Reflections of a Black Sheep
by B. Dulgren
Do you ever
feel like you're cruising down the highway of life and no one else is in your lane?
Too often you
feel that you're the only one of your "kind" in your family and community?
Sadly, I've caught myself thinking of these things when I reach a huge boulder in my path. It takes all the effort I can muster to climb over the
damn thing and when I reach the other side, another one rolls right in front of me.
Now, no one
ever told me life would be "fair" or "just."
parents and educators also never informed me of the prejudices and intolerances that are everywhere in the real world.
I was influenced by during my formative years aren't all to blame for my mid-twenties dilemma, though. Most of them were white, middle-class,
Christian and ignorant or indifferent of the crap other people endure daily.
in one suburb, blacks lived in the city and one suburb and white Christians lived in the other areas. The breakdown went further
between the different denominations, of course, but you get the idea.
No one was
an atheist. No one. I had to go to the local library and research religions to find out that Taoists, Jaines, Pagans, atheists, agnostics and freethinkers existed.
feeling really out of place when I hit my teens. I knew that I was different than the others in my class when my research paper topics were of
witch-hunts, rain forest preservation, plight of the dolphins, misunderstanding of the great white shark and abortion.
I hated reading The Scarlet Letter. I refused to dissect
in biology class. I loved learning about anthropology. And I decided that my research on religions
and the subsequent lack of proof of existence of a god or gods was the logical first flagstone to lay to create my disobedient path.
I had no clue as to the size barrel of worms I was opening.
at college and subsequent jobs, though, opened my eyes real wide to the complexities of society. The campus organizations were so varied.
You could be
a gay neo-Nazi Christian pro-life accounting major with a minor in political science and it was okay. I spent more time in
basements gripping a sloshing plastic cup than the library and subsequently college life was cut short.
When I attempted
the second time - an abortion, 3 break-ups, a restraining order and 4 jobs later - I had a firmer grasp on reality.
learned and grew. I liked the person I was transformed into. I hated the idea of labels, though and winced every time someone tried
to call me a feminist, black sheep, veghead, or radical.
I came to embrace my labels and even added a few of my own: liberal, animal lover, intellectual, pro-choice and atheist.
of worms was now lying on its side and you couldn't step without hearing a squish.
in my family appreciated my freethought attitude and newfound enthusiasm for living. I accomplished nothing short of damnation by acquiring the title "black sheep," the one who everyone smiles to, but secretly whispers about the "sordid details" of the screwed up life behind closed
- "Oh, I wonder if they'll
ever get married."
- "She's a vegan now, you
- "What the hell is that?"
- "I don't know, but if
they went to church, she'd stop all this nonsense."
- "You mean he doesn't
go to church either?"
- "Neither one does."
- "Her mother must be very
strong to handle such a mess."
It would be funny if it wasn't so
scary. The people
who talk about me behind my back (as
if I'm stupid or something) are parents, educators,
corporate bigwigs, military personnel, homemakers and students.
All white. And all Christian.
of the people I'm forced to deal with and call family, in one extension of my family, I have 3 second cousins (2 boys & 1 girl) under the age of 7. They're the only great-grandchildren on my maternal grandmother's side of the family.
taught by their parents and other family members that God and Jesus are wonderful, Santa is generous and kind, the Easter Bunny loves carrots and gives candy, etc. These children sing songs of Jesus' loves have little knowledge of the many colors of humanity; know families as mommy, daddy and baby; attend church and Sunday School
every Sunday and have the gleam of commercialism and greed in their eyes throughout the month of December because they know they will be showered with
I love the peace and quiet of a simplified winter, but my significant other still wants to participate in the tradition of an
evergreen tree in the house during the month of December, so we alternate years.
He's a self-proclaimed
non-active Christian (which means he doesn't buy the hype & social implications of church affiliation), but that would take way too long to try to explain, so I'll save
you the headache. This past winter was "my year," so we didn't have a hacked tree in the living room or red felt stockings
A side effect,
if you will, of not having Christmas at our house, though, meant that no children would be visiting because I don't do the
"normal thing" and there are no presents. Of course, our cats are also at our house and the kids love the kitties, so they were bummed because they couldn't visit them.
here and let that sink in.
The kids felt
that because we didn't celebrate Christmas they were not welcome to visit the cats. What is the 5 year-old rationale behind
How and where
did these children learn this?
From the actions,
behaviors and language of adults, specifically their parents? You betcha.
In cousin Susie's
defense, I must clarify that she has been to our house, has a picture of our "boys" on her bedroom wall and was so persistent
this past summer that her mother was forced to bring her and one of her brothers by to see the cats and us.
But they were
dropped off and picked up later. Neither her mother nor her father (my first cousin)
has ever graced us with their presence. I'm still puzzled by that one. Of course, my extended family's reluctance to "allow"
my S.O. and I to have the kids over on a regular basis isn't openly discussed; it's more of an understanding, shadowed by excuses: you live too far away, we're only up for a couple of days, they have colds, etc.
If we want
to see the kids, we can take them to Chuck E Cheese
or go to someone else's house. Everyone is waiting for me to outgrow my disobedience and come around to the "right" way of
thinking. This "phase" of atheism is just like all the other "phases" I'm going through: veganism, animal rights, feminism,
free speech and separation of church and state.
I don't think the situation with my family will ever improve and my partner and I are glad that we already decided
not to have children, because the other family members would most likely ostracize them.
though, we may be pleasantly surprised and have buckets of support. But why take the chance?
and prejudice is no different than the attitude of someone you know, I'm sure. You're aware of wary parents cautious of letting their children visit an atypical "sin filled" abode because someone might
tell the kiddies that God doesn't exist, or something equally horrifying.
be corrupted and start asking questions! I truly worry about these children in God-fearing households because they're so innocent and trusting. Parents spend so much time and effort painting their kids' minds like billboards to promote one kind of ideology
The kids will
be then be forced to go through a painful period of reconstruction in their teenage years to discover who they really are.
They might even resent their parents for the damage that was done. (Gee, I'm not bitter or anything, am I?)
King's birthday yesterday, to honor a great man who promoted tolerance and the destruction of prejudice against people of color. Today I'm writing
about an equally disturbing prejudice against moral, intelligent, loving people labeled freethinkers.
Is there a
difference between the two types of prejudice? Not really. It's all the same in my book. Hatred is hatred, no matter what angle you choose to look at it from. I can only do my part to enlighten those involved in my life and share with them a fact I learned along my disobedient path: a little respect goes a long way.
I guess I wrote
this essay to offer a peek into the life and times of an atheist. I don't encourage others to follow my lead, think I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread, nor send me a pipe bomb in the mail. (Pity the fool who ever mails me a bomb, though. My partner [aka: bomb squad guy] would make sure it was the last thing they did.)
I can offer
a glimmer of hope, though and it comes in the form of advice of a sort. Be conscious of others as you go through life, whether
you're an atheist, feminist, advocator of animal rights, pro-female reproduction rights advocate, proponent of separation
of church and state, or human rights activist.
Recognize that this is a strange world we live in. And carve your initials into every boulder you encounter.