‘Atheism is for white people’ – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

Here’s another post inspired by Alom Shaha’s outstanding ‘Young Atheist’s Handbook’.

I hope that these will help a few to consider donating to the campaign to get copies of the book in all English and Welsh secondary schools, the website for which can be found here: http://yah4schools.org.uk/.

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“My friends joke that I am a coconut: brown on the outside, but white on the inside.” – Alom Shaha, The Young Atheist’s Handbook.

I wrote a post fairly recently for the Rationalist Association’s blog (soon set to be in New Humanist magazine too) entitled ‘Does Humanism have a demographic problem?‘. In it, I put forward the idea that organised humanism may experience a turnout perhaps unrepresentative of the total population of humanists. At the lectures that the British Humanist Association provide, for example, the audiences tend to be, on the whole, rather white and rather middle-class, and I think that this is a problem. I understand that this tendency is an issue shared by many membership organisations in the UK; but I can’t help but feel that it needs to be more vocally addressed in humanism’s case, as an idea or belief should have no racial or income-based requirements (even if they are unintentional or accidental).

The article focused more on the ‘class’ side of things though, simply because Alom Shaha himself had provided me with enough quotable material to ‘leave it at that’ when it came to race – but here I will go into more detail of my own on the topic.

The first thing I wish to say is that I think it would be insidious to suggest that skin colour dictates what ideas a person can/cannot hold. Religious identity is far too often conflated with cultural identity, and assumptions of how a person should think and behave based on their heritage result inevitably from this. With it, for example, comes the idea that to be an Atheist is to potentially betray one’s background – after all, Atheism is just for white people, no?

Wrong. It’s a disgusting, divisive, damaging and ultimately patronising charge, that suggestion. That a person’s genes and chance place of upbringing would dictate what they are allowed to think is ridiculous. Atheism is not just an idea of ‘the West’ or a pastime reserved for old white men, it’s ‘universal’. Lacking belief in a God (or gods) is no more bound by race as liking a particular genre of music is.

Sure, someone living in a more-developed European country has a higher chance of being non-religious and favouring secularisation, but that’s only because those countries tend to be more ‘progressive’ and secular themselves. It has nothing to do with skin colour, but people make this weak link, perhaps subconsciously, time and time again.

The irony of it, as I remember Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe mentioning at an event named ‘Breaking the Taboo of Atheism in Black Communities‘ a while back, is that it is the developing world – largely non-white – which needs enlightenment the most. Many people suffer because of religious superstitions, from those accused of witchcraft to homosexuals, and it is them who would most benefit from a lack of said delusions. To call those atrocities but an aspect of ‘their culture’ is horrendously arrogant, and part of the problem.

From the little ‘coconut’ jokes to a more frank, as I have previously heard, “Atheism is for white people”, non-belief is so wrongly portrayed as something racial. It’s absurd. And like most absurdities, it does harm.

It’s harder for non-white Atheists to ‘come out’ because of it, it stifles human progress, and it’s deeply insulting. Which is precisely why Mr Igwe so praised the London Black Atheists group who organised the talk.

“We need this space!” he so often proclaimed – and he was right.

Carnun :P

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The ‘Young Atheist’s Handbook 4 Schools’ campaign: http://yah4schools.org.uk

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5 thoughts on “‘Atheism is for white people’ – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

  1. I’m thrilled that you’re putting forth this more intersectional perspective. I also encourage you, if you haven’t already, to examine the disproportionate representation of men. Women make up more than half of the world’s population, and they are typically the victims, often quite deliberately, of religious oppression. I think it’s critical that we focus on women’s issues as they relate to the dangers of religion (such as reproductive rights, as seen in the horrible recent affair in Ireland, which sadly happens around the world), as well as encouraging women’s participation in reason-based fields like science and engineering, where men have long been over-represented.

    CAUTION: PERSONAL OPINION HERE – NOT TO BE TAKEN AS RESEARCHED FACT – I think a lot of women in the West cling to religion in part because it can provide a community, a social net of sorts. It gives them a social role to play, outside the confines of home and work. Another reason may be that people are typically less likely to be condemning or morally judgmental of a “good Christian woman”, because people still equate religion and morality (which is pretty perverse if you think about it).

    So, I think it’s necessary that the secular community, particularly humanists, explores ways to provide women a safe, healthier alternative to faith-based institutions. Maybe more secular people ought to form charitable organizations that encourage women to gather, meet others who feel as they do, and gain some sense of community, while also volunteering to help others. Then when ladies at the beauty shop ask where they go to church, they can answer “Oh I’m not religious – my family goes to the ABC-Town Secular Center. They have a wonderful program feeding the homeless on Sundays!”.

    Hope you might chew on those thoughts, and perhaps they might be worth a blog post sometime ;)

    And if you’re short of inspiration, you can always check out my blog!

    • I’m glad to hear it :)

      Oh, I will be writing about this. As you say, women make up over half of the human race yet are constantly undervalued by certain religious thinking and under-represented in the sciences (and even non-belief, to a degree).

      One of the main reasons I think I am not just an Atheist but a vocal one is that I see religion and religious thinking as in places antithetical to feminism (equality), a cause I care deeply about.

      And I suppose we do need an alternative to religion-based communities for women – it couldn’t hurt :)

      Expect blog posts, my friend ;)

      (Will do!)

    • As a Muslim i honestly find western seculariism/humanism “which is really nothing more then an anti religious ideology created and made to combat Islam and other religions the zionist elites running the west deem dangerous to their power” to be far more oppressive towards people of all faiths and towards women then any religion. It is western secularism that turns its females into objects or dolls who must show there physical beauty in order to be relivent in western society. And western anti religious values such as divorces, feminism, homosexuality, celebrity worship, and blind materialism r all perfect examples of where godless western society ultimately goes. This is why for all u western atheists talk of being better then religious it is your own societies that r currently on the economic, political, and moral decline. Meanwhile religious nations like the BRICS countries r on the rise and set to replace the atheist west as the economic hubs of the world.

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