Racialized Atheist/Agnostic Discussion Group…Why

When the Orange guy was elected US president in 2016, I woke up in the morning and I went for a walk in my relatively safe Kelowna Mission neighbourhood. But I felt different, I was scared all of a sudden. I felt that someone in my neighbourhood was going to tell me that I should leave…that I didn’t belong. I was the weird square peg in my neighbourhood of round pegs.

I felt like someone was going to throw a stone at me.

My feelings of not belonging do not come out of nowhere, I was banned in a 1/2 hour from our neighbourhood Facebook after briefly joining. Since my profile showed my family in India, perhaps the neighbourhood Facebook admin thought I was an Indian spammer and didn’t live there. They obviously never saw me walking around the neighbourhood… “Sorry only round pegs live here.”

I woke up one day to find my tires slashed and an election sign thrown on my windshield after someone lost a local election. It was some sort of revenge, but I wasn’t the only person who didn’t vote for him. However, I was the only square peg in the neighbourhood.

I joined a local Kelowna group, paid my dues, put on my new name tag, and while I was waiting for the lecture to start, I thought I would eat a cookie and surveyed my new fellow members. It was rather obvious that I was the square peg in the room.

While eating the cookie, a woman came up to me and asked in a very non-inviting and entitled round peg voice, “Can I help you?”

I had just joined and was wearing my name tag, and she was treating me like I was some juvenile delinquent who was stealing their store bought cookies.

Imagine protecting store bought cookies.

I should have said, “Yes, please fetch me some milk.”

But no, I just took another cookie and sat down….never to go back again. I should have gotten my money back, but I just didn’t.

Another time, I was sitting in Okanagan college and one of the security guards came to tell me that I had to leave in 15 minutes... meanwhile there was a stream of people entering the building.

When I complained to the college and told them that I felt that I had been racially profiled, they told me that they didn’t have a system for my kind of complaint. Nothing happened.

Someone told me that real racism isn’t only when individuals treat you badly, it is also when the institutions don’t work to change anything.

In 2020, I watched as the Black Lives Matter movement gained ground. People were finally becoming aware of institutional racism and how it has/had effected Black people.

2020 brought up a lot of memories of growing up in Chicago and dealing with the many aspects of racism in a world of round pegs. Getting stopped by the police for walking in the round peg neighbourhood, sitting in the police car while they checked to see if a 17 year old girl was dangerous, having kids call me names and getting into fights, and just being treated like a 2nd class citizen.

But it also brought up memories of trying to fit into a culture that didn’t feel mine. I wasn’t going to get an arranged marriage, I hated wearing saris, I didn’t believe in god… no way was I going to go to the Indian church.

It is often the predicament for Canadian visible minorities, places of worship are the places for where one’s community gathers. But what if you don’t believe?

Does it mean that I can’t eat the delicious food?

I have been to several skeptic and atheist conferences, gatherings and even in our little KASHA group, often I am the only square peg, not always, but mostly. And I have always wondered why that is.

Is being an atheist, skeptic and humanist only for round pegs? I know there is a divide with people’s experiences in the world, and quite often the telling of one’s personal struggles with racism are not heard, are dismissed or diminished, or even have to be defended as real. I have often been told that what I have experienced was my misunderstanding of the event.

Perhaps, we need space for people who intersect the jumble of feelings from being disaffected in their own culture, alienated in the larger Canadian round peg community, and being the other in the community of non-believers.

Hence, I invite the many squares, triangles and any other shaped pegs that self-identify as different from the general round peg Canadian society, to join our Racialized Atheist/Agnostic Discussion Group… you will fit it in.

Are you a racialized person (visible minority) in Kelowna that is also an atheist/agnostic? Do you feel a need to talk to similar people about the intersection of culture, perceived race, being the other, and non-belief with a community of empathetic people?

What is a racialized person in Canada? A racialized person is someone subject to perceptions of racial characteristics through an intensely social and cultural process in Canada.

Being racialized in Canada is being constantly reminded that you are different because you aren’t part of the predominant white society.

Race as an imperial and capitalist construct invented hundreds of years ago, has never been about skin color alone, it is about perceptions of worth, ability, intelligence, and exploitability. Being racialized is being subjected to these perceptions, good and bad, from a dominant majority, without your consent.

What is an atheist/agnostic? An atheist is someone who does not believe in the existence of god or gods. It is a lack of belief in gods. Agnosticism is about holding the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable on a broad level. An agnostic is someone who is not committed to believing in the existence or nonexistence of a god or gods or the supernatural.

Why do we want to meet? We want to meet because being racialized as a visible minority in Canada and being an atheist/agnostic can alienate us from multiple communities. That is why we want to create a group/community space to share our experiences, socialize, educate, and learn from each other.

This is a separate but associated meeting group especially for visible minority atheists and agnostics to explore the interesection between culture, being the other and non-belief.

By Nina George

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