I may as well be a unicorn
The end of her essay is especially pointed:Life as an African-American atheist looks much like the lives of my religious brethren. I love my family. I perform my job. I rant about my government. The only distinction for me is that instead of going to prayer service and Bible study during the week, capped off with a Sunday church meeting filled with song and ceremony, I spend my time at libraries and museums. I enjoy rooting for my favourite football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers – I just don’t worry about missing the start of the game because church ran long.
But to hear it told by most other people, African-Americans especially, I don’t exist at all. An African-American atheist woman? I may as well be a unicorn!
From the cultural stereotypes of the media to the assurances of those who argue with me that I simply don’t have strong enough faith, my identity as an African-American is assumed to carry with it an impenetrable religious component, strengthened by the tribulations of my people. I’m not surprised when they say to me, “You can’t be an atheist. You’re black!”; rather I scoff at such ignorance.
I realised that my parents didn’t want me figuring out the Santa thing, because it would make me harder to control. I likewise realised that placing the rationale for any statement or action upon the will of God served the same purpose.
In the US African-Americans have the highest rates of incarceration, highest infant mortality rates and traditionally have held the highest unemployment rates. Yet we outrank every other group where piety and religiosity are concerned.
Unlike others who may say, “My ethnicity is X, and our religious tradition is Y, but I personally choose to not adhere to those beliefs”, when I declare my non-belief my group identity is impugned. I am asked if I believe myself to be “better than”, or merely told that I wish I were white.
I hold wishing and prayer in equal esteem. Being an atheist in America is hard. But having so labelled myself, I have come to know my truest friends. I need not be happy to pray and wait! I don’t take pride in my victimhood and knowing that I patiently await any saviour.
I love reason and logic, and I search for truth. I define myself and my “blackness”.
God is an idea that has failed to liberate anyone. I only wish more people of African descent would admit as much.
Meanwhile, regarding the girl that got a prayer taken off the wall of a public school:
a nicer point on the subject:
"Freedom From Religion [an atheist group] wanted to send flowers to her, and none of the florists in Rhode Island would even deliver flowers to her," Mehta said. "A state representative called her evil in an interview. Every time stories come up about how people are treating this 16-year-old girl, my heart just goes out to her and I want to help her in some way."