Thanks, Black Jesus!


Thanks, Black Jesus!
Race, Religion and Atheism

Cut by: Davita Cuttita

*Disclaimer: Although I am a theist, I’m no atheist basher. If I had a vendetta against atheism or hated  I wouldn’t even talk to atheists or have them as good friends, let alone even try to open up a positive, safe discussion about atheism (and race) with this post. I’m the type of person whereas if I don’t like you or have a problem with you; you’re DEAD to me. This is not one of those cases. End of story. Thank you.*

I had a very interesting spiritual upbringing.

My Dad is extremely skeptical of any and all things to do with “organized” religion and encouraged me to question any and all matters spiritual while my mother is a very spiritual and God-fearing person.

Being poor immigrants in the ghetto, my mother worked often and tried not only to instil my siblings and I not only with a sense of pride and dignity in all things we learned and did, but she also tried to help us develop our own spiritual senses of pride and dignity. From the ages of 8 and 6 respectively, my sister and I (at the time, I have other siblings) used to dress ourselves in the best formal attire my mother could afford and go to church as a duo while she worked and my Dad slept on the couch.

My mother always stressed spiritual autonomy; she never tried to “force” anything on me or matter-of-factly interpret something. I used to complain that I didn’t understand what the preacher was saying because he read the King James Version of the Bible but my mother assured me that having faith was a lot like learning a new language—the more you listened and asked questions, the more you’d learn and the “better” you’d be at practicing it and understanding it.

Although my Dad is not religious at all; he still shares some of the thousands of years old beliefs of now diminished African religions. For example, to this day my Dad will see red if you wake anyone up suddenly. He firmly believes an individual should wake up slowly and be fully awake before getting out of bed. Whenever one of us decided to be little pricks and scare somebody out of their sleep, my Dad would go mad with anger: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! You have to give his/her soul a chance to return to their body properly! Don’t you know half your soul travels to the spirit world while you’re sleeping?! STOP IT!!”

My closest friends come from many spiritual backgrounds: Grandpa Dinosaur and her family are Buddhists; some of my friends are agnostic while a few are atheist, a few are Hindu while the vast majority of them tend to be of the Muslim/Christian persuasion.

Out of my friends that are atheists, only three of them are People of Colour; all others are White. Of the three, one of them is Black and from Kenya while the other two are biracial–one of the biracial two can probably be classified as “white wash” (his words, not mine).

I’m sure there are many atheists of colour in the world but I can bet you my left ovary that the vast majority of these atheists of colour are located in Western or Eurocentric societies.

My question is this: Why? I can’t give a full answer but culture definitely plays a big part.

You know, I don’t think being a person of faith (or even non-faith) has anything to do with how much you have or how smart you are because living under that assumption can only draw spiritually racist and classist paradigms no matter what you believe.

I wanted to get that straight because I am sick and TIRED of hearing the logic argument or the “they’re just not smart/educated enough” argument because it is becoming a *bordeline* racist argument when you look at the statistics that prove that the vast majority of people in the world who do believe in God are Coloured.

As People of Colour globally dominate the percentage of people who have belief in a God or gods; would it still be appropriate to use the extreme argument that theists are stupid, ignorant, foolish, uneducated, “illogical”, “sheep like”, childish, cowardly, delusional or culturally backwater? NO. However, nor does being a non-believer make you any of those things or worse.

I *know* that when people are arguing about the existence of a god, that it fundamentally has nothing to do with smarts or funds: it’s all cultural; and because it’s cultural, matters are heart breakingly more difficult for people of colour and especially for atheists of colour in regards to “coming out” to family or even finding somewhere supportive of them, their culture AND the colour of their skin.

I’m not happy with that at all. I’m not saying they have to join me on Team Jesus, but I am saying that they deserve a positive, nurturing environment for their beliefs that doesn’t skewer others with put-downs and disrespect (and ideally, I wish all places of worship followed this paradigm too) but is also respective of their racial identities.

As a Black girl, places of worship for ANY deity continue to remain the only places where I can openly cry about everything and everything that bothers me spiritually, racially, mentally and physically with other people of colour but also with other women and young girls of colour.

I recall helping Grandpa’s mom clean and organize the Buddhist temple for a full afternoon and listening to old Cambodian ladies tell me about the hardships they went through, the physical and psychological abuse they endured on an almost daily basis from their children and/or grandchildren and about the disabiling pain they were in. I recall feeling that sense of community and peace when we spoke, when they cried, when they were grateful to the few who supported them (including Grandpa’s mom); when they could come to Buddha and be at peace from the world’s burdens and sorrows.

I recall going to church at about the age of 15 with an aunt of mine as a 20-something year old Black girl described how she’d grown up in a Crackhouse sleeping on a mattress on the floor with her father and young sister as she’d been abandoned by her mother. She described how by age 9 she’d been raped multiple times, burned, abused and stabbed repeatedly in the vagina on two separate occasions; how social services stood by and did NOTHING and how her father was too drugged up to give a damn. She described how during her teens in the dead of night, she grabbed her young sister and fled to the streets and lived there for years homeless and drifting from shelter to shelter until she was able to secure a job and was now in college. She thanked God for helping her to remain strong. I remember the other women—Black, White—crying. We all embraced eachother in the church and cried hard.

I recall reading a newspaper article about a multi-millionaire White atheist who woke up one day, sold off all his properties, quit smoking, gambling and drinking then after all his friends and wife left him due to his “unsettling” change of heart, he went to Haiti with nothing but a Bible and a suitcase. In Haiti, he built an orphanage and took in all the children he could find and cared for them. One night, guerrilla soldiers broke into the orphanage and began to slaughter and rape the female Haitian care workers and slowly murder the children. The whole article, this White man referred to these Black orphans as “his children”.

The soldiers kidnapped him from the orphanage and demanded money or they would kill more children; they tortured and beat him, they cut off one of his arms. He would pass in and out of consciousness during the day while a single toddler was left in his care. He gave the child all his meagre food portions and played with it while at night, the men beat and cut him for more money. Once he was finally rescued and returned to Canada, he couldn’t even catch a cab home…no one wanted to stop for this man without any possessions, one arm missing and a tired and hungry look—he appeared homeless. When the press asked him what he was going to do he said he was going home to show his family that he was still alive then return to Haiti on the next flight “for his children”.

Traditionally in my Black culture, science is not used as a tool by which to dismantle the idea of god but it is used as a tool by which to explain how God works and to encourage one to take pride in one’s mental abilities and above all; be responsible. Humans are held personally accountable for any and every wicked deed: evil is not perceived as evidence that God doesn’t exist but rather, my Black culture perceives evil as a fact that people exist evilly and God should be expected.

Doesn’t this cultural perspective fit into its own type of logic? Who should even begin to define or deny my culture’s logic anyway? Or yours?

It’s going to be difficult to bridge this cultural-spiritual gap and no matter what side you’re on, it’s a challenging and slippery slope. At the end of the day, White people have always been (and continue to be) associated with an oppressive negativity in the Coloured rememory of events.

White person said I can’t be a lawyer.
White person said I’m not smart.
White person said I’m not pretty.
White person said I can’t work here.
White person said I can’t eat there.
White person said I’m not allowed to do/buy/learn/have XYZ.
White person said my God isn’t real.

I’m just the messenger here but in my experience, quite a few Black people play connect the dots with all of the above; especially the older generation. And for atheists of colour? Well, they just assume you’re whitewashed.

All of us getting along NEEDS to be applied to our ethno-spiritual levels and perspectives for the sake of all believers and non-believers involved. We have to learn how to deal with racial and religious politics because they are NOT separate issues and intermingle very much on a cultural level; especially for Coloured People.

Religious typecasting and pigeonholing? STOP IT. Whether we like it or not, we are coming onto borderline racism so PLEASE, take two steps back and reconsider; atheists and theists alike. We need to respect eachother and respect one another’s human experiences.

Religion or not, being human is HARD and the fact of all matters is that once we get to the finish line of life, the truth will either present itself or fall by the wayside.


~ by davitacuttita on April 2, 2009.

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