Black Women Who Use the “A” Word

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

It’s fair to say that everyone was pretty excited to come and fellowship with like-minded types from around the country, and one atheist who flew in from India. It was the first time many conference-goers knowingly met another black atheist in the flesh. And for those of us from the nation’s capitol, we met a few people who are new to such events, though many take part in message boards and Internet discussion groups.

Ronnelle Adams, a D.C.-area resident, says just coming to the event was thrilling. “I walked in and saw all these black atheists,” he said. “I’m not the only one! I was so happy for the discussion and the chance to meet other like-minded people just like me.”

Norm Allen, executive director of African Americans for Humanism, kicked off the conference with the discussion “Why it is Time for African American Humanists to Come Out of the Closet.” He told the group that he wished more black folks would simply admit their non-belief without pushing their worldview. Also, he asserted that using the term “humanist” rather than the more charged label “atheist” could be a step toward helping black non-believers find some acceptance in their communities.

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.”