This has been a very interesting weekend in my world of being a nonbeliever of color. Without going into all of the events individually, I would like to point out a few things to those white people who wish to be allies by joining our organizations and/or attempting to speak for us.
1. You do not get to take the “black” out of our group titles to fit your own privileged world view.
Too many times, white people will say something along the lines of “well, I just see this group as a humanist group that happens to be predominantly black.” That is the height of privilege and it’s frankly dismissive and rude. To be honest, no one cares how you see the group. It was never for you to define. These groups were created, not just by “some black people who happen to be atheist/agnostic,” but by certain Black people who understand the additional strife experienced by nonbelievers of color. Black people who understand the white power structure is still very much employed by those in leadership positions in predominantly white (and male) “liberal” atheist groups. Black people who understand the need for a place for us to feel comfortable and know that we are not alone or subject to further marginalization. That mission cannot be watered down in the interest of inclusivity.
2. We do not need you to teach us how to organize (or anything else for that matter.)
There are some white people who take a paternalistic approach when joining black groups. With or without ill intent, these individuals act as though they have all the answers and expect us to follow their lead, since surely none of us have the depth of expertise in any area outside of simply being black. Let me assure you, we have black scholars, financial gurus, social scientists, and so on, who are just as knowledgeable about how to organize and affect change. Most of these black thinkers are also very well versed in issues specific to the black community, which is why we are here in the first place. As I’ve said many times before, we appreciate your input, but please don’t expect it to be taken any more seriously than anyone else’s.
3. We do appreciate your support, but we can and will speak for ourselves.
Let me repeat: we can and will speak for ourselves. I watched a YouTube video today in which the speaker, Gazi Kodzo, remarked on the fact that we aren’t animals who need someone to speak for us. We can speak for ourselves when we so choose. Those of us who organize and join black freethought organizations understand we have to speak up, because many can’t and many won’t. That doesn’t mean we need you to speak for us, however. It means we work harder to get the message out, and that’s ok. We understood that from inception. We welcome it, as we welcome the chance to show other people of color they can speak for themselves, too.
4. Please understand the world is not colorblind, and neither are you.
Racism is real. White privilege is real. Before you can be an asset to any black focused organization, you have to understand and accept those facts. If you cannot, please just stay home and do a bit more studying of history, politics and economics. Some say it is a lofty goal to “not see color,” though it’s unattainable in the near term, if ever. I actually see the colorblind approach as an insult. When one professes to be colorblind, they are basically denying all of who I am. They are defining me as something that makes them comfortable. No, you don’t get to do that. I am a black woman. That encompasses many things I would never want to disregard. We need to be honest about that if we are going to work together.
5. Our focus will most likely not be your focus and that’s ok.
Black organizations founded on nonbelief typically work on social issues such as police brutality, the school to prison pipeline and poverty at a higher rate than white organizations of nonbelief, whose sole focus is usually the nonbelief itself. This is due to these issues disproportionately affecting the black community. It matters not if I believe in god when I am attacked by a policeman or when my children are punished more harshly than their white counterparts. Our organizations cannot completely separate nonbelief and social issues because we simply don’t have that luxury. Please understand that when trying to figure out why we devote time to the various topics we choose.
6. It’s fine to come to learn, but please don’t treat us like zoo animals.
Your wanting to expand your world view is wonderful. It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge you aren’t the center of the universe and actively endeavor to learn about the experiences of others. Just understand, we’re working here. You can get a pretty good backgrounder by reading many different books, watching documentaries, or simply talking to people. When you treat group meetings as your own personal sociology class; however, you become another obstacle that we just can’t afford right now.
7. Don’t just like us in private.
We don’t want to be your secret black friend. If you decide to join a black organization, tell your white friends about it. Tell them about the very real struggles of people of color and encourage them to expand their world view. Sometimes, your biggest contribution is being a bridge between people who may never come in contact with each other. This is your strength. It’s not for you to come in and tell us how to fix us, but you can absolutely tell your friends how to influence each other for the greater good.
In conclusion, I am not asking white people to stop joining predominantly black freethought organizations. I’m simply asking for there to be introspection and a clear purpose established before doing so. We can work together much more effectively if this happens first.