Ask Mandisa 26 – One River: Two Streams Divided

by | May 19, 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 streams in the secular communities.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: There are two streams of thought in the secular community. One wants to speak their mind, say what they want, often without consequence in a social or professional capacity. 

If they are infringed in some way, insofar as they see it, they will claim their free speech or freedom of expression rights are being infringed upon. 

Another view is looking at more social justice concerns from a different angle, as in human rights and equality, with respect to more inclusion of women in leadership, more inclusion of people of colour in leadership, and a broader base of human rights in consideration more equally distributed within the secular communities than simply freedom of expression.

There is a tension, I notice, not necessarily in theory, but certainly in some communities in practice. Can we explore some of that today, please?

Mandisa Thomas: Yes, we see that the movement, the secular movement or the atheist movement if you will, is shifting as there have been more calls for diversity and inclusion. Now, you see more people of color getting involved, as well as women and young people.

In many instances, it is in leadership roles too. And as this happens, there is a shift in focus as to concerns that affect marginalized communities and rightfully so. As people come out of religion, especially from these communities, there are often other issues that come along with it.

The community should understand what those are and be prepared to help. Yes, there has been some talk about how the movement is being infiltrated by folks who care more than about simply atheism and education on scientific theory.

What they need to understand, some of these theories and methods have been used in not so good ways. So, to paint a broad brush as if nothing ever happened, nothing bad ever happens, is a mistake. We’re a movement of human beings, we aren’t perfect.

Human beings are capable of some very good and bad things as with what we see with religion. There are many people in this community who encourage people to value and demand evidence regarding religion, but not much else. 

Now, there are more women getting involved and assuming leadership roles (myself included). I also tend to highlight more women in the movement now, especially as they are coming out and participating. It is very important.

The representation matter as much as the diversity of the causes and initiatives that matter to us. Even if we do not care about things equally, they should at least be acknowledged.

Because, ultimately, they affect us and the people around us.

Jacobsen: What have been some notable efforts for more equal representation of people in the movement? I do mean events like Women in Secularism, for instance.

Thomas: Yes, there was the Women in Secularism conference. There have also been others, including the Secular Women Work conference. In addition to plenary talks, there have been workshops, presented by women.

There is also Skepticon, which is predominantly women led. Many of the issues there surround subjects that pertain to marginalized communities.

Of course, BN along with Black Skeptics and the Women’s Leadership Project, is putting on the first Women of Color Beyond Belief in October of this year, which will directly highlight and feature all women of color who are activist organizers and leaders in this movement.

What is significant about this, over the years, there have been a number of us who have participated in these conferences, but we’re still sporadic and still a very small few; that have been represented on a larger scale.

We know there are more. We decided to bring as many of us as possible into one event to show the work that we’re doing. But also, that it is important to be supported as much as the other conferences featuring predominantly white speakers.

There is also a lot of lip service around this. But regarding action, it is still lacking. We are working to include more women and women of color in positions to help influence the organizations and what they can better focus on

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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