Ask Mandisa 61: American Elections and the Black Freethought Political Movement(s)

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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.

Here we talk about Election Day, voting, and Black secularism in the United States.

*This was conducted November 2, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, we are back with another “Ask Mandisa.” This will be an in-the-moment commentary, basically, the day before the elections close, the United States for the presidential federal election. Also, it will be published after. So it will be something like a retrospective in the moment. So, we can take that as a caveat to the entire conversation. Today, I wanted to focus on black, secular American views of elections in general. What are the conversations that tend to happen around these times? What’s the general attitude?

Mandisa ThomasSo, Election Day in the United States, particularly the Presidential election that takes every four years, is pretty tense in general. However, many of the conversations that take place in Black communities surround the candidates prioritizing our causes and interests. We are also checking for these officials to hold up their process once they are elected (or re-elected). Because far too often, we’ve seen campaign promises fall to the wayside. Also, the Supreme Court striking down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, still hits a nerve. Because if we remember, historically blacks were denied the right to vote. And so many in our communities scrutinize the representatives on this basis.

There is also a heated debate in Black communities about the effectiveness of voting. While it is very important and I think we all should be doing so, the history of the United States and its dubious treatment of black folks has created serious skepticism. Ironically, there’s less skepticism of religion and how it seeps into politics, but the conversations definitely do vary. We look at things from a historical perspective, the candidates who they’re running, and whether or not they are actually aware of the issues that affect the black community, and what they’re going to do about them.

Jacobsen: How does that kind of conversation differ from religious black Americans perspective on these things?

ThomasActually, many of us share the same type of skepticism when it comes to politics and the voting, etc. But I think a major difference is that many secularists like myself don’t just vote strictly down party lines; we research our candidates more thoroughly. We like to look beyond the rhetoric, make sure that the candidates aren’t just saying what they think people want to hear, and that they’re actually going to work on behalf of the people. 

We are also mindful of the religious backgrounds of those who are running for elected offices, and if that will affect their job. I have connected with a number of candidates as a representative of Black Nonbelievers, who were actually intrigued by the fact that our organization existed. And I remember telling them that we’re a part of the voting bloc, and that we are concerned about whether or not our voices will be heard. And in true politician style, they were willing to listen. But it’s always interesting to see how that plays out when they’re not on the campaign trail anymore. But more often than not, we tend to share many of the same views.

Jacobsen: Now, there are some interesting individuals who are prominent. Yet, they would not be expected to support an individual candidate like Trump. It’s unusual people like 50 Cent, Kanye West, on face value, it would seem extremely unusual for these individuals to support Donald Trump, President Trump. However, they do. So how is that conversation had in the community? If it’s had in the community, extremely prominent people, wealthy people who are black and Americans, who support Donald Trump, when in general, many black Americans did not support Donald Trump.

Thomas: So that’s been a very interesting conversation as well. Many, believers and non-believers share many of the same views regarding classism. Because Donald Trump has shown himself to favor those who are wealthy, and there are Black celebrities who fit into that category. So, he will pander to them, which is sad, because they have no idea, or they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a regular citizen. They are not speaking for the entire black community, and to see them portrayed a doing so, many believers or non-believers alike do not agree with them at all.

It’s quite astounding to see these particular celebrities side with Trump, especially on matters pertaining to money, and not on behalf of your average citizen. And we ask ourselves, “Wow, is it really worth it?” It’s almost as bad, if not worse, than being an open atheist, because ultimately it appears as if they are ACTUALLY betraying our communities on behalf of the mighty dollar, and also on behalf of someone who really doesn’t seem to give a crap about most people in general. And so, when they are so far removed from what’s going on every day, ultimately, they only seem to care about themselves – and definitely not the communities that many of them come from.

Jacobsen: Any final thoughts on tomorrow, Election Day?

ThomasI encourage everyone to definitely take part in the voting process. Hopefully, you would have researched your candidates and that you’re also voting on behalf of progressive and evidence-based principles. Scientific, humanistic values over self serving or corporate interests. We are the ones who make a difference. We need to realize that we can get through this pandemic if we can get through all of these other obstacles that we’re dealing with. So, I will close by saying, “Vote your values, vote your conscience, and vote on behalf of the collective and the community – not just yourself.”

Jacobsen: Mandisa, it’s a pleasure, as always.

ThomasThank you.

*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*

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 AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican AtheistsAmerican Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

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Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.

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