Thank you, Clive and Mandisa, the Association of Black Humanists and Black Non-Believers for convening this historic meeting, for creating this platform to highlight black atheist and humanist pride. It is exciting to be part of this event and to be connected with the growing network of black non believers, skeptics and freethinkers. Historical, cultural and social encumbrances have made it difficult for nonbelievers in the black communities to come out and openly identify as atheists or humanists. But as this online event and other recent developments have shown, the freethought landscape in Africa and the African Diaspora is changing and this is a cause for celebration even amidst the gathering clouds.
The growing visibility of nonbelief in the black community is a welcome development especially in challenging the stereotype in academic and popular literature that conflates being black and being religious. This event is yet another step toward adequately situating the discourse on Black religiosity/irreligiosity, it is a step towards highlighting black freethought specifics-black freethought pride, solidarity, art and fellowship. For too long blacks have largely been associated with religious belief, magic, spiritism and occult. The black culture has been conceptualized as estranged from irreligious nontheistic elements and components. Some years ago, while I was doing my field work in Ghana, I travelled to a beach in Accra. I met a man wearing a white robe. He wanted to do some magical display for me. And in the course of our conversation, I told him that I was an atheist. The man stared at me for a while and asked: Are you not an African? From time to time, one confronts this narrative that says, a black person or an African is essentially religious or theistic. But we know this not the case and that the black/African culture is diverse. So with events like this explode the myth; fault the proposition and occasion some cognitive dissonance in the minds of many.
Atheism, skeptical rationality and humanism have a long history and deep roots in Black/African culture. Incidentally these cultural currents are seldom emphasized, and are often designated as alien, western or white. So it is worthwhile to celebrate or at least recognize trends of irreligiosity and non belief in Africa and African Diaspora. It is in order to take pride in the history of freethought and the growing influence and possibilities of nontheism in black communities.
I hope this event will not be a one off program and that in the months and years ahead, black non believers will have occasions like this to meet and interact online and offline, to congregate and take pride in black freethought history and struggles. We need platforms to send important messages, first to people of the world, that black non believers exist and are citizens and neighbours, friends and partners, children and parents, and yes fellow human beings. To people of faith, we seek to live in peace, equal dignity and respect. We seek an end to situations where discrimination and persecution of non believers is seen as an article of faith or implemented as a state policy.
And to other nonbelievers who feel lonely or alone; who find themselves in places and societies where they are persecuted, imprisoned, threatened with execution or treated as mentally sick people, we want you to know this: you are not alone and you will not walk alone. We stand with you and we will walk with you all the way to freedom!