I have many facets to my identity. Here are just a few: Blerd, Afrogeek, Blatheist, or if you prefer, Black Nerd, Black Geek, Black Atheist. I am a non-conforming individual fighting against the religious status quo. At least that's what I would like to think. The reality has much more complexity than it would seem.
I love comic books and the ideas about secret identities and alter egos. I especially like the X-Men. With it's thinly veiled allegory about being "the other" and the challenges that come with it, allow me to insert my experiences into the stories. The "other", referred to in the X-Men by the term mutants, have abilities, powers, and skills that set them apart from everyone else. These folks were born with their powers.
Some mutants look very different from normal humans and have a difficult time with acceptance due to their appearance. Other mutants look like normal humans and can fit in as long as no one discovers that they have powers. Some of the major themes of this comic book are hatred, conformity and discrimination. The mutants are feared and hated by normal humans. The mutants are also discriminated against because normal humans do not see them as equal to them. They view the mutants as rejects or human mistakes.
Any group that doesn't fit into society's accepted boxes can relate to these particular comic book characters and their struggles. I am similar to both kinds of mutants referred to in the previous paragraph. I cannot hide the fact that I am a Black man. People see that and have their preconceived notions about me based on my skin color. However no one would know that I am atheist unless I told them. In that regard, I get to hide my beliefs and suffer no ill consequences as long as I am quiet. I have to wear an intellectual mask around my friends and family to protect myself from the stigma that comes from going against the grain of Christianity. A large majority of my social circle still consists of Evangelical Christians.
As I have written before, the social consequences of going against Christianity in the Black community can be severe. In most major urban areas, Black Evangelical Christians hold key positions of power and authority within the public and private sectors. They are in positions where they have influence over who gets promotions or gets opportunities.
Coming out loud and proud as an atheist could cost me familial relationships, political clout, and a platform to secure an income. I applaud those who are privileged to come out as atheist without many social consequences. Others like myself have to maintain a duality of consciousness as well as an air of secrecy. I have to walk a fine line between upholding my personal integrity and playing the "don't ask, don't tell" game.
It would be nice if I could be judged based on the content of my character and not on the context of my faithlessness. Trying to walk an enlightened path is tough when you want to take the high road, and foolishness from others attempts to bring you down. I realize that Christianity does not play by the rules they so desperately want others to play by when it comes to them.
Hopefully in the near future, I will be able to say that I am a non conformist fighting against the religious status quo. Please understand that I am proud to be an atheist. However until the day comes where I can feel safe being who I am without any masks on, I will continue to hide in plain sight.