind, there is a difference between being spiritual and that of religious; I suspect many Black brothers and sisters attend church not for the religious value of salvation, but the comfort of the spiritual.
In truth, the majority of Black folks are highly conservative. Often time, conservative to a point that contradicts the general gains manifested during the civil rights era, though I am prepared to debate why that too was conservative. Thus, the church has long been the center of Black social, political, and economic discourse between both the academic brother, and that of the common layperson. Yet, there are Black folks that have drifted away from mainstream Protestant and Catholic beliefs; in part, this is manifested by a sense of suspicion in the two mainstream religious cannons. I think back to the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois, whose notion of religiosity is prevalent in his writings and artwork, but not always clearly defined. This is one reason there is some debate among scholars about the extent to which he was religious. Being an academic with Du Boisian interest, I find great conflicts in his religious prowess, where much of my confusion centers on his belief in Christ. He references Christ in his writings, at times noting that Christ is a symbol of socialism, and denoting how society should care for each other.
A mistake many make is they assume Karl Marx concocted this whole notion of socialism. But yet, there is evidence that it existed well before Marx. In truth, Black people created the first socialist societies, as was rooted in African communal living. Moreover, Jesus preceded Marx historically by nearly 19 centuries. In addition, Marx built his entire socialist philosophy on the initial premise that God is merely a human delusion, and the second that religion is nothing more than an “opiate of the masses.” Thus, Du Bois’s framework of Christ as a symbol of socialism clearly reflects his suspicion of the existence of Christ as a divine being.
Though most of us are not at the intellectual level of Du Bois, it is safe to say that Black religiosity has declined since the 1970s. The 21st century Black church is in a dilemma. With the civil rights era over, Black folks witnessed the rise of neoconservatives during the late 1970s. Such neoconservatives elected a conservative regime that declared war on Black society. Thus, with the rise of hip-hop and gangster rap, and the demise of the Black Panthers and the Black church, Black folks turned to gangs and other practices of socialization. Now, this is not a ubiquitous phenomenon. There is a vibrant Black middle class aiming to hold on to the cultural value promulgated in the Black church; however, many of the Black bourgeoisie look toward the intellectual notion of ideology as a guide. Like Du Bois, the more education Blacks gain, the more secular they are in thought. Yet, this secular element is more conservative than what existed during the civil rights era. As noted before, hip-hop and Jesus Christ are not synonymous; however, the two are drawn together through a “sense” of spiritual reconciliation. Christians contend that the Bible offers hope and understanding to those that are lost. The hip-hop artist also contends that his lyrics offer a “sense” of hope and salvation, much like that of Jesus Christ. Religious historians have given very little attention to the impact religion has had on hip-hop and rap culture.
As noted by Anthony Pinn, this demoting of Black churches will not simply result from external pressures” — those opposed to churches for whatever reason(s) — but will also result from internal inconsistencies and conservatism. How can churches address current and pressing issues of discrimination when sexism and homophobia are so very alive within pulpits and pews? How can these churches speak to the integrity of life when in practice and conversation they reflect a deep distrust and discomfort with physical bodies and how they give and receive pleasure? How can churches address in sustainable ways community development when they can’t manage their own budgets?”
People of Color Conference, Seattle, WA
This was my 9th NAIS PoCC. I would like to address a panel I organized and chaired about faculty of color and boarding schools. North American boarding schools hold a certain mystique among the American populous. While much of this is generated through falsities found in popular culture films that present a level of homogeneity and privilege, such as Dead Poets Society, other perceptions are institutionalized, which tend to place faculty of color on the outside looking in to the window. In the 21st century, a number of boarding schools have increased their efforts to extend full citizenship to faculty of color, noting a need for a talented diverse faculty. This panel of current and former boarding school members offered a critique that explored the extent to which boarding schools have advanced in being fully inclusive to faculty of color. Each panelist reflected on their experiences. We had a standing room only session. That felt great. Moreover, participants were pretty open in asking their questions and contributing some commentary to the conversation.
This blog reflects the views of a soul brotha who believes in radical love. I must confess a love for Black & brown folk, gay folk, bi & transgender folk, Asian folk, non-binary folk, and my white allies.