African Americans for Humanism (hereafter referred to as the AAH) are launching a new awareness campaign for Black History Month. The campaign was announced on SkepChick by organizer Debbie Goddard:
Today I’m proud to announce the new African Americans for Humanism campaign, just in time for Black History Month!
Billboards and transit shelter ads featuring historic and contemporary black humanists are going up—in black neighborhoods!—in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington DC, and Durham NC. The ads highlight historic black humanists Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as eight contemporary activists and organizers representing local AAH-affiliated groups in each city.
It surprises some people that an organized group like this exists. It’s well known that African Americans are the most religious minority group in the United States. The history of the American civil rights movement was heavily rooted in religious organization. Black Christian churches were rallying points and disseminators of information. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, of course, a reverend, and his speeches not only drew on scripture, but closely mimicked the cadences and intonations of a sermon.
More radical movements at the same time, including that which Malcolm X was for a time involved in (the same organization later had him assassinated when he broke with its leadership) were also religious in nature, though Christianity was explicitly rejected as a yoke of oppression, and Islam was touted as the proper religion for a black man.
But AAH hopes to get the message across that, though many African Americans are religious, not all of them are. Further, humanists (followers of a philosophy of empathy and concern for humanity’s well-being, independent of belief in the supernatural) of all races have made and are making great contributions to the world as well.
It’s also been frequently noted in skeptic and non-religious communities that “atheism is the only minority you can still openly discriminate against in America.” This may be overstating things just a bit, if only because a major upsurge in prejudicial public discourse has dominated Republican talking points the last few years. Still, it remains true that an openly atheist presidential candidate is, for the moment, inconceivable.
Studies have repeatedly shown that the believing majority strongly distrust non-believers. Intolerance for non-believers seems to have grown with awareness of their existence, as the percentage of people describing themselves as non-religious has grown year after year.
Prominent anti-theist, Richard Dawkins, organized a few years ago an “out” campaign, modelled on gay pride. Each of these movements, civil rights, LGBT rights, and non-religious rights are very different. But they do have one thing in common: moving society forward by getting past prejudice and discrimination. Ultimately, it’s a question of us getting used to different backgrounds, appearances, lifestyles, beliefs and behaviors than our own.
Increasing awareness of a modern prejudice is an appropriate goal for Black History Month, I think. Why don’t we all keep an eye out for AAH’s ads, and check out their website, whatever our personal beliefs happen to be. I almost guarantee we’ll learn something.
Photo credit: George K. Warren