Advancing a Humanist Response to Issues Facing Communities of Color


May 19, 2010

One thing that has become evident to me in my discussions with members of the secular community is that there seems to be a strong desire to increase ethnic and cultural diversity within the humanist movement. However, for the most part, everyone I've encountered seems to have little awareness of the socioeconomic barriers to achieving this aim, much less knowing how to address these barriers. It is my assertion that advancing humanism within communities of color cannot be obtained without a humanist response to the social realities facing these communities.

Institutional racism and xenophobia have given religious institutions an avenue to capture the minds of divergent communities by providing a social safety net. However, the ideologies these institutions promote often create a cyclical dependence by their followers, leading to a stagnation of these communities' development.

Most programs looking to address the lack of diversity within the humanist movement are quite limited in their scope, often focusing solely on the low-income African American community, ignoring all other communities of color (and economic strata within these communities) and rarely addressing the practical aspects of what feeds religiosity amongst the members of these communities.

The cultural integration of religion into every aspect of the African American community is one that can be all-consuming and lead to extreme isolation of African American atheists/humanists. For a divergent community to exclude its already marginalized members can be psychologically and emotionally overwhelming for those members, and needs to be counteracted by developing a structured support system.

On Sunday, I was fortunate to attend the African American Humanist Conference at the Center for Inquiry's Washington, DC branch. The aim of the program was to promote diversity in our movement by allowing those within the African American community to know they are not an anomaly and that there are indeed others like them who not only share their philosophical worldview, but also their cultural heritage–a heritage that is valid and in no way deserves to be discarded to fulfill the aims of humanism.

The speakers chosen were excellent, all stressing the need for practical applications of humanist ideologies to the lives of African Americans. This echoed my sentiments and reinforced my previous assertion that the only way to ensure that diversity becomes a reality within this movement is to spend less time engaging in endless intellectual posturing and use our collective intellectual capital to tackle real-world challenges and make real change in the lives of others.

This column first appeared in Ms. Griffin's blog, Unscripted .


Diane Griffin is the director of the Institute for Humanist Studies .