Just about a year ago, Dallas's atheist community announced a new billboard in South Dallas, celebrating "black atheists and freethinkers." This year, just in time for the tail end of black history month, the Fellowship of Freethought, Dallas' largest atheist group, is announcing a spinoff organization for its black members. Called Black Nonbelievers of Dallas, it's launching Sunday and will be the first dedicated black atheist organization in Texas. The group is modeled on and supported by Black Nonbelievers Inc., an Atlanta-based group.
All of which reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend just after our cover story on Dallas' atheists came out a few months ago. She was interested in sending her kid to Camp Quest, the freethinking summer camp the atheists around here help run each year. Her kid is black, though, and she wasn't interested in sending him to a program where he'd feel isolated or uncomfortable.
"How many black atheists are there around here, anyway?" she asked.
It's a good question, and not one that's easily answered. The statewide atheist convention in Austin I mentioned in the cover story didn't include a whole lot of black or brown faces. Although there were a few, they rarely showed up among the speakers onstage. At the moment, two days before its launch, the only certain member of Black Nonbelievers is its founding president, Alix Jules, the executive director of the Fellowship of Freethought. He was also the face of the billboard in South Dallas last year, alongside an image of the poet Langston Hughes and the tagline, "Doubts about religion? You're one of many."
At the time, Jules acknowledged, with a laugh, that he was known as being "the black atheist." But he argued that many black nonbelievers don't feel as comfortable coming out of the godless closet, because of the social cost.
"You have black people who say you can't be black and an atheist," he told us at the time. "If you're a black woman, you're always told the only place you're going to find a good man is in church. Church is so much more in the black community than it is elsewhere. It's the support system, the mill, part of the ecosystem."
Zach Moore, the director-at-large for Fellowship of Freethought, and the person who does most of their media, writes that Jules used to argue against ethnicity-based atheist groups. "But he's done the freethought thing and changed his mind because of evidence and reason," he adds.
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"Black atheists don't necessarily have the same points of view, nor share common daily experiences with the larger New Atheist movement," Jules writes in a press release announcing Black Nonbelievers. "For example, I still get followed in stores because of my race, and I still get stopped by police when driving my car in the wrong neighborhood. And even among the New Atheists, there is significant influence from cultural privilege that we would be wrong to ignore."
The group kicks off Sunday, which also happens to be the National Day of Solidarity for Black Nonbelievers. The group will host a symposium at the Resource Center in Oak Lawn, followed by a social event in Oak Cliff. We've included the full text of the press release below. For a group that hasn't officially launched yet, the Black Nonbelievers already have a rather impressive Internet presence. Find them on FOF's page, Meetup, and, inevitably, Facebook. An FOF interview with Jules is also available here.