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 Juneteenth and Jim Crow in 2020.
*This was conducted June 22, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We are back with another “Ask Mandisa.” Now, you grew up on a steady historical diet, in terms of knowing history. So, one of those mentioned to me was a knowledge of and recognition of Juneteenth. This was recently celebrated over the weekend. What is the importance of this particular historical moment in the context of the United States? How does this have larger implications about recognizing history for much of the population in the United States who can have historical amnesia?
Mandisa Thomas: So, in this current climate of recognizing that Black Lives Matter and having a better understanding of racism and injustice, the holiday of Juneteenth takes on a new significance. More people are learning that in this country, black folks have never been truly free, and that there is still a systemic effort to oppress black folks and other people of colour. Juneteenth is a celebration of what was ultimately bad communication on behalf of the state of Texas. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring slavery illegal in 1863. But it wasn’t until June 19th of 1865 that the slaves in Texas and other Southern states were informed that this was the case. And so, this is an acknowledgement of a celebration that the slaves were freed, but also the significance of the disregard for black people in this country. And as we see more resistance and protests not only around the country, but around the world, being so close to the Juneteenth holiday makes it more significant. Hopefully, there will be more concerted efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday or part of national recognition in the wake of it being ignored for so long.
Jacobsen: What are some of the fallout even after the end of slavery and Jim Crow laws and, basically, that, at least, the 60s version of the Civil Rights movement? And what are some of the fallouts that we’re seeing in some of the current moments of that? I mean, in terms of its explicit, dramatic moments of activism or protest.
Thomas: Of course, we’re seeing a response in the form of “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter”, with a lot of white people asking, “What about OUR ancestral struggles?” On social media, we are seeing a rise in white people openly using racial slurs against black folks and becoming irate about the resistance movements. Someone put a noose in Bubba Wallace, a Black NASCAR driver’s vehicle, in response to the commemoration of the Black Lives Matter movement. NASCAR also banned the Confederate flag in 2020, which most likely fueled the flames of anger for many fans. However, we’ve seen quite a few white people who want to help, and try to do better. But even their privilege and upbringings are racist in nature, which is compelling them to try to get more black folks to educate them and do more work at our expense – which isn’t helpful at all.
So every time something like this occurs and there is a push for policy changes, whether in the private or public sector, there will be pushback, and people feeling like their rights are being infringed upon. But I think it’s because they’ve been used to things being a certain way for so long, that they are scared. Change is hard, but it is necessary.
Jacobsen: Mandisa, thank you so much for your time.
*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 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.
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Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.