2nd place (tie): People of color essay contest — Gianna White

Gianna White

The choice of worship not limited to religion

FFRF awarded Gianna $3,000.

By Gianna White

In his speech, “This is Water,” David Foster Wallace claims “there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” I think about this quote frequently because it has since left me with the question of what I worship.

The African slave trade was the beginning of what would turn into a long history of dispossession and displacement for my people. In a twist of fate, my ancestors were forced to worship the Christian God by the very people they needed saving from. Like many colonized groups around the world, my ancestors were robbed of their gods and to this day the majority of Black Americans subscribe to the Abrahamic religions forced on them across generations.

My ancestors were continuously robbed of autonomy. They were never given a choice of what to worship. It is because of this I am extremely grateful for the freedom of choice, and in part why I am not religious. I do not reject religion simply because it was forced on my ancestors. It is because it was forced on them that I have taken the time to analyze my own thoughts toward spirituality and reach my own conclusions. This process has made me analyze and critique established systems and power structures in my life. It has enabled me to search for what I worship

I have tried to be a Christian and I have looked to other religions to try to discover spiritual worship. I could not rationalize any religion I came across. I found contradictions everywhere.

Religion is not immune from hatred, it is not immune from sexism, it is not immune from power imbalances — in fact, it thrives on them. And this is not because religion is inherently hierarchical, it is because religion is a reflection humanity has made of itself and humanity is deeply flawed. I once read the reason why the Catholic Church has yet to stomp out its pedophilia problem is that the church provides the perfect cover for abusers. The Catholic Church is a space where maleness + authority = untouchable. I have yet to find a religion where this equation is not true — a religion where women are not seen as subservient either in holy text or by its practitioners. 

Where then am I left as a Black woman? Where do I belong? Is there a space that will accept me, treat me as an equal? Where I am free to ask questions?

In my family, being nonreligious is generally met with disapproval and subtle attempts to convert me — the casual text message inviting me to a bible service or reminder that God loves me even if I am astray. I love my family, and I am not upset with them or their actions because I know they are acting out of love. However, I think that they and secular communities at large could learn to respect and acknowledge our differences. Do not ignore my culture, my gender, my individual identities because they do not matter to a God or higher power. They matter to me and they affect how the world sees me and in turn how I see the world. Acknowledge differences, but do not let them cause alienation.

Know that I, too, worship. I do not worship in a spiritual sense, instead, I worship freedom. I worship love, togetherness, perseverance, empathy. I worship the best aspects of humanity, the same principles that govern most religions. All I ask is that others respect my choice of worship. 

Gianna, 20, is a junior at New York University, majoring in sustainable urban environments. Gianna is an organizer for March for Science NYC and volunteers with environmental and social justice groups, including Sunrise Movement, Earth Day Initiative, Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives.