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 the picking spots and being more sure when, or if, contacting authorities.
*Interview conducted in early 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, there is a reasonably or sufficiently common occurrence of people, often white, calling the police for people living out their lives when they’re black in America. There can be instances in the humanist community. There can be instances outside the humanist community, regardless. What are some things people should be taking into account before they escalate straight to calling the authorities, the police, which is a serious deal?
Mandisa Thomas: Lately, there have been a number of instances where white folks now who are rightfully receiving backlash for calling authorities on black people who are minding their business. In general, When it comes to a situation, and you think it may , I would ask myself a couple of questions. One, “Is anyone being harmed by these actions? Is there anyone in immediate danger?” If there isn’t, then it is best to leave people alone.
There can be dire consequences for black folks once law enforcement gets involved, and can possibly make a benign situation worse. If the situation is harmful, especially is children are involved, then yes, call the authorities, and let them handle it from there. Do not take it upon yourself to call the police or any type of authority if it isn’t absolutely necessary, and definitely don’t take it upon yourself to intervene directly.
Jacobsen: What are some common occurrences of this?
Mandisa: Well, there’s the ongoing issue of white people – women in particular – who will claim they’re not racist. The most recent was a woman who called on the black family who was barbecuing in a park. A couple of years ago, there was another incident where Yale graduate student who called the authorities on a student who was sleeping in a common area at the school. There are probably far more of these instances that are reported in the news. But upon reading up on these particular situations, I thought “If you receive backlash, you got what you deserved.” One of the women claimed that her life was ruined because of the backlash she got for calling authorities. But ultimately, we don’t have to show sympathy for people who potentially put other innocent people in danger.In this society where people are “colour blind”, they are inconsiderate of possible danger for people of colour when authorities are called. And there should be accountability for White people who continue to do this, because it reeks of privilege. We don’t need to “hear your side to clear you.” – a claim that many White people in these situations have made. Especially when you did not take the time to engage the subjects objectively. It’s ridiculous to me, to think that they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Jacobsen: What about the overall situation?
Thomas: For overall situations, it depends on how close you might be. If there may be some resolution without having to call the authorities, then by all means, that’s best. However, it doesn’t mean that you should put yourself in danger. It may be hard to walk away from a situation that potentially could be dangerous. And the colour of one’s skin does NOT validate such a determination. And if there isn’t any imminent danger, I would either leave it alone altogether, or leave it to any authorities that may be passing by. Also, we must consider that eyewitnesses can be fallible. They can possibly be mistaken about something that they’ve seen. So it is best to remain objective and responsible in these situations, and check any biases in the process.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.
Mandisa: 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.