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I have a very disjointed relationship with my race and my gender. I am the product of two white collar, college-educated black people, who are also the products of college-educated black people, and was raised in the near suburbs of a city that isn’t exactly known for its integration. My white-collar, college-educated parents made sure that I attended nothing but the particular, suburban private schools that were populated with the children of other white-collar, college-educated, i.e. white, people. They made sure to keep my activities confined to the white-collar, college preparatory, i.e. white, areas. (Church was the BIG exception; I’ll be getting to this later). They even made sure to monitor my television watching toward white-collar, college-influenced, i.e. white, programming. Everything about my upbringing was painstakingly bleached, supposedly for my own sake. Well, almost everything…

With the exception of being forced to attend a Pentecostal megachurch every Sunday for the first 17 years of my life, I had never spent any time in predominantly black/African American environments outside of my own family gatherings. So you can imagine how strikingly different everything about my own whitewashed was world compared to that of the ebony-coated one into which my mother forced me to delve every day that god rested.

For approximately 884 full Sundays, and the occasional Wednesday evening, I was pushed out of the supposed comfort and familiarity of the so-called suburban safety plane and parachuted into the urban unknown. I went from conversing with Emilys, Justins, and Chads to “hollerin’” at Laquitas, DeAndres and Maliks. I traded in my full-bodied Coca-Cola soft drink for syrup-ladened Nehi Grape smectic A’. I went from topics ranging from Mortensen Math workbooks to the secret message behind the weekly Calvin & Hobbes strip to the single, all-encompassing, intellectually inhibiting topic of “God”. EVERYTHING at church was about “God”. Yes, I realize how that sounds. Perhaps I am not being clear enough. EVERYTHING at church was only about “God”. “God” was all that people from my church would talk about, even when they weren’t at church. From my childhood perspective, the average congregationalist from my church had the following conversation with me from week to week:

“Je-sus, Lord Jehovah! Praa-aaise Je-sus! Bible class! Lo-oordd Je-sus! Time for Sunday again! Hallelujah! Let yourself be a tool for Je-sus! A woman must become an evangelist for Je-sus, for He shall fulfill you in ways no mortal man ever will! Lord, bless this young woman, that she may walk in the path that You have designated for her! Praise him! Hallelujah!”

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post expressing my anger possessing the power of a thousand suns frustration with growing up in a black church while being simultaneously raised in a white world. What I couldn’t accept then, and what I am only starting to come to terms with now, is that my primary motivation for divorcing myself from my religion was my belief that doing so gave me the opportunity to divorce myself from my race. While I sincerely doubt that I am the first black person to use the Skeptical and Secular movements to escape from his/her culture, I also doubt that I am in a long line of black Skeptics and/or Secularists to do so openly.

Whether we want to admit it, our mentalities have been shaped by the boon/bane known as conditional thinking. Given a few facts or behaviors about a particular noun, we deduce that all types of said noun adhere to the same facts or behaviors. Conditional thinking makes understanding the complexity of all that surrounds us much easier to grasp. The problem with conditional thinking is that it hinders your ability to recognize, analyze and comprehend, which is very ironic given that its primary function is to encourage recognition, analysis and comprehension. My conditional thinking led me down two parallel paths:

No [or very few] white person [people] whom I’ve known talk[s] only [or predominantly] about “God.” -> There are plenty of white atheists/secularists/skeptics. -> They have more interesting, complex, realistic concerns and passions with which I can relate.

Every [or most] black person [people] whom I’ve known talk[s] only [or predominantly] about “God”. -> There are no black atheists/secularists/skeptics. -> They have very restrictive, intellectually monotonous, fantastical concerns and passions with which I will never relate.

During my ecclesiastical tenure, my faith was shaky at the best of times. I couldn’t/didn’t have any interest in finding any common ground with the intellectual monotony of the Laquitas, DeAndres and Maliks. To my fortune, I was also shipping off to a prestigious college on the east coast in which I could resettle into my so-called suburban safety plane, so why not come out as a full-blown atheist? No. I wasn’t internalizing any ethnicity based self-hatred AT ALL.

I relished in being free to express my lack of [B]elief openly as I saw fit. It was my proverbial smack in the face to everything that I had allowed myself to believe about what it had meant to be black and a cis-gendered woman in America.

Then, one day last year, I was introduced to her. Then to him. Wait, there are more??? I was agog. I was aghast. More importantly, I was not alone.

I sat there at my computer watching the inner workings of my conditional thinking equations fall apart factor by factor. I bit my tongue out of anxiety and frantically checked around my work area to make sure: 1) that no one was watching me freak out; and 2) that no one was watching me leisurely surf the internet. There they were: intelligent, complex, articulate, skeptical, nonreligious, BLACK. I had gotten everything so very, very wrong.

So, what happened then? What happened when I had my ideals of “blackness” and “black femininity” smashed by Mjolnir? What happened when I realized that being a black cis-gendered woman in America has little to nothing to do with the deity or deities that you do or do not worship?

Well, I’ll tell you what didn’t happen: I didn’t go back to church. I didn’t get down on my knees and beg an invisible man in the sky for forgiveness. I didn’t go running back to the folds of the world that I had dismissed under the wrong pretexts. What I did do was begin to rebuild myself. I realized that if I was ever going to make any progress as an atheist/a Skeptic/a black person/a cis-gendered woman, I needed to start by looking at myself as a human being first and foremost. Truly, if we are going to accomplish any progress within the atheist/Skeptic communities, we need to start looking at ourselves and each other as human beings first and foremost. So I began to rebuild.

I rebuilt what it meant to me to be a Skeptic. How it no longer is a hierarchal stance to pad my superiority complex, but rather a way of life in which I analyze every bit of critical, credible piece of data on which I can get my hands and base my deductions on that. How it means that I am willing to alter my opinion at the discovery of new, critical, credible data without scoff, stonewalling or derailing.

I rebuilt what it meant to me to be an atheist. How it too no longer is the intellectual high ground from which I look down on the Believer population, but rather an idea which inspires me to do unto others as I would have them do unto me because I want to, not because I believe that a deity or deities has/have told me to do so.

Most importantly, I rebuilt what it meant to me to be black and a cis-gendered woman in my hometown that isn’t exactly known for its integration. How being black and a cis-gendered woman no longer has anything to do with my name, my choice of soft drink, my [lack of faith], my topics of conversation, or even my suburban safety plan or white-collared, college-educated parents.

And all of this? What does all of this really mean? Well, if I had to venture to guess, it means that being an atheist, being a Skeptic, being a cis-gendered woman, being black means whatever the fuck I want it to mean for me and for me alone.

Now, let’s get some fucking rebuilding done.

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5 Comments

  1. I like it! I was just reading a bit about how parents of black boys have to “expatriate” (?) them from the black community and raise them away from it, or else. It seemed a real concern, parenting wasn’t going to be enough to keep their sons safe, so they were going to raise them in Canada, or Vermont, or I don’t know….the South Pole. I wondered what this would be like for the children, but the parents seemed concerned and caring, but also very afraid. I wish the skeptic movement was less about being critical. It’s been suggested as a product of that same white culture that is supposed to be “safe”. That same culture rewards and encourages fitting in, being competitive, and nourishes a feeling of being better than others. The group, or rather the feelings of others in the group, are often neglected. Skepticism has high standards, but too high at times? We spend so much time pointing fingers, instead of figuring out we’re just human and how about just looking in the mirror more? Thank you for a great post.

  2. Love this! I am (obviously) black and was born in Wiesbaden, Germany. I have been referred to as being an oreo and other names — basically stating that I do not fit the “typical black stereotype”. We are the product of our environment and I completely embrace myself as I am. I can definitely relate to this post. Rock it, girl!

  3. wow… well written one!

  4. Heh, just realized this was crossposted ON The Feminist Hivemind, but since I had only followed on Twitter, and not in my RSS (now remedied), I’d missed it.

  5. Just read an excerpt of a book on being a black woman and rejecting the chuch that reminded me of this post of yours; maybe the book would be of interest to you.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/08/27/why-do-black-women-remain-in-the-church/


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] This post also appears on Outside the Box. […]

  2. […] Society is built on the basis of conditional thinking. It is also the basis for most of the discrimination that we experience in our WEIRD society. If there is an Aspect X, our tribal thinking dictates that there must always be a Stereotype Y. If he is black, then he is a delinquent. If she is Asian, then she cannot drive. If he is gay, then he must love Lady Gaga. You get the idea. Try recognizing an aspect itself and nothing else. Trust me, staving off Y will be a hell of a mental battle that I’m still fighting myself. […]

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