Black Women Who Use the "A" Word

The largest gathering of African-American atheists is a reminder that non-believers are not alone.

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Naima Washington is a D.C. resident who says she was so excited about the conference that she didn't sleep the night before. Washington says she's tired of trying the gentle and pandering approach. "We're not trying to convince people whose noses are stuck in Bibles or Korans of anything. I'm trying to find other atheists, and we don't need to hide."

A number of attendees agreed that they don't believe they ever made a deliberate decision to "become" an atheist; rather it's a realization that came about after study and simple absence of proof.

Ken Granderson, who calls himself a lifelong thinker, came to the conference from Boston. "You don't choose to be an atheist; you're born that way. Not believing in the Judeo-Christian God is no different than not believing in Thor or Poseidon or Osiris. Someone told me that there's this God, but once I learned to question, I understood that the God I was told about--and the stories about that God--were no different from the mythologies of any other people who created stories to explain their worlds."

The conference concluded with a discussion about how to both encourage more diversity within the atheist or humanist or free-thought movement and how to simply handle going back home to our (sometimes) lonely little corners.

Washington said she was encouraged by the number of black secularists at the convention, but she laments that there is so much more work to be done, especially when considering those who are shaping American atheist policy. "The lack of diversity is a real issue. Are we just to be followers or are we helping to drive this vehicle that is the secular movement?"

Washington's point was echoed in a summary by Center for Inquiry On Campus organizer Debbie Goddard. Goddard called out the skeptic movement for being overwhelmingly white, male and older, but she also noted that there's a thriving college skeptic scene that could likely yield some age, race and gender diversity to the movement as well.

If nothing else, the group assembled was a rational one. And while "fired up," we realize that Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation is only around 15 percent. The number for blacks is even lower, at 12 percent. So as a minority within a deeply closeted minority, we're going to have to work to gain visibility and influence. Those of us who are "out" mustn't apologize for our stance. We also need to join larger non-theistic groups.

And as Celie yelled to Mister when she moved away to her own home, black atheists need to affirm, "I may be black...but I'm here!"

Jamila Bey is an atheist and a writer based in Washington, D.C.