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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

1st place — MiKaelah Freeman: African-Americans still plagued by Christianity

FFRF awarded MiKaelah $3,000.

By MiKaelah Freeman

Alabama is, and has traditionally been, the most religious state in America, with a whopping 82 percent of people identifying as Christians, according to the U.S. World News database. Alabama is arguably the most racist state, as well, despite having one of the largest populations of African-Americans in the nation. That may seem contradictory: How can the state be racist when it has more African-Americans living in it than most? Just as with the other states in America’s southeast region, Alabama’s high African-American population (27 percent) can be attributed to slavery that took place more than 250 years ago . . . slavery that was made possible through Christianity.

African-American slaves were physically oppressed by the use of whips and shackles against them; however, it was the bible that oppressed them mentally. This was done first by renaming slaves, forcing them to give up their African names and identities and take on Christian ones. Following the renaming process, African-American slaves were forced to listen to their oppressors justify their actions as being God’s plan. God permitted slavery, as various forms of slavery and servitude are mentioned throughout the bible, and Christianity encouraged the treatment of human beings as worthless objects. Slave masters also forced their African-American slaves to convert to the Christian faith, the same faith that allowed them to be kept as property and treated so poorly to the point where dying seemed like the only way to find peace. Alabama was not only home to such travesty, it was also the only slave state that African-Americans could not escape from. The most religious state in America was the only slave state that had no Underground Railroad route, with the presence and power of slave catchers being too overbearing for any slave to consider an escape attempt.

Slavery was eventually abolished, thanks to the 13th Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation, yet, most of Alabama’s African-American population is still indoctrinated with the Christian values that were forced on their shackled ancestors.

The idea of the “black church” being the center of the African-American community has unfortunately poisoned the ideologies of most African-Americans living in the “most religious state,” which has given the southern African-American community a reputation of being homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic. African-Americans in Alabama use the bible as an outlet for discrimination, prejudice and mistreatment toward the non-racial marginalization of others.

It’s the same book that allowed for our ancestors to be stolen from their homeland, eaten, raped, displaced and murdered. I had called attention to this many times in my predominantly African-American school — an underfunded, underperforming public school, thanks to the institutionalized racism and classism that has plagued the African-American community since the Reconstruction. I am struck down as someone who is “in need of the church” or “in need of Christ.” I have had my African-American AP environmental sciences teacher mark points off of a class discussion because I pointed out that the bible cannot be used as scientific evidence. Unfortunately, the attitudes of the African-American students and teachers at my school are extremely common among African-Americans throughout my state, the “most religious state” in America. I, on the other hand, cannot accept this same attitude and I will not accept it, even if it gets me into a bit of trouble at times.

So, while I might be criticized for my refusal to have my intellect colonized by religion, I realize that I am more free than others surrounding me could ever be. I hope that one day, my community — southern African-Americans — will no longer be controlled by an ancient book and will be instead influenced by collaborative learners and freethinkers.

MiKaelah, 18, from Birmingham, Ala., attends New York University. She plans to major in global studies to eventually pursue a career as an international human rights attorney. She volunteers with the Suicide Prevention and Crisis lines.

MiKaelah Freeman