Ijeoma Oluo is a Seattle-based writer and speaker, focusing I on feminism, race and identity, social justice, and economic 8 issues for the Stranger, Medium, the Washington Post, the Guardian, TIME magazine, and other outlets. She also serves as editor-at-large for the online, female-run multimedia publication The Establishment and she's the author of the New York Times Best Seller So You Want to Talk about Race, published in early 2018. On her decision to work as a freelance writer and publish largely online, Olou said in a profile at Seattle Lesbian: "Especially as a Black woman it's really important because you have to amass enough power in your own name to be able to say 'no.' Otherwise, your work is continuously shaped by other people."
Oluo was named one of the The Root's 100 Most Influential African Americans in 2017 and one of the Most Influential People in Seattle by Seattle Magazine. In 2018 she was named the recipient of the American Humanist Association's Humanist Feminist Award. The following is adapted from her May 19 acceptance speech at the AHA annual conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Thank you for recognizing my work. Thank you for this award. You all invited me here and asked me to speak, so buckle up.
I've been a Black woman my whole life, and an atheist for almost all of it. I actually remember when I was about five and it was Easter. I asked my mom why we were celebrating and she explained the story of Easter and Jesus's resurrection. I said, I don't think that actually happened, and that was it. It's not the most compelling story. It wasn't incredibly painful. It was kind of settled.
My children have followed in my footsteps. We don't talk about religion in our house. My brother is an atheist. My sister is, I believe. I don't know--we've never even talked about it. My brother and I both have parented under the idea our kids would come to whatever they were going to come to. We've more or less tried to teach them to be considerate, kind, and compassionate people. We figured they would find their way and hopefully that would be enough.
So this is just to say that atheism was never a thing I had to struggle with. Yet, when I received a letter notifying me that I had received [the AHA's Feminist Humanist] award, I honestly thought I was being punked. Let me explain why. When people tell me that they're humanist, it's usually from this perspective: "I'm not a feminist, I'm a humanist." This is often used to discount the work I do as a feminist or to say that I focus too much on identity politics and that we're all one race. You know--"I'm not Black, I'm human." (By the way, I've tried that with police officers. It doesn't work.)
I'm not saying this because I think that all humanists are like the internet trolls who say these things to me every single day, multiple times a day. I'm saying this because I see a lot of concern in many humanist and atheist circles about what evangelicals are doing in the world--how we can stop them, how we can help them free themselves from dangerous impulses and dogma. But I need you to understand something: when I'm walking down the street as a Black woman, I am not watching out for evangelicals. When I'm shopping in the store and being followed, I am not thinking, I bet there's an evangelical following me who's going to accuse me of stealing. When I try to battle the anti-blackness that's robbing our children of their education and their futures, I am not battling evangelicals. When I'm fighting for women's rights to exist publicly and online and in business, I am not battling evangelicals. When I'm fighting the NIMBYs in Seattle where I live and trying to convince them that poor people...