Friday, February 6, 2009

Black atheism on the march (in cyberspace)

I'm not in a position to gauge the progress of lack thereof of African American atheism and humanism with solid data; I can only relate my impressions. Only a small fraction of atheists, black or otherwise, belong to atheist organizations or are networked in any way. Black atheist participation seems to be increasing a bit in large cities, my guess is where there are concentrations of deracinated professional people. Aside from demographic and political changes over time, technology is playing a major role. For example, the existence of meetups combines Internet networking with face-to-face congregation. It seems that a "traditional" organization (albeit relatively recent and the first of its kind) such as African Americans for Humanism is making a lot more headway in Africa that it is in the USA. Atheist or humanist groups ensconsed in black communities themselves seem to be a rarity and would be awfully difficult to sustain in such hostile environs. There is the Center for Inquiry's Harlem branch.

As for the African-American atheist presence online, in addition to the venues already mentioned, there is a black-history-and-culture-oriented group, the Black American Free Thought Association (BAF/TA). There is also one of the most dynamic all-round atheist ventures in the USA, The Infidel Guy, based in Atlanta. Though there are a few pages and discussions devoted to black topics, Reginald V. Finley Sr. ("The "Infidel Guy") does not focus his attention on presenting himself as a "black atheist". Which is not to say that this is any less an effective or legitimate way to present oneself. I certainly don't believe in pigeonholing people, but we do not live in a socially integrated society just yet, and so the topic of religion and atheism among the black population remains of great importance.

With the possible exception of social networking sites, the cutting edge for the public advance of black atheism seems to be the appearance of personal blogs popping up all over the world. Historically, and currently, most black atheists have been isolated, silenced, ostracized in their own communities. The situation is as bad now as it ever was, the difference being that the Internet provides an opportunity for heretofore isolated individuals to reach out to the rest of the world. We are more likely to see individuals emerge on the Internet than to see people join official organizations or subscribe to magazines. Political changes, generational changes, upward mobility for some, and technology may change all that. The media visibility of the "new atheists" and the recent atheist publishing book may make a contribution. But I'm guessing that the Internet will make the biggest difference.

I won't list all the relevant blogs here, but I will mention a favorite, Black Woman Thinks...Religion, Politics, Race, Atheism and more!.

I have only recently begun to look seriously into social networking sites. I decided to check out BlackPlanet.com after discovering that Prof. Eddie Glaude Jr. posted there a harsh commentary I wrote on this blog about him. I have to say that BlackPlanet.com has one of the worst concentration of idiots I've ever seen on one web site, but perhaps it's really just a hook-up site for young people raised on cyberculture. There are two atheist groups on there, though. The more palatable one is the smaller: Today's Atheists of America. A much larger and much more frustrating group is Freethinkers New Trinity. Here you will find constant assaults by Christian, mystical, and Afrocentric nuts on freethinkers, which are tolerated by the moderator, who himself writes all his posts in capital letters and uses texting abbreviations like "U". I can't stand this practice. There are some intelligent people who show up, but the problem with social networking sites as well as Internet chat in general is that they are mired in wasteful banter and triviality. Still, one gets a better glimpse of just how many freethinkers there are in the woodwork yearning to breathe free.

I should not forget to mention YouTube. One has to try out several search variations. I had the best luck with "black atheist"; try also "African American atheist", "black freethinker", etc.

Before I deliver the punchline, I need to mention the resources I've compiled on the subject.

Documentation of black atheism, freethought, & humanism on the web can be found in my atheist web guide.

See also my working bibliography, which includes black freethought as well as black intellectual life in general, embedded within a bibliography relevant to the topic of autodidacticism.

Finally, the combination of blog, social networking, and YouTube activity has convinced me that an organized discussion group in which we can pool all these resources is timely, so today I created a Black Freethought group on Atheist Nexus, the premiere atheist social networking site. Note that this is a group for all people interested in the subject. This I think constitutes an important step forward.

5 comments:

Ralph Dumain said...

I am told that Facebook is the place to be for social networking. I'll have to check it out and report back.

Eve L. said...

the problem with social networking sites as well as Internet chat in general is that they are mired in wasteful banter and triviality.

Absolutely, as well as trolling and bullying. I enjoy a certain amount of clever banter myself, but if that's all there is, I soon grow bored. Definitions of "clever" seem to vary wildly.

You might be interested in this article about viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace: http://www.danah.org/papers/essays/ClassDivisions.html

Ralph Dumain said...

This is all fascinating and new to me, especially as I don't use MySpace or Facebook. Thanks!

shutch said...

I recently wrote a commentary on this:

http://www.afro-netizen.com/2009/05/out-of-the-closet-black-atheists.html

Apanage21 said...

I am a Black atheist - I do nothing "in the closet." Check out my blog @ apanage21.blogspot.com.