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 one human species.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: There can be flare-ups in American politics and American social life. One of those is around the idea of “send them back.”
This has a long history of various forms. How do you deal with individuals who use that rhetoric? How do you clarify to those who have not thought about the issue much?
Mandisa Thomas: Yes, the people who make those claims are ill-informed and ignorant of American history. They don’t consider the number of white people who were once immigrants to this country, as well as the number of the Africans who were brought here involuntarily.
If one truly studies American history, then we should ALL go back [Laughing].
Thomas: There were many of us born here in the United States. Many who were born here tend to reflect their parents’ cultural and ethnic origins. While my first name is South African, my parents made an effort to connect with African culture, and this was a popular trend in the 1970’s Black community.
I am a New York City native. If someone looked at my name, then one might say that I should go back to “where I came from”.
Unfortunately, many people tend to be very ignorant. They are woefully misinformed about public policies, as well as historical and current events. It is the ridiculous notion that anyone who does not reflect or represent the majority is automatically foreign.
It is prejudicial, and can be/has been racist. Astounding is probably the mildest way to describe it.
Jacobsen: How do these genetic kits people have an interest in help with better understanding the situation of one species? The idea that there is no pure anyone, probably. Outside of evolutionary theory, how can a lay knowledge of these genetic kits like 23andMe help with this better understanding?
Thomas: Those, of course, are very helpful. YouTube also has a lot of interesting and informative videos that can explain things very simply.
If someone doesn’t have either the time or inclination to read published books or journals, then they can click on YouTube video that offers good information on genetics. Of course, it’s always best to have literary references and read more, but that’s a good start.
There are also some podcasts, though I cannot name them offhand. They discuss history and scientific inquiries. People can listen to them to get a better understanding of how this all has progressed over time.
Jacobsen: What would you hope for a future dialogue in America? One more informed by science. And one more informed by mutual understanding.
Thomas: It needs to be both. There must be an educated and informed perspective when it comes to dialogue; these two aren’t mutually exclusive. The scientific method is the most crucial part. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always show people how to be empathetic and understanding. Also, the notion that there must be a divine premise to show understanding is absolutely ridiculous. This is actually more humanist in nature; we are curious beings, and we can also be nurturing. Compassion is not the enemy of reason and logic, I always say.
In this country especially, the educational systems are so fragmented. All information is not given to us, especially in our formative years. Education is a lifelong process, and there are some who are more aware and informed at different stages in life than others.
We must understand the disparities that are at stake here. But also, it is having a better understanding of what people go through that will be important to furthering the dialogue.
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.