Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.
Mandisa has many media appearances to her credit, including CBS Sunday Morning, CNN.com, and Playboy, The Humanist, and JET magazines. She has been a guest on podcasts such as The Humanist Hour and Ask an Atheist, as well as the documentaries Contradiction and My Week in Atheism. Mandisa currently serves on the Board for American Atheists and the American Humanist Association, and previously for Foundation Beyond Belief, the 2016 Reason Rally Coalition, and the Secular Coalition for America. She is also an active speaker and has presented at conferences/conventions for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Secular Student Alliance, and many others.
In 2019, Mandisa was the recipient of the Secular Student Alliance’s Backbone Award and named the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s Freethought Heroine. She was also the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association’s Person of the Year 2018.
As the president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., Mandisa encourages more Blacks to come out and stand strong with their nonbelief in the face of such strong religious overtones.
“The more we make our presence known, the better our chances of working together to turn around some of the disparities we face. We are NOT alone.”
Here, we talk about political work and more.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s talk about secular people and ordinary religious people getting together and, basically, becoming more involved in the political arena based on some of the regressive policies affecting the lives of ordinary religious people and ordinary secular people every day. How do you recommend that happen in an American context?
Mandisa Thomas: I think it’s because we’re in an age of information and because there’s more dialogue among people from different backgrounds. They are also seeing how this particular administration is treating people of color, whether they are believers or not.
Other marginalized people are starting to see that their principles don’t necessarily align with those in power who represent their religious perspective. That there’s a need to care about others regardless of where they stand, because they realize that if we can be discriminated against, then so can they. No one should want anyone to be held back due to their skin color, their ethnicity, their gender identity, religious views,etc.
Now, as time moves forward, we realize that these policies can affect ALL of us. So it is important for people to actually come together, discuss the issues, especially to iron out any differences and determine where we find common ground.
Jacobsen: In your experience, who have been positive allies for the secular communities in this political activism?
Thomas: The Secular Coalition for America is a good ally. We are a member organization, and they are part of our lobby wing of the secular movement. They do pay attention. They are aware of what is going on in Capitol Hill. They are our voices.This is something that is very important for all of us. It is about listening to and representing the voices of those of us who are further marginalized.
There are a lot of people starting to shed their affiliation with traditional religion, organized religion, and the church. As a result, we’re find common ground with many people, as well as meeting more nonbelievers who may not have openly identified previously. So the SCA has been one of our organization’s good allies.
Jacobsen: How can secular communities be more careful in not doing the same as some religious communities have done to the secular in this political activism and bridge-building?
Thomas: I certainly think that there’s a lot that we could learn from the religious community as far as mobilizing people – without the guilt and fear factors of course. And I think the secular community can do better with not just reaching across the aisle, but also with leading by example and showing up to more events, and connecting with various organizations.
For example, the Secular Coalition for America, the alliance with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, they are also aligned with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which aren’t necessarily secular organizations per se.
But they work for the rights of all Americans. It is aligning and collaborating with those organizations, as well as speaking on issues that pertain to other marginalized communities. Understanding that it isn’t just our issues (ie, church and state separation and atheist visibility) that are important, but there are also other issues that, even if they do not affect us directly, may affect us at some point. In fact, that there are some that already affect many of us.
That is what we also try to make the other side understand. There are many religious people who may have non-believers and atheists in their family. For some of them, it may take a better effort to show that they care. And we may be a resource for them, even if they aren’t coming over to our “side”.
Then there are things that they can learn from us. Same as we can learn from them.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.
Thomas: Thank you.
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: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Canadian Atheist 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, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.