So I hope you don’t worry too much about being offensive by clarifying that you don’t believe in God. You wouldn’t apologize for your race or gender, would you? And this is part of your identity just as those factors are.
“If you make an assumption [that I’m Christian], I’m not going to let you have the wrong idea — I will correct you so we’re dealing in fact,” says Bey.
She shared with me some of her go-to responses to common commentary that reveals assumption about her beliefs.
* “We don’t have a church home. We stay in our real home on Sundays.”
* “No, being blessed didn’t have anything to do with that accomplishment. I worked very hard on that.”
* “Actually, I’m an atheist, so I choose to do what I do. I’m not doing it for brownie points after I die.”
Your response doesn’t have to be a zinger, though. A simple “I’m an atheist, so I actually don’t believe that, but thanks” could be a good start.
I also wonder if any of your frustration about this issue could be emphasized by a sense of isolation. That brings us to what I think is the most important part of my advice: recommendations for groups of like-minded people that you might consider joining. Start with African Americans for Humanism, which “supports skeptics, doubters, humanists and atheists in the African-American community, provides forums for communication and education and facilitates coordinated action to achieve shared objectives.” There you can find information on groups of black atheists and nonbelievers throughout the country.
And they don’t just sit around and talk about what they don’t believe in; a part of their mission is often to use nonreligious reasoning to make the world a better place. It’s possible that making this your focus could help you feel more inspired rather than annoyed in those moments when your difference from much of the black community is brought to your attention.
But Bey was quick to correct me when I suggested that these organizations would be a source of support in a lifelong battle in which people would constantly make assumptions about your religion. Not so, she said, pointing out that the fastest-growing segment of the population is those who are without belief in some supernatural higher power, with 30 percent of those under age 30 actively identifying as nonreligious.
“We’re everywhere,” Bey assured me. And when it comes to those frustrating assumptions that inspired your letter, “There are a whole lot of us who are not going to nod and amen our way through things. So many of us are putting an end to that unfortunate practice. Everyone’s soon going to know us.”
That sounds like something you can believe in.
The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life — and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.
Need race-related advice? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in Race Manners: “Talking Her Out of Skin Bleaching Won’t Work”