Friday, January 20, 2012

Atheism and Agnosticism in the African-American Community

For a while now, I have been hearing many reports about African-Americans coming out and declaring their atheism. To me, this is not new. There have been many figures that I have studied who were Black freethinkers who happened to be atheists. I can understand for many people that it can be a foreign concept or idea to grab a hold of, an African-American who is involved in irreligion. If you ask me, I think it's exciting but not because I would like to see people of color turn away from Christianity or their respective religions, but because it's courageous for anyone to declare their own thoughts and views. I'm sure you have heard that it is social suicide for a Black person to call themselves an atheist, mainly because we have roots in the church. Christianity is tied to the anti-slavery and Civil Rights Movements, and it is, unfortunately, gruesomely connected to the time of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Middle Passage. But several are asking why. Why would anyone, especially a Black person, be an atheist?

Whether one wants to believe it or not, African-Americans have been a part of the religion war, stemming back to the voyages that took place centuries ago when descendants were kidnapped from their home continent of Africa and shipped to various countries all over the world. As years have gone by, we have grown deeper into independent thought. It is being seen as highly sinful by Black society for one of our own to call themselves an atheist. It is fact that we have had information of any sort given to us and have believed it and taken it as truth. We live in a nation where we have numerous freedoms. One of them is religious freedom, as stated in the U.S. Constitution, but some of us are blinded by that. This applies to agnosticism equally as atheism since both are under that same umbrella of irreligion.

I am an agnostic. My trajectory with religion has been insane. I grew up in a Baptist household and then when I was 16, I began researching other religions. After I came out, I became a Unitarian Universalist and joined the local Unitarian church (where I am still a member, but don't go very often). In October 2010, I became a Buddhist and around that time, I declared myself to be an agnostic atheist, emphasis on the agnostic side. How did I come to declare that? As I was coming into my own individuality, I realized that I had a lot of religious beliefs forced upon me. Everything had to be associated with God and with church, and after graduating high school, I decided that's not how I wanted to live my life. My childhood had Sunday School, Bible study, choir rehearsals, Brotherhood meetings, Vacation Bible School... I didn't want that to be a part of my life. I witnessed too many contradictions and hypocrisies in the church, suddenly didn't interpret the Bible in the ways that I was taught to, and I questioned many times. To this day, I read, I research, and I form my own opinions. In Christianity, it wasn't that for me. It was all about black and white areas. A lot about me is a foreign concept to my family.  When I left it, I decided to live my life my way.

I've run into people that have said "I don't understand how anyone doesn't believe in God". My response to that is: I don't understand how anyone doesn't like the color sea green or doesn't like to watch Turner Classic Movies on a Friday night. You cannot determine whether someone is good or bad based on their religious preference. You cannot force religion or any other philosophies or ideas on people and you must let others come into their own. Everyone has the freedom to choose the life they want to have, the freedom to be who they are, the freedom to embrace whatever ideas and thoughts. African-Americans as an overall race, we are still trying to learn that lesson. We know about "forcing on" all too well. It's something we inherited from oppressors and it repeats in our history. This should be a part of our mission of doing better.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Exploited King

Martin Luther King is one of my personal heroes and one of people I think of when I think of equality, peace, and nonviolence. 

I encountered something very out of the ordinary today. On one of the Facebook groups that I am a part of, someone posted a flyer for a black gay event for MLK Weekend, a event that is typical (just like a gay pride celebration). The flyer consisted of a picture of Dr. King with pictures of shirtless male models accompanying it on the side. It caused some uproar in the comments, but the person who posted it was trying his hardest to defend why he created such a promotional ad; he's somehow involved in club promotions and it was his event or club. I can't remember. What I do know is that I was in strong opposition.

It's blatantly disrespectful to create an event of sexual promiscuity, partying, all the things that are associated with the wild life in the LGBTQ community and do it in the name of Dr. King. That is my problem, tagging the name of a world famous human rights leader to a night that is obviously going to be about hyper-sexual dick. It is merely exploitation. I see so much wrong in having to have a pride-style celebration for all kinds of holidays and it doesn't just exist in the black gay community. What an absurd thing to do.

This event is going on as of right now. I don't know why. Maybe because us gays always have to celebrate on every major day of the calendar, but why does it have to be something sexually related? Why does it have to be about strippers, go-go dancers, and fucking until you drop? Don't get me wrong, I'm not against any of this, but for Martin Luther King, Jr.? No excuse. It's not respectful at all. Yes, he was a freedom fighter, but his death reminds of the sacrifices he made so that future generations could reap the benefits of a more progressive society. He fought for better employment and receiving a good education for African-Americans, not for us to embrace the fact that being a stripper with a GED is the very best that we can do. 

I believe that if Dr. King was alive, he would be for gay rights. His philosophies perfectly align with the LGBT agenda that we are striving for today. But because of these MLK weekend celebrations that many black gays are so fond of, I think that he would come back and do a speech just like the one in The Boondocks. He would be disappointed in us. King Day should be a day for us to give back to the community, get involved and do service. There are going to be many volunteer opportunities and King celebrations taking place. It is not a day off, but a day on. If you do not think about his universal dream of peace, freedom, and equality for all during the year, at least think about it on the day that we annually pay tribute to him. We, as the black gay community, need to obviously get it together. Seriously.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

i write...

For as long as I can remember, I've always had a pen in my hand. Since childhood, there has been a personal fascination of a utensil hitting the paper. It's safe to say that I treat the materials like I'm in a relationship. When I was a kid and I would visit the stores with my mom, the first section that I would always visit would be the aisle of the notebooks, loose leaf paper, etc. I had a collection of alphabet tablets that were broader than wide ruled sheets and memo pads that slide into my pocket. There was always something to write down. I think that I was born with a hippie identity. Instilled in me was a love of color, of art, of having some desire of freedom and I wanted to explore all of that through words. However, I was serious about writing professionally when I got to middle school when I was basically in the closet honing my writing talent. To be frank, I was not that good at first, but the good part about it is that I was writing constantly and consistently. I kept journals from the time I was a preteenager until the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav in 2008, which is when I began to translate my thoughts into the blogosphere. I didn't really want anyone to know that I was a writer unless it was on my own terms, but there was a moment where I almost stopped writing forever. My journal was actually taken from me in the 8th grade and I didn't know that it was gone until someone at the back of the class was reading it out loud to EVERYONE. It was very humiliating because they were my private thoughts (and back then I was struggling very hard with my sexual orientation. I didn't want that struggle to leak out at that time, but unfortunately it kind of did, but quickly went away). Because of the journal incident (that made me almost have a panic attack), I started having depression that I have/was never medicated or diagnosed for.

When high school came around, people always wanted to read my stuff and they thought that I was good. One person told me to perform in a school poetry slam and I refused because I had decided that I was a poet for the page, not for the stage. When I was 14, I won a couple of amateur poetry slams, but didn't consider myself a performer until I got to be a part of this amazing arts program starting in my sophomore year. The WordPlay Teen Writing Project is credited as my foundation and my coming into as an artist. I began to study under great local artists, one of them who is Chancelier "xero" Skidmore, who was ranked as the 3rd slam poet in the world in 2011. From there on, I took the title of "poet" and I take it serious. Because of this foundation, I have been able to extend to a theatre background, become a teaching artist, travel to a few spots in the country to perform, etc. 

I call myself an artist because I dabble in more than just the word. That hippie identity that I think that I was born with? Let's just say somewhere within the last three years, I became born-again with it. Along the way, I've learned some very important lessons about my craft. Things like:

In order to be writer, you have to be a reader.

It doesn't matter what you write. It's ok if you write bullshit. Create battle scars in your notebook. Just write. (I have a tattoo that says "write." on my upper arm in the gay pride colors as a reminder)

Just be you on stage.

I've taken these lessons into account and I reflect on them. Since the spring of 2010, I have been on a hiatus from the stage (in regards to to the spoken word scene) and right now, my focus is on the writing before I can focus on being on the mic. Once I see what material I have to work with, then I can work on taking it to the next level.