Ask Mandisa 25 – Standard Conventions, Standards and Ethics, and Taking a Stand

by | May 18, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the largest, if the not the largest, organization for African-American or black nonbelievers & atheists in the United States.

The organization is intended to give secular fellowship, provide nurturance and support for nonbelievers, encourage a sense of pride in irreligion, and promote charity in the non-religious community.

I reached out to begin an educational series with one of the, and again if not the, most prominent African-American woman nonbeliever grassroots activists in the United States.

Here, we talk about conventions,outreach, and social reproval, and more.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen:You were tabling at the American Atheists convention. I am not aware. But where was it? How long was the event? What were you tabling?

Mandisa Thomas: Yes, I was there for longer than the weekend, as I also serve on the Board of Directors. I arrived Thursday, April 19th and left April 23rd. It was held in Cincinnati Ohio this year.

I also hosted on behalf of Black Nonbelievers. Every year we table, as we sell mechandise to raise funds (in part). We have hoodies, t-shirts, shot glasses, coffee mugs, and so on. A lot of items with our branding on it. 

Also, I think we have some pretty cool stuff available for everyone.I also partook in the annual American Atheists board meeting, so I was representing AA and BN at the same time.

Jacobsen: What were some highlights? That you heard about in terms of speakers, other tables, and so on.

Thomas: I heard that the keynote speaker Jim Obergefell was great. He won a major landmark Supreme Court case regarding LGBT rights. He came out as an atheist at the convention. 

Also, I know there were also some issues within the local secular groups. There was an equality rally. But there have two groups in Cincinnati area. One is the Tri-State Freethinkers. The other is the newly formed Community of Reason.

Unfortunately, it involved the departure of one of the leaders who was also representing AA, not in a good way. I will go on the record saying that anyone who treats volunteers, fellow co-workers and colleagues, badly simply for the sake of their ambition should not be in this movement.

Jacobsen: How common is mistreatment of those of lesser stature and lesser ambition in the movement?

Thomas: It isn’t as prevalent as people may think. Much of the issues surrounding people, predominantly white people, who are very intellectual but don’t have much common sense. Therefore, when talking to people from the LGBTQ community or poor people of color, they have good intentions, but their execution is very poor.

There are well-meaning people in the community, but who need to develop better social protocol. This is, unfortunately, too prevalent among the men. 

As I’ve said before, most of the women get stuck doing the grunt work and the men get the credit. This is changing, but it is still prevalent. That is leftover from religion and religious indoctrination, but also a lot of societal indoctrination.

In that, where the male voice tends to be more credited and recognized than the woman, that is what is more prevalent than people who are deliberately trying to bully. That is what is more prevalent than anything else.

Jacobsen: What might be some preventatives of the community with regards to this poor behaviour? Something like an escalation protocol or social reproval if someone acts poorly.

Thomas: Yes, when there is a problem brought to the attention of an individual or an organization, it is important to investigate quickly. There must also be follow-up with the individual on any updates and results.

It does not mean things will end up in their favor. But if the proper protocol and steps to prevent these actions in the future are taken, then people will be more assured that they will be listened to, especially women as this has been a problem in the past. 

Yes, there should be protocol, especially around conventions. I know in 2017; there was one man who reached out to me out of the blue on Meetup and asked if he could share my room.

Because he figured AA comped my room since I was a speaker that year. That was so highly inappropriate. When I alerted then-president David Silverman about it, and asked if this guy had done this to anyone else, they said, “No.” They did a profile.

They found other people who had similar problems with this guy and then prevented him from coming to the convention. They did not want him accosting anyone else. Yes, there should be more of these types of actions taking place when these types of things come up.

The more routine they become and the more people understand that there will be consequences to when they act inappropriately; then it will set a good precedent into the future.

Because we do not want anyone coming into the movement thinking that they can do anything that they want to do. This is not [Laughing] how this works!

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Thomas: Even in our community, there is responsibility and accountability that we have as human beings, whether we’re believers or not.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.

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