Ste and Terri talk about leaving JWs with The London Black Atheists

On Saturday, 24 September 2016, we have Terri O’Sullivan & Ste Richardson of the Ex Jehovah’s Witness to talk about their experiences as Jehovah’s Witnesses and leaving the religion.

Terri O’Sullivan set up the ex Jehovah’s Witness Meetup group in London in 2007. The group now has over 600 members who meet throughout the UK. The group is about bringing former members of the religion together who have been ostracised by their previous community and families. The group offers support and friendship. Terri graduated from the university of Kent in 2012 with a degree in psychology and then completed her masters in social psychology at Tilburg university where she investigated the relationship between ostracism and social rejection with religious fundamentalism. The meeting will start exactly at 4pm with a deconversion story by a new member.

Please come on time. We will start at 4pm exactly.

A donation of £3 is welcome.

Response to critics of the group

Many people had a gut reaction to seeing the name of the group, “London Black Atheists” saying “Is it not racism and segregation to have an atheist group just for black people?”

However, using head rather than heart, this gut reaction is unjustified.

Looking at both the history and the current situation of many ethnic groups will help us to understand why having this group “London Black Atheists” is a necessary thing:
(1) Black and other British ethnic minorities who leave religion have a very different experience in general from White British people so although it’s great to meet with the main groups, sometimes we need to address specific concerns within the tiny black atheist community such as:

– How to deal with family shunning (which is common in the black community, the ex-Muslims and ex-JWs alike, but not in the general atheist/ex-religious/ex-Catholic/ex-Anglican communities in the UK).

– How to get our voices heard in the wider atheist community. As we are underrepresented, how can we work together to change that?

– Specific issues around specific African and Caribbean communities (it would be a very ‘niche’ lecture topic if we talked about, say, “defying fasting laws in Islamic North Africa” in the regular atheist groups, it wouldn’t concern 99.99% of the people there –

Yes there are topics *about* Africa that have become global issues such as FGM, that can be discussed in the regular atheist groups, but our cultures are more complex than that one issue, and it would not be appropriate or practical to raise the thousands of specific, complex issues in a regular atheist group.

(2) Black people are underrepresented in atheist groups in general. A black atheist is actually relatively rare because Afro-Caribbean cultures tend to be highly religious. The other atheist groups, although they are open to all, end up effectively being “White Atheist” groups in a way because they are dominated by White people. It’s not racism through active exclusion, but racism through lack of inclusion.

We notice this lack of diversity and the group tries to encourage black people to “come out” and join the community. We have the group, but we don’t only attend LBA events. I go to regular atheist events, ex-JW events and others.

Again, if these events happened in the regular atheist group, there would be 2 or 3 meetups a day, and it would be difficult to sift through the issues that concern an individual and their experience.

It would be just as strange to have a “Male Atheist” group as it would be to have a “White Atheist” one because the groups that are out there are already effectively white male atheist group. That isn’t by design, but by the sheer fact that (a) white people are the majority in this country, (b) these groups cater mostly for the majority and often leave the issues that affect majorities by the wayside… That’s NO criticism of white males, it’s just an observation that they are the majority hatin the group so they have their specific issues dealt with all the time.

Certain ethnic and cultural groups often have need of targeted support that often simply isn’t there. I’ve been to many general atheist groups and they are all dominated by white English people. Almost every time, I am the only black person there. The content of such groups is often (not always but often) irrelevant to my experience. Again, it has to be said repeatedly that is not an attack because as soon as some people see the word “white” or “black” juxtaposed with the words “dominate” or “privilege”, they view it as an attack. However, noticing that society is imbalanced toward a particular group should not be viewed as an attack, but as a call to action. We see the same problem with detrctors of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. People see it as an attack on White lives as if to say they don’t matter, but it should be more logically seen as a call for the authorities to value Black lives as much as White lives are valued. To give an illustration, if a person with a nut allergy complains that a buffet doesn’t have enough nut-free choices, it’s not an attack on nuts or nut-lovers, but a call for more nut-free food to be given.

Not only black people (of African and Caribbean ancestry) but other ethnic an cultural groups of people have a very unique experience in religions and high control groups. Only such a group can offer relevant and targeted support for many people.

(3) Not only black people will be in attendance. There will be a few non-black members. It is usually only about 50-60% Afro-Caribbean and only one of the two speakers will be black. Also, many of the members are members of other groups such as London Humanists and even vegetarian/vegan groups, so there is no segregation. There is a difference between only admitting black people and admitting everyone, but chosing to talk about issues that affect black people. Segregation is when you prevent a group of people from participating, but everyone is allowed to participate in this group as members and speakers.

We need to expand our mind a bit to think of the issues, the history and the current social situation that led to the need for the group in the first place, rather than attacking a group of people who need support.