As a libertarian and atheist who is a black woman, you might think I would have three strikes against me and the bitterness to prove it, but I don’t. I am not rich, nor do I have a privileged background. I am not special. In fact, I’m pretty darned average. Yes I have faced racism and sexism, but I still stand by all of my views. At the end of the day, no matter how much you wish for order—life is just messy.
Recently, a much more well-known and successful black female atheist and feminist, Sikivu Hutchinson, caught my attention with her article titled “Atheism Has a Big Race Problem That No One is Talking About.” Right off the bat, it reminded me of discussions surrounding libertarians and race, and the big question: Why aren’t there more black libertarians?
Hutchinson doesn’t seem to go as far with that question, and instead tackles the supposed separatism among atheists. She writes:
White organizations go to battle over church/state separation and creationism in schools.
They largely ignore the fact that black nonbelievers face a racial and gender divide precipitated by rollbacks on affirmative action, voting rights, affordable housing, reproductive rights, education and job opportunities. With the highest national rates of juvenile incarceration, as well as suspension and expulsion in K-12 schools, African American youth in particular have been deeply impacted by these assaults on civil rights.
She also talks about how that separatism affects black atheists, suggesting that black atheists are forced to create separate organizations. And that, “If people of color don’t see atheists and humanists stepping up on issues that directly affect their communities, atheists proselytizing about the evils of organized religion will be dismissed as empty paternalism.”
She suggests fixing this problem by having white atheists follow the lead of black atheist groups who have actively done things to help underprivileged youth and to also participate in conferences dealing with social justice.
Her passion to helping other people is admirable. However, her idea of what she thinks atheists ought to do is annoying and flawed.
Unlike many other labels, there is not a defined set of principles or rules that guide atheists. This is why the phrase “like herding cats,” is used. The only thing you know about an atheist is that they don’t believe in God. You can’t make any other assumption about them. Perhaps the exception is that there are vocal atheists who place emphasis on the separation of church and state. But this is an issue that DIRECTLY impacts all atheist—even the black ones. In a country where many would be unhappy if a relative married an atheist and people don’t trust atheists, you can’t really fault some atheists for concentrating on those types of issues.
This doesn’t mean that atheists can only care about one issue. As I said, there aren’t any guidelines on what to do if you are an atheist. I am sure there are other atheists (of any race) like Hutchinson who care about helping others get ahead. But it’s usually not in the name of atheism. Atheists have no responsibility to fix anything—not even issues that might affect them personally. Hutchinson’s ideas reek of collectivism. Atheists have no allegiance to anyone or anything, if they so choose. They have no obligation to address race or sex issues.
I have no bones to pick with what Hutchinson proposes for those personally interested. But things get dangerously icky when you start thinking about what large groups of people with potentially nothing in common ought to be doing.