Debate Magazine

‘Atheism is for White People’ – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

By Carnun @Carnunmp

Here’s another post inspired by Alom Shaha’s outstanding ‘Young Atheist’s Handbook’.

I hope that these will help a few to consider donating to the campaign to get copies of the book in all English and Welsh secondary schools, the website for which can be found here:


‘Atheism is for white people’ – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

“My friends joke that I am a coconut: brown on the outside, but white on the inside.” – Alom Shaha, The Young Atheist’s Handbook.

I wrote a post fairly recently for the Rationalist Association’s blog (soon set to be in New Humanist magazine too) entitled ‘Does Humanism have a demographic problem?‘. In it, I put forward the idea that organised humanism may experience a turnout perhaps unrepresentative of the total population of humanists. At the lectures that the British Humanist Association provide, for example, the audiences tend to be, on the whole, rather white and rather middle-class, and I think that this is a problem. I understand that this tendency is an issue shared by many membership organisations in the UK; but I can’t help but feel that it needs to be more vocally addressed in humanism’s case, as an idea or belief should have no racial or income-based requirements (even if they are unintentional or accidental).

The article focused more on the ‘class’ side of things though, simply because Alom Shaha himself had provided me with enough quotable material to ‘leave it at that’ when it came to race – but here I will go into more detail of my own on the topic.

The first thing I wish to say is that I think it would be insidious to suggest that skin colour dictates what ideas a person can/cannot hold. Religious identity is far too often conflated with cultural identity, and assumptions of how a person should think and behave based on their heritage result inevitably from this. With it, for example, comes the idea that to be an Atheist is to potentially betray one’s background – after all, Atheism is just for white people, no?

Wrong. It’s a disgusting, divisive, damaging and ultimately patronising charge, that suggestion. That a person’s genes and chance place of upbringing would dictate what they are allowed to think is ridiculous. Atheism is not just an idea of ‘the West’ or a pastime reserved for old white men, it’s ‘universal’. Lacking belief in a God (or gods) is no more bound by race as liking a particular genre of music is.

Sure, someone living in a more-developed European country has a higher chance of being non-religious and favouring secularisation, but that’s only because those countries tend to be more ‘progressive’ and secular themselves. It has nothing to do with skin colour, but people make this weak link, perhaps subconsciously, time and time again.

The irony of it, as I remember Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe mentioning at an event named ‘Breaking the Taboo of Atheism in Black Communities‘ a while back, is that it is the developing world – largely non-white – which needs enlightenment the most. Many people suffer because of religious superstitions, from those accused of witchcraft to homosexuals, and it is them who would most benefit from a lack of said delusions. To call those atrocities but an aspect of ‘their culture’ is horrendously arrogant, and part of the problem.

From the little ‘coconut’ jokes to a more frank, as I have previously heard, “Atheism is for white people”, non-belief is so wrongly portrayed as something racial. It’s absurd. And like most absurdities, it does harm.

It’s harder for non-white Atheists to ‘come out’ because of it, it stifles human progress, and it’s deeply insulting. Which is precisely why Mr Igwe so praised the London Black Atheists group who organised the talk.

“We need this space!” he so often proclaimed – and he was right.

Carnun :P


The ‘Young Atheist’s Handbook 4 Schools’ campaign:

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