Other blacks often look at black atheists or agnostics as alien or pitiable, despite their growing numbers, Cord Jefferson writes in an enlightening blog entry at Gawker.
Several years ago, I pitched a freelance piece about black atheism to a prominent magazine geared toward African-Americans. The pitch was denied, but not for any real reason. "That one might be a bit, uh, hard," is all my editor said. I'd later come to find out that he was merely sheltering me from his ultra-Christian executive editor, who would never let a piece questioning religion run in the magazine.
Black America's religious problem isn't that it's highly religious—most of America is religious—it's that, in my experience, it's highly religious to the point of exclusion, as if black people living their lives without God don't count. Black atheists or agnostics are often looked at by other blacks as alien or pitiable. A black atheist quoted in the New York Times last year said his mother was bothered more by the admission that he is an atheist than the admission that he is gay. Another in the Huffington Post said that declaring she was an atheist to her black friends was "social suicide."
I can understand where they're coming from. In high school, I went on a day-trip to a convocation of Black Students Unions, where we were all asked to bow our heads and pray before lunch. I was shocked. I tipped my head out of politeness, but rather than pray, I just sat there and wondered if what we were doing was legal. A few years later, during my freshman year in college, a black girl asked me what church I was going to attend as if it were as certain as asking me where I planned on eating or breathing. When I told her I wouldn't be going to any church, she wrenched her face away from me, aghast, like I'd vomited onto her lap. "Oh," she responded, "OK." We literally never spoke again.
Read Cord Jefferson's entire blog entry at Gawker.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.