Social Justice Coordinator at The American Humanist Association Resigns

Why is social justice such a contentious issue for humanists?

Sincere Kirabo, writer and social justice activist, has been the social justice coordinator at the American Humanist Association for years. His posts at The Humanist have always been provocative and insightful, puncturing the pieties of the vague up-with-everybody universalism that passes for humanism in our not-so-new millennium.

Now he’s the former social justice coordinator at the AHA, according to the masthead, and Kirabo hasn’t clarified the reasons for his departure there. (I tweeted to ask him why he’s leaving, but his Twitter account hasn’t been updated for several days.) It can’t have been a very acrimonious split, since Kirabo says his final articles for the Humanist are still pending. But what gives?

It could be that Kirabo is banging his head against the wall at the AHA, and that humanists would rather pay lip service to social justice issues than engage with them.

Beware The Village Atheists

Kirabo’s articles at The Humanist have always outraged an organized secular community that’s continually patting itself on the back for its dedication to truth and reason, because he has always pointed out that we’ve failed to live up to our ideals. In posts like Three Warning Signs That Village Atheism Is Your New Religion, he describes a community who think skepticism is only about critically examining other people’s beliefs:

This subset of nonbelievers is overly wowed by the low bar it requires to recognize the inadequacy of the God hypothesis. Meanwhile, in many ways, they preserve or encourage a bounty of beliefs that are just as oppressive and pernicious.

His article Want To Help End Systemic Racism? First Step: Drop the White Guilt is still generating comments after three years. It appears his attitude toward the defensiveness of white people sparked a lot of umbrage among defensive white people:

The main problem with white guilt is that it attempts to diminish the spotlight aimed at issues germane to marginalized groups and redirects the focus to a wasteful plane of apologetics and ineffective assessment.

This is why some don’t like discussing racism, as those more sensitive to these matters sometimes allow guilt to creep into their thought processes, effectively evoking pangs of discomfort. This can lead to avoidance of the primary issues altogether, as well as the manifestation of defense mechanisms, including denial, projection, intellectualization, and rationalization.

The Consolation of Colorblind Humanism

It turns out that the existence of a deity is an incidental matter when it comes to religion; the core of religion is the concept that We’re Right and They’re Wrong. And this maxim typifies the mindset of online atheists, too. This leads to a moral complacency that exonerates us from any responsibility for the world’s problems, and relieves us of any obligation to correct them that involves anything more than arguing with people online.

The atheist blogosphere is full of venues that host debate concerning religious belief. However, there aren’t many places that feature discussion about the secular community’s approach to social and cultural matters like racism, misogyny, and scientism. That’s because even self-professed freethinkers don’t like examining their own belief systems and acknowledging their biases.

One of the most abiding myths in our community is that only religious people have biases or are guilty of motivated reasoning. Kirabo has been merciless in demonstrating that we have concern for the rights of women, African-Americans, and the LGBTQ community only insofar as we can exploit their plight to characterize religious people as bigoted. It doesn’t seem like humanists are particularly interested in feminism, Black Lives Matter, or queer theory. If we really cared about ending oppression, we’d want to be more aware of how our own thinking overlooks or perpetuates oppressive social constructs.

The Beat Goes On

He’s probably going to focus on organizing events like Secular Social Justice, but I hope Sincere has a new platform for his writing soon. It’s crucial to have an intelligent, independent voice like his in the nonreligious community, someone who reminds us that supernatural beliefs aren’t the only faulty ways of thinking about the world.

I know Sincere has written for Patheos and has close colleagues here. If anyone could shed light on his departure from the AHA, please post here and share whatever you know.

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  • Nick Kavanagh

    Sincere always leaves me out of the equation. As a white male I am not to get involved in anything, even if I support everything Sincere says. I am to sit down and shut up. Perhaps it is realistic pushback from the millenia of oppression we have heaped on others, but it’s still wrong.

  • I think that’s a pretty uncharitable interpretation of Sincere’s way of thinking about race as it applies to the secular community. I’m not aware that he ever said that “white men need to sit down and shut up.” Does his harping on the indifference to racial matters in the nonreligious activist community make you feel like he’s trying to exclude white men?

    It seems to me that Sincere is saying that instead of feeling guilty or excluded, it’s much more constructive to acknowledge your privilege and work to spread that awareness:

    If you’re carrying guilt for being privileged, quit wasting your time. Devote your mental energy towards something worthwhile, like transmitting heightened awareness within your sphere of influence (however marginal) and seeking to destabilize the inequitable power structure that allows and excuses the bias and cruelty involved with cases like Eric Harris. Focus less on your guilt and more on being a catalyst for change.

  • Nick Kavanagh

    I do everything in your quoted paragraph. The subtext of every Sincere article I have read is that white men have screwed it up and we no longer deserve a seat at the table. It seems to me that he will not be satisfied until the “diversity” in atheism is that only oppressed minorities can speak. I speak against oppression at every opportunity. Sincere visits the sins of my father on me.

  • Like I said, I still see the exact opposite of what you see in Sincere’s message to the white cis het men who make up the majority of the nonreligious activist community. I’ve never read anything he’s written that warns white men that they no longer have a seat at the table. He has constantly called on them to be more aware of the persistence of structural oppression and to make an effort to be inclusive.

    Since you couldn’t present anything when I asked whether you’d ever read Sincere write about white men having to “sit down and shut up,” I have to assume you can only hear your own resentments and insecurities rather than what Sincere is really saying.

  • Nick Kavanagh

    I quote Sincere from the American Humanist, May/June 2018.

    “I personally don’t think that the movement has become diverse. It’s stilla mainly cishet white male community, and I dont’t see that changing until the ambitions of the movement changes. Yout tend to attract who you cater to.”

    That says to me that white males are the problem and have no business being involved. He says in so many words that white males (cishet) have too much involvement.

  • Well, no, he’s pretty clearly saying that non-white/cishet/males don’t have enough participation/invovement. The only way you get from there to your interpretation is to assume that participation/involvement is zero-sum. It is not.

  • Nick Kavanagh

    I don’t see how you get to little involvement out of the statement that the movement is overly cishet white male. Seriously.

  • Again, it doesn’t appear to me that Sincere is saying that white men shouldn’t be involved. He seems to be saying that the racial homogeneity of the movement is narrowing its ambitions. In his article Fostering Inclusive Humanism, Sincere says he gave a speech at a humanist conference and talked about making the aims of humanism more socially aware and inclusive:

    I emphasized that humanism is premised on human reason (ingenuity, scientific inquiry, evidence-based analysis); human accountability (it’s up to humans to create positive change in the world); and social responsibility (it’s our duty to create positive change in the world). I then addressed how these aspirations provide an ethical framework for acknowledging the ways some groups of people are valued more than others, stressing that those who consider themselves humanists should work to diminish and ultimately solve the social ills related to these inconsistencies.

    I continued by unpacking the need for humanist communities to name, address, challenge, and actively dismantle white supremacy, misogyny, heterosexism, and a host of other oppressive systems woven into the fabric of our society’s culture—dehumanizing (and thus, anti-humanist) values, attitudes, and systems that a considerable chunk of the humanist community displays either an unwillingness to confront, unwitting compliance with, or active participation in.

    I’m pretty sure he’s talking about the focus of activism, not the racial breakdown of the activists.

  • Nick Kavanagh

    Read the quote “the movement is not diverse”. That specifically refers to the racial breakdown. Not the focus.

  • “You tend to attract who you cater to.”

    So if you cater not just to people people already here, but also to other people not currently represented, they will be attracted to the movement and its diversity increases.

  • I understand that, Nick. But “I don’t see that changing until the ambitions of the movement changes” refers to the focus.

    As 3lemenope pointed out, there’s no zero-sum situation here. Getting a more diverse array of decision-makers, and acknowledging the need to include social justice issues in the objectives of the organization, is hardly marginalizing white men or telling them to sit down and shut up.

    I’m just trying to point out that Sincere’s approach is much more nuanced than you’ve made it out to be. I’m not sure how much more patiently and respectfully I can make this point. Can I ask you to either dial back your paranoia or take a little break?

  • Nick Kavanagh

    That makes complete sense. The intimation is that white males are the only ones and they need to step down. I know we need more diversity and I work towards it. I am a white male and I can contribute.

  • The intimation is that white males are the only ones and they need to step down.

    The intimation is that white males are the predominant ones and they (we) could use some company up top.

    it takes a bit of uncharitable reading and, yet again, a lurking assumption that there must be a zero-sum aspect to letting more voices be heard and taken seriously in order to get to where you go with this. Even when it comes to leadership selection, which is the only unavoidably zero-sum aspect of human organization, the only real consequence that would look like white men having to “step down” at all is suddenly they’d find themselves in a wider candidate set and a fairer playing field. White men can hardly be taken seriously for complaining we have to compete fairly.

  • Nick Kavanagh

    I’m not saying we should be complaining. I’m saying that Sinceres words do NOT make me feel welcome at the table. Period.

  • OK. Well, I guess then it might not be an entirely bad idea to reexamine what you need in order to feel welcome. As snarky as that sounds, I mean it sincerely. His words do not sound at all hostile or uninviting to me, a cishet white guy (and a somewhat conservative one, at that), so I am having trouble understanding why you feel so repelled by them. How could he possibly articulate the need for more diversity in a way acceptable to you if a simple statement of the anodyne observation that there currently isn’t much diversity in the movement makes you feel uninvited?

  • Bravo Sierra

    Your job should be to listen and learn and amplify oppressed voices, not to get defensive when you don’t understand where the anger is coming from. What’s the point of Humanism if it’s not listening to oppressed people?

  • Nick Kavanagh

    Thank you for telling me I’m not allowed to be angry. I know now that I’m not allowed emotion. Prick.

  • Bravo Sierra

    You obviously aren’t a good listener.

  • You’re right, this guy is hearing something completely different than what Sincere is saying.

  • islandbrewer

    That wasn’t the first time I’d heard this sort of comment, the “you just want white men to shut up and take orders”-type of interpretation. I think it speaks the narcissism inherent in many (not all) of those with privilege, where everything must be about them.

  • Nick deleted his Disqus account, which is why this thread now looks like Swiss cheese.

  • Don’t you love when they do that?

  • All he wanted was to be allowed to be angry.

  • Let me guess: You gave him space to talk him through his anger, but didn’t coddle him for thinking errors, and he took his ball and went home?

  • naturally i had to piss off Duck Season early on and get myself banned from all the big channels on disqus. like RELIGION. It doesn’t concern me at all except when i see you and Majorana commenting there. Most of it is a mess.

    I like your perch here but patheos loads slower than many sites and you talk atheism.

    i don’t even know if i’m an atheist LOL

    i find myself lacking very much to say on this because of my spiritually – it has shifted me away from discussions of traditional identity and more to talking *about* identity, and choice.

    so it’s a different dialect than discourse around race and social justice.

    it’s not a terrible one – liberation theology has moved the world many times, and jewish theology has done a lot to preserve jewish people for example, through the worst of times. it can be beautiful or awful. but it’s different.

    Still, i wish i had more to add to more of your posts. I love your writing and i love your discussions. I love the way you’ve always engaged, and that didn’t change when you moved to patheos.

    i appreciate you. i just wish we had more to discuss these days. you’re a gem. =)