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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Tenth place (tie) — Persons of color essay contest: Javohn Dyer

Blood, shunning and isolation

FFRF awarded Javohn $300.

By Javohn Dyer

Javohn Dyer

Life as a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) was unique; lead by the Governing Body, a group of eight men who reside in Bethel, N.Y., JW’s version of Mecca. It’s where they create literature that enables child abuse, supports science denial, shunning and the refusal of blood transfusions, the latter causing thousands of deaths, a fact the organization has hidden through lies and gaslighting.

Many members silently disagree with the Governing Body, but to maintain the status quo, JW leadership expects members to self-segregate from “the world” (everything external to JW communities) and shun dissenting members. Allowing them to remain unchallenged and unchanged negatively affects millions, particularly developing youth. Indoctrination occurs in cycles. JW’s actively anticipate the rapture will come and bring paradise. In order to survive, members must follow JW doctrine, which reinforces cognitive dissonance and incentivizes members to police one another. Parents intentionally underprepare their children, anticipating they’ll never leave, creating naive young adults. Many fall victim to toxic relationships, substance abuse or commit suicide upon leaving. Those who return are shunned by friends and family until they publicly dedicate their lives to the doctrine. As part of their retribution, they are used as examples to show youth how dangerous the world is, completing the cycle.

I have witnessed and been a victim to this doctrine my entire life. I couldn’t join the Boy Scouts, as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was seen as worship. I was never allowed to form close friendships because of Corinthians 1:15 (“Bad associations spoil useful habits”), which justified my segregation from others. Every aspect of my life was inspected for satanic influences, and my questions and doubts taken as spiritual weakness. For years, I would remain silent until I began to question my identity as a teen.

Being a black, socially awkward, book-loving JW meant that I was scrutinized for reading “worldly” material and bullied by my black peers for trying to be “white.” Unlike many black Americans, I never got the chance to develop mutual interests with other black youth. My access to media and pop culture was limited to the internet, causing me to develop a broad range of obscure interests, which, coupled with my lack of social exposure, made me unrelatable. To many I was “white,” which is inaccurate — my skin is blacker than most black Americans and my community was multi-ethnic. My skin color had forced me into a group, while my experiences prevented my peers from understanding me. Being detached from my religion and blackness, I had to think independently.

I began denying religion and stereotypes associated with my race. Deeper introspection led me to identify as an atheist, which turned out to be life changing. Sundays were no longer wasted in church and I became unattached to unjustifiable beliefs. Becoming an atheist gave me freedom and meaning, made me smarter and intellectually stronger. Putting my trust in evidence and utilizing skepticism has proven more fruitful in learning than faith ever had. My thoughts and emotions can never again be criminalized by religion. My future’s mine to control.

Sadly, positive exposure to skeptics and atheism is lacking in the black community, since casual racism and bigotry are big inhibitors to the dissemination of skeptical ideas. To better engage with the black community, skeptics must increase the visibility of black skeptics, as familiar faces make skeptical ideas more appealing. Additionally, skeptical organizations need to support black skeptics who sound phenotypically black, since black skeptics with white “passing” may make negative impressions to black viewers. Finally, skeptics must show themselves in discussions about police brutality and poverty within the black community. Displaying concern for black issues will make skeptical communities all the more welcoming to the faces of the black diaspora.

Javohn, 18, is from Lansing, Mich., and attends Michigan State University. He enjoys boxing and spends much of his spare time preparing for upcoming fights, including a shot at boxing in the 2020 Summer Olympics. He also enjoys political discussions and studying African history, philosophy and religion. He plans to create a group called “Rispetto” for ex-fundamentalist college students.