April 20, 2016

Women of Doubt: Ayanna Watson bridges the diversity issue

Ayanna Watson was born and raised in New York. As a student at a Christian high school, Watson's "studies of Christianity ultimately led to her rejection of the Bible." 3

Watson is the founder of Black Atheists of America, Inc (BAAm)1, and she organized the group as a response to a lack of diversity that she recognized in the atheist community.3

Watson describes it like this:

Black Atheists of America (BAAm) is a non-profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between atheism and the black community. I founded the organization in 2010 with the intention of diversifying the growing atheist movement and promoting critical thinking.5

BAAm has an important role in atheist activism:

With BAAm, Watson has also brought light to some of the issues that discourage black atheists from being active in both the atheist and black communities. Watson is a practicing attorney in New York.2
Addressing these issues that are specific to Black Atheists is an important part of Watson's plan, as she explains herself:

BAAm addresses issues that directly affect this community, while providing a support group for black atheists. Religion is so deeply rooted in the black American culture that when a member of the community identifies as an atheist, they are often seen as turning their back on their culture.5

Watson points out that the need for god and the truth of social justice are sometimes conflated within her community:

One should not, however, be quick to equate the necessity of the Black Church as god being a necessity to overcome social injustices. Each of these benefits could have just as easily been achieved without religion. The church took a leadership role in the civil rights movement because its presence and infrastructure was uniquely positioned to do so. The church also promotes anti-intellectualism by requiring its members to dismiss reality and expect supernatural solutions. This line of thinking restricts the ability of the community to study its problems and create real solutions. 
Some black atheists note that such a belief is not only incorrect, but insulting. It is essentially saying that social injustices are not enough for members of the black community to fight for equality, and hence a god is necessary to inform these individuals that inequality should not be accepted.5

The contributions of BAAm can't be understated, and Watson herself has been an important part of increasing the diversity of the secularist movement through outreach efforts:

Since the organization was founded, Watson has been extremely active in promoting diversity within the atheist movement. Watson has participated in such events as: The Amazing Meeting (headed by James Randi Educational Foundation); Poetry of Science (a dialogue between Dr. Richard Dawkins and Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson); Dialog of Reason: Science and Faith in the Black Community (a panel discussion with, Dr. Richard Dawkins, Dr. Anthony Pinn, Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, Todd Stiefel, and moderated by Mark Hatcher, concerning the role of faith and science in the black community); Atheism and the Black Community (a speaker event with Jamila Bey and Mark Hatcher discussing religion and its role during the Harlem Renaissance; science education in the black community; and black atheists woman); New York City Atheists Sunday Brunch (Watson discussed the reason she founded BAAm);Fun with BAAm!!! (weekly social events for black atheists in the New York City area to come together and discuss a variety of issues); and other events. 
Additionally, Watson has interviewed with Dan Barker at Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to discuss her involvement within the atheist and black communities. Under BAAm, Watson has interviewed a number of black atheists including: Norm Allen (founder of African American Humanists and author); Greydon Square (Atheist Musician); Donald R. Wright (Author); and many others.2

In 2013, she helped organize the first Blackout Secular Rally in New York, with Mandisa Thomas.

She remains committed to that mission:

Ultimately with BAAm, Watson seeks to build a stronger and more diverse atheist community. She hopes that her efforts will provide for a society where one can embrace the label “atheist,” without the fear of being ostracized by family, friends and members of their community. She envisions a world where individuals embrace critical thinking in lieu of faith.2

It's a mission that I'd hope we can all support.


1 “Ayanna Watson”. African Americans for Humanism. <http://www.aahumanism.net/speakers/view/ayanna_watson> Accessed April 19, 2016

2 “Ayanna Watson.” Center for Inquiry. <http://www.centerforinquiry.net/speakers/watson_ayanna> Accessed April 19, 2016.

3 “Ayanna Watson”. The Humanist. <http://thehumanist.com/contributor/ayanna-watson/> Accessed April 19, 2016

4 “Ayanna Watson.” Secular Policy Institute. <https://secularpolicyinstitute.net/spi-person/ayanna-watson/> Accessed April 19, 2016.

5 Watson, Ayanna. “Building a Strong and Diverse Community: A Profile of Black Atheists of America”. <http://thehumanist.com/commentary/building-a-strong-and-diverse-community-a-profile-of-black-atheists-of-america> Published December 15, 2011. Accessed April 19, 2016.

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