Hi everyone! Since the beginning of the summer I’ve been busy traveling all over, but Skepticon IV was my last trip for the year. (What fun that was!) Now that I’m not going to be on the road for a while, I look forward to unpacking the rest of the boxes from my last move and to contributing more to this wonderful community.
It seems that every few months, a media outlet discovers that black nonbelievers actually exist out there—and that some of us even meet and organize! Then there’s a surge of attention, and curiosity, and occasionally even more colorful reactions. As the director of African Americans for Humanism (AAH), I often get phone calls and e-mails from journalists looking for real live black atheists to talk to.
The latest round of media attention began on Saturday when The New York Times ran an article called “The Unbelievers” in the Style section. Journalist Emily Brennan attended the African Americans for Humanism DC One Year Anniversary Celebration in early October. There she spoke with Ronnelle Adams, a CFI–DC volunteer and author of the children’s book Aching and Praying, who says that his mother was more distressed when he came out as an atheist than when he told her he’s gay. AAH advisory committee members Jamila Bey and Mark Hatcher are also featured in the article.
Following the NYT piece was a slew of articles in black media outlets including BET.com (“The Rise of Black Atheists”), The Root (“The ‘Unbelievers’: African-American Atheists Speak”), The Grio (“Black atheism represented through social media”), Electronic Urban Report (“Ronnelle Adams: Black, Gay and Atheist…There’s a Connection”), The Blaze (“Black Atheists Fight Notion That ‘Not Believing In God’ Is ‘A Thing For White People'”), Urban Faith (“Black Atheists: Sign of the Times?”), and News One (“Black Atheists: ‘We Don’t Need God!'”). Secular bloggers like the Friendly Atheist also wrote about the article.
On Tuesday I received a phone invitation to talk about AAH and black nonbelievers on Wednesday’s episode of the “JLP Radio Show”. Since I’d never heard of the show, I asked the caller a few standard questions—what time, how long, what markets the show is in—before agreeing. Then I researched the show.
I don’t generally listen to talking people on the radio, and I don’t own a TV, so I was unfamiliar with the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson (the “JLP” in the radio show name). Quick sum: he’s a black Republican conservative. Slightly more info:
- Founder of the South Central L.A. Tea Party
- Engaged in “Stop Obama’s Socialist Change” tour/campaign
- Says “I don’t have an Afro; I have an Ameri-fro.”
Wikipedia has this: “Peterson has also thanked ‘God and white people’ for slavery and described slave ships as akin to ‘being on a crowded airplane’.” There’s so much more that could be said about this guy, but you get the point.
So how did the interview go? It was confusing but worthwhile. I’ll hold back on editorializing and instead share a snippet of Rev. Peterson’s dialogue during the interview, which you can listen to on iTunes. (The segment starts at 44:30.)
At 58:35, he says the following: [emphasis mine]
In reading this story last night preparing for the show, reading about this recruiting around, you know, black universities and black colleges, it reminded me of the homosexuals, who are very insecure and hateful people. What they did, they went around and recruited people too to “come out of the closet” because they thought that that would make them feel good about being a homosexual. And they now found out that it doesn’t work — it doesn’t make them feel good about it.
It also reminded me of the abortion people who are killing unborn children.
It seem as though people who are on the side of evil, and that’s what atheism is all about, they are uncomfortable not having everybody in their camp, so they go around and recruit people so that they can feel good about being wrong.
Wow, right? I don’t even want to think about how many minutes he spent talking about Chaz Bono. Oh, and I should mention: Tuesday’s episode was titled “Is Obama An Atheist?” And yesterday a HuffPo article asked, “Truth or Dare: Would Black America Support President Obama If He Were Atheist?” This is the kind of thinking we’re up against.
The bad news is that we have a lot of work to do. The good news is that we’re growing. The media coverage shows that the interest is out there, and this is just the beginning.
One quick note before I close: We have some very exciting plans for African Americans for Humanism next year! I’ll write more about them as they come up, but here’s a sneak peek at a few of our projects:
- Billboard/bus ad campaign for Black History Month. It’s gonna be huge!
- National AAH conference in Chicago in late spring.
- Campus tour of 4–10 HBCUs (historically black colleges & universities) in Fall 2012, with the goal of starting campus freethought groups at each school. There is currently one recognized group at an HBCU, the Secular Students at Howard University. (In the interview, Rev. Peterson referred to this kind of outreach as “recruiting”. Guess he was right!)