Segment On Atheism Prompts Listener Response

Host Michel Martin and Tell Me More's Jessica Deahl review listener responses to the past week's worth of programming. A segment about African American atheists got a lot of listeners stirred up. And a blog post about Gary Coleman's passing, prompted many to reflect on the star's life and legacy.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now it's time for Backtalk, where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere and get a chance to hear from you, our listeners. Lee Hill, our regular Backtalk guy, is away, so we've pressed Jessica Deahl into service. She's been talking with some of you this week and she's here to share a few of your comments. Hi, Jessica.

JESSICA DEAHL: Hey, Michel. So, at the end of last week when we had Tony Cox sitting in as guest host, we did a segment on African-American atheists. Our guest Jamila Bey talked about the difficulty she encountered as a nonbeliever growing up in a culture imbued with Christianity.

Here's a clip from the conversation.

Ms. JAMILA BEY (Writer): I would get thrown out of religion class for asking questions. And the more I learned, the more I studied, the more I realized what I was being told isn't what was actually in that book. And it led itself to me just being a skeptic by the time I was seven years old. And I just never got it. I never bought into it. None of it is provable. It doesn't sustain itself. And that's the way it is.

DEAHL: Well, our listener Algerie(ph), didn't like what she felt Jamila was insinuating there. Here's what she said.

ALGERIE: Please don't assume because someone is of a particular faith that they still don't question things and just take everything at face value. For the record, as an imperfect Christian, I don't always agree with things that are stated in my church. But that's okay to have diverse opinions when you are of faith.

MARTIN: Well, thank you, Algerie, we appreciate having diverse opinions here. Right.

DEAHL: But this piece also resonated with a lot of people. Another listener named Key(ph) wrote in to say, quote, "I'm glad that a black atheist movement exists because we have to accept that blacks are not a monolithic race. We are all unique and individual even in our collective consciousness and we should celebrate that."

MARTIN: Thank you, Key. Jessica, what else do you have for us?

DEAHL: Then at the end of last week, headlines were made when actor Gary Coleman passed away. He of course gained fame as a child actor when he starred in the show "Diff'rent Strokes." And he played Arnold Jackson, an orphan from Harlem who was adopted by a wealthy white man who his mother had been a housekeeper for. Here's a scene from the first episode when Arnold and his brother Willis arrive at Mr. Drummond's fancy downtown Manhattan apartment.

(Soundbite of TV show "Diff'rent Strokes")

Mr. CONRAD BAIN (Actor): (As Philip Drummond) Aha. You're here. Welcome, gentlemen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TODD BRIDGES (Actor): (As Willis Jackson) You talking to us?

Mr. BAIN: Of course.

Mr. GARY COLEMAN (Actor): (As Arnold Jackson) How about that, Willis? Downtown two minutes and already we're gentlemen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEAHL: And our contributor, Jimi Izrael wrote about Coleman's legacy in the TELL ME MORE blog this week. He wrote, quote, "Coleman was a spiritual brother of Rodney Allen Rippy and Jimmy 'Dyn-O-Mite' Walker: precocious, apolitical caricatures of a range of stereotypical black qualities."

MARTIN: Well, you know, I think that's true. Arnold was a character that made a lot of people cringe. But one of our readers, Terrence, says he doesn't blame Coleman for perpetuating stereotypes. He says that Coleman was exploited by the show, and more importantly, the American TV-watching public. Terrence wrote, quote, "All who found any pleasure in the cotton candy fluff that was 'Diff'rent Strokes' are willing participants in the victimization of Gary Coleman. As a just society, it surely would've been better had we protected and prevented him from playing against the era-imposed type."

It's an interesting idea to protect people from a job that they want to do themselves, but anyway, anything else, Jessica?

DEAHL: Well, as many of our listeners know, you were away for a few weeks and all of us at the show are very glad to have you back. And our listeners are too. Many wrote in to say that while they enjoy hearing the voices of Allison Keyes and Tony Cox, they are pleased and relieved to hear you back on the show and sounding well.

MARTIN: Well, it's good to be back with all of you. Thank you, Jessica.

DEAHL: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And remember, with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that's 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave your name. You can also log onto our website. Just go to NPR.org, click on programs, then on TELL ME MORE and blog it out.

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