The White Stuff

A note from the editor:

Hi folks,

Before I get to today’s post, a guest essay by Sikivu Hutchinson, I want to preface it with a few remarks.

I’ve posted guest essays on Daylight Atheism from a variety of viewpoints, not all of which I personally agree with (as I hope should be obvious). I ask readers to keep that especially in mind with this post. I realize there’s little probability of a visitor confusing a Christian guest viewpoint with my own, but since Sikivu Hutchinson and I agree about so many things, people might be tempted to believe we agree about everything. Therefore, I want to reiterate this to head off any potential confusion.

There are some things in the following post that I agree with, and some that I don’t. I intend to write a response to it myself, but I wanted to offer my readers the chance to have their say first. I’ve said in the past, in regard to those who wish the “new atheists” would sit down and be quiet, that I’d rather see too much criticism of religion than too little. I think exactly the same is true of our movement. Whether you agree with her criticisms or not, I see no harm in merely letting them be heard. If you disagree, then join the conversation and explain why. —Ebonmuse


Her name was Sarah Baartman, aka the Venus Hottentot, and she had ass to spare.

Like many Africans staged for public exhibition in 19th Century Europe before her, Baartman became an object of scientific investigation. She was poked, prodded, measured, assessed and ultimately dissected in death by British and French empiricist wizards like the esteemed scientist Georges Cuvier. She was marshaled as resident Other to determine the exact nature of her “difference” from “normal” (i.e., white) men and women. This standard only had weight and relevance in the context of Baartman’s grotesqueness. Her deformations provided white femininity with its mooring as the standard of feminine beauty. Her sub-humanity gave her white male examiners a biological compass (and canvas) that was then translated into immutable racial difference. The sexual deviance signified by her enormous backside literally functioned as an epistemological frame and cover for her interpreters’ own cultural biases and assumptions. Identified as the “missing link,” Baartman’s anatomy was critical to affirming white racial superiority and capturing inexplicable gaps in the ascent from “savage” to “civilized.” Through the lens of the scientist, looking, seeing and interpreting were deemed to be “transparent” enterprises–not naturalized through the cultural position of the observer.

Tim Wise, the foremost white critic/interpreter of the phenomenon of white supremacy, once noted that whites “swim in white privilege.” Like fish in water, whites don’t grasp or see the complexity of white privilege because they breathe it and live it 24/7. It immunizes them in the predominantly white schools, neighborhoods, social networks, media, places of worship and scholarly traditions that they inhabit. It makes the systemic institutionalized nature of racial hierarchy invisible. And it marginalizes race and racism as part of the narrow, sectarian and, ostensibly, divisive concerns of a “minority” lens.

Navigating a fantasy “post-racial” universe, these “invisible” cornerstones of white supremacy are not supposed to matter. It is not supposed to matter that a five year-old African American male has less chance statistically of going to college or even of living to the age of 25 than his white male sandbox comrade. It is not supposed to matter that home equity for blacks and Latinos of all classes has historically been far lower than that of whites due to institutional segregation in so-called inner cities and working class suburbs. These “blemishes” in the fabric of American liberal democracy are not supposed to matter because individualism is the currency of Americana, and there is no evil intelligent designer separating one’s exercise of free will from free enterprise.

Yet for W.E.B. DuBois, these disparities constitute the “wages of whiteness,” a public and psychological wage of white social capital, translated into everyday white privilege. For those who bemoan the “provincial” and “race-obsessed” orientation of American writers of color, DuBois implicitly forces us to consider how the very arc of European American intellectual, social and economic “progress” has been shaped by the racialization of the Other. As an artifact of a supremely barbaric and unenlightened aspect of the Enlightenment, Baartman’s dissected backside was a key player in the birth of the objectivist researcher. Representing reason and rationality, Baartman’s interpreters were conferred with a personhood and subjectivity that afforded them “unraced” status.

Toni Morrison has defined unraced status as the ability to appear to be beyond racial classification or identification. Whiteness becomes the norm not only through racial segregation but through the discursive tools of defining value and worth. This status rests on having the right to write, analyze, classify, quantify and have one’s conclusions recognized as universal truths, rather than as the culturally contextual products of a racist colonialist legacy.

When it comes to the “new atheism,” the romance and Bambified innocence of not seeing is just a living. Recent debates in the blogosphere about the whiteness of atheist discourse get sidelined by accusations about the perceived “hysteria” of those making the claim. Surveys that suggest that atheist affiliation actually reflects race/gender demographics similar to say a John Birch Society confab are dismissed as being just the way it is because white boys naturally dominate science and are better writers anyway.

So it stands to reason that white folk don’t like it when it is inconveniently pointed out by ghetto interlopers that knowledge production and universal truth claims in the West have historically been marked as white. It’s cartoonishly pro forma when white folk, ignorant of these historical traditions, swaggeringly insist that atheist discourse is implicitly anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-heterosexist because one, we say so, and, two, hierarchy is something only those knuckle-dragging supernaturalists do. It’s paint-by-the-numbers entitlement time when the so-called new atheist “movement” is resistant to the charge that racial and gender politics just might inform who achieves visibility and which issues are privileged in the broader context of skeptical discourse. It’s not PC to suggest in the science-besotted circle jerk of atheist-supernaturalist smackdowns that Hottentot-obsessed traditions of scientific racism and fire and brimstone Judeo-Christian religiosity went gleefully hand in hand for much of the West’s enlightened history. It belies humanist delusions of pure objectivism to say that “science as magic bullet” boilerplate will not enlarge the conversation to include those for whom organized religion has had some cultural and historical resonance (as an albeit complicated bulwark against white supremacy and racial terrorism). It is treasonous to argue that having the luxury and privilege to proclaim one’s atheism, publish, become recognized as an unraced authority, disseminate tomes to and command a global audience and garner recognition for capsizing the sordid ship of theological tyranny is a peculiarly white enterprise precisely because of the history of Western knowledge production. And it flies in the face of the myth of meritocracy to suggest that eminent white philosophers and scientists don’t “focus” on race and gender because their identities are based on not seeing it.

As Greta Christina has noted in her insightful critique of racism, sexism and visibility within the new atheist movement, hand-wringing about the absence of diversity without confronting the historical power dynamics of access and visibility becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When not seeing becomes a virtue, it’s equivalent to telling all those uppity “missing links” to sit down and shut up. Let us write the record for you, because we know how it ends.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org and a commentator for KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • HP

    Well, Sikivu, I’ve read your piece three times now looking for anything remotely controversial that might account for Ebonmuse’s bizarre disclaimer. I’m an old white man, but as near as I can tell, you’ve nailed it.

    I’m curious to see whether Ebonmuse can articulate a response to this without further illustrating your central thesis. :D

  • Ric

    HP, your last sentence is telling, and it illustrates a problem with this whole critique and school of thought in general. There can be no critique or even response to it if one happens to be born white, because one “swims in a sea of white priviledge,” and any possible criticism of the idea is dismissed as just more evidence of that white priviledge.

    So by it’s nature, the very idea is exclusionary… ironic, isn’t it?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    It sounds an awful lot like I’m being told that I haven’t questioned the premises of my beliefs, or even my existence. This is, of course, not true.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Ric, and damned close to unfalsifiable.

  • Eric

    Oddly enough, having big butts is one way we’re very different from our ape relatives. Presumably Ms Baartman was less apelike than other folks. For a good look at how scientific theories were used to justify racism check out Gould’s “the Mismeasure of Man”.

    Feminist critiques of religion and even open atheism among feminists have been around since the sufferage era. The feminism-atheism link is becoming stronger again, but you couldn’t tell that from meetings of most secular organizations.

    As for issues of race and whether us white folks can ever really understand the priviledge we have; Maybe we can’t, but it’s still possible to gain some awareness of that priviledge. Had an encounter with a cop that went very well a couple of weeks ago. I’m certain my race gave me at least some advantage.

  • AnonaMiss

    As usual I think your essay could use some examples. Even links to Greta Christina’s relevant blog entries (this is the one I remember that’s relevant, I’m sure there are others) would greatly strengthen your position, as it would give an easy pathway to examples – but aside from a century-old example of scientific racism, you don’t provide anything, going off into what comes off as a diatribe. And I read Daylight Atheism to avoid the diatribes that many atheist blogs descend into, because Ebon makes a point of providing many examples and many links to supporting examples for most of the points he wants to make.

    Speaking as someone who agreed with your position from long I read this article – and as a female in one of the few scientific fields in which the number of women is actually decreasing, I’m quite familiar with the way in which the concerns of minorities are marginalized by people who arrogantly believe that they’re “beyond that now” – you still had me looking for ways to argue against you, based solely on the fact that the latter half of the article came off as a rant without any supporting examples. I’m an argumentative person, and in the absence of examples will subconsciously assume whoever’s making the argumet doesn’t have any and is talking out hir own ass; and as this is basically what “skeptical” means, I expect many of my fellow readers reacted the same way.

    Tl;dr: You start off strong with a historical example, but you don’t show the way the same mindset has continued into the modern day – you just say it does. Again, I agree that racism, sexism, and prejudice infect the scientific community, the atheist community and in fact all human communities, and that we should do our best to stop it. But the way you wrote the article sure made me want to disagree with you, and that’s counterproductive.

  • Gary

    As a South African, I’m used to seeing the race card played with depressing regularity in our politics. It is a sad truism that anyone can safely accuse a white male of being racist, while being immune from the charge themselves.

    I never thought I would see racial politics being brought into atheist discourse. I have read many atheist blogs and forums, and up till now have not encountered the slightest whiff of racism or sexism. It saddens me that, once again, skin colour and gender have taken center stage in an arena in which they do not belong.

  • Stacey Melissa

    hand-wringing about the absence of diversity without confronting the historical power dynamics of access and visibility becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    We’re already plenty well aware of the generationally self-perpetuating trap of poverty, illiteracy, an so on, that has disproportionately affected black Americans. We’re already aware the white sausage fests that are atheist meetups is due to this cultural-historical legacy, and a related gender role legacy. Now how do you expect social atheist and humanist groups confront the problem?

  • Keith

    That the author is willing to paint as racially hypocritical something so innocuous as a simple statement of supernatural nonbelief, and to do it with such strong language, suggests to me that her energies are seriously misplaced. As she points out, there are real issues of race in our society that demand our attention. She should encourage us to tackle these issues head on instead of making racial straw men of the new atheists.

    Furthermore, she should recognize that racial issues are not the only ones facing us today: issues of religious discrimination are also at work, as is the issue of climate change, economic recession, and many others. Some of these issues simply do not have racial problems at their core, and those of us concerned about these issues have the right to discuss and debate them without providing, at every turn, disclaimers about the influence of racial factors on our upbringing.

  • Cerus

    I’m a privileged white male, what is expected of me to avoid exploiting the incidental circumstances of my birth?
    I am made to feel guilty, but do not know what ethically constitutes appropriate penance.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com chanson

    Speaking of solutions, I read this interesting book recently — which might help some fish understand the problems caused by the privilege they’re swimming in.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    While I in general agree with the thrust of Siki’s comments, I have to say that anybody who uses the phrase “Western knowledge production” loses me completely.

    Back away from the post-modern crack pipe and try again, please.

  • Ric

    Thump @4: That thought crossed my mind as well.

    Stacey @8: That’s why I am a socialist. Of course that has nothing to do with my atheism.

  • Rowen

    This argument recently came up on a gay website that I used to read. During this debate/discussion/flame war, many of the black “gays” (I’m using air quotes for this because a large group of them said that they didn’t identify with the white gay community, thus didn’t identify with being gay, and preferred to use the phrase “same gender loving”), would bring up a very reasonable problem, but then proceed to berate any white person foolish enough to say something that wasn’t 100% in support of the SGL’s view and apologetic at the same time. Anyone who’s comments were viewed as not supportive and apologetic was immediately dismissed as “derailing the conversation.”

    I hope we don’t go down that route.

    Here’s my beef, which has already been stated, and please, someone correct me if I’m interpretting this wrong. We white people are born with an innate advantage and priveledge, granted to us by our society. It completely permeates society, and does a damned good job at keeping all other races (though, this usually is only spoken of when we start talking about blacks, and sometimes hispanics) downtrodden. We white people will never recognize this, though there might be a *few* who can, none of us can ever make any sort of reparations for this AND we will NEVER come CLOSE to understanding what it’s like to not live in a privledged world.

    So . . . if that’s true. . . what’s your point/what are you going to do about it? I read a lot of ranting in this article, but nothing about how we move on. How do we white people stop this madness we’ve created? How do other minorities work past this glass ceiling?

    Oh, and as for that book review that was brought up, it sounds. . interesting. But it’s vastly missing the point of why gay folks bring up the civil rights movement when we talk about OUR rights. It’s not to say, “look, we have it just as bad,” it’s to say, “look, we are NOW in a similar situation that you were/are in. Please help us/stop doing to us what you don’t want done to you.” It’s a subtle difference, but a big one.

  • Leum

    Good article. I don’t really have much additional commentary, but with so many posters disliking it, I feel like I should voice my general agreement with it.

  • lpetrich

    Sikivu Hutchinson is VERY short on solutions. What would she want us to do?

    She also seems to see “white male privilege” everywhere, even where it would be hard to find. Does “2 + 2 = 4″ have anything to do with white male privilege? Does “The Universe’s behavior is described by impersonal natural laws” have anything to do with white male privilege?

    As to the case of Sarah Baartman, I don’t think that her exhibitors were using her to pat themselves on the back about how wonderful their whiteness is. They were treating her as a freak show because of her distinctive features relative to them, however demeaning that might have been. It’s not just white people who do this; I recall from somewhere that Chinese people of a few centuries ago noticed how hairy their white male visitors were.

  • Jormungund

    I recall from somewhere that Chinese people of a few centuries ago noticed how hairy their white male visitors were.

    They had a derogatory term for white people that was something along the lines of ‘dog-people.’ Apparently our looks and our language was extremely dog like in their opinion.

    She was marshaled as resident Other to determine the exact nature of her “difference” from “normal” (i.e., white) men and women.

    I’ve seen the plaster mold that they made of her corpse. She really does look very different than normal people. She had a weird shape to her body. I don’t personally know a black woman who has Baartman’s distorted figure. I have to think that she is abnormal.

    It is treasonous to argue that having the luxury and privilege to proclaim one’s atheism, publish, become recognized as an unraced authority, disseminate tomes to and command a global audience and garner recognition for capsizing the sordid ship of theological tyranny is a peculiarly white enterprise precisely because of the history of Western knowledge production.

    Look up Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is a female. She is black. She was born in Africa. She is embraced by right wing American think tanks. She was embraced by a center-right to right wing European political party to be a politician for them and hold a seat on the Dutch parliament. The white male dominated think tanks and political parties that have offered her employment or urged her to run as a politician for them don’t seem to care that she is a black woman. Where are the white and masculine social hierarchies in all this? Could it be that she is educated, motivated and interested in politics, so she is welcomed as a peer by groups that are mostly composed of white men. The stereotype of the racist white male conservative seems to be absent in all this. Ironically her main detractors are liberals and people who aren’t from the West. And she has proclaimed her atheism far and wide. She has disseminated tomes and garnered recognition. And she isn’t a white male. She is as far from white male as you could get. This special privilege that you speak of is a fantasy.

    Other…knowledge production and universal truth claims in the West have historically been marked as white…atheist discourse…Western knowledge production

    I see that you are using some post-modernist buzzwords and phrases and that your argument seems to be vaguely post-modern. I once took a feminism class at my university. I had to take it to fulfill a graduation requirement. The senseless attacks on science (usually referred to as “Western science” and sometimes as “masculine science”), objectivity, knowledge produced by men of the West and the West itself astounded me. That was back before I knew what post-modernism is. I don’t want to go into a rant about how terrible this anti-science epistemology is, but let’s just say that you just discredited yourself. I am astounded that this kind of bullshit is seen as a form of intellectualism. You and every person who has ever written a post-modern attack on science, objectivity and knowledge produced by the West under the veneer of trying to point out our biases, should be ashamed of yourselves.

  • Ex-Muslim Atheist

    It’s not Ms. Hutchinson’s responsibility to educate white people on how they can change. “I want to learn, but you just won’t teach me!” Where does that place the responsibility? Not the one who has the problem – or the power. She has no obligation – no minority does towards whites, or women towards men – to educate you. To think that she (minority, woman) does is illustrative of… privilege.

    I didn’t fail to notice that the “atheist movement”, whatever it is, seems to be dominated by a bunch of white guys. I don’t know if I will ever go to an atheist gathering. But one thing I was so glad to get away from when I ran out of the Islamic religion was the constant harping and counter-harping on race and being other and the whining obsession with identity. Maybe the “atheist movement” will start going the same way.

  • Zach

    Perhaps it is not Ms. Hutchinson’s responsibility in the moral sense. She has no duty to tell white people how to change in the sense that I have a duty to tell the truth. Fair enough. However, you’d think that if she were really bothered by white privilege, and wanted it to stop, she could go the extra mile of, you know, thinking aloud about just how it might be stopped. Having minority status myself, I usually try to tell those in the majority what I want to see change, specifically. Maybe they should have dreamed those changes up all by themselves. I don’t know. But the point is, if I actually want to see something change, I recognize that there is a practical imperative to come to the table with policy proposals. Ms. Hutchinson didn’t do that, and so while I recognize a degree of legitimate grievance, I don’t feel quite so compelled to change my life and its dastardly white-privileged ways.

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    Maybe the scientific method is “white.” Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s “male.” Maybe it isn’t.

    It still works.

    Maybe white people just got lucky in being the ones who developed fastest, or maybe there’s something innate in them that helped (in case anyone is offended I even bring up this possibility, rest assured that I don’t take it seriously). That doesn’t take away from the fact that human progress skyrocketed with the advent of the scientific method. It’s not perfect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. And yes, there will be people who try to use it to support their own biases. There will be people who ask flawed questions (“Is the tooth fairy black or white?”) and get nonsensical answers.

    But in the end, it still works. If you have something better, I’d like to see it. If there are modern examples of a white male bias in science, I’d like to see those. That sort of thing isn’t always universally condemned, but we can at least discuss it and hopefully a few more people will be convinced by the side with facts on their side. Just one example from two centuries ago doesn’t do us much good. Let’s talk about how we can improve modern science, not about how bad it used to be. Or even, show us your alternative to “Western knowledge production.” I’d like nothing more than to be able to revolutionize the world by coming up with something better than science.

    I mean seriously, you know how good science is? If I could come up with something better, I’d be set for life. What kind of idiot would I be to turn it down?

  • konrad_arflane

    It’s not Ms. Hutchinson’s responsibility to educate white people on how they can change. “I want to learn, but you just won’t teach me!” Where does that place the responsibility? Not the one who has the problem – or the power. She has no obligation – no minority does towards whites, or women towards men – to educate you. To think that she (minority, woman) does is illustrative of… privilege.

    I’d say that if the “fish in water” analogy is accurate, education is required, whether that’s fair or not. If the unprivileged only point out the privilege and expect white males to do something about it, it’s possible that the measures taken will be unhelpful or even harmful, however well-intentioned. That’s what can easily happen when one tries to remedy a situation without really understanding it.

    But in the end, it still works. If you have something better, I’d like to see it. If there are modern examples of a white male bias in science, I’d like to see those.

    AFAIK, a whole lot of “Western” medicine, especially pharmacology, carries the implicit assumption that the patient will be a white male (not counting obvious exceptions like gynecology). This is not necessarily because of racism as such, but simply because the research is (or at least was) done primarily on white male subjects.

    Ironically, attempts to rectify this have been met with protests from some anti-racist activists who suspect (with some historical justification, it must be said) that research into “racial” medicine is a pretext for finding genetic differences between the races to justify renewed racism.

  • Cyberguy

    To a person who only has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

    Sikivu probably sees “1+1=2″ as white and male.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    I have to say, as a a white male, I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. The historical and cultural facts of Sikuvu’s post are accurate but her rhetoric leaves this particular “great white liberal” nowhere to go that doesn’t illustrate the point. My view, for what it’s worth is that the centuries of cultural baggage that surround racial inequality (as oppsed to explicit racism which is different) will take more than one generation to work its way out of the system. There is no harm in pointing out those inequalities from time to time, but expecting a massive cultural shift to happen overnight is unrealistic.
    I also think that the “white male science” and “white male new atheist” issue is very close to a strawman argument. If you accept that in the west the most economically privilaged and therefore successful demographic is white and male, it is almost inevitable that is where most scientists and vocal atheist will come from.

  • bassmanpete

    I see someone with a chip on her shoulder trying to drag racism into an area where nobody wants it or had even considered it. But then, I’m a white male so maybe I’m part of the problem!

  • Sarah Braasch

    As a women’s rights activist, I see my participation in this site as being, in part, about trying to enlist the support of the atheist community in the fight against religion as the institutionalization of misogyny. For the greater part, people seem very willing to get behind this fight, even if it hadn’t been a fight they had thought about previously.

    I don’t disagree with Sikivu, but, in reading this piece, I had a question resounding inside my head: What are you trying to accomplish? Is this piece serving your goal?

  • jemand

    I’m a little disturbed Ebon distanced himself so much from this piece, it is so true, we need to hear it so much. And I’m white (there I go, using my “whiteness” to validate the observations of someone who isn’t.) It is sad that when someone like Skivu writes this kind of piece, there is a distancing until it is “validated” by “normal.” Frustrating, I *can’t* see everything she does, but what she writes as far as I can tell is totally true. I just cannot *feel* it the same.

  • Polly

    This status rests on having the right to write, analyze, classify, quantify and have one’s conclusions recognized as universal truths, rather than as the culturally contextual products of a racist colonialist legacy.

    Everyone has the right to write, analyze, and classify. No one has the “right” to be recognized, whether as an “unraced”, “universal” thinker or a well-known, crackpot. If you’re claiming blacks or women aren’t getting published because of deliberate censorship, then please provide some examples. If you say it’s because of white, male culture’s indifference, then I just don’t believe it. It’s completely absurd to suggest that there isn’t a market for such writing among white males as well as the 50%+ of the population that is female and/or minority and that somehow no one is willing to tap the market. Hell, anyone can start a blog and THAT might lead to a book deal.

    …so-called new atheist “movement” is resistant to the charge that racial and gender politics just might inform who achieves visibility and which issues are privileged in the broader context of skeptical discourse.

    First question, what are the gender/race issues related to atheism? Please spell it out. The one that you reference in the post, but don’t really make the connection that clear is that science has, in the past, been used against Africans. Also, genetics can be used against minorities today. So, we should abandon science or racialize it? The Jews suffered directly from scientific racism. But, this has not been a reason for them to abandon, or even become suspicious of science as a community or culture.

    Maybe we’re resistant to this particular charge because it isn’t true. Or even relevant.
    To me this seems to be the crux of Sikivu’s problem with the atheist “movement”:
    Not enough non-WM voices. But, are WMs to blame for that? Do WMs refuse to buy Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s books or watch his programs because he doesn’t “look” the part? Of course not!

    Here’s a proposition:
    If atheism is a movement, what exactly is it that it’s striving for? I thought we wanted to prevent/overturn theocratic elements in our nations and communities. To gain equal rights and tolerance for our point of view. And also to keep religion from hampering science.

    Am I missing something?
    How is this a race or gender issue? I’m open to an explanation, I REALLY AM. In the absence of a clear connection I see Sikivu’s psot as an attempt to wedge these important issues into a movement that has a much more limited scope. There already are social movements for these things. Who says atheism has to carry it?

    We can be allies and speak out, yes. But, when did we become responsible for acting as the catch-all underdog movement? Do you go to PETA demanding they feed the homeless?

  • http://piepalace.ca/blog Erigami

    A prescriptive follow-up to this would be great. I agree that I have a great deal of privilege as an able-bodied sexually-normed white guy, but outside of that, I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to take out of this post.

    AnonaMiss is bang-on when she says that more examples and links would be helpful. (Why should non-americans know who W.E.B. DuBois is? Who is Greta Christina? What debates have been boiling in the atheist blogosphere?)

    I disagree with Ex-Muslim Atheist’s point that folks in privilege shouldn’t expect people who can see the privilege they don’t understand to help them figure out how to make things better.

  • Joffan

    The phrase “Gish Gallop” comes to mind with the second-last paragraph. A rapid-fire litany of only partially-comprehensible complaints.

    “partially-comprehensible”, Joffan? Where’s your effort at understanding? The two ends of communication?

    Well, I tried, but the language here feels like an attempt to dress up in fancy clothes a number of concepts that could not get into the conversation without that. An avalanche of adjectives and metaphor might impress some people but it seems like a confusion tactic to me. “science-besotted circle jerk”, very engaging (not). If you can’t deliver your point without that bludgeoning, I probably don’t want it.

    I feel like there is a good/evil dualism underlying things in this essay. Like racism is an on/off switch, no shades of better or worse racial attitudes.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    All right, let’s see: “racism is bad” = true, “racism is still around” = true, “white folk, by and large, don’t understand the sea of privilege they swim in” = true. So far, so good. We’ve established that some of our oldest problems are still around, and even though we’re trying to move past them, that hasn’t been completely accomplished yet. Lots of people, it turns out, are insular and stupid (look at the birthers, flat Earthers, neo Nazis, the KKK, all those idiots who can’t see past their own nonsense to realize that the world is not a simple place).

    Wouldn’t you know it, but life is complicated. I agree that the attempt to make oneself into an impartial and objective observer is a fool’s errand; we shall always be the products of our backgrounds, genetic, cultural, ideological, educational, and so on and so forth. And we shall always carry this baggage with us wherever we go, no matter what we do, because it’s what makes us who we are – this isn’t individualist essentialism, I’m saying that perspective is baggage and everyone has perspective. The whole is the product of the sum of its parts and all their complex interactions, no more and no less. Umm… surprise?

    I’m torn on this essay because, on the one hand, we need reminders that these problems still exist. To continue improving ourselves, we must fight the war on all fronts, all at once, and resist the urge to rest on our laurels lest we backslide. This is a legitimate point, and really, every person needs to understand what baggage comes with their background. Yet “race” is a word we made up, and in that sense it’s imaginary; at the same time, just like God, the effects of this made-up idea are all-pervasive in our society, and we need the occasional reminder of this.

    On the other hand, all I see in Sikivu’s post is complaints. She points out that things aren’t perfect, which is good to do from time to time, but I see no suggestions for improvement. Ex-Muslim Atheist (#18) completely misses the point by saying that “we” (white folk) need to take all the initiative fix it ourselves. Seriously, what the fuck – is this a joke? You shout, “YER DOIN IT RONG,” so we say, “Sorry, what do you want,” and you say, “I’m not telling!” Really? Really?! Fine, fuck you, too! Nothing is perfect, there’s no such thing, so the mere act of pointing out that there’s still a problem is ridiculous, as in, “worthy of ridicule.” Civilization runs on agreement, whether that agreement is just, good, fair, and right, or not. So, fine: we’re agreed that the status quo is unjust, bad, unfair, and wrong. That much is obvious. We white folk ask for the opinions of the oppressed because we want to know what would make you happy. We’re trying to find out what we can agree on as a solution to this problem. We want to work together.

    Or do you just want to whine and complain? That’s fine, if you do, but then all you’ll have to look forward to is a lifetime of misery as a professional victim. And if so, then good luck, fucker! You’ll find no end of simple-minded enablers and self-flagellating morons who are willing to listen, but you’ll accomplish nothing in the long run except reinforcing the victimization. Actually fixing something is going to take a whole lot of hard work from everybody, and I’m down for that, but you have to get right on the “let’s all work together” bandwagon along with the rest of us, rather than expecting to be waited on hand and foot like a pretty, pretty princess.

    So let’s start over, shall we? Yes, there is a problem. Yes, something needs to be done. And no, we can’t “solve it forever and always” even in our own lifetimes. Having accepted these brute facts, what can we agree to do here and now to keep the corrective process rolling? (And given the repealment of Jim Crow laws, anti-miscegenation laws, and so on and so forth, the ball is rolling, despite the fact that it has a long way to go.) In short, we want to work with you, so what have you got to bring to the table? If us white folk have all the money and power and privilege, what parts of that pie would you like? How much of it will be good enough, how fast, and for how long? I’d like to split it “evenly, right now, forever,” but that’s not possible, so I’m trying to get it there. Maybe it would be better to give “most, over decades, for a couple generations” before swinging things back into balance – I think that would be OK, too. But if that’s not good enough, then what are your ideas?

  • jemand

    @D, the problem is when people as 101 questions over, and over, and over again, making minority groups into constantly teaching a billion classes to each and every person they meet at that person’s own pace.

    Eventually you get pissed and tired and say, please, go read up on it! People have written basically dissertations about this stuff!

    It’s like when religious believers find out you’re an atheist, and then they are shocked, and they want to know why, and they want to go through *all* the arguments for belief they’ve ever heard in their lives, and have you *personally* answer them, and you just want to wait for the bus in peace! You get irritated and say, please, go read up on some of these arguments and how they are shot down on the internet. Please, I’m tired of dealing with this. Because for *them* it’s the first time to discuss these issues, but for YOU, well, occasionally you get sick of doing ALL the explaining. And that’s an expression of privilege on their part, to have not noticed that or thought about it.

    That’s where the “minority groups don’t have to educate” idea comes in. It’s a privilege to assume that someone from a less privileged group should take the time to educate YOU PERSONALLY on all the issues regarding the subject, without seeing that maybe they have other stuff to do in their time, and your demand is kinda unreasonable, and you can find the info out yourself.

    White privilege isn’t necessarily *INVISIBLE* to white people, we just have the CHOICE of ignoring it. Once I started looking for it, it’s pretty easy to see, actually. But, *I* always still have the choice of ignoring it for a day, or a week, or whatever when I get too tired of noticing it, and it isn’t targeted *at* me. Other people *don’t* have that privilege.

    But note, Sikivu did start this conversation, I do think she is interested in discussing it and educating, and I think she probably WILL write a follow up piece. But right now, how about we just look at the problem, see if we can see its scope, etc, and wait for her to give us solution suggestions on her own time?

  • billf

    I generally agree with the essay, although I think the atheist community as a whole has a much better acceptance level of minority view points than other communities. Ask Greta about the low tolerance of atheism in the gay community.

    Hate to pile on, but since I am a straight white male and apparently “don’t grasp or see the complexity of white privilege” some more concrete examples sure would help. And since I am blind, how about suggesting some possible solutions to guide me in the right direction?

    How do you write the inflammatory statement “white boys naturally dominate science and are better writers anyway” without an example? Is this really an argument that minorities run into in the atheism community? Show me. I am blind after all.

    I believe I read an essay of yours bemoaning the lack of atheists in the black community, and that religion tends to dominate African American culture. Is this even partially the fault of the atheist community? Are we turning away potential converts?

    It may not seem like it, but I mostly agree. There is a built in advantage for whites in this country. We need to fix this. I think universal health care and equal opportunities for education, including higher education, are steps we need to take in this direction. It seems to me that attacking science or the atheism community is pointing a gun in the wrong direction.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Well… OK, jemand, you’re right in one way and wrong in another. But in the way that you’re right, I really ought to eat crow and apologize for getting out of line. I think that strong language is appropriate for expressing strong feelings, but this ain’t my soapbox, so I probably should have waited until I got home to rant, instead of potentially alienating Ebonmuse’s readership.

    So, Ex-Muslim Atheist, I’m sorry for shrieking my disapproval at you. There’s a time for that, but this sure ain’t it. I should have phrased my disagreement more constructively than I did.

    At the same time, jemand, Greta Christina herself made a post on atheism and patience (titled, appropriately enough, Atheism and Patience) arguing exactly the opposite of the point you make. I side with Greta here: we need to be patient, we need to be willing to have these conversations over and over, we need to take the positions of teachers imparting our hard-won knowledge to the newbies, while not getting condescending or super-didactic. Which side is more reasonable is a matter for debate (on further reflection, it’s probably appropriate to take one position sometimes, and the other position at other times); but even if I’m right here, I was not taking my own advice, so I thank you for giving me pause for thought.

    I still stand by my assertion that pointing out flaws does zero good without proposing solutions (or at least ideas) to remedy those flaws; Sikivu’s essay is not wrong, but rather incomplete.

  • Demonhype

    I understand what you’re saying there, D.

    My perspective is that I am a white girl who has grown up in a fairly closed white culture. The first time my parents took me to a store on the other side of town as a small girl, I was in awe–I’d never seen so many black people in one place. Where I came from, a single black face was like a beacon. Anything I knew about black people came from commentary from my elders–which was, in my case, mildly racist in that careless way of even the best people when they grew up in the 1950′s, but I was lucky enough to have a mother who had grown up as one of the few white girls in a black neighborhood, so she made sure to emphasis that black people were really just people like me. Then there was TV and movies–at first, black people who were in the script just to have a token black face–like Winston in Ghostbusters, a non-entity who’s very blackness was a substitute for the kind of comprehensive character development the white guys got–but eventually black characters were invariably rapping basketball players who capered around like updated versions of BoJangles. The whiteness of white characters was just one of many elements of “who” they were, but black people were just all-encompassingly BLACK, as an identity in and of itself. Anything else was unnecessary. And that seemed heavy even in the anti-racist lit and movies they’d show in high school–everything was about the “black struggle”. But who are these people? It was difficult to recognize them as just plain people like me, even if I intellectually knew it.

    (and don’t get into the “we are NOT like you, you don’t have our history, you weren’t enslaved, etc.” What I mean by “people like me” is on a human empathetic level, in that you feel hunger, pain and cold just like I do, you want what’s best for your kids, you want a good future for yourself and your kids, and if I was persecuted or enslaved it would feel for me much the same as it would feel for you because we are both human beings and all that that implies. Which, if I recall correctly, was an idea rejected by the pro-slavery kind of people, what with all that “animal” shit and “3/4 of a person” garbage. Dehumanization is a fundemental factor in any kind of persecution–it’s easier to enslave, torture, or genocidaly wipe out a group of people if you can convince yourself that they aren’t “like you”.)

    Suffice it to say, I had remarkably little genuine experience with actual, real-life black people, and when I finally got the chance to speak to anyone black I was unsure of what to say. Intellectually, I knew they were just people and that this experience shouldn’t intimidate me, but on another level I realized that everything I knew about them was…well, tainted at best.

    What I’m saying is that if there is a white privilege I am swimming in while being totally unaware of it, I am going to need some help understanding. Because that inherent white privilege has had an isolating effect on me and rendered me incapable of relating to a black person’s situation properly without some help. The act of just generally railing at the white establishment and berating me for my white privilege does nothing constructive–you might make me feel guilty, but what the hell can I do about it? There needs to be a reachout from both directions on that. It’s like those rich business owners who are swimming in so many billions that their perspective is totally detached from the perspective of the workers. Even the most well-meaning rich boss is going to need some help if he wants to make things better for the workers, because his situation is alien to the workers and he can’t possibly know what needs to be done. It doesn’t help to tell the rich boss “fuck you, I don’t need to tell you shit! You figure it out!”

    If you’ll pardon the awkward metaphor, if you are sick, you can’t tell the doctor “fuck you, I dont’ have to tell you where it hurts” and expect the doctor to be able to make it better. He’s not the one in pain, you are, and only you have the power to tell anyone where it hurts. If you’re going to demand that you get help, but refuse to elaborate on what you need help with, don’t be surprised if you get an enema to treat your tennis elbow!

    Please avoid getting bent out of shape about the “rich boss to worker” and “doctor to patient” elements there. The allocation of roles in the metaphors are not about the general relationship of white to black, but the specific relationship relevant to the topic here. And the nature of the metaphors is simply in keeping with the vocabulary already established, regaring accusations of “white privilege”.

    I see it as being much like the atheist thing. Speaking face-to-face with a real-life atheist is a new experience for many believers, who have grown up in an all-encompassing faith culture and whose only understanding of atheists have grown from straw representations and their own prejudices. Some believers see atheists as a threat and want to block them out, as some white supremacists see blacks as a threat and have no intention of actually discussing anything. These people will never be interested in anything outside of affirming their own prejudice. But when you encounter some believer who seems to want to understand you, that’s a start. Okay, so they are in some way treating you as a curiosity, but they are asking questions and they want to hear what you think! If they say something offensive, you need to try and figure out whether it was said out of innocence due to lack of experience or…well, not. And regardless of whether it’s the former or latter, I’d say that a patient explanation of why that comment is unacceptable is more productive than screeching “YOU HATEFUL FUCKING BIGOT, HOW DARE YOU!”. Well, mostly the former, if you’re in private. If someone is willing to learn about your situation, a little patience is a lot more constructive than knee-jerk accusations of bigotry. I know I’ve benefitted more from that–I’ve said the occasional unwittingly offensive thing, and I was lucky enough to have a minority rep who tolerantly understood my ignorance and helped me out, rather than scaring the hell out of me and making me kind of afraid to try any more communication. As an atheist, I’ve had similar experience with well-meaning believers–when I politely pointed out the offense and explained why it was offensive, the believer apologized and made the appropriate efforts to change the behavior.

    And if the latter and if you’re in public, you might not change that guy’s attitude but someone overhearing that might benefit from seeing how nasty that dickhead is and how intelligently you handled it–though if the guy’s being a definite overt racist asshole, you don’t have to be quite as gentle! I’ve often heard it said on some atheist forums that the debates and discussions are also for the lurkers. I know that when I was still a nominally-religious woo-believer, I was heavily impressed with how the atheists dealt with their detractors and how civil (read: no adhominems, actual logical discussion, addressing of the oppositions points instead of just spewing anger, rather than “accomodationist”)they could be in their discourse (unless their opposition went Nuclear Fundy or just kept a’preachin, then the kid gloves went off), and that lurking was the beginning of my undoing!

    My favorite example was from Ragtime, where Coalhouse is in the unnamed white family’s home as a guest, making small talk about the piano with Mother, when Grandfather comes in and asks if he’s going to favor them with some coon songs. He carefully composes himself–you can see he was heavily offended–and then draws himself up with dignity and explains that “coon songs are made for minstrel shows. White men sing them in black face. This is called ragtime”–segueway into a song…

    He didn’t back down, he corrected the old man intelligently, and moved on. He’s an old man, it’s likely he has no idea his comment is offensive because he was raised in a closed white culture that thought coon songs and minstrel shows were just ducky and were fair representations of black culture. No, don’t let things slide–the old man is wrong, and Coalhouse was right to point that out. But try to know who the hell you’re talking to–overt and unapologetic racist, or just someone who has no idea–and tailor your response to that.

    And please don’t go the hyper anti-racist route that has itself become off-puttingly racist–where every white person in the world seems to be regarded as a closet slaver, as if we all keep whips and chains up our asses and are just waiting for the signal from the Grand High Wizard to pull them out and re-enslave you all. My brother was working with a guy who was like that–every word or thought of every white person, particularly male, was an all-out KKK manifesto to this guy. Any time my brother breathed, his intake of oxygen was somehow racist as well.

    my brother: Isn’t pizza delicious?

    black co-worker: FUCKING RACIST!

    my brother: I can’t wait to buy a PS3!

    black co-worker: FUCKING RACIST!

    my brother: My car broke down.

    black co-worker: FUCKING RACIST!

    my brother: I just saw the King Kong remake, and it was great!

    black co-worker: FUCKING WHITE MALE RACIST BASTARD!!!!!

    How the hell can anyone have any kind of discourse with a person who accuses your every heartbeat as being an inherent element of the white male power structure?

    Same goes for the really touchy hysterical feminism. Yes, women have been oppressed. Yes, there’s a glass ceiling. Yes, this is wrong. Now what can we do about it? It’s important to acknowledge racism and sexism, because how else can we ever fix it? But if you arbitrarily tag damn near everything in the universe as racist or sexist (and therefore wrong, evil, and deserving of destruction), then you might as well give up because you’ve rendered the terms utterly meaningless.

    Example: Sure, historically science was very dominated by white people, which is a likely reason why it still is today. It was also historically dominated by men and not women, and again it still is today. It’s important to look at all the factors that might have contributed to this state, as well as all the factors that perpetuate this state, but to be selective on what we’re just going to scream down as racist. How they hell can I even begin to think about how to make things better all-around when I’m decried as a racist the moment I part my lips to speak? If I’m not even allowed to consider the question or make an argument due to my whiteness, that’s not only racist towards me, it’s counter-productive.

  • jemand

    @D, actually, I really do agree with Greta Christina. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t point out that the assumptions entailed in that dynamic aren’t *annoying* and rather unfair, and furthermore have sympathy for those in other marginalized groups that are faced with similar dynamics, and it doesn’t mean that occasionally punting the discussion for a bit of “please, can you see if you can find some info on your own for a bit? I need a break” is a bad thing.

    But your right, the fact that constantly explaining ourselves starting from the beginning is rather unfair isn’t necessarily to say that it isn’t an effective way of trying to change society. It just means that at *some* point in the conversation (if it’s going well) it’s legitimate to actually bring that point up and move people to self-education. It doesn’t make it *good,* (as in, part of a perfect world) but *pragmatic.*

  • metamind

    For those who were asking what changes Sikivu Hutchinson would like to see in the atheist community, try reading Greta Christina’s interview with her.

  • Rowen

    Ex-Muslim,

    If there is a racism problem, sitting around and harping on it isn’t going to do anything. Furthermore, as it is often put in this whole white male thing debate, WAY too often, any viewpoint that isn’t 100% supportive AND apologetic is immediately dismissed.

    Also, I personally think that if you’re willing to put forth the effort to bitch about something but aren’t willing to join the community and actually work for change, then you’ve lost me and my respect.

  • Eric

    Niel DeGrasse Tyson totally looks the part. Fade haircut 20 years out of date, big gestures, and that little stammer he gets when he’s worked up. He’s mad scientist super-blackman all the way. I love him.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ Jen R

    I, too, am disturbed that such a strong disclaimer was considered necessary for this post.

    For those who are asking for resources to explain the concept of white privilege — you could start with the classic White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Or even the Wikipedia article on the subject.

    I also recommend How to Be an Ally if You Are a Person with Privilege.

  • Mark

    So, as one of these ignorant white male atheists, what does Hutchinson want me to do about the situation? Because judging by the ratio of invective to actual suggestions for progress in this post, all I can infer is that I’m supposed to lock myself in my room and feel guilty for the color of my skin.

  • Alex Weaver

    Most of my objections have been covered already, but my immediate reaction is that use of scientific racism – however deplorable – as a springboard for trying to attack “Western science” and “Western” scholarship in its basic form (IE, the principles and institutions of science, not the methodology, attitudes, or interpretations of specific manifestations of science) borders on “Argumentum ad Hitlerum.” “Oh yeah? You know who else thought “science” was the best approach for understanding the world? [Name of notorious racist]!”

  • J

    *For those who are asking for resources to explain the concept of white privilege — you could start with the classic White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.*

    No. I already suffered through my obligatory semester of “Racism in America”, so I don’t have to read that smug, condescending bullshit any more.

    *So, as one of these ignorant white male atheists, what does Hutchinson want me to do about the situation? Because judging by the ratio of invective to actual suggestions for progress in this post, all I can infer is that I’m supposed to lock myself in my room and feel guilty for the color of my skin.*

    Pretty much. It’s more than abundantly clear now that NOTHING which any mortal human being could “do” will ever be good, ever be “enough”, ever be un-”privileged” enough to pass muster in Ms. H and her ilk’s view.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Thank you, metamind, for the link to Greta Christina’s interview with Sikivu. It is a very good read.

    At the risk of sounding flip, I feel like Sikivu’s goals (admittedly as I perceive them) would be far better served by replacing the article above with a link to this interview.

    It is a reasoned and intelligent discussion. Not that a good rant isn’t needed every once in a while, as D illustrates beautifully, but I feel like the article above is counterproductive. (I also feel like the article above belies many of Sikivu’s excellent points in the interview with Greta Christina.)

    And, I have to admit, I find the language heavy handed. It feels like a purposefully erected barrier between the author and the intended audience. That might not be the case, but it definitely gives that impression.

    I, too, find it challenging to switch between academic writing and polemical or persuasive writing.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ Jen R

    J, my comment was directed at people who were asking for information and wanted to learn more, not at you.

  • Rowen

    *For those who are asking for resources to explain the concept of white privilege — you could start with the classic White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.*

    I’ve already read that, thank you. It’s 20 years old, completely out of date, is completely condescending, has no real facts, is all about woo-emotions, and ignores the actual day to day living.

    “As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions.” This was not a scientific study, and smacks of PC white guilt, not to mention is horribly patronizing to . . . well, everyone.

    And, as I’ve said before, this whole “privilege” theory says nothing about how things should and can change. Here’s the last paragraph.

    “Although systemic change takes many decades, there are pressing questions for me and, I imagine, for some others like me if we raise our daily consciousness on the perquisites of being light-skinned. What will we do with such knowledge? As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily awarded power to
    try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.”

    Absolutely nothing about what sorts of changes need to be made, and nothing about how to make any changes. Just a airy, woo filled, emotional set up saying that it’s the white people’s problem to fix this.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ Jen R

    The next step is to be mindful. Notice that white people make up a disproportionate amount of the atheist movement, for instance. Notice things like almost all of the featured speakers at TAM 7 being white men. Don’t assume that’s because white men are the only people who have anything to say that’s of interest to skeptics. Go out of your way to think of women and/or people of color who would make good speakers, and suggest them — not out of white guilt, not because those speakers aren’t good enough to make it without help, but because the racism and sexism that we have all absorbed from our culture mean that those speakers are less likely to be the ones that come to mind right away when organizers are inviting people.

    There isn’t a recipe that people of color can lay out for white people to follow that will fix everything. We have to do some work of examining our own attitudes, examining the social structures of the institutions we interact with, and actively coming up with ways to make them more just.

  • Dan L.

    I, too, am disturbed that such a strong disclaimer was considered necessary for this post.

    Really? What disturbs you:
    A) Our host provided a soapbox with which Ms. Hutchinson could express her opinions?
    B) Our host wanted to make clear that it was not necessarily his opinions being expressed?

    I’ve seen the quoted sentiment mentioned a few times in the comments. It bothers me, because the only way I can interpret it is as follows:

    “Since white males aren’t aware of their own privilege, they’re not entitled to their own opinions on race and gender relations. Thus, when opinions are expressed by women or ethnic minorities, whites are ethically obligated to adopt those opinions as their own.”

    If I don’t assume that’s the point of view, then you must be complaining about A or B above, and I can’t see anything wrong with either one.

  • Irene

    “If you cared about these matters you’d be willing to educate me.”

    For those demanding step-by-step instructions for dismantling a huge, centuries-old system which is deeply embedded into the fabric of Western culture, there’s Damali Ayo’s I Can Fix It! Free, compact, simple, no big academic words to trip over.

    For those looking for more information on white privilege, in her third paragraph Ms. Hutchinson quoted Tim Wise, who’s written several books and has a well-established internet presence. Again, his writing is accessible and non-academic; and he’s white, so the pill goes down easier.

    Or… you could just Google “white privilege.” The information is out there. It’s not hard.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ metamind (#36): Thanks for the link! I’ll check it out when I get home.

    @ Jen (#46): Do white people make up a disproportionate amount of the atheist movement? I’m not sure what exactly you mean by that. Do you mean that there are more white atheists than black atheists? I’d say the fact of that proportion is simply the reality of the situation, and ipso facto excluded from being “disproportionate.” Or do you mean that the ratio of white atheists to black ones is larger than the ratio of white citizens to black ones? In that case, I’d like to see where you got that data from, because I think it would be interesting to see; but again, it’s a demographic fact, not something that needs to (or even can) be fixed. I believe it was another of Sikivu’s posts hosted on this site that pointed out that Churchiness is, for many black folk, an inextricable part of their identity as black folk, and the inability to separate the two keeps them under the paternalistic yoke of whatever (not being dismissive, I just forget where it went from there).

    Or did you perhaps mean that the ratio of prominent white atheists to all white atheists is larger than the ratio of prominent black atheists to all black atheists? That would be a very pertinent point to make, though I’d still like to see where you get your numbers. The Four Horsemen, a contrivance of the mainstream media, happen to be all white dudes, but they’re a rather diverse lot for all that: you’ve got an alcoholic British journalist, an African-born (I think?) ethologist, an American scholar, and Santa Claus – I mean, a wizened old man – I mean, a professional philosopher.

    Ooh, I have an idea! How about we make our own Four Persons of an Equestrian Persuasion? We could have Sikivu as the black female writer, Stephen Fry as the gay British film star, Dennet can stay as the old American philosopher, and… and… does anyone know if Harisu is an atheist? She’d fill the Asian, transsexual, and porn star demographic slots. That would be awesome!

  • J

    *Don’t assume that’s because white men are the only people who have anything to say that’s of interest to skeptics.*

    Oh don’t worry, I don’t assume that: I assume it’s because they’re the ones who took the trouble to sign up.

  • jemand

    also note in this discussion, we aren’t necessarily discussing how we should respond to other people who are slightly annoying and asking for minorities to function as permanent teachers running classes for everyone at their own pace, we are actually talking about *PLAYING* that annoying, assumptive role.

    (this is sorta to D, and a few other people who I think are actually listening and interested, there are a lot of people though who really seem to not even care. Which frustrates me.)

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ Jen R

    Dan L.: C) That he went on and on about it. A simple “Opinions expressed by guest bloggers are not necessarily shared by Ebon”, applied to all guest blog posts, would be reasonable and adequate.

    D: Good question. I was referring to the leadership and prominent spokespeople, as well as attendees at cons and that sort of thing (although I admit to going by other people’s accounts on the latter, as I’ve never made it to an atheist/skeptical con or meetup. Have seen photos, though.) My language was sloppy there. I mean that in general, these groups are much more white and male than U.S. or U.K. society as a whole. Just saying “it’s a demographic problem and can’t be fixed” is exactly what we need to *not* do. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. There are two sets of factors at work — those which might incline people who are not white males to be less atheist/skeptical, and those which keep the ones who *are* atheist/skeptical from being leaders or more active participants in the movement. The former is a problem if we want more people to embrace our positions, and the latter is a problem if we want our movement not to perpetuate racism and sexism.

    J: Are you as comfortable being part of the problem as you seem to be?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ Irene (#48): Oh, that Derailing for Dummies link is hilarious! I’ve never seen a more thorough application of the motive fallacy. I especially love the “how dare you ask me to hold up my end of the conversation” tone in the first two, as if a Privileged Person must always and everywhere take absolutely everything said by a Marginalized Person without criticism, question, or anything other than blithe acceptance. Because, as we all know, Marginalized Persons can do no wrong and Privileged Persons can do no right, and no Marginalized Person has ever intruded on a conversation and derailed it into a complaint-fest, which is impossible because the complaints of Marginalized Persons are most worthy of the time of Privileged Persons in every single possible circumstance.

    Or maybe it’s just my Privileged Experience as a student of philosophy that lets me think you can say to a person, “Wait, I don’t know what you’re talking about, could you please back up a step and clarify,” and expect a well-thought-out and patient response rather than accusations that I’m further marginalizing my conversational partner. Or is it too much for me to ask that I be treated as an invidual, too, and not a faceless member of The Problem?

    That I Can Fix It is pretty awesome, though! I like the straightforward, make-sense approach – and it helps that the handy five-step outline covers pretty much what I have done and continue to do (keep the facts in mind and be ready to admit them, listen to people as individuals, reading what others have to say, getting out into the real world to see what’s up, and then doing something about it). I also like how it’s got the bifurcated approach, showing that there’s responsibility on both sides of the fence and we need to meet in the middle to work forward together. Great stuff, and thanks a lot for sharing it!

    @ Jen R (#52): Thanks for clarifying, and that’s a very good point you make now that I understand what you were trying to say. I guess what I was getting at is that demographic facts, in and of themselves, are not problematic. You’re right that these numbers don’t exist in vacuums, and I agree with your binary boil-down of the factors at play (as far as it goes, anyhow) – you’ve convinced me! However, I’d say that the demographic numbers themselves are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself, and the numbers can’t be attacked directly with any efficacy. If we sort out the underlying problems, though, then I think the cosmetic symptoms will work themselves out all on their own. Maybe we’ve been talking past each other?

  • Polly

    And it flies in the face of the myth of meritocracy to suggest that eminent white philosophers and scientists don’t “focus” on race and gender because their identities are based on not seeing it.

    Or maybe because they have other things to do: like science and philosophy. Do you really want scientists to disavow biology and physics because of its past misuse? Would you rather that philosophers stop thinking about theories of consciousness or ethics, and instead turn their attention to race issues?

    Is there ANY other area of life at all that is even worthy of contemplation besides race in your view? The more I reread this post, the more it rings like a cult in my ears; a cult of racialism. The opposite of not seeing race is seeing it in, and demanding it be inserted into, EVERYTHING: every interaction, every institution, every mode of thought, every aspect of human cognition and awareness.

    I also want to mention one other thing that I NEVER hear anyone else say.

    So-called “whites” have ethnic identities, too. Many are Swedes, Germans, Italians, Finns, Czechs, Ukrainians, and on and on. Each one is different and has its own long and tedious history – some of it grim, some of it distorted but mostly ignored in school.
    The people that so casually get lumped together into one supremist, homogenous group are composed of individuals who may also have trouble finding their cultural foods and clothing in mainstream stores. Their parents or grandparents might have arrived on our shores with nothing, not even a common language with the majority. They may have parents who were ashamed to teach their kids their own language for fear of not appearing American. They may have seen open derision of their nations of origin during wartime or political conflicts.

    Why insist that everyone else carry only a select set of groups’ cultural baggage because of skin hue?

    I’m on board with not being a douche and being aware of the treatment of Others around me – which is what many of the suggestions in the links provided above boil down to – but I don’t owe anyone anything – not proportionate representation, not recognition, not nada.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ Jen R

    I think we have been talking past each other to a certain extent, but I also don’t agree that the numbers are *only* a symptom. Something like the speaker line-up at TAM 7 is an advertisement that the con isn’t thinking about these issues at all, and that in and of itself is going to turn some people away.

  • Dan L.

    I think it’s clear from comments that this essay does not effectively argue for its position. It’s still unclear to me what that position is, in fact — the first sign of its ineffectiveness.

    Besides not being clear about who or what is being criticized and why, the essay is simply poorly argued. The example of Sarah Baartman is not a good one, seeing as England didn’t abolish slavery until 14 years after her death. It is much more offensive to me that she was regarded as chattel than as a medical anomaly, especially given that white male John Merrick would receive much the same treatment much more recently in history. This is not to say that there is nothing to learn from the example. However, given the vulnerabilities of the argument, it’s probably not the best one for what seems to be intended as persuasive writing.

    The second-to-last paragraph is also very problematic. Is Hutchinson saying that black scientists should be allowed to operate under different rules from white scientists since science is an outgrowth of white-dominated culture? I doubt it, but I’ve seen that interpretation or something like it in the comments in a few places, suggesting it’s not an unreasonable conclusion to draw from the language used. Is it simply arguing that science is as susceptible to racism as any other cultural phenomenon? Then I think most atheists would agree: it’s arguing against a straw man. Science is a cultural phenomenon, and is not necessarily bound to moral norms. We know that science can be used as an excuse to commit morally heinous deeds. And?

    Even if it didn’t have these problems, it comes across as an accusation (perhaps even a temper tantrum) rather than a persuasive argument. If this essay IS supposed to persuade those who don’t think race is an issue in the atheism debates, I don’t see how. Inasmuch as I can find an argument in here, it seems designed to throw more heat than light.

    Dan L.: C) That he went on and on about it. A simple “Opinions expressed by guest bloggers are not necessarily shared by Ebon”, applied to all guest blog posts, would be reasonable and adequate.

    Did you even read it? It was once sentence of disclaimer and two paragraphs of explaining why, even though he was conflicted about putting up an explicit disclaimer, he decided it made sense in this case. He went “on and on” about how he DIDN’T want to put it up very much but felt it was necessary. I simply don’t see what’s disturbing about that.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ Jen R

    Yes, I read it, and as I did I got more and more uncomfortable because it seemed like he was distancing himself from it more and more. That may not have been the intention, but that’s how it came across to me.

  • goyo

    How did a black person get elected president of the US?

  • J

    *Yes, I read it, and as I did I got more and more uncomfortable because it seemed like he was distancing himself from it more and more. That may not have been the intention, but that’s how it came across to me.*

    Maybe because it’s not very good.

    *J: Are you as comfortable being part of the problem as you seem to be?*

    I’m not part of any problem.

  • J

    *How did a black person get elected president of the US?*

    Ah, but you’re forgetting the Holy Agreement of Every Commentator Everywhere, goyo: The election of a black president only PROVES that racism is WORSE THAN EVAR!!!111!

    (Of course, if Obama *hadn’t* been elected president, that would ALSO mean . . . well, you get my drift. But of course, this is just my bigoted while male logic in operation. )

  • Dan L.

    Let’s not start on the Obama stuff. It’s not constructive; it doesn’t demonstrate anything about racism and to my knowledge, no one has claimed it does.

  • Mark

    “If you cared about these matters you’d be willing to educate me.”

    For those demanding step-by-step instructions for dismantling a huge, centuries-old system which is deeply embedded into the fabric of Western culture, there’s Damali Ayo’s I Can Fix It! Free, compact, simple, no big academic words to trip over.

    For those looking for more information on white privilege, in her third paragraph Ms. Hutchinson quoted Tim Wise, who’s written several books and has a well-established internet presence. Again, his writing is accessible and non-academic; and he’s white, so the pill goes down easier.

    Or… you could just Google “white privilege.” The information is out there. It’s not hard.

    Although being a white male makes me a member of a historically privileged social group, I myself am not the least bit racist. I say this sincerely and emphatically, even if Hutchinson and others like her insist that I, being a white male, am not allowed to say so–at least not without being “cartoonishly pro forma” (a position which I consider far more racist than anything ever issued from my mouth).

    I realize that non-whites are still at a general disadvantage in today’s society, but frankly I believe I’m doing my part to correct this. And I’m not convinced that there’s any racism whatsoever in the atheist community, and that the over-representation of white males within that community is just a symptom of what educational and economic privilege white males have in society at large.

    So yes: “If you cared about these matters you’d be willing to educate me.” Because as it stands, her rant comes without supporting evidence or suggestions for change, and I am unconvinced. Or does she seriously believe that I, as a “privileged” member of society, have some duty to fill in the blanks between her invectives in order to satisfy her poorly-articulated demands?

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    Why does anything have to be “done” about white male privilege beyond interacting with others based on merit? As far as I’ve been able to tell, atheist communities are pretty good at that.

  • http://deleted Thumpalumpacus

    And I’m not convinced that there’s any racism whatsoever in the atheist community

    My personal experience indicates that this overly broad statement is not true.

  • Mark

    My personal experience indicates that this overly broad statement is not true.

    Fair enough, it would have been more accurate for me to say “And I’m not convinced that there is any significant racism endemic to the atheist community.” However, if you have evidence to the contrary I’d be happy (so to speak) to hear it.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ Jen R (#55): The numbers themselves are merely symptomatic. What if the TAM 7 lineup was composed of the only respondents? What if they had a whole plethora of speakers they wanted, of a wide variety of backgrounds, but it’s just the white males who responded? Of course, if you’ve got the invitation list and not just the final lineup, then that totally wrecks my objection (unless it was on a subject matter that it so happens only white males have written about, but that’s extremely unlikely). As Mark Twain said, “There are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are statistics.” Like literal disease symptoms, no single datum points to a particular conclusion all by itself. And even if you have the preponderance of evidence on your side, there’s still room for doubt.

    Re: 57, so what if he’s distancing himself from the post? He said that he doesn’t agree with everything Sikivu says, but he thinks this should be heard, and he thinks we should also be self-critical. I see this as entirely unproblematic. So, even if he was distancing himself from Sikivu’s essay, what would have been wrong about that?

    @ Ergo Ratio (#63): We can’t “just drop racism and move on” for similar reasons that we can’t “just drop theism and move on.” In principle, of course this could be done if everyone worked together all at once, but that’s just a fantasy and acting as though we’re already in a post-racist (or post-theist) society ignores the after-effects of the problem and fails to safeguard against backslides. Specifically, underprivileged/however-you-want-to-label-them minorities have a self-perpetuating disadvantage due to some ugly facts of human psychology: growing up underpriviliged, they will likely take as role models those with similar backgrounds to their own, and this will perpetuate the cycle as they emulate those role models. Propping up better role models won’t help very much when so many bad choices are so much easier, so we have to attack the source, and this takes time and effort and blah blah blah.

    As it turns out, it takes quite a bit of privilege to look beyond where a person comes from and embrace that person as a role model based primarily on what they accomplish instead of how similar that person is to you. This transition is easier for privileged people (and not even necessary most of the time), because there are a lot of really great privileged role models out there. But now think how often we laud the pedigree of a person alongside that person’s accomplishments, just like a dog show. (And “pedigree” here includes things like degrees and awards and other feathers in your cap which are stamps, not real-world accomplishments that do any good for anyone.) Do you see how this reinforces the problem? We are born with instincts about pedigree, and a lot of our behaviors reinforce these instincts, and it’s messy and thorny and ugly and stupid, but it happens all the same. Moving past these instincts is difficult, thankless work, and a lot of people will say you haven’t made any progress at all because you haven’t made all the progress you possibly could have (which is impossible, unless you single-mindedly focus on that thing to the exclusion of all other concerns, which is a catch 22 because you’ll still have other flaws, too). This attitude, ironically, is the product of “reverse-racist” entitlement that seems to boil down to the idea that one’s status as a victim of bad odds is more important than one’s responsibility to oneself for being strong despite the odds. Turns out, people tend not to look for opportunities to correct themselves, but rather think that it’s entirely up to the rest of the world to fit their idea of justice.

    The right thing to do here (for privileged folk) is not to merely stop being racist ourselves, but to also use our advantages to help those in worse positions break their self-perpetuating cycles of stagnation. There is no “just letting them” bring themselves up to speed, that will take too long if it happens at all; we have to help them get up to speed with the rest of us privileged folk. Does that help clarify the problem to you?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Of course, right after I post, I remember that this is relevant and funny to boot (except for the parts about the game proper, unless you take it as a metaphor for how most people just go through the motions of life & stuff, but that’s stretching a review a titch too far – like wrapping a treatise on self-perpetuating stereotypes around a game review, or something…).

  • http://deleted Thumpalumpacus

    Mark, your rephrasing satisfies my quibbling. I agree with you, I think, that the rationalist outlook is much less likely to result in racism; but not all atheists are rationalists.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    And I don’t know why it’s indicating I have a blog; I don’t. Don’t waste your time.

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    D, I don’t see how just basing my interactions on merit rather than appearances is not helping them get up to speed. What more can anyone ask for than to be treated equally beyond the scope of merit?

    I hire, pay, and fire employees, clients, and vendors based on performance. I keep friends based on shared interests and circumstance. At my level of abstraction, I’m doing what I need to do. What more can anyone rightly ask of me? If there is a reason why, for example, the pool of potential employees is a “misrepresentation”, that is the domain and responsibility of the person(s) responsible for filling that pool.

  • Siamang

    Sikivu,

    We’re not your enemies. Though I have the impression you think we are. You have the gift of stringing a lot of strong words together. You’ve completely convinced me that you are genuinely angry. You’ve not convinced me that I should pay any attention. For you seem to be angry that the world you were born into came with a history of events already in progress, and those events yield repercussions which yet persist unto this moment. Were we all free from the context of history, what then would any of us be?

    My snarkier self would respond thus:

    Sikivu,
    The English Language is one of the most prominent culturally contextual products of a racist colonialist legacy. Which is undoubtably as invisible to you as the water you swim in. For you next piece, please compose an article written in a language other than your own. Preferably a language free of any cultural context from any nation or tribe with any history of racism, sexism or heterosexism. Thank you.

    But my better self just says this: seek to persuade, not to harangue.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Ergo, there’s a difference between “doing nothing wrong” and “doing something right.” One is a form of abstinence, the other is proactive. The idea is that the underprivileged are ipso facto born without many advantages that you or I might well take for granted. It is no bad thing to treat them as individuals, but that is an attitude appropriate for a truly post-racist society where being “minimally decent” is all that could be asked of anyone. But we have a long way to go to get there. What is better in the meantime is to help the underprivileged acquire merits, to not simply do no wrong but to do some right. When the world is a shitty place, doing good (as opposed to merely “not doing bad”) is hard work; in philosopher-ese, such actions that go above and beyond the call of duty are called “superogatory.” They are above and beyond, but they need to be done by someone at some point.

    You are not to blame, and you bear no fault for this. Similarly, the deaths of the starving millions do not weigh upon either of our heads, for we had nothing to do with putting them in that position – but treating them as individuals and “refraining from robbing them,” while not bad, does not do nearly as much good as “giving food to them.” Feeding the hungry is superogatory, but it’s still good, and those who do not do it may do no harm while still not actively doing all the good that it is in their power to do (which is more than may be “reasonably expected” of them).

    It’s a thorny issue, so I can understand some confusion. Does this help clarify my position at all, though?

  • Rowen

    D,

    Just because people aren’t out actively espousing an idea and working to bring up the “unprivileged,” doesn’t mean we’re not doing nothing. Though, the idea that we white people should be going around trying to promote racial diversity in this uber-pc way is something I find to be distasteful and horribly patronizing. And all the black and hispanic folks I’ve worked with WOULD dismiss me if I started saying the things that are suggested in this essay and in the literature presented. Finally, all those said black and hispanic people WILL admit that white, middle and upper class folk have a leg up, but I don’t think that they’d want us privileged white folk to do anything but treat them with the respect that all humans deserve. This is why I dismiss this whole “white privilege” stuff as nonsense. Not because racism doesn’t exist, but because all this does is makes us all more aware of race and has the opposite effects that I’m sure it was originally intended to have.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Rowen, I never said we should be uber-pc, and I never said we should promote diversity. Diversity is a fact that we can accept or not, and I think that facts should be accepted as they are. What I promote is inclusion, which is different both from diversity and from the mere lack of exclusion.

    As long as racism (or sexism, or classism, or any form of tribalism for that matter) exists at all, then we have work to do. It sucks and isn’t fair, but we still have work to do. If you take a look up at my earlier comments, I think it’s pretty clear that I don’t agree with everything Sikivu says and I especially don’t agree with how she says it; but these problems are still problems.

    Again, I think the hunger analogy is an apt one. If a particular individual has enough food to eat, then yeah, offering them more food and constantly asking whether they’ve got enough could absolutely be seen as patronizing. We need to work to make sure that hungry people are getting enough food, not just making sure that we’re offering food to every individual who belongs to a typically hungry group. If the blacks or Hispanics you know are doing fine, then good for them. Really, honestly, and truly – that’s awesome! But there are still underprivileged persons, and minorities tend to be overrepresented. Sorting out just how to attack the problem is tough, but it still needs to be attacked, because there are still hungry people.

  • J

    *We need to work to make sure that hungry people are getting enough food, not just making sure that we’re offering food to every individual who belongs to a typically hungry group.*

    I agree. That’s why we should end affirmative action and instead only enact laws and programs that benefit everyone. To do otherwise is pretty much just hitting a chess-clock where we count down the minutes until enough of the white majority gets annoyed that they vote in ultra-rightists.

    So, affirmative action out, universal health care in.

  • Rowen

    You might not have said that we need to be uber pc, but the language used in Unpacking the Knapsack and the essay on how to be an ally suggest that we go do just that. Dropping comments in the office space that maybe we aren’t diverse enough isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do for lots of reasons.

    I would also like to point out that many of the blacks and hispanics I was talking about aren’t doing “fine,” at least not according to Unpacking the Knapsack, but they will be damned if I start doing ANYTHING other then not be a racist jackass. The moment I start using my white “privilege” to help them is the moment they will turn they’re backs on me. And I would do the same, too, as gay man, when dealing with heterosexuals.

    If we’re continuing using the hunger analogy, the concepts brought up in this article, and in Unpacking the Knapsack, and the other literature, is like how the mom in Dirty Dancing tells the kitchen to send their leftovers to China to help the starving children. People are out there working for diversity and change, and the last thing we need is someone making us feel guilty because some white woman back in 1990 decided that we white folk don’t feel guilty enough.

    By the way, my family is Irish and Comanche, and are VERY much aware of their cultural heritage. These types of conversations always end up irking me because Native Americans are often thrown in as a way to make it seem like your being more diverse then you really are, instead of just seeing things in . . black and white, and also completely ignore the fact that all white people aren’t made the same.

  • J

    *By the way, my family is Irish and Comanche, and are VERY much aware of their cultural heritage. These types of conversations always end up irking me because Native Americans are often thrown in as a way to make it seem like your being more diverse then you really are, instead of just seeing things in . . black and white, and also completely ignore the fact that all white people aren’t made the same.*

    Forsooth, Rowen. The sentiment and rationale behind D and Sikivu and company seems frankly “dated”. Like, this was indeed the really advanced social thinking . . . in 1975. But lest they be accused of heresy or backsliding, there’s absolutely zero acknowledgement by D, Sikivu and company of there having been any changes in the world since then. No, I don’t necessarily mean “progress”, although there’s some of that too. I know this will provoke violent head-shaking but, y’know what, we DO actually live in a less racist, less sexist country than we did 35 years ago. (Oops, sorry, nearly let slip the whole our-President-is-black thing again; forgot we aren’t allowed to ever mention that).

    It’s really frankly absurd for someone today go up to, say, my Bengali girlfriend, whose family came to this country when she was 2 and tell her what she “owes” to African-Americans. We live in a profoundly more mish-mashed world than the founders of identity politics could ever have forseen, in which fewer and fewer of us fit into one or even multiple groupings like “Asian-American” or “African-American” (i.e. my neighbor is a white-skinned Jewish woman who was born in South Africa and whose first language is Afrikaans, but who has a U.S. passport: how is she NOT “African-American”?).

    The entire notion of the body politic as being sliced up into a set number identifiable tribes to whom economic goodies are doled out based on political patronage and/or official histories of wrongs suffered in the past is becoming a quite rusty narrative.

    Tony Kushner is more on the ball of the way things are/shall be now:

    “And everyone in Balencia gowns with red corsages, and big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion. And all the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers. Race, taste and history finally overcome.”

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Rowen,
    My mistake, I had assumed that because you put my handle at the top of your comment that the “uber-pc” stuff was addressed to me. It was Jen R who recommended “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and “How to Be an Ally” back in #39. I neither recommended nor endorsed those links, so I don’t see what any of that has to do with me, but I guess it really doesn’t apply now that I know what you were talking about.

    OK, enough tongue-in-cheekiness, on to constructive discussion! I think we’d agree that awareness is necessary, but awareness does not require guilt. I greatly prefer conversations about what we can do to conversations about how we should feel. How we are feeling is important, to be sure, but… well, yeah, you put it really well when you continued the hunger analogy, so I’ll just say I agree with that.

    Honest question: did you mean that you’d be upset with heteros who “deign to lend you the benefit of their privilege,” or that you’d be upset with heteros who “dare to be anything other than a heterosexist jackass?” Or both? Just curious as to which one you meant.

  • Rowen

    D, I brought up Unpacking the Knapsack and How to be an Ally, because they were the only thing presented when anyone asked, “What does this mean we should do?” And even Unpacking the Knapsack is pretty sparse, but it’s not as sparse as the article that was posted.

    Here’s some real life examples from the gay/straight world. As a gay man, when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt said they wouldn’t get married because gays can’t, I had to roll my eyes. I’m grateful that they are supportive, but I’d actually like to see them do something. On the flip side, Judy Shepard has been an outspoken and very active supporter of the gay community, without making a whole lot of grand lip service.

    Now, when it comes to race, MOST of us don’t have much of an ability to affect things outside of our own lives. The BEST we can do is make small changes in our own lives, which is what most of us are doing, which then gets put down as “doing nothing bad.” Well, thanks for your support.

    I’d also like to point out that when we start talking about the various communities out there, it’s not just a problem of race. For example, you can’t really compare the education of poor black kids with middle class white kids and say that it’s JUST about race. It’s about so much more, and class is a HUGE deal. AND not all blacks are poor and not all whites are middle class. That’s why I feel that this movement/idea focuses WAY too much on race and spends WAY too much time dealing with chewing out the white folk then it does with making any significant change.

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    D, thank you for the clarification.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ J (#77): You wrote, “…there’s absolutely zero acknowledgement by D, Sikivu and company of there having been any changes in the world since then.” Ahem: “And given the repealment of Jim Crow laws, anti-miscegenation laws, and so on and so forth, the ball is rolling, despite the fact that it has a long way to go.” Emphasis added to me, by me, from my first comment in this thread (#30). Hasty generalizations are hasty, buddy.

    I think you could still make the point by simply dropping me from the list, since I already said that I don’t agree with everything Sikivu said and the phrase, “and company,” is nice & vague. As I said towards the beginning of #30, “We’ve established that some of our oldest problems are still around, and even though we’re trying to move past them, that hasn’t been completely accomplished yet.” The contrapositive to this idea is that we have partially accomplished these goals – we just need to keep at it, is all I’m saying. But some people seem (and I may be wrong here) to think it’s time to rest on our moral laurels and pat ourselves on the back for the current status quo just because it’s less bad – no, we need to keep striving for less bad, all the time. “Less bad than right now” is a perpetually moving target, to be sure; but all that means is that moral progress is hard work that we need to keep doing.

    @ Rowen (#79): Irene posted a link to I Can Fix It! in comment #48. I looked at the outline, and it’s really straightforward; no post-modernism involved, and each suggestion has clear practical value. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I’d recommend at least taking a look from what I’ve seen so far. I didn’t even look at the other links, so I had no ideas about their contents, and so your response directly to me but referring to them seemed to come out of left field.

    Even worse than doing absolutely zero good, Angie & Braddo’s decision to not get married is a costly no-consequence action – to them! They pay more taxes filing as single, so they can prance about and say that they’re not taking “no cost” actions. But the fact that it costs them something is irrelevant to the fact that it accomplishes nothing, it only obscures the issue, so I definitely share your frustration there. Their hearts are in the right place, it seems, but they don’t seem to have any understanding of how the real world works.

    As for the rest – yeah, I’m with you, life is complicated. Going back to the hunger metaphor, we can’t all be Norman Borlaug. “Doing nothing bad” is not a put-down in my book, so I’m sorry if you took it that way. I simply meant to draw attention to the fact that “not piling shit on” is distinct from “taking shit off the pile.” Sorry if I came on a little strong for your taste, I just think that acknowledging flaws is more important than lauding what ought to be common decency.

  • Rowen

    I checked out the I Can Fix It, and as a decent, normal, outspoken person, I do most of those things in my daily life. Sure, I’m not 100%, but I have friends and co-workers that can and do call me out when I put my foot in my mouth. Yet, I read stuff like Ms. Hutchinson’s article, or Unpacking the Knapsack, or I Can Fix It, and get the impression that somehow, I’m not doing enough, and it’s not because I’m not doing anything, but because as a white male, I’m given an unfair advantage I will never be able to live down.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Well, those folks are being cranks. The difficulty in dealing with cranks lies in acknowledging the legitimacy of their concerns (such as it is – sometimes, there’s none), while still calling them out on crankiness without further marginalizing them – there is simply no universally accepted method of doing that, and so the crankiness continues. Being decent is just fine, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Sure, it would be better for you to go above and beyond the call of duty – and those who do so, we call heroes. But expecting everyone to give 110% effort, 110% of the time, is just foolishness. I think we agree there.

    Jeez, hooray for talking past each other, right? Anyway, glad we got past that. But yeah, re-reading some of my stuff, I can totally see how someone might see my talking about “plain old privilege” (as in “the gap between the haves and the have-nots”) as piggy-backing on the “white privilege” thing – I meant for “white” to be conspicuous by its absence, but in light of the fact that the two seem to be used interchangeably, I definitely should have clarified. I guess that’s my bad. Yeah, there’s a lot of overlap between the two (racism and classism as they survive to this day), but that’s a relic of our history, not a symptom of some racism running rampant in the Godless Heathen Movement of today.

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  • Laura

    The ‘unraced’ position you refer to really strikes me as similar to the “epistemic egalitarianism” charge Larry Sanger levies in this critique of Wikipedia: http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/thewrongstuff/archive/2010/07/26/this-interview-is-a-stub-wikipedia-co-founder-larry-sanger-on-being-wrong.aspx

    As someone who has a foot in both the staunch atheist and anti-oppression camps, I’d like to thank you for writing this. This issue needs more discussion.

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  • http://www.google.com/profiles/andrea.m.semler The Nerd

    “Recent debates in the blogosphere about the whiteness of atheist discourse get sidelined by accusations about the perceived ‘hysteria’ of those making the claim.”

    Oh, absolutely. I have pointed out the amazing lack of color in atheism (I myself am white) and had people jump down my throat. “Don’t you see, if you were color-blind like us good Non-Racist Whites, you’d not be able to see that we’re all the same color?” But that’s the problem with color-blindness. We’ve all become so color-blind, we’re blind even when racism is slapping us in the face.

    (Note: I’m late to the convo here cuz I just found this post via Ms Magazine.)

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