Making Non-White Atheists Feel Welcome

I was reading this outstanding essay by Alom Shaha, an atheist and ex-Muslim of Bangladeshi descent, who describes what it’s like to come out as a nonbeliever in a tightly-knit, intensely religious community. But as he makes clear, the social and cultural pressure on people in his situation isn’t just a matter of happenstance; it formed as a defensive reaction against a wider society that was bitterly prejudiced:

My family was one of a large wave of Bangladeshi families who emigrated to the UK in the early 1970s. It was a horrid time to be a young Bangladeshi in Britain – a time when pubs displayed signs saying “no Blacks, no Irish, no dogs”, and violent racism was rife. We got used to the shouts of “go back home you dirty pakis”, and lived in fear of physical abuse ranging from being spat at to being beaten up on the street. In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that the Bangladeshi community was a close-knit and insular one.

It was not only our shared experiences as immigrants that unified us, but also our shared religion. Islam was the religion that defined many of my cultural experiences as I was growing up… For many of the people I grew up with, being a Bangladeshi is inseparable from being a Muslim.

This is, to put it bluntly, something that most white male atheists have never had to worry about. Yes, there are oppressive religious communities of every race and ethnicity which use brainwashing, peer pressure, and xenophobia to keep their members in line. But in addition to all those obstacles, which are common to every fundamentalist community, deconverts like Shaha faced the painful reality that much of the outside world genuinely was, and often still is, deeply prejudiced toward them. Under those circumstances, it’s not irrational to fear that if you leave your own community and the social safety net it provides, you’ll find no friends anywhere.

All this is by way of commenting on another post Shaha wrote recently, about the importance of being inclusive and welcoming to non-white atheists (HT: Jen McCreight). Typically, the comments section erupted with people – I’m going to go out on a limb and say most of them are probably white males – who angrily, defensively protested that they’re not racist themselves, so this can’t possibly be a problem. Here’s one representative example:

Perhaps it’s such a complete non-issue than only the most ardent proponents of identity politics have ever given it a second thought.

Judging by the sneer hanging over the phrase “identity politics”, I can only conclude that this statement was made by someone who’s never personally had to deal with racism or sexism, and from that single data point, believes that it can’t possibly be an issue for anyone else either. If you want to know why non-white (and, often, non-male) people are underrepresented in the atheist community, if you want to understand why they sometimes feel unwelcome, look to comments like this.

This is why, as Shaha suggests, we need to make more of a concerted effort to “reach out to [non-white atheists] specifically, not generally” – to make a point of not overlooking them, of inviting more of them to be speakers and presenters, of making sure we give them their fair share of media attention and focus.

It has nothing to do with the fact that people who have the same skin color are privy to a secret means of communications not available to others, or that we have some kind of diversity quota to meet. It has everything to do with the fact that people who didn’t grow up in a community like this, people who’ve never faced these kinds of social pressures, aren’t likely to have much good advice for those who are still in that situation and want to escape. And on the other side of the equation, consider things from the viewpoint of people who are still a part of those communities. If they look to the atheist movement and see only white faces, they may conclude that no one else from their community has ever made it out and found a safe haven among us, and that may well discourage them from trying.

In other words, being more inclusive isn’t something we should do as an act of charity. It’s something we should do because it makes the atheist movement as a whole more powerful, more influential, and more able to effectively communicate with a broader range of people.

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.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I can sympathise with Alom Shaha. 70′s Britain was awash with casual, and not so casual racism and the legacy of cultural ghettos in and around our inner cities is still with us. The imperative to band together must have been overwhelming in our not so welcoming society
    We have moved on of course, but things could still be better and in times of austerity and recession racist sentiment tends to come to the fore as the right wing panacea for all ills.
    So I agree, we really must encourage non white (and yes, non male) atheists to participate fully in the debates about shaping secular liberal democracies for the future. I would like to hope that most atheists would be as race and gender blind as it is possible to be and that nowhere are women and non whites being actively excluded or discouraged.

  • http://deusdiapente.blogspot.com J. Quinton

    From my point of view, being black, it seems as though “coming out” so to say as a non-believer is more of a problem with the in-group (family/larger black community) than the out-group. There’s a strong emphasis (at least, in my family) of “staying together” and depending on one another. So rejecting one of The Family’s tenents (in my case, Christianity) was almost like I had rejected The Family itself.

  • DSimon

    I don’t have much of substance to add to this article, but I just wanted to say: right on, I absolutely agree. The atheist community ought to be as inclusive as possible, and it’s up to us who are already an active part of the community to set that in motion.

  • exrelayman

    In your article, didn’t you mean to say ‘sometimes feel UNwelcome’?

    Also I would add to your list of practical reasons why we should be more inclusive the moral one: it is the right thing to do.

    Nice article. Thanks for spotlighting this issue.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    I agree that it’s an important issue, but constantly saying we want to attract women and people of colour isn’t enough. We need solutions. The discussion highlights our differences, when we should be looking for common ground. I thought I was just one of the boys, but have recently become very conscious of my vagina.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    I agree with what you’ve written here. I have a choice to make between pretending to stay in the family’s religion and being honest about atheism. My family doesn’t know about it, though I think they suspect I don’t put much stock in religion, even if they don’t know I’m an outright atheist.

    I don’t want to ally myself with people who would discriminate against my family. It can sometimes be challenging to find the balance between criticizing Islam and also making it clear I don’t favor discrimination against Muslims.

    @exrelayman: Yes, it is the right thing to do.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @SuperHappyJen: Most of the time, I just think of myself as a person, too, but become conscious of my gender when there’s an incidence of discrimination. You make a good point in saying that we focus too much on our differences. We spend so much time talking about how women are different from men instead of realizing our common humanity.

  • Douglas Kirk

    I just want to say well put. Alom Shaha is exactly the kind of thinker we need to listen to. It isn’t that the atheist community is intolerant or un-welcoming to minorties (we’re all quite more progressive than most of the population on average and have a much better humanistic track record), but without concerted efforts to make ourselves appear as inclusive as we are we will continue to look like the intolerant caricature portrayed by people with an interest to keep us that way. I, for one, don’t want to cede that ground to some of the most bigoted organizations in the history of mankind.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    To the commentor on the other site, if you’re here
    We are atheists. By definition, we take nothing on faith. You took on faith that we’re a happy and inclusive community. If evidence is presented contrary to one of our beliefs, we must examine the evidence, even if the conclusion is uncomfortable. That is the difference between atheists and theists.

  • bbk

    Are you saying that all immigrants and the poor are “non-white”? When I was a kid my family’s home was routinely vandalized, kids would spit on our faces in school, people would yell “go home!”, and we’d get attacked by gangs of older kids on our way to and from school. We’d also get accused of stealing or breaking other kids stuff, etc. When I joined the Marines, I had two staff NCO’s corner me one day and demand to know what I was doing in their unit, that I “didn’t belong” because I was an immigrant, an atheist, and too smart for my own good. I have scars to remind me of fights I got into in boot camp and combat school with fundamentalist Christians. I had to sneak in to the supply depot one day to make my own dog tags that said “atheist” because the Christians who worked there refused, saying they weren’t sure if it was legal. By the time I crossed the border into Iraq on March 18th, 2003, I was just as worried about the guys I was with as the other guys I was trying to kill.

    But now, a few years down the road, the hatred really seems to have disappeared and I believe that it is entirely due to the growing hatred directed towards Muslims and Mexicans. It also must have something to do with how much money I make. I’m not sure, except that it never fails to surprise me when someone says “that’s really cool” after they ask where I’m from. Now I’m more likely to hear someone call me “sir” than some sort of slur. So I never understood the American concept of “white”. Which is why I always write down “other” as my ethnicity.

  • Karen

    When I was a fundy Christian, we faced the problem with churches being highly segregated. I was part of a racial reconciliation movement that was quite progressive for its time (late ’80s) in evangelical circles.

    The watchword for us was “intentionality” and I think it would apply to the atheist movement as well.

    Instead of just saying “yes, of course we’re open to all races and ethnicities” or get defensive about it (which is very much the wrong course), we have to intentionally invite non-white atheists into leadership roles and feature them as speakers at our events. The same goes for women and particularly women of color.

    We can all learn from the variety of backgrounds and previous religious or non-religious cultures that these atheists will bring to the table. It is easy to feature the same stable of “experts” and authors, most of whom are terrific, but branching out intentionally will do us much good and bring us much credibility in the long run.

  • Scotlyn

    Intentionality. An invitation to “guest post” here?

  • http://daylightatheism.org murky 2.0

    I really don’t see the wider Atheist community as “inclusive” simply because of the definition of what it is to be an Atheist. I find it hard to believe that if I was, say, a black communist lesbian hooker(not that there is anything wrong with that!) that was considering Atheism, I wouldn’t give a rat’s furry ass if Richard Dawkins was an elite, old, straight, white dude. I DO, however, think that the Atheist community should represent the soldiers, scholars, minorities and others in our ranks just in order to dispell those God-awful accusations like that there are no Atheists in foxholes and that we are a bunch of old white Democrat elitists and young white liberal pot-smoking Latte-quaffing hippies. Oh, and don’t forget we are also communist socialist Darwinist Nazi Democrat Leninist Stalinist Progessive baby-eating tree-hugging Christian-kicking bible-shredding Satan-worshipping fascist dictators as well.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Maybe I just haven’t seen a problem because I’m a white male who isn’t explicitly involved in any communities, atheist or otherwise.

    However, if one can say there is an atheist community (which I don’t think you really can), in what ways- specifically – is that community non-inclusive?

    In what manner – specifically – should atheist community being reaching out to people solely on the basis of their gender or race?

    From the article:

    Simply arguing that black or Asian people are free to go along to gatherings of atheists or sceptics is to ignore an uncomfortable truth: people tend to be more comfortable with people who are like them.

    That could be read more than one way: Is the atheist community actively non-inclusive, or are some individuals who differ from the majority of the atheist community less inclined to join because they want to be around “their own people”? If the author is trying to make a case for the former, I’d be inclined to ask for some serious evidence; if the author is trying to make a case for the latter, that’s hardly a failing of the atheist community. All that’s saying is “Group X is underrepresented in the atheist community because group X is underrepresented”.

    While the author seems to say that it’s not necessarily a fault of either the community or the outside individual, they then go on to say:

    While black and Asian people may not be actively excluded from atheist and sceptic gatherings, the lack of black and Asian people as speakers or audience members might be one reason why many black or Asian people feel such events are not “for them”. So, even if there’s no deliberate exclusion, there is accidental exclusion.

    If the author is trying to make a case that ‘accidental exclusion’ is going on, it would seem it’s more an accidental self-exclusion, given the lack of presentation of any data suggesting the atheist community is exclusionary. If someone doesn’t want to go to a meeting of some group solely because that group isn’t made of “people like them”, that’s their own problem. It doesn’t imply to me that the community (if there actually is one) needs to go out an find some token people of varying races to attend or speak to make people of those races feel more at home.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Intentionality. An invitation to “guest post” here?

    Most certainly, Scotlyn. I’ve hosted writing by Sikivu Hutchinson here before, and I’d be glad to do so again. Also, if there are atheists who are people of color and are interested in guest-posting here – or if anyone would like to suggest someone I should ask – please feel free to contact me.

  • Em

    Mrnaglfar, “the lack of black and Asian people as speakers or audience members might be one reason why many black or Asian people feel such events are not for them’” could have a few more interpretations (I’m not sure which one is right, and more than one could be). It could be that people who have already experienced discrimination look at an all-white group and think, “Hm, maybe it’s more of those guys who are so frustrating to deal with. I’ll pass.” Or, given the author’s comment about the goth kids who hang out with the other goth kids, it could be more like, “I need people I can talk to specifically about the things that interest me, like how to deal with being a Bangladeshi atheist, and this group can’t help me there.”

    SuperHappyJen’s identified a tough bind, I think. Talking and not doing anything isn’t enough. But on the other hand, the discussion is important for getting more people to see the need for finding solutions, and just telling everyone to be colorblind can actually make it harder for people to see when there are problems (In Blind Pursuit of Racial Equity? summarizes some recent research on that). It’s like… we need double vision, in a way? To both see common humanity, but also to notice when there are differences that need attention so it doesn’t end up with some people going, “La de da, I didn’t notice a problem so it must not exist because everyone has the same experiences I do.” Not that they’d say it exactly like that :D

  • kennypo65

    The best thing about atheists is that they are rational people, that’s the reason that we are atheists. Since we are all the same species, with the same basic desires, I submit that racism and sexism are irrational, and are antithetical to being people ruled by reason. That being said, in my opinion, the door to the atheist community is and always has been open to women and persons with differing levels of melanin. However it is up to them to enter it.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    And that, Kennypo, is the identified problem, according to the opening posts. The door is open, and yes, “eventually” everyone will enter it, but some people would like people to walk through the door sooner rather than later, meaning the door needs some pretty decorations to look more inviting. And humans are weird, so we need lots of different decorations depending on who we want to walk through the door, so we should just stick a few at random up there and see if it helps.

    And yes, I am full aware that my analogy in effect requests putting up minority groups (such as asians and blacks) and majority groups (such as women, at least in North America) as talking heads purely to skew the data. It’s like solving a recession by lying to the populace, perception is everything.

  • Wednesday

    Kennypo – It’s not just an individual choosing to step through the door or not. Until we address this issue, anti-atheist groups can actively use the atheist community’s overall white maleness to discourage people of color and women from leaving religion and coming out as atheists. To extend your metaphor, we may have an open door, but that doesn’t do enough good if the other side has an armed guard standing outside, trying to prevent escape.

    We’re seeing this tactic being used right now in the reproductive rights fight. Some anti-choice groups are targeting black women, trying to spread a “abortion is black genocide and the pro-choice movement is all white people who support this” meme. To successfully fight this, the pro-choice movement as a whole needs to support its non-white members and groups as they engage, because they are the ones who are able to most effectively counter these particular anti-choice arguments. “Planned Parenthood clinics in black neighborhoods aren’t genocide by white people, because _we_ asked for them to be built there. _We_ black women want to be able to have control over our reproductive health” is a lot more effective at countering that meme than “_You_ asked for the PP clinics to be built in your neighborhoods.”

    The LGBT rights movement has a similar issue. In certain communities of people of color, gay rights is often seen as a white movement, making it very hard for LGBT folks in those communities to come out and live openly as LGBT — the perceived whiteness of the movement gets used against them _as well as_ their LGBTness.

    And while it would be delightful if all atheists were rational about things like racism and sexism, we’re only human, and unfortunately all the *isms are very human tendencies. We all know that not too many decades ago, women entering engineering, science, and math faced a lot of overt sexism from established folks in those fields, despite the fact that you can’t get much more academically rational than mathematics and science; I have friends in lab sciences who inform me that the overt sexism is by no means gone in their field. (And I just got hit by some sort of sexist/gender-essentialist graffiti from students on my office door, although based on what else they wrote they were probably not STEM majors.)

  • bbk

    Wednesday, thank you for providing the only examples, thus far, that have actually made some sense to me. I still really don’t like the whole self-effacing tone this post, a tone which relegates all white male atheists to the defeatist notion of not being able to understand something about being a persecuted minority (see my first comment). So let me ask you a question: do you feel that it’s possible that the “white male” atheist movement can roll out the red carpet for minorities without having to use shaming tactics to denigrate men?

    I mean, how did LGBT or white pro-choice women do it? Did gay white men approach minority gays and lesbians by saying, “being white men, we have no clue about being persecuted, so please come hold our hands and lead us through the complex subtleties of being a gay individual who gets persecuted for a bunch of other stuff?” Did white women say “you know, they’re right… we’re just a bunch of rich white racist women trying to cull the black population… please come teach us to fix our ways and figure out what’s really best for blacks?” Because to me, that’s what Ebon’s post sounds like. And that’s not my experience at all and frankly, it makes my blood boil.

    Why can’t we just say, “don’t believe what they say about us!” Why can’t we just tell everyone that we do understand what it’s like to be a minority, that we do understand diversity, and that we are a good group for minorities to become a part of?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I still really don’t like the whole self-effacing tone this post, a tone which relegates all white male atheists to the defeatist notion of not being able to understand something about being a persecuted minority…

    bbk, I think you’re reading what you expect to find and not what’s actually written.

    I never said that white males could never understand what it’s like to be the target of racism or sexism. What I said – go back and read my post, it’s right there – is that we shouldn’t presume we understand those experiences without first asking people who’ve lived through them to tell us what it’s like. We should let those people tell us what their perspective is, rather than us telling them what their perspective should be – or asserting that we understand them without checking to see if we do, in fact, understand them.

    This is just the same thing that atheists ask of religious people. They rarely hesitate to tell us what our viewpoint is, to lecture us about how being an atheist means we’re nihilists, immoral, angry at God, etc. What we say in reply is, “No, you don’t have the right to dictate our viewpoint to us, we have our own perspective and our own experiences, and we assert the right to define ourselves.” If we ask others to grant us that, we have to likewise grant it to those who ask the same of us.

    The commenter on Shaha’s article who nastily asserted that “identity politics” ought to be a non-issue is just as ignorant as that theocratic Tennessee school board member who said that atheists who object to prayers over the high school loudspeaker ought to just stick their fingers in their ears. Both statements are a claim that only the viewpoint of the majority needs to be considered.

  • http://daylightatheism.org J. James

    Let’s not forget that we all know discrimination as well. Such as the atheist teacher who had holy water splashed on him(were they expecting him to melt or something??), the constant favoritism in politics, schools, the military and the businessplace, and who can forget the bug-eyed religious fanatics that you dare not reveal your atheism to lest you be screeched at like a banshee. I think also there may be a pile-on effect here too, minorities unwilling and uneager to become atheists because they will be discriminated against and hated all the more, with serious repercussions in their own “culture” as well, which must be agonizingly painful considering these people are your family and friends who are the only other people who understand what you are going through as a minority.

  • bbk

    Ebon, I understood that part of it and I thought it was a pretty clever strawman. If atheists are a group that accepts diversity then all we have to do is say so. If atheists are a bunch of closed minded white men who can’t comprehend what minorities go through, then maybe they need to be told to invite minorities to come and enlighten them. But what if atheists are already pretty open to minorities and all that we really need to focus on is getting out the message that, hey, we’re the good guys, we’re the very people who don’t fit the white male stereotypes, the ones who will actually listen to you? In other words, why can’t our message be more positive? Why can’t we cut to the chase and say, “Your story will be heard. Your experiences will be our experience.” Why does it have to be a polemic about white men needing to learn how to listen?

    I totally understand what Wednesday wrote. The problem isn’t that we’re necessarily a bunch of intolerable bigots, but that being predominantly white males makes us an easy target for stereotyping by our opponents. Remember Ms Magazine? The problem isn’t necessarily that white male atheists have to learn to be a little more open minded, but that we have to learn how to counter the negative stereotypes effectively. That, I get. I get what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a stereotype whether it’s a dumb Polack, a Ruskie bastard, a commie Jew, or a privileged white male. Why do you think I get so pissed off about feminism all the time? Maybe because I actually know what it’s like to be a minority, I know what it’s like to live below the poverty line, and I really don’t appreciate people who won’t let me speak without framing everything that I say as if it’s coming from someone who always had it so good.

    So does it help to start off by saying that most white men have never had any experiences outside of a narrow context, nor given any of it a second thought? Why not say that we don’t have a litmus test for personal experiences here? Why not start off by pointing out that there are probably more atheists outside of America than in it? Chinese, Russian, Swedish, German, male, female, black, white, and in-between? Why not start off a post like this by pointing to one of the first things any two atheists ever ask of each other is, “so, how did you become atheist?” Does that sound like a bunch of white men who aren’t interested in hearing about the experiences of others?

  • Em

    bbk, where are you seeing the polemic part? Because what I see is, “Hey, it’s possible that we don’t understand some things as fully as we think through no fault of our own, but being reasonable people, we can recognize this and listen to others as much as we hope they will listen to us, and make sure they know we actually want to listen because they aren’t mind-readers and might not know that unless we specifically mention it rather than hoping they’ll guess that we are not the same as some other groups of white guys they might have encountered.” I don’t see any condemnation or guilt-tripping there; it sounds about as much like a polemic as saying to a group of scientists that since physicists don’t know everything about microbiology, they should let the microbiologists tell them about it, and specifically invite some microbiologists if the group is so physicist-heavy that a reasonable person might infer that it’s a physicist-only group.

    And the best part is, this is completely compatible with also pointing out the variety of atheists we already have. It isn’t a zero-sum game where you can only do one or the other, just like having a variety of methods from billboards to lawsuits makes the atheist movement stronger than if we just relied on one method.

    You have a second false dichotomy: either the white atheist understand all the issues and have completely erased any -isms they might have learned earlier from their minds and just need to say so for everything to be peachy, or they’re all bigots. Any large group of people will not be that uniform, nor is any one person likely to fall right on one of the ends of the spectrum. When you say it’s either one or the other, that dismisses the experiences of atheists who have met a whole range of white atheist men, some bigoted, some a bit problematic at times but trying and basically decent, and some amazing. Which is what people are talking about when they say to listen to other people’s experiences rather than assuming you “know” white male atheists are a certain way. It’s no reflection on you that you haven’t met every single white male atheist, or that some of them might act differently around you than around other people – who has?

  • bbk

    Okay, just stop it with the bait and switch. There is no false dichotomy. There are just two completely separate issues here. You either fit a stereotype or you don’t. If someone stereotypes you then you tell them they’re wrong. So if that’s what’s going on here, and from the sound of things that’s the problem everyone is describing, then you work on correcting the stereotype. If, on the other hand, minorities stay away from atheists because they keep trying and come away with negative experiences, then that’s a completely separate issue. If you want to talk about the second issue then go ahead, provide examples of the horrible experiences that some minority group has had in the midst of atheists. Then talk about all the things that atheists can do to be more welcoming. If, on the other hand, all your examples are of minorities who have preconceived notions of atheists and choose not to reach out to the broader community, then by all means stop concern trolling about all the shortcomings of typical white males and start talking about how we can correct those untrue stereotypes.

  • Em

    No, they aren’t completely separate, because there is more than one atheist. Some atheists fit the stereotype and some don’t, and some fit it maybe halfway. So if one of the atheists who doesn’t fit the stereotype says, “I would totally welcome you people so it’s completely your fault that you aren’t joining because of some stereotype,” he or she is denying the possibility that maybe maybe the person isn’t just making up some stereotype out of their imaginations or from something they saw on a cereal box. You know what isn’t welcoming? Someone considering joining a group and asking, “Hey, I have had some bad experiences with similar-looking groups before, and since I am considering joining you I obviously have not written you off as being just like them but think you might be cool, but let me explain my concerns and we can talk and then hopefully be friends,” and getting “YOU’RE BEING MEAN AND CALLING ME NAMES AND IF WE DON’T TALK ABOUT IT IT WILL GO AWAY SHUT UP” in reply.

  • Steve Bowen

    @BBK. I agree with the thrust of your argument so far, in that positive discrimination can quickly become condescension, or at least look that way. If atheists in general talk and walk as egalitarians there is no reason why atheists of any origin should not feel included.

  • Em

    I don’t think discrimination is exactly what’s being suggested, though. It sounded to me more like Ebon was describing initiating a discussion: you both talk and exchange ideas, and this means sometimes listening. When the “discussion” takes place scattered around the internet, in books, in interviews, etc., you can’t signal “I’m listening” just by focusing your gaze on the person, so you explicitly say “I’m listening” in case anyone thought you weren’t for whatever reason. He just pointed out that the discussion exists, and that listening is as important as talking because you don’t know what the other person has to say.

  • Wednesday

    @bbk
    So let me ask you a question: do you feel that it’s possible that the “white male” atheist movement can roll out the red carpet for minorities without having to use shaming tactics to denigrate men?

    Yes, of course. I think Ebon succeeds pretty well. Saying “white men aren’t experts on being non-white non-men, and we should make an effort to make sure non-white non-male voices get heard” isn’t a shaming tactic.

    Did white women say “you know, they’re right… we’re just a bunch of rich white racist women trying to cull the black population… please come teach us to fix our ways and figure out what’s really best for blacks?”

    From what I saw, the pro-choice movement mostly said “Okay, let’s listen to what our black members have to say about how to address this, because they know the most about the needs of black women”. White repro right advocates and bloggers promoted the writings of black repro right activists and bloggers. Some also wrote their own posts, and a few of these made a conscious effort to treat the black repro right advocates and groups as “primary sources”, much as Ebon did in this post.

    As a white woman, I didn’t feel particularly disenfranchised or denigrated by this. I already knew that I don’t want to genocide black people, and that those accusations were bullshit made up by anti-choice activists of all races who wanted to discourage* women from believing they had a right to control their own fertility. They wanted to generate popular support for laws that they could then use to shut down clinics in predominantly black areas – they wanted to recruit black women to participate in their own oppression.

    It wasn’t about me. It was about black women and making sure they were able to keep their access to health care and not be shamed for it. So that’s why the words, work, and experiences of black were rightly emphasized. Which seems to be exactly what Ebon did in this post and is asking us to do when appropriate.

    *Much more serious than, but similar to, Ms. Magazine discouraging women from coming out as atheists or attending Caltech. I personally think someone on Ms. Magazine editorial staff has an anti-science/atheist agenda.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Why can’t we cut to the chase and say, “Your story will be heard. Your experiences will be our experience.” Why does it have to be a polemic about white men needing to learn how to listen?

    What do you see as the difference between these two statements? If we promise someone that they will be heard, we’re also promising them that we will listen, and vice versa.

  • Mrnaglfar

    What do you see as the difference between these two statements? If we promise someone that they will be heard, we’re also promising them that we will listen, and vice versa.

    While I can’t speak for bbk, here’s the difference I see between those two: There’s a gulf between someone saying “I will listen” and someone being told by another “you need to learn how to listen”. The former is a polite and welcoming gesture, the latter is more of an insult. It’s even more of an insult when put in the context of “you need to learn to listen because you’re a white male“.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    And here I thought all white males didn’t know how to listen, it was just in their genetics and stuff. :)

    I agree with the difference note, though. Listening is a basic skill that everyone above “evangelical televangel” level of human interaction knows. As it is a basic skill, implying one needs to learn how to do it, needs to be worded tactfully, even if it is true (many people can hear, but only a few will ever listen).

    “We should listen to the differences of experiences between our demographics” is a more close-to-fully inclusive, and (IMNSHO) a more neutral way, of saying it.

  • bbk

    The immediate difference is in target audience and demeanor. But moreover, it follows a poor example of cultural sensitization that always seems to backfire.

    As an immigrant, I’m used to some senior citizen always asking something like, “So, tell us about your land” as if the next thing we’re going to do is trade some fur pelts and establish diplomatic relations between our peoples. The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the terms “intentionality” and fundamentalist in the same sentence was Borat. When my dad and I watched that movie, the one thing he said was “this is exactly what it’s been like to live in America for 20 years.” Americans are incredibly credulous when it comes to foreigners. That’s what Cohen was trying to point out – the funny things aren’t the outrageous acts Borat performs, but the fact that no one doubts his authenticity as a Kazakh for even a moment. Not the car salesmen, not the feminist leaders, not the wealthy dinner guests… no one fares well against his satire because they’re all so incredibly credulous in their attempts to understand Borat’s culture. When some schmuck scolds him about how, contrary to wherever he’s from, in ‘Merica we treat women a certain way, the guy not only comes off as condescending but incredibly ignorant.

    And that’s what you’ll get when you school people to “reach out” and “listen” to others who come from “different lands”. The easiest people to get along with are the ones who treat you just like anyone else they ever met… people who assume they have more in common with you and don’t treat you like a space alien. And if you ask me, the “white male” American is already so sensitized to the slightest cultural differences that sometimes it’s all they’re able to see. It’s all they ever look for. And we don’t need any more of that. We need to tell the “white male” atheists to treat minorities just as they would anybody else. That’s all. Try to do more and it’s going to backfire, I guarantee it. So that’s the difference.

  • kennypo65

    @ Zietlos: Could you repeat that? I wasn’t listening.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Kennypo: Okay, “We should–”

    Ahh, I see what you did there.

    Yes bbk, I can see that point of view. Can hear it, too. I read you. But inclusivity on an individual level (what you are suggesting and advocating)… I think the real argument that it is different from inclusivity on a general level. At an individual level, yes, I agree that is the best action to take. However, every proton is a proton, but sometimes when you mix a bunch of them you get gold, and sometimes you get lead, no matter what each proton does on their own. We might need general methods, what the figureheads do, that are different from what the civvies do, and both together work best.

  • keddaw

    “we have to intentionally invite non-white atheists into leadership roles and feature them as speakers at our events. The same goes for women and particularly women of color.”

    Positive discrimination is still discrimination.

    It has not been noted strongly enough that it is not necessarily the atheist community (not that there is such a thing) that is negative here, it is the reaction from the actual community they live in that they fear.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Given the increased level of religiosity in both black and Hispanic communities here in America, it doesn’t seem surprising that their numbers are disproportionately small in the atheist community. I’m not arguing for complacency, because racism exists in all demographics; but it certainly isn’t the only factor in this issue, nor, in my opinion, the main one.

    Sexism, I think, is a different story, insofar as I’ve seen plenty of atheist males indulge in the “that’s nice, now go make me a sammich” attitude towards their female compatriots. That shit strikes me as more pertinent, and more damaging.

  • Lion IRC

    “White” people?
    “Black” people?
    “Non-white atheists?”
    Yuck! Racists are all the same.
    Even racists who dont believe in God.

    See the ugly interview with Mr Hitchens

    Latent anxiety or latent racism?

    “Well… I think one of the great latent causes of anxiety in American society at the moment is the realisation among white people that if they’re not going to become a minority – I think that’s the way they think about it. That’s a long way off. But they will no longer be the majority. That is rather different. They will be the largest population but they won’t be the preponderant one.”

    Why would a proponent of “secular humanism” – who said he could never be friends with a racist – be talking about “white people” as against other groups of people?

    Link
    http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2010/s3070595.htm

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Why would a proponent of “secular humanism” – who said he could never be friends with a racist – be talking about “white people” as against other groups of people?

    Because he was responding to a question about “white” America. In any event acknowledging race is not the same as being racist.

  • bbk

    @Em, I’m not sure if I can agree or disagree with your comment. It removes so much of the original context that it’s hard for me to tell.

    @Wednesday, two things. First, I disagree with you about it not being a shaming tactic. It was. What this post did was to use white men’s status as a privileged majority to declare that they are disqualified from understanding the experiences of everyone else. Let’s consider that a good portion of white male atheists are gay, or they are immigrants like me, or they have had it quite bad enough as atheists in their communities. Do white male bloggers not get death threats on a regular basis? Are white male cartoonists immune from getting murdered by Muslims? Are white male abortion providers immune from getting murdered by Christians? The point is, the post seemed to say to white men that their experiences probably don’t matter because they’re privileged and because of this they should learn how to make others feel more important, as if they really do a poor job of it… as if it’s precisely because white male atheists are so privileged that we don’t have more women and minorities in the atheist movement. That’s a shaming tactic. I don’t think I got the point across when I asked you if a similar tactic was used to make women’s rights or LBGT activists feel inadequate about their contributions.

    I look at it a different way. The fact that many atheists have some level of privilege as white males means that they can help build a strong, cohesive, and well-defended atheist community that minority atheists would never be able to build on their own. There is no reason to admonish white males to feel bad about having had it so good and then use that as your leverage to tell them they better listen up to everyone else who has real problems to deal with. I think that it’s needlessly divisive when the alternative is that we could be celebrating our combined strength.

    Secondly, are you really so sure that this tactic really worked out for the women’s movement? Because whenever I go read something by a black feminist, it seems to be full of complaints about how white women don’t listen and how the needs of black women are ignored. I keep reading on to see what those needs are but I never really figure it out beyond the complaint that no one listens. Did it ever cross your mind that the feminist movement might have played right into perpetuating the very meme that it was trying to fight off when it focused all this attention on black women to “correct” the flaws in the “white” feminist movement?

  • Wednesday

    bbk, the only times in the original post Ebon actually said white male atheists didn’t have (or couldn’t understand) similar experiences, he said “This is … something that most white male atheists have never had to worry about” and “people who’ve never faced these kinds of social pressures aren’t likely to have much good advice for those who are still in that situation and want to escape.”

    Most. Aren’t likely. Not “all”, not “never”. So if you _have_ had to worry about that sort of thing, if you _have_ had to worry about such things and _are_ already listening and _do_ have good advice, I don’t see how Ebon is saying anything about you at all. You say a lot about what you’re reading into Ebon’s post, and you’re very passionate and eloquent about how upsetting and insulting it is, but I’m still not seeing it there. Could you maybe quote the parts of the post where you feel Ebon is saying white male atheists should be ashamed of having white male privilege?

    There are different kinds and levels of privilege. Just because white male bloggers get death threats doesn’t mean they aren’t privileged by US society for being white and male. You have told us about how you lack non-immigrant privilege in the country where you live, and I’m sure you haven’t even scratched the surface of that — but at the same time, an immigrant who is heterosexual and cisgendered has certain privileges for being those things that someone who is LGBT does not have, even LGBTs who have “my family has lived in this country for four generations” privilege. As atheists we all lack theist privilege (and what that means for our lives depends on where we live and the type of people we work and live with), but that doesn’t mean we can’t be privileged in other ways. And the observation that we have some sorts of privilege does not deny the lack of others.

    As for black feminists, well, on the whole when I read their work I see a lot about issues that concern them beyond the tensions with mainstream feminism. For example, the example I gave earlier about the anti-choice campaign — by all accounts the repro rights side was pretty successful. And I see people learning over time. So I do think things are working out well.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    *Hugs Lion*

    Hello! Not as eloquent as your usual work, though. Still, for anyone else who cares: Differentiation based upon shared traits that exhibit shared general influences is not the issue. It is equivalent to saying “accountants tend to save more money than fast food servers”. You won’t be called elitist for pointing out what is a fact (though I made that one up, the reverse is also applicable). The terms “black” and “white” and “non-white”, (which in this case also includes Asian populations, amongst others), are simply shortform, and while yes, “People with above-median amounts of melatonin” might be more politically correct, so would “People operating interpersonally in the financial distict” instead of “accountants”, the shorter words are for ease of reading and writing and are the generally accepted monikers by the parties generally involved (in that black people will say “I am black”, white people the related same, and those who are not Caucasian do not identify themselves as “white” and thus are identifiable as non-white when discussing the group classified as white).

    Not your best works, Lion. I always reply just in case it isn’t concern trolling, in case another who actually fits the stereotype exists and wonders but doesn’t ask, but in this case I do not think it was your best. Keep at it, though. Practice makes perfect, as the aphorism goes. Advice: next time, be a bit more subtle. If your definition of a negative term includes everything that is still sentient, it doesn’t work. Focus in, settle for trolling a smaller portion of the readers instead of going for everyone at once, you often get better reactions.

    Be happy! *hug!* Have a great day!

  • bbk

    @Wednesday… it seems to me more like a common theme, not just in this one post or just on Ebon’s blog, but running through a lot of intellectualism and activism. I think it pits the majority against everyone else and I don’t think it’s the only possible way of going about this business. I also think you’re just downplaying the importance of how it affects the overall message by splitting hairs. I think it comes down to the idea that addressing an audience of mostly white males by saying that that most white male atheists can’t relate to discrimination is like opening up an essay about finances for black men by saying that most black men don’t know how to manage wealth. It’s six of one or half a dozen of the other… it’s just kind of abrasive and insulting, especially if that’s the audience you’re trying to reach. You can downplay the significance of a few words all you want but it seems to me that you’re not the target audience so maybe in this one case you don’t have the best possible perspective on the matter.

    Generally, the whole entire concept of rubbing into people’s faces the privileges that you perceive them to enjoy as a way of getting their attention is unhelpful. It’s about as mature and conducive to progress as a bunch of college roomies arguing over whose turn it is to take out the trash based on who washed the bathroom last month and who has the hardest class this semester. I don’t understand why it’s not readily apparent that those types of tactics make the target audience defensive, especially the people who would otherwise be your biggest allies, the ones who have experiences that are contrary to how you describe them.

    So in conclusion, I’d like to point out that it’s not just a matter of using the word “most” versus “some” versus “all” or “none”. It’s having mentioned it at all. It adds a bunch of unnecessary baggage to the discussion, dilutes the message, quite possibly side tracks it, and puts off not just the part of the audience that was insulted but everyone else as well, including the people you’re trying to help. It has a polarizing effect. We should take care to notice the special needs of some of our fellow atheists. We should listen to their experiences and learn from them. Women should listen to them, too. Blacks, too. This whole post should have had nothing to do with white males.

  • Kogo

    This has never actually, worked has it? Like, if you want to pretty much insure uselessness and ineffectuality, just join an organization and then throw in, “We need to have a conversation about race and gender and…blahblahblah.” It is a 100% effective monkeywrench proposition: Completely derails practical efforts, instantly ties otherwise well-functioning organizations into knots, divides what were previously friends and allies, implodes progress.

    Bear in mind: The right NEVER does this. They NEVER go for consciousness-raising retreat weekends. They NEVER spend whole days on trust exercises and small-group breakouts where they free-associate on easel paper. They have a goal, they go for it, and then they achieve power and enact it.

    Something to be said for doing that and not, y’know, this other stuff.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    The right NEVER does this.

    That’s probably because the right remains the major province of racists and bigots. And, if you look at the U.S. midterm election returns, it cost them dearly in the West. Harry Reid, for example, is still in his seat because of overwhelming support from non-white voters, especially Latinos. Even in a terrible year for Democrats, California actually saw Democratic gains, for the same reason.

    This pattern is going to spread throughout the country in the coming decades, as America increasingly becomes a “majority-minority” nation. The Republicans, the party of old white males, is headed for extinction if they continue with their present political strategy. I’d rather not see atheists make the same mistake.

  • bbk

    That’s probably because the right remains the major province of racists and bigots.

    By and large they are a reactionary group doing a bunch of knee-jerk things whether or not it gets them elected. Racism and bigotry are just one manifestation of that. But I don’t think they’re all racists to begin with. I think the movement itself creates racists and bigots through something like the Milgram effect. Ultimately, I think that their voters are people who progressives have failed to reach or even completely written off. They have issues that progressives overlook as being unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but those are the only issues they have and their votes do count for something.

    I’d rather not see atheists make the same mistake.

    The same mistake as made by whom? Conservatives, progressives, or white males? Considering that the predominantly white male movement is predominantly liberal, it’s the progressive’s game to lose. But I think you really had “white males” in mind as the dangerous creatures who might make all the mistakes. Even if it’s a minority within a minority? I think the danger of white male atheists getting drunk on power is slim to none in this country. There’s nothing inherently different about white men than everyone else.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Are you intentionally being obtuse so you can whine about your penis or are you actually unable to comprehend a single thing anyone else says as soon as you hear the words white and male?

  • bbk

    You haven’t said anything interesting in a while, OMGF, but I’ll respond in the spirit of making you feel included. If I’m being “obtuse” it’s only because I’m trying to keep things shorter than usual. I really want to know what others think about this topic and I want to engage them in a discussion. But unlike you, I really try to avoid crude remarks. You can rest assured that I could give you a berating like you’ve never seen in your life. I know that you’re an intelligent individual and have a lot of valuable things to say, so why don’t you try doing that?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Why should I when you’ve clearly stated that you don’t care what Ebonmuse says, but are only concerned with the strawman that you want so much to knock down that no one seems to be endorsing? Your single-minded purpose here seems to be to attack Ebon for making an argument that he hasn’t made – that and being overly defensive as if you are personally being attacked. Well, if you want it to be about you, then let me just say that you are the person who probably should take this to heart the most, since you seem to be the one most resistant to actually examining your attitude and behavior and being open to learn. You already know that you can’t/won’t/don’t do anything wrong, so how dare anyone even suggest that you might not always be completely right, right?

  • bbk

    I do care what Ebonmuse says. I think that Ebon is an incredibly articulate writer who can express his ideas better than I ever could mine. I’ve said so on various occasions. But my goal isn’t to join the choir and point out all the things that I agree with – the fact that I’m here and that this is one of my favorite blogs should make it evident that I really enjoy his work. My goal, then, is to challenge certain memes by a negative method of hypothesis elimination. If these memes don’t stand up to my skepticism then they probably should be abandoned. If they stand up then no harm done. I pick the subjects I approach because they are the least thought out by their defenders. They’re full of shoddy arguments, double standards, selective facts, and general hypocrisy and sophistry. They should be low hanging fruit but people choose to ignore them in favor of being politically correct. So if I don’t convince a single person to change their mind, the least of what I might accomplish is to convince them to arrive at their conclusions in a painstakingly thorough and serious manner that’s in keeping with the same standard of discourse they have for their core atheistic ideas.

  • Kogo

    Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Jerry Brown and the rest didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing their white privilege to my knowledge. To me it seems like they just, y’know, ran good campaigns and/or against inferior opponents. I’m still not seeing the utility of any of this. Moreover, having gone through a lot of this horse-hockey as part of various progressive orgs, I don’t remember ever encountering a black or Hispanic or Asian fellow-member exclaiming aloud, “Oh this is fantastic! At last you white people get it!”

    In fact, mostly I remember a lot of sheepish glances betwixt went the unspoken subtext, “This really is bullshit, isn’t it?” and/or “What ELSE might we have accomplished in this 3/6/8 hours?”

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    So if I don’t convince a single person to change their mind, the least of what I might accomplish is to convince them to arrive at their conclusions in a painstakingly thorough and serious manner that’s in keeping with the same standard of discourse they have for their core atheistic ideas.

    Then may I suggest you actually deal with what’s been proposed and set forth instead of attacking a bunch of straw?

  • bbk

    Uh, same to you buddy? I have no idea what you’re talking about. What shining nugget of truth are you thinking of that I haven’t adequately dealt with? If you ask me a concrete question that you’d like me to specifically answer, then I will. But if someone makes a dozen different points without asking me to focus on a specific one then I’m at my liberty to pick up the ideas that I feel are worth developing further.

  • bbk

    Kogo, I’m not sure why you’re making this political, first with the right and now with the left. You were really wrong about the right and now this. But, whatever. The Democratic party does do a lot of introspection and they do manage to adopt a certain language and policy focus. But it all amounts to window dressing. They don’t actually do anything to help women and minorities unless they’re forced to. But then they label themselves as champions of the underdog anyway. The only credentials that Democrats have as feminists is in their knack for driving away older white male voters. Same with LBGT rights, same with immigration. They’re horribly ineffective at crafting egalitarian legislation and getting widespread support for anything.

    Otherwise I do feel your pain about the progressive charities founded by white people to save the world. I have a few very close friends who work for the UN in Asia and others who have spent several years working for NGO’s in Africa. They went in full of big ideas and came out pretty jaded. Sometimes I feel like I tried to tell them so but they never believed me. They tried to convince me to take years out of my life for the peace corps or engineers without borders. I would remind them that I just got out of the Marines and was fresh out of idealist notions. They would get angry. Then they’d arrive in country and some village elder would point them to the corner of their village with all the other holes in the ground that the adventurers who came before them had dug and that would finally convince them that you can’t just take a bunch of stupid ideas and make them work just because they sound fluffy and nice. The pragmatist always wins, even if they seem cold and calculating.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    So, bbk, you never answered the original question. Are you being intentionally obtuse or do you have no ability to think once the words “white” and “male” are uttered?

  • bbk

    I already addressed your concern. And just for the record, you just shredded any remaining credibility that you had in my book. False dichotomies aren’t meant to be answered. If you’re any sort of atheist you should know better than to try to snare another atheist in such a blatantly obvious and offensively idiotic manner. I expect better.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    And, I expected better than, “I know you are, but what am I.” OTOH, you’re so obsessed with your naughty bits (is that less crude) and making sure that the poor, oppressed white males of the world are protected from the cruelties of worldly persecution that I don’t know why I expected better.

  • http://www.facepunch.com/member.php?u=298989 Jeep-Eep

    Lion IRC is a troll. We had him over at PZ’s place and he earned a spot on his voluminous killfile. Just so any noobs are aware.

  • monkeymind

    I’m a middle-aged woman with disposable income and time and skills to volunteer. I’m not a believer, but I’ve never joined any atheist organization, or volunteered or made a donation. I can see that religion is a negative contributing factor in a lot of the social problems I’m most concerned about – thanks to the New Atheists out there. However, I still have doubts that donating or volunteering for an atheist organization would be an effective use of my resources. I kind of have the impression they would be the kind of place where it’s necessary to explain, very patiently and slowly, why diversifying the membership base would be a good thing. Thanks for confirming, bbk and kogo! I’ll donate somewhere else instead.

  • bbk

    What about monkeymind? Troll or not a troll? There’s about a dozen things that are completely screwed up about that comment.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Troll. No question about it. Who refuses to join any atheist organization or donate to a cause they believe in on the basis of someone’s opinion who is not a member of said organization?

    I’d like to repeat my initial questions:

    However, if one can say there is an atheist community (which I don’t think you really can), in what ways- specifically – is that community [acting] non-inclusive?

    In what manner – specifically – should atheist community being reaching out to people solely on the basis of their gender or race?

  • monkeymind

    I know bbk,etc. are not speaking on behalf of any organization, and am not making any decisions based on random blog comments. The point I’m trying to make is that if I walked into a meeting and heard the latter comments in this discussion, me and my calendar and checkbook would walk right out again.

  • Mrnaglfar

    I know bbk,etc. are not speaking on behalf of any organization, and am not making any decisions based on random blog comments.

    Then what gave you this impression?

    I still have doubts that donating or volunteering for an atheist organization would be an effective use of my resources. I kind of have the impression they would be the kind of place where it’s necessary to explain, very patiently and slowly, why diversifying the membership base would be a good thing.

    Oh, right. This:

    Thanks for confirming, bbk and kogo! I’ll donate somewhere else instead.

    So you know bbk isn’t speaking on behalf of any organization, yet he has helped confirm your impressions of those organizations you have never been a part of, and you not swear to not donate your time or money because your impression was confirmed by – as you put it – a random blog comment.

    Either you’re trolling or you need to think way more carefully about what you write.

    That said, no one here has expressed the idea that it’s a bad thing for the/an atheist community to be a diversified bunch. I’ve asked what – specifically – should be done about remedying this supposed problem. If there’s a suggestion that doesn’t sound like “[The amorphous atheist leadership, whoever they are] needs to get some token [insert race here] to make other people of that race feel welcome because otherwise they’ll never join your cause” I’d like to hear it.

  • Mrnaglfar

    A further thought:

    The problem here – I suspect – isn’t that people of different races are seeing or showing up to atheist communities and simply not finding a fit because they think, “there aren’t enough people here of my race – these people can’t possibly relate to my experiences”. Maybe they are and I’m mistaken, but here’s my speculation:

    They aren’t finding any atheist communities at all.

    It’s not like there’s a vibrant atheist community that even could offer them much social support, were it able to speak to their concerns. Leaving their religion could involve leaving a part of their community and/or family behind for…what, exactly? What compensating benefits would they see that could make up for any social ostracism, let alone significant amounts? Public intellectual honesty?

  • bbk

    Seriously, though, atheists are a despised minority:
    http://www.law.gmu.edu/assets/homepages/isomin/files/LegalTimes_Atheism.pdf

    How the hell can anyone actually spend a couple decades as an avowed atheist in America and still contemplate the problem of the white man’s handicap in inter-ethnic atheist relations?

    Sure, most atheists are wealthy white males. But I also know well-off Muslims who are doctors and brokers. I have friends in Manhattan who actually attend the “Ground Zero” mosque and I bet there’s not a single man or woman here on this blog who would dare demonstrate enough ignorance to say to one of them, “you’re a rich doctor, you don’t know anything about being a minority!” Most of the gays that I know are also well educated white men and pretty wealthy. Again, nobody pits them against Blacks or Arabs and says that it’s their fault that the LGBT community is so… white. But that’s the standard we have for atheists.

    How hard is it to get it through people’s thick skulls that the issues facing white male atheists do matter? Especially when a lot of the specific forms of discrimination against atheists coincide with the discrimination against men in general? If a woman comes out as atheist, all of a sudden she stands the same chance of losing her kids in a custody battle that a man would. It would make sense, then, for atheists to support shared parenting laws that the dreaded, bigoted MRA community is fighting for. But hey, that’s just me and the entire legal community that’s in agreement on that one. And there’s more. How about the fact that it’s all but impossible to get elected to public office if you’re an atheist. Minorities look for a group that can represent them in government, including women. Even if white men were the only ones who can get elected, minorities line up with those white men who can effectively represent them in some manner.

  • bbk

    Zietlos @35, I think you’re dead on about the difference being individual versus a general approach. That really puts it into perspective for me, but in that case I’m still saying that we need the individualistic approach. We’re atheists. Minority atheists are very individualistic and they want to be included as individuals. The general approach may work well for groups that have a herd mentality but not for us. In many cases, it’s just as degrading to minorities when we talk about them as if they’re all uneducated brown people with dirt on their face living in a cave somewhere, so we should really make a concerted effort to invite them over to enlighten us with their exotic life experiences. This is why my immigrant dad, an atheist physicist, relates to Borat.

    That is the problem that minority atheists face. Anytime a government official decides to offer an outstretched hand to a minority group, guess who they invite over to the White House dinner party? The religious leaders! Because atheists can’t get elected to government and aren’t in a position to reach out to those groups in a general sense. That’s note because white male atheists don’t have a clue about being a minority, this is about discrimination against white male atheists who do know about being minorities.

    Anyway, Multiculturalism really hurts the overall atheist community. The real aim is to seek them out and help them disassociate with the cultural and ethnic identifiers that peg them into some particular group. Look, I’m not trying to hang out with a bunch of Polish Catholics in an ethnic ghetto any more than a Muslim doctor wants to hang out with his fundamentalist cousin who works at a gyro cart. I’m sorry if that sounds politically incorrect but we really have to come to terms with it. If we’re reaching out to minority atheists, we are supporting a brain drain of sorts. There’s no point in trying to take the entire community along for the ride. We need to focus on the well educated people who have more in common with us than they do with their ethnic group.

    Here’s another thing we can learn from. In late 60′s feminists coined the term “the personal is political.” What was that all about? They had these group therapy sessions called Consciousness Raising where women would sit around and air their grievances while everyone else thought up ways to say that the Patriarchy did it. And there’s the rub. Feminists saw their diverse individual differences as inherently uniting them under a single cause while atheists see individual differences as inherently placing them into discrete groups that need to interact at a group level. Feminists built up a powerful esprit de corps by convincing individual women to feel empowered and politicized down to their bras, makeup, and choice of laundry detergent. By the time they got around to expanding their movement to minorities, sitting around listening to the grievances of minority women about their random grievances while expanding the definition of Patriarchy was on par for the course. I’m not in favor of replicating the feminist model but if someone else does want to follow the pattern, at least figure out how it was really done.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    monkeymind,
    Please know that not all of us are like bbk.

  • monkeymind

    OMGF – of course! I do see lots of evidence of that in the post and in the comments.

    Mrnaglfar:

    It’s not like there’s a vibrant atheist community that even could offer them much social support, were it able to speak to their concerns.

    And why wouldn’t the creation of such a support network be a viable goal around which to organize? I could support that. Marching in our town’s holiday parade with a “Reason’s Greetings” banner, like a group of “brights” in my town will be doing this weekend – not so much.

    bbk:

    Most of the gays that I know are also well educated white men and pretty wealthy. Again, nobody pits them against Blacks or Arabs and says that it’s their fault that the LGBT community is so… white. But that’s the standard we have for atheists.

    Actually, LGBT activists are concerned about outreach and broadening ethnic/cultural diversity, out of a concern for social justice and to increase political effectiveness. Believe me, the kinds of arguments you are making would just be laughed at or ignored by LGBT activists. Because they know what they are doing, whereas I get the impression that you wouldn’t be able to organize your way out of a paper bag.

    Also, do you get the difference between “please tell us about your exotic culture, because we can’t be bothered to educate ourselves” and “we would really value your insight on our board/organizing committee”?

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com/ themann1086

    bbk,

    Your ignorance of the gay community and their class/racial issues is both appalling and unsurprising.

  • Mrnaglfar

    And why wouldn’t the creation of such a support network be a viable goal around which to organize?

    Could be an OK goal. The reason it hasn’t seemed to have happen yet it because beyond not believing in a deity there’s little else to rally around.

    It just seems a bit premature to me for anyone to be deciding that a community that – for all intents and purposes – doesn’t formally exist isn’t ethnically diverse enough, followed by a glorious silence as to how go about dealing with the problem.

  • monkeymind

    The reason it hasn’t seemed to have happen yet it because beyond not believing in a deity there’s little else to rally around.

    OK then. So you’re an a-agendaist.

  • bbk

    themann1086, your overall ignorance is pretty appalling but at least I’m confident that you’re not a troll so I’ll try to reason with you. Please read what I wrote! I said that no one accuses white gay men of being privileged. They reach out to minorities without the odious implication that white men “don’t get it”. OMGF doesn’t pick up on gay men discussing their problems and call them a bunch of whiners with oppressed white penises. The rest of us wouldn’t let that stand if OMGF said crap like that about issues facing gays. That’s ALL I said on that topic and I’m almost 100% sure that you’re fully capable of getting that. So follow ALL of my examples, read them carefully, and use some of your reading comprehension skills to figure out what it means instead of playing off of what some completely ignorant commenter twisted it into.

  • bbk

    What I find absolutely appalling is that people like monkeymind, OMFG, themann, and so many others are just incapable of developing a positive attitude towards men. They’re basically proving my point. I say that we should approach diversity in a positive manner, that we should avoid furthering negative memes that pit white men as privileged oppressors against minority victims. And they think it means that I hate diversity! How does that even follow? And when I point that I am a fully qualified minority, they pretend it’s not true and try to ridicule my oppressed white penis and prople seem to tolerate that.

  • monkeymind

    What I find absolutely appalling is that people like monkeymind, OMFG, themann, and so many others are just incapable of developing a positive attitude towards men.

    What on earth makes you come to that conclusion? I like men. Some of my best husbands are men!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    For reference, monkeymind, bbk is the guy who thinks that the feminist movement was started by bitter man-haters who only wanted the right to vote so that they could outlaw alcohol and everything else that men like.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com/ themann1086

    I must be one of those self-hating white men I hear so much about *eyeroll* and actually, the gay rights movement use to got a LOT more flack for its terrible relations with racial minorities, not to mention the lesbian community. There are still issues. Or from Greta’s speech to the Secular Student Alliance:

    I want to close with one more lesson that the atheist movement can learn from the LGBT movement. (There are more — I could discuss this all day — but I only have 20 minutes.) This is a lesson that atheists can learn, not from the successes of the LGBT movement, but from one of our biggest failures — a failure that has come back to bite us in the ass time and again.

    Atheists need to work — now — on making our movement more diverse, and making it more welcoming and inclusive of women and people of color.

    And by now, I mean now. We need to start on this now, so we don’t get set into patterns and vicious circles and self-fulfilling prophecies that in ten or twenty years will be damn near impossible to fix.

    What can we learn here from the LGBT movement? The early LGBT movement screwed this up. Badly.

    The early LGBT movement was very much dominated by gay white men. The public representatives of the movement were mostly gay white men; most organizations were led by gay white men. And the gay white male leaders had some seriously bad race and gender stuff: treating gay men of color as fetishistic Others, objects of sexual desire rather than members of the community… and treating lesbians as alien Others, inscrutable and trivial.

    And we’re paying for it today. Relations between lesbians and gay men, between white queers and queers of color, are often strained at best. Conversations in our movement about race and gender take place in a decades-old minefield of rancor and bitterness, where nothing anybody says is right. And we still, after decades, have a strong tendency to put gay white men front and center as the most visible, iconic representatives of our community.

    That makes it hard on everyone in the LGBT movement — women and men, of all races. It creates rifts that make our community weaker. And it has a seriously bad impact on our ability to make effective social change. For instance, the LGBT movement has a profoundly impaired ability to shift homophobic attitudes in the black communities… since those communities can claim, entirely fairly, that the gay community doesn’t care about black people, and hasn’t made an effort to deal with our racism.

    We screwed this up. We still screw this up. We are paying for our screwups.

    Atheists have a chance to not do that.

    The atheist movement is currently largely dominated by white men… especially in positions of visibility and leadership. And many atheists resist seeing this as a problem that we need to take action on. They’re not overtly racist or sexist, they’re not saying, “We don’t want women or people of color in our movement”… but they don’t see this as their responsibility, and they don’t see it as particularly important.

    I could give an entire talk on why this is important. I could give an entire talk on how racism and sexism aren’t always conscious, how we perpetuate them without even thinking about them, and why we therefore need to pay conscious attention to countering them. I could give an entire talk on how people tend to focus on issues that personally affect them… so an atheist movement dominated by white men will focus on issues that largely affect white men — at the expense of issues that largely concern women and people of color. I could talk about self-fulfilling prophecies: how even if the predominant whiteness and maleness of the atheist movement were purely accidental, this pattern would still get perpetuated and ingrained… because women and people of color feel less welcome in a movement that’s largely white and male — and the less welcome they/ we feel, the longer the movement goes on being largely white and male.

    But I’m running out of time, so I mainly want to say this: Look at every other movement for social change in recent history. Every single one that I know about has been bitten on the ass by this issue. Every one now wishes they’d taken action on it in the early days, before bad habits and self-fulfilling prophecies got set in a deep groove that’s hard to break out of. And that includes the LGBT movement.

    But hey, what does a gay activist know about the gay activist community? bbk obviously knows more…

  • bbk

    I like men. Some of my best husbands are men!

    Way to put that question to bed. Flaunting a history of failed relationships. What a humanitarian.

    feminist movement was started by bitter man-haters who only wanted the right to vote so that they could outlaw alcohol and everything else that men like.

    Very twisted. Bitter man-haters? Your words, not mine. I repeatedly denied that accusation. I said they were religiously driven and not concerned with men’s rights. They were not fully egalitarian. Only thing they wanted? Also your words and I also denied that and provided examples to the contrary. I said that prohibition was critical for suffrage to gain mainstream support and that suffragists were almost entirely prohibitionist. I never said there were no other reasons for suffrage. Everything that men liked? I made that remark in light of later feminists and anti-pornography. Beer, sports, and porno? Come on – what else is there? At any rate prohibition definitely targeted men. My overall point was to dispute the bogus idea that feminism is egalitarian or just another word for equality. Not just as simple as changing the name of their movement to egalitarian. To that end I brought up some of the central themes of the movement.

    Anyway, you might really enjoy this this podcast about prohibition:
    http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2010/06/okrent_on_prohi.html

  • Mrnaglfar

    themann1096,

    However, if one can say there is an atheist community (which I don’t think you really can), in what ways- specifically – is that community [acting] non-inclusive?

    In what manner – specifically – should atheist community being reaching out to people solely on the basis of their gender or race?

  • bbk

    Uh, themann, two things on that.

    but they don’t see this as their responsibility, and they don’t see it as particularly important.

    Find one place where where I said anything to that effect. Hey, hello, I’m a minority. Why would I want to exclude myself? I disagree with you. Get over it. Stop trying to pigeonhole me.

    Secondly, explain why I shouldn’t think you’re making circular arguments and appeals to authority. I’ll give you that I didn’t know much about early gay activism and I was thinking about it in terms of how we don’t typically associate white male stereotypes with gays. On second thought there are probably other reasons for that and you’re probably right – white male gays might be more bigoted than I had perceived. Nevertheless there are still flaws in Greta’s speech. Atheists are far less likely than the general population to hold racist, sexist views. If gay activists held racist, sexist views then it would be an equivocation to say that atheists have the same problem. Nevertheless, her narrative and solution are biased. Homophobia in black neighborhoods is a chicken or egg question. It sounds like a very dynamic relationship. You could just as easily look at it the other way – black homophobia made them disassociate black gays from their communities and lump them in with the “enemy”, the racist whites. I even remember being in a discussion where a black man claimed that “homos” are a “white problem”, that there are no black gays because the black community isn’t diseased. Didn’t occur to me at the time that this must have been because of some racist white man. Again, that sounds really slanted. Greta has several different agendas that inform her point of view, so I can’t accept hers as an objective opinion

  • monkeymind

    Ebonmuse – thanks for the tip. I think my husband may have been enjoying himself while I have been distracted by this thread. I must go put an end to that!

    Mrnaglfar:

    If you were developing some kind of product, how would you go about deciding what features to include? Would you just ask your co-workers and friends, who happen to be similar to you in ethnicity, class, education level? Or would you make an attempt to sample opinions from a wide cross section of your target audience? Setting an agenda for a movement or an organization is an analogous process. I think that’s what Greta Christina is calling for when she talks about dealing with this issue before it gets to the ass-biting stage.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com/ themann1086

    bbk, you’ve said many times in this thread that outreach attempts to groups with low atheist rates is a waste of time (“not important”); the part just before your blockquote even says, quite plainly, “They’re not overtly racist or sexist, they’re not saying, “We don’t want women or people of color in our movement”".

    Secondly, explain why I shouldn’t think you’re making circular arguments and appeals to authority. I’ll give you that I didn’t know much about early gay activism and I was thinking about it in terms of how we don’t typically associate white male stereotypes with gays.

    Basically, I called you ignorant about racial and gender tensions in the gay community, you said “i know you are but what am i”, i provided a short discussion by a bisexual atheist talking about those tensions and how they could hurt atheist activism, and you accused me of appealing to authority. Er, no. I was attempting to ground the discussion in reality instead of in baseless speculation. It’s ok to not know things (like the racial and gender tensions in the gay activist community’s history); pretending to know them and lashing out when called on it is not ok.

    On second thought there are probably other reasons for that and you’re probably right – white male gays might be more bigoted than I had perceived.

    I don’t think they’re any more bigoted than the general population. Personal bigotry isn’t the issue here.

    Nevertheless there are still flaws in Greta’s speech. Atheists are far less likely than the general population to hold racist, sexist views. If gay activists held racist, sexist views then it would be an equivocation to say that atheists have the same problem.

    Does anyone have stats on that? I’d like for it to be true, but I’ve not seen any numbers on it. Anyway, I’m going to attempt to spell this out very plainly: THIS IS NOT ABOUT INDIVIDUAL WHITE MALE ATHEISTS HAVING PERSONAL BIGOTRIES. I have no doubt, zero, about the intentions of most of the prominent atheist “leadership” (Dawkins/PZ/Dennett in particular). I have no doubt that they are not racist, or sexist, or homophobic, nor is the majority of atheist activists. That is not the issue, and that is not the accusation. The fear is that by allowing the atheist activist community to become set, structurally, as a primarily white male group, we’re going to (without ill intent!) fail to make inroads with non-white, non-male demographics.

    Nevertheless, her narrative and solution are biased. Homophobia in black neighborhoods is a chicken or egg question. It sounds like a very dynamic relationship. You could just as easily look at it the other way – black homophobia made them disassociate black gays from their communities and lump them in with the “enemy”, the racist whites. I even remember being in a discussion where a black man claimed that “homos” are a “white problem”, that there are no black gays because the black community isn’t diseased. Didn’t occur to me at the time that this must have been because of some racist white man.

    That’s not what Greta claimed. She was talking about how poorly the gay community did in reaching out to the black community and trying to work with them to educate them about homosexuality (in a nutshell). She wasn’t saying “the gay activists caused homophobia in the black community”, she was talking about how shitty a job they did in combating it.

    Again, that sounds really slanted. Greta has several different agendas that inform her point of view, so I can’t accept hers as an objective opinion

    This is just hilarious. Greta has an agenda, therefore she’s not objective. Uh, and you don’t have an agenda? Everyone has an agenda; no one is objective, and we all have our biases. The key is knowing what your own are.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    What I find absolutely appalling is that people like monkeymind, OMFG, themann, and so many others are just incapable of developing a positive attitude towards men. They’re basically proving my point.

    The fact that you’re still flogging this poor, defenseless strawman is proving my point that you are incapable of dealing with what people are saying. No one here is denigrating white men, except in your paranoid mind.

    And they think it means that I hate diversity! How does that even follow?

    Maybe because you are constantly whining about being oppressed for being white and male and maybe because you say things like this:

    Anyway, Multiculturalism really hurts the overall atheist community…If we’re reaching out to minority atheists, we are supporting a brain drain of sorts. There’s no point in trying to take the entire community along for the ride. We need to focus on the well educated people who have more in common with us than they do with their ethnic group.

    Comments like this make me embarrassed to be associated with you, even by just the title of “atheist.”

    And when I point that I am a fully qualified minority, they pretend it’s not true and try to ridicule my oppressed white penis and prople seem to tolerate that.

    Yes, you’re a religious minority, as are we all. We all get that. That doesn’t mean that you know all there is to know about being a minority and it doesn’t give you license to assert that white men are oppressed and that everyone is out to punish your penis simply because you’re white and male, because it’s simply not true. Stop creating boogey men that don’t exist and stop with the strawmen.

    OMGF doesn’t pick up on gay men discussing their problems and call them a bunch of whiners with oppressed white penises.

    Maybe because, unlike you, they don’t complain that they are so put upon simply for being white or having a penis. Their problems are centered around their sexual orientation, which does put them into a minority situation. Your problems seem to stem from this imaginary persecution of white males.

  • bbk

    Yes, you’re a religious minority, as are we all. We all get that. That doesn’t mean that you know all there is to know about being a minority and it doesn’t give you license to assert that white men are oppressed and that everyone is out to punish your penis simply because you’re white and male, because it’s simply not true.

    Trying to prove my point? I’m a minority who happens to be a white male. English is my 3rd language. When I was a kid, other kids would break into my house and spray-paint “Go Home” on the walls. I have scars from fights with xenophobes. So does my brother. So do my other “white” immigrant friends who grew up in my neighborhood. So get a damn clue. What you’re doing is trying to pigeonhole me because I’m white in order to dismiss my personal experiences. If there’s a strawman here, it’s your claim that I believe that white males are an oppressed minority. No, it’s not some sort of imaginary “they” people who happen to be extremely prejudiced against men, it’s you. It’s not that a majority of people are bigoted towards men, it’s that there is a minority of them, yourself included, and that these people tend to receive cover from many other activists in the name of “inclusiveness”. It’s not that white males are oppressed by the general population, it’s that people like you who make it very difficult to mediate a common ground that’s respectful and inclusive to everyone. It’s that people like you don’t actually help and your kind of self-hating attitudes shouldn’t be allowed to take precedence over our movement.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    What you’re doing is trying to pigeonhole me because I’m white in order to dismiss my personal experiences.

    I’m doing nothing of the kind. I’m dealing only with your statements, and your statements are simply fallacious and unconnected to reality.

    If there’s a strawman here, it’s your claim that I believe that white males are an oppressed minority.

    Which is why you continually complain about MRA issues, etc? Which is why every single post on feminism or visibility for minorities (and even other threads) sees you in there arguing that white men are being unfairly treated? Please.

    No, it’s not some sort of imaginary “they” people who happen to be extremely prejudiced against men, it’s you.

    Even now, you’re trying to paint all others that disagree with you as prejudiced against men. I can’t even imagine what the hell is going on inside your head as to make you think that anything I’ve said is prejudiced towards men. It will, of course, be entirely made up by you in your imagination.

    It’s not that a majority of people are bigoted towards men, it’s that there is a minority of them, yourself included, and that these people tend to receive cover from many other activists in the name of “inclusiveness”.

    Make up your mind, will ya?

    …people like you who make it very difficult to mediate a common ground that’s respectful and inclusive to everyone.

    And, how do I do that? By telling you to be realistic? By telling you to quit erecting strawmen (of which this is the offshoot of yet another one)? Please.

    It’s that people like you don’t actually help and your kind of self-hating attitudes shouldn’t be allowed to take precedence over our movement.

    Self-hating? You got all that from me calling out your obvious strawmen and telling you to actually deal with the arguments put forth?

    I go back to my original assessment. You’re either intentionally obtuse and obscurantist in order to troll and derail any talk about gender/race/minority inclusion or you’re simply going off the deep end simply because you saw the words, “White,” and “Male” in the same sentence that you simply can’t rationally deal with the topic.

    Once again, you are the person in this thread that should most take this to heart. You are the one who is convinced of your rightness and convinced that you can’t be wrong. Do we not all criticize theists for acting in this way? Yet, it’s OK for you when it comes to talk of inclusivity? You seem to have become that which you rail against – those individuals who used to write “Go home” on your walls.

  • bbk

    bbk, you’ve said many times in this thread that outreach attempts to groups with low atheist rates is a waste of time

    This is simply not true. I said (only once, by the way) that outreach to demographics with no atheists is pointless. Let’s not forget, this post is titled “Making Non-White Atheists Feel Welcome”. The surrounding context of why I said that, in a nutshell, is that we are much better off reaching out to them as atheists than as minorities as far as demographics are concerned. I strongly believe that we should reach out and be inclusive, but there is a right and wrong way of going about that.

    For example, if you are a writer for a scientific journal interviewing a famous female scientist about a remarkable breakthrough, an appropriate question would be “How do you feel about your accomplishments?” An inappropriate question would be to ask, “So what’s it like being a woman scientist?” I see this kind of stuff all the time in interviews of women that are done on behalf of scientists, engineers, writers, technologists, businessmen, etc. It’s fine if you were doing a fluff piece or to profile some female scientists if the subject is female scientists, but it’s not okay in the context of professional work performed by a woman.

    I see that all the time with other minorities, too. So what’s it like being a Muslim with a degree from Yale? Gee-whiz, you know all the other kids grew up in homes and I grew up in a cave so it was kind of crazy learning to use toilet paper! What the hell do you expect them to say?

    It’s the same for atheist minorities. It’s okay to do a fluff piece to profile the unique experiences of other atheists. It’s not okay to look at someone who has a university degree, who is passionate about their life’s work, who is passionate about reason, skepticism, etc., and then tell them that we have this job opening for brown people to lead our movement.

    Once you learn that atheists are different than the larger demographic where they originated, you’ll realize that it’s stupid to treat them as anything but individuals.

  • bbk

    She wasn’t saying “the gay activists caused homophobia in the black community”, she was talking about how shitty a job they did in combating it.

    This is where it gets circular. She is saying they (meaning white men who were “allowed” to take center stage in gay rights before it was GLBT, before that was LGBT) did a shitty job combating it. Why was it their job to combat it? Because Greta says so. Why was it their failure and not someone else’s? Because Greta says they were obligated to be the first movers. Why were they obligated? Because they were white men and everyone else was not. But why is that a factor? There’s really no explanation.

    I’m not surprised that her bias is to focus on white men as the starting point for negativity and resentment. She is an avowed feminist. When she isn’t advocating atheism or LGBT, she advocates feminism. Her perspective on the former two causes is colored by the latter. Her solution to atheism is similarly to her solution for LGBT, which is similar to her solution for feminism. There’s a bias from one to the next.

    But okay, let’s say that for a minute that the L in LGBT has a strong contingent of radical feminists. Let’s suppose for a minute that feminism has multiple tenets that make gender relations more difficult than they should be. This is what I believe. Then let’s say that a female feminist is making a speech in which she accuses the white male contingent of failing women and extends that same paradigm to conclude that they also failed to include blacks. Her overall solution is based on this point of view. So tell me, if you were me looking at it from my point of view, would you not take what she says with a grain of salt?

    We already know that religious beliefs play a strong role in homophobia. We know that women and blacks are more religious than white males. Couldn’t that explain the lack of activism and the homophobia in minority communities? She says, “we still, after decades, have a strong tendency to put gay white men front and center as the most visible, iconic representatives of our community.” She doesn’t view gay white men as pioneers who established a movement, she views them as a liability. She says they failed. She never bothers to examine beliefs that may have been held by women or black activists that were detrimental, but she has a litany of reasons why white men failed.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Does anyone take Uncle Ruckus (bbk) seriously anymore? Personally, I don’t think you’re calling the kettle black enough. I think you should put more emphasis into putting words into people’s mouths too. You’d have a better effect if you made your opponents demonize white men with harsher sounding words. Maybe you should claim that we are saying that all white men are as bad as Hitler or Stalin. I mean, if you’re going to make shit up, why go half-assed about it?

  • Steve Bowen

    BBK
    I get what your saying and I think most people here are reading way too much into it. But unless you are into S&M, Necrophilia and Bestiality can I recommend you stop flogging a dead horse.

  • bbk

    How did you come up with that for me? I’m curious as to your thought process. Uncle Ruckus sounds like a good analogy for a male feminist who thinks men are scum. Sounds like you. Incidentally when I think of a garden party I think of Rick Nelson, which makes me think of how sick and tired I am of hearing people like you say that everything is my fault because I’m a male who doesn’t hate himself adequately enough. Which really makes me wonder if you’re in some sort of weird state of denial for having come up with Uncle Ruckus.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Monkeymind,

    If you were developing some kind of product, how would you go about deciding what features to include? Would you just ask your co-workers and friends, who happen to be similar to you in ethnicity, class, education level? Or would you make an attempt to sample opinions from a wide cross section of your target audience?

    If I was developing a product, I'd develop it for a specific purpose. What you're talking about is getting different demographics to buy and use your product than the ones that currently are. The two are different, albeit partially reciprocal, things.

    But let me ask you the same thing I've asked everyone: How would you (specifically) design, market, or change an atheist community to make it a product that other groups begin to buy more into?

    Setting an agenda for a movement or an organization is an analogous process. I think that’s what Greta Christina is calling for when she talks about dealing with this issue before it gets to the ass-biting stage.

    She talks about the idea of dealing with what she perceives as a problem; she doesn’t talk about dealing with it. She – like everyone here – is mum when it comes to anything specific that should/could be done.

    Of course, any discussion about what should/could be done should be prefaced by a conversation about the underlying causes of whatever we’re talking about. Trying to fix a problem is easier when you know what’s wrong. To be frank, I don’t suspect anyone here has much to offer on that front in the way of evidence; just a lot of speculation.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Uncle Ruckus sounds like a good analogy for a male feminist who thinks men are scum. Sounds like you.

    I smell burning straw.

    Incidentally when I think of a garden party I think of Rick Nelson, which makes me think of how sick and tired I am of hearing people like you say that everything is my fault because I’m a male who doesn’t hate himself adequately enough.

    Yup, definitely something’s burning. It must be so easy for you to continually knock down your strawmen, but at some point you’ve got to realize that your mental masturbation is ultimately meaningless….you’ve got to realize that, right?

    Which really makes me wonder if you’re in some sort of weird state of denial for having come up with Uncle Ruckus.

    Gee, why don’t you tell me? You’re the one that continually wants to claim you’re a minority while also carrying the torch of the white male and continually decrying the plight of the white male and how persecuted white males are. The thought that comes to mind is Uncle Ruckus. Good try at trying to do the whole “I know you are, but what am I” routine…again, but once again it’s just as infantile as it was in 2nd grade. Is this really the best you can do – lashing out at imaginary demons and attacking positions that no one holds just so you can complain about bullshit that doesn’t actually happen or exist? Yes, I’m sure your poor penis is much maligned, duly noted, can we talk about something else now. Maybe we can actually discuss Ebon’s post and not your BS characterizations of what he’s saying?

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar,

    What I’m talking about is user-centered design or pervasive usability – a methodology which I teach. It’s a ground-up approach that differs from the traditional make-a-product-and-then-try-to-sell-it method that you’re talking about.

    Wikipedia has a pretty good summary:

    In broad terms, user-centered design (UCD) or pervasive usability [1] is a design philosophy and a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. User-centered design can be characterized as a multi-stage problem solving process that not only requires designers to analyze and foresee how users are likely to use a product, but also to test the validity of their assumptions with regards to user behaviour in real world tests with actual users. Such testing is necessary as it is often very difficult for the designers of a product to understand intuitively what a first-time user of their design experiences, and what each user’s learning curve may look like.

    Anyhoo, that’s my rationale, which I think is pretty reality-based and practical, for making the agenda-setting phase of any movement as inclusive as possible.

    I appreciate your continuing to bring up the issue of specifics. Here’s my $.02 in a nutshell:
    Modern western atheism grew out of the Enlightenment tradition, which means that the 19th century trailblazers of atheism lived in a world where religion was already split off from civic life. I think the case can also be made that atheism grew out of the austere Protestant tradition, which sought to banish emotion and superstition from religion. Anyway for whatever reason, the predominant atheist narrative tends to be one where the heroic individual triumphs over the emotional appeal of religion, breaking free into the sphere of intellectual honesty. This is an inspiring narrative, of course, but the downside is an attitude that the proper response to the emotional and practical difficulties of faith-leaving is “suck it up. Support network? We are not herd animals – we don’t need no stinkin’ support network!” It doesn’t acknowledge that the barriers to accessing the secular culture and the possibility of faith-free life may be greater for some groups than others. This doesn’t have to be just official oppressed minorities, by the way: a white male brought up in a separatist cult may face the same kinds of acculturation issues.

    I think you are also correct to be skeptical about the practicality and utility of creating the kind of fully-fledged support network that religions provide their members. That would be like substituting methadone for heroin. Rather the goal should be transition and assimilation: helping develop skills to access the secular cultural space and build their own support networks.

    To sum up the design brief for this “product”:

    Problem: how can the atheist community be more welcoming and inclusive?

    Proposed solution: Develop transitional support networks for faith-leavers. May require recruitment of staff/volunteers with cultural and language competency with specific target groups.

    Next step: Audience research.

  • Mrnaglfar

    The creation of a support network for those facing discrimination for coming out as atheist could be useful to a degree. As you correctly pointed out, we are a social species and religion is one manifestation of that. Such a support network could help some people who just need a little push. What I don’t see it doing is being able to compete with the losses that some people would suffer otherwise: Losses of family support, friends, social networks, neighbors, and so on.

    I could also say I’d be skeptical of such a programs ability to purposely create a more diverse bunch than the bunch that already exists.

  • bbk

    Point taken Steve. There’s a bat’s in my hand, I know.

    If I was developing a product, I’d develop it for a specific purpose.

    My thoughts exactly. Focus on the best way to serve the existing demand in the markets you know best. Let other people cater to other markets if they think they can do it better than you. Trying to make a single product that works for everyone is usually a bad idea. Everyone likes Swiss Army knives but no one really wants to use one of those for everything they do.

    How would you (specifically) design, market, or change an atheist community to make it a product that other groups begin to buy more into?

    Market it like a luxury product. Tell people they deserve to be part of an advanced community that will treat them with the respect they deserve. Make it sound like a nice place: “Atheism: wish you were here.”

    Don’t do this: “Atheism: same great taste, now for minorities!” Or this: “Atheism: the product formerly known as white.” Or this: “Atheism: really sorry for starting without you. Can we offer you a gift card?”

    All joking aside, I think that we have to be steadfastly egalitarian and recognize people as individuals. We have to reinforce a positive message about all of our members even in the face of quibbling from battle-weary activists who are coming in from other movements with alternative agendas that may not actually reflect what’s best for atheism.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    “Atheism: wish you were here.”

    “Just don’t cause brain drain you non whites”

    Anyway, Multiculturalism really hurts the overall atheist community…If we’re reaching out to minority atheists, we are supporting a brain drain of sorts.

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar: I did say transitional support networks. The religious right in the US has built an entire alternate universe where people can do business, raise their children, and entertain themselves without leaving the faith cocoon. For secularists, there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel, so the focus would be on hooking people up with existing publicly or privately funded services. Also acting as advocates for faith-leavers within those services – educating mental health professionals,etc.

    Anyway, my proposed “product” is just an idea – further research needed. What would be the harm in doing some “user research” to improve the “usability” of the atheist movement for people like Alom Shaha? To assume that this would automatically be a disutility for its existing base is, I think, a pretty big assumption.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com/ themann1086

    Why was it the job of the gay rights movement to fight homophobia? That’s basically what your question comes down to, and I think the answer should be obvious: it helps the cause. Ignoring homophobia in a significant segment of the population, especially a population that would be receptive to a repressed minority fighting for civil rights and equality, both set back the cause and alienated (or worse, failed to help) homosexual members in those groups. That’s the idea. Reach out to atheists in communities where being an atheist is more likely to have serious negative repercussions. Isn’t that what the whole “it’s ok to not believe” ads are all about? Homophobia and religion are stronger in black America (and no, the connection is not lost on me) than in white America; why wouldn’t we focus our “recruiting” efforts where we haven’t tried much yet?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    …which makes me think of how sick and tired I am of hearing people like you say that everything is my fault because I’m a male who doesn’t hate himself adequately enough.

    bbk, I don’t know who you’re arguing with, but it’s clearly not me or anyone else who’s commenting in this thread. Although your posts are addressed to us, the only conclusion I can draw from reading them that they’re one half of a conversation you’re having with someone inside your head. I suggest you devote some time to figuring out who this person is and then comparing the beliefs he or she holds with the opinions actually being expressed by real people on this site.

    She – like everyone here – is mum when it comes to anything specific that should/could be done.

    I listed several specific things in my original post.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Ebon,

    You list one thing, and only vaguely. Like Greta, you talk about the idea of doing something about the issue, not about the actual specifics of doing something.

    This is why, as Shaha suggests, we need to make more of a concerted effort to “reach out to [non-white atheists] specifically, not generally” – to make a point of not overlooking them, of inviting more of them to be speakers and presenters, of making sure we give them their fair share of media attention and focus.

    The first assumption: people of different races are being ‘overlooked’ in favor of whites because of their race. It’s a sneaky little assumption that can be missed if you aren’t careful enough. I can assure you that assumption there because if you remove it – instead assuming that people of different races aren’t being overlooked because of their race – then no new “reaching out” needs to be done; it would already be being done.

    Next, define “we” and “fair share”: We – white atheist males – don’t control the media and consequently don’t control who gets what attention. There is no atheist leadership who controls who gets to speak and who doesn’t. I suppose you could always protest atheist events at which they don’t have enough minority speakers, but beyond that I don’t really see what anyone can do about it.

    Second, what is “fair share”? Should each race get air-time relative to their representation in the atheist population? For example, if the people lumped in as “black atheists” represent 5% of the atheist population, that would entitle them to 5% of the media attention paid to atheists. Should races get air-time relative to their representation in the general population instead? Should some races get more? How can that even be brought about?
    You say it’s not like “we have some kind of diversity quota to meet”, but by saying fair share, that’s precisely what you’re implying, even if only implicitly. That some group of people should be getting a certain percentage of the attention (why?) and isn’t. Otherwise there’s no metric to decide what is “fair”.

    Finally, why is it our responsibility – because of our race and gender – to make sure someone gets heard because of their race, especially when we have no actual position of power? I’m sure plenty of minority atheists are not just dying to be singled out for their race by the white majority of atheists and treated differently for it, all so the white atheists can say, “See?! See?! We have some [Insert race] people here too! That means you [Insert race again] people can finally trust and relate to us”.

    If they look to the atheist movement and see only white faces, they may conclude that no one else from their community has ever made it out and found a safe haven among us, and that may well discourage them from trying.

    Or that could have nothing at all to do with it. But if someone is willing to judge a group of atheists based on the races of its members before even trying a group out, and then concluding that there’s no safe haven for them, then they’re being racist. Plain and simple.

    What makes me most uncomfortable about all of this is that the discussion assumes that black atheists just can’t relate to white ones as well because of their race and nothing more. Or that asians can’t relate to blacks. Or whites can’t relate to asians.
    I already know the answer to this, but do you find yourself unable to relate to someone’s experiences because they’re black? Do you assume that because they’re black they’ll be unable to relate to you?

  • bbk

    Ebon – Actually I was just really frustrated with OMFG. I need a breather from this thread.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    bbk,
    Don’t try to blame this on me. You were arguing with strawmen long before I got fed up with it and joined the fray. I think Ebon’s got you pegged. You really need to figure out who it is you’re actually arguing with. Not once have I claimed anything at all about white men except that white men are not persecuted, which I think is pretty obvious to anyone who is objectively looking at the situation – it rings about as hollow as Xian claims to persecution.

    I think your idea to take a breather is well warranted. Perhaps when you get back you’ll actually read for comprehension and form your arguments appropriately.

  • http://notazerosumgame.blogspot.com/ MarinaS

    bbk @ #43

    I’d like to point out that it’s not just a matter of using the word “most” versus “some” versus “all” or “none”. It’s having mentioned it at all. It adds a bunch of unnecessary baggage to the discussion, dilutes the message, quite possibly side tracks it, and puts off not just the part of the audience that was insulted but everyone else as well, including the people you’re trying to help

    bbk @ #48

    I really want to know what others think about this topic and I want to engage them in a discussion.

    Seems like a funnny way to engage people in discussion, telling htem what they are and aren’t allowed to bring up.

    Not to mention the fact that as a member of the people you’re so maganimously trying to help (in a completely non-patronising way oh no ma’am not a bit of it), I really don’t much appreciate being told by you what does and doesn’t alienate me.

    In fact, didn’t this whole fracas start from the assertion that we should do more listening than telling about how various things make various people from various demographics work? Why yes, yes it did! In which case, I take it all back – your role-modelling of your argument that actually no, we should tell them to STFU and declare we know what’s best for them rather admirable. Well done, sir – you are the kind of living example that will save me many a hypothetical model construction in future.

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar, has it occurred to you that the reason non-white and women atheists don’t get much air time in the mass media, or get asked to attention-getting debates by religious leaders is because:

    a. media outlets are afraid of pissing off Muslims by giving an ex-Muslim a platform
    b. religious patriarchs are incapable of engaging intellectually with women

    If that’s true, you’re abetting their erasure from public debate. If you feel powerless to do anything about this, then you are admitting to being powerless, full stop, and complacently so.

  • Crissa

    Certainly, if racial politics or prejudice doesn’t or hasn’t affected you, why would you think about it? You might be doing things – or completely innocent – that make the situation continue. It’s not like you know any people outside the walk or your life, or any particular way to get there. Or even what would be comforting and inviting to someone outside your walk or life.

    Even if you aren’t racist, doesn’t mean your eyes won’t linger a bit longer on an unfamiliar face or culture. It doesn’t mean you won’t happen to talk to your friend instead of the stranger. Or use words, actions, or even foods which might be excluding – a western-style cheese tray, for instance, is confusing to people from most of the world, as they can’t eat much of it.

    So it isn’t that there’s anything wrong with someone who isn’t racist – it’s that it takes active effort to be inclusive. Make that active effort. Smile when you’re caught looking. Ask them what sort of thing they could have if not the cheese. Ask that stranger at your meeting to go to coffee. Or any number of other things that can be welcoming, that don’t talk about culture, or assume that everyone is an ambassador of culture.

  • bbk

    @MarinaS Way to go on the quote minining. I’m actually impressed. Granted it’s all out of context but even within the selection you chose it’s pretty clear that wanting to discuss the pros and cons of various tactics is not the same as giving carte blanche to any old tactic as if they would all work equally well.

    @crissa

    It’s not like you know any people outside the walk or your life, or any particular way to get there. Or even what would be comforting and inviting to someone outside your walk or life.

    Is this a hypothetical statement? I doubt it would be an accurate statement about a majority of the people reading this. Your comment about cheese trays made me laugh. It sounded like a Steve Carell monologue. I mean, how awkward is that?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    The first assumption: people of different races are being ‘overlooked’ in favor of whites because of their race. It’s a sneaky little assumption that can be missed if you aren’t careful enough.

    Oh, it’s not an assumption. Here, I’ll cite some examples:

    * In June, I reviewed a book called The Atheist’s Creed, which was intended as an anthology of atheist thought from ancient to modern times. Somehow, every single one of the twenty-seven essays the author chose to include was written by a white male of European descent. Do you think that was purely a coincidence?

    * Similarly, Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist excerpted 47 different essays, of which a total of four were written by women. Somehow, a gender that makes up 50% of the population ends up being less than 10% of the selections. Again: pure chance, nothing more?

    * Female skeptics have pointed out that at conventions like The Amazing Meeting, white male speakers tend to be heavily overrepresented, relative to their numbers both in the atheist community and in the population at large. Read that Skepchick post all the way through to see some of the feedback they got from (male) readers alternately complaining that gender ratios are irrelevant and complaining that they wish there were more attractive women at these conventions for them to have sex with.

    Second, what is “fair share”? Should each race get air-time relative to their representation in the atheist population?

    Yes, that sounds like a reasonable goal to aim for. As I’ve said already and expect I’ll have to say again, it’s not an issue of meeting specific quotas on any particular occasion – as in, “We have 122 white attendees at this conference, we need exactly 16 Latinos and 12.7 blacks!” – but to make every reasonable effort to be inclusive and welcoming to women and minorities, and if the race and gender ratios remain persistently skewed over time, to investigate why that is and determine if any change in our approach is called for.

    We – white atheist males – don’t control the media and consequently don’t control who gets what attention. There is no atheist leadership who controls who gets to speak and who doesn’t.

    There are atheists who organize conferences; who put up billboards and other advertisements for the secular point of view; who write books and edit anthologies; who invite speakers and debaters at schools and other public forums; who solicit contributions for blog posts, magazine and journal articles, and guest columns and editorials; who invite guests to be interviewed on podcasts and radio shows; who run charities and advocacy groups and have a say in who the board members, trustees and employees should be; who donate effort, time and money to support those groups. All these things are opportunities to ensure that women and minorities are not overlooked or excluded, intentionally or otherwise.

    That some group of people should be getting a certain percentage of the attention (why?)…

    As I said, if media representation were truly blind to race and gender, then you’d expect that every group would appear proportionally to its numbers in the population being sampled.

    Finally, why is it our responsibility – because of our race and gender – to make sure someone gets heard because of their race…?

    It is everyone’s responsibility to defend the moral principles that produce a fair and equitable society, when an occasion arises that requires such a defense. What would you say to a Christian who said to you, “Why is it our responsibility, because of our religion, to defend the separation of church and state? Only minorities like you atheists need to care about that!”

    I already know the answer to this, but do you find yourself unable to relate to someone’s experiences because they’re black? Do you assume that because they’re black they’ll be unable to relate to you?

    No, I don’t assume that. I also don’t assume that I can relate to their experiences without first letting them tell me what those experiences actually are, which was, of course, the point of this post.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Somehow, every single one of the twenty-seven essays the author chose to include was written by a white male of European descent. Do you think that was purely a coincidence?
    Similarly, Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist excerpted 47 different essays, of which a total of four were written by women. Somehow, a gender that makes up 50% of the population ends up being less than 10% of the selections. Again: pure chance, nothing more?

    Not being familiar with the books I can’t comment. I could suggest that – historically – men were probably far more likely to be educated, write, and gain public notoriety. It’s probably not a coincidence, but that doesn’t mean there was any foul intent, explicit or implicit.

    I could also ask of what relevance is the gender or race of an author when considering the validity of what they have to say, or whether you feel the authors was explicitly sexist/racist or simply more likely to have sources from white males for the aforementioned, and perhaps other, reasons.

    Female skeptics have pointed out that at conventions like The Amazing Meeting, white male speakers tend to be heavily overrepresented, relative to their numbers both in the atheist community and in the population at large.

    Again, not being familiar with the way speakers are chosen I can only offer speculation. It could be possible that prominent/popular atheist speakers are men, or that men are more likely to accept such offers, though I’m sure there are other possibilities.
    What wouldn’t be good – I feel – would be to send out invitations to women and minority groups to be speakers while urging them in the letters “Please speak so we can use you as an example of having famous female/minority atheists. It’d mean a lot to us”. What I also don’t think would be good would be to do an exhaustive search of women and minority atheists simply because they’re women and minorities without considering their merits as heavily.

    Read that Skepchick post all the way through to see some of the feedback they got from (male) readers alternately complaining that gender ratios are irrelevant and complaining that they wish there were more attractive women at these conventions for them to have sex with.

    I don’t see what the desire of most men to have sex with women has to do with anything. Men of all groups generally wish they could meet more women in their social circles to have sex with. That they at least seem interested in meeting someone to have sex with that shares their values or opinions doesn’t sound like a bad thing.

    Yes, that sounds like a reasonable goal to aim for…As I said, if media representation were truly blind to race and gender, then you’d expect that every group would appear proportionally to its numbers in the population being sampled.

    You would expect that if all other things are equal other than race and gender. However, if one race or gender tends to write more books, have more money they invest in publicity, spend more time trying to make their name, or anything else between the groups is not completely equal, then you wouldn’t expect equal media attention. That would hope irrespective of the causes of such differences.

    A gender or race imbalance does not automatically imply any implicit or explicit sexism, racism, or overlooking. There could be other reasons for the existence.

    What would you say to a Christian who said to you, “Why is it our responsibility, because of our religion, to defend the separation of church and state? Only minorities like you atheists need to care about that!”

    It’s not their responsibility. It’s the responsibility of our elected and appointed officials in the government – the official leaders of the country that actually have the authority to do so.

    I also don’t assume that I can relate to their experiences without first letting them tell me what those experiences actually are, which was, of course, the point of this post.

    Of course. But the original article you linked to suggested that some minorities would conclude that atheists can’t relate to their experiences if – as I remember it was put – they see only white faces. That sounds like race will end up mattering more than diversity of experience, even if it wasn’t intended to sound that way.

  • bbk

    Somehow, a gender that makes up 50% of the population ends up being less than 10% of the selections. Again: pure chance, nothing more?

    Maybe because women aren’t close to 50% of all atheists? I don’t think that’s true anymore of teenagers, btw. This argument seems so common that there should be a name for it. Here’s an editor defending his organization against similar accusations in the technology field: http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/28/women-in-tech-stop-blaming-me/

    Most editors of anthologies like Portable Atheists are well aware of the lack of women. Some have made a concerted effort to find female content that would qualify on its own merits. Some have gone out of their way to document their efforts. If you had to make an anthology from this list, would you have 50% women? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists_(authors) At what point does it become appropriate to criticize editors for their lack of effort (and assume the editors were white men)? What if they took all the steps that you asked them to and still came up short? Shouldn’t you have some hard evidence that they were indifferent to women, plus some examples of women they missed? If you have some manuscripts by Hypatia, by the way, please make me a copy.

    But, you’re talking about women. Some of the women in the Portable Atheist are Russian immigrants who were unfairly deported, some are outspoken Arabs. Speaking of Arabs, Hirsi isn’t the only ex Muslim atheist. How about Salman Rushdie and the Fatwa Iran issued against him? I would argue that we actually give undue attention to Hirsi specifically because she is a woman while at the same time we don’t do a good enough job of promoting Arabs and other critics of Islam. Hitchens gave her the last entry in Portable atheist, signifying the most modern entry and pointing to the new frontiers of atheist writing. But the caliber of that piece is just lackluster. As an activist, important woman. But as a writer on par with George Orwell, Mark Twain, or Joseph Conrad? Come on…

    As I said, if media representation were truly blind to race and gender, then you’d expect that every group would appear proportionally to its numbers in the population being sampled.

    We can agree on the media being a problem. The media will talk to whomever they want. We can’t let them choose our leadership for us because in that case it will be white male even if the movement is diverse. But this is a huge issue for all movements, even ethnically monolithic ones such as Solidarnosc. These are classic psych ops issues. You don’t want to let your salesmen become CEO. You don’t want to believe your own propaganda, their propaganda, and especially don’t want your own membership to interact with the movement through the same public interface that the media goes through. Normally if you’re trying to control the message, you use a centralized organizational structure such as a military or corporation. We don’t have that. That could be a civilized discussion of the media vs our movement.