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 music and pop culture.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Sometimes artists can do 180s or 100s or some turning that’s quite dramatic from their standard repertoire, or what’s seen as their standard repertoire of music. What happened in the culture, recently? Why is this surprising in some ways and not in others?
Mandisa Thomas: Music tends to be fluid, and many artists have their creative streaks. Some may change the direction of their music depending on personal and societal factors. This has been the case with the music and visual arts as well.
However recently, Kanye West, who’s now considered a controversial artist, released an album called Jesus Is King. He seems to have gone sort of full right-wing, which has aligned with his now-political views, and being an open Trump supporter.
Now, he’s on what appears to be an evangelical tear with his beliefs. He’s even established a “church” service, which is mostly about music. But it still reinforces belief in some way. I’ve seen a change in Kanye and his musical direction, as well as how he carries himself, ever since the mid-2000’s. He’s always been pretty arrogant, but he was also a good producer of not only his own, but other people’s music. His first three albums were really good in my opinion. But he started shifting and become more of a caricature. This new album appears to be no different. He’s just now gone almost completely right, if you will. Not left, but right [Laughing], it’s very interesting to observe his antics, and how it’s been reflected in his work. It’s not indicative of a person with a sound mind, and this has been confirmed by a number of media appearances and reports over the years.
Jacobsen: Is this a common trend in American music, where people seem edgy and question some of the status quo of the culture, eventually, some, do a complete turn to, more or less, the standard in the society while seeming revolutionary?
Mandisa: I wouldn’t say it’s standard. There are quite a few artists who expand their creative horizons, and it reflects in their music. Some of them may switch gears from time to time. There have also been American artists who have used their music to challenge the political status quo. They’ve totally discussed controversial topics in their lyrics. Take some Christian artists, for example. Most of the time, they stick with the traditional “I love the Lord” format. However, during the 1990’s, a gospel group called The Winans (from the prestigious Winans gospel music family) started speaking more about the atrocities that were taking place throughout the world, and making change for the betterment of humanity. This has been true for the hip-hop genre as well. Music, as well as comedy, have always been those places to challenge ideas and express dissent with what’s going on in society. But for artists to do a complete 180, as we described in Kanye’s case, tends to be very rare.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity in your time, Mandisa.
Mandisa: You’re welcome. 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.