I’m a Non-White Atheist; Hear Me Roar

Alom Shaha has an important piece in the Guardian about the lack of racial minorities in the organized atheist movement:

The atheist and sceptic movements are dominated by white men and I think this is a problem…

These are issues that the white “leadership” of the atheist and sceptic movements have largely ignored because they are not issues that concern them. But these issues should concern all atheists — because if we are to be a “community”, if, as so many of us want, we are to be given the same standing in society as people who identify with a religious group, then we must ensure that black and Asian people are not just made to feel welcome but actively encouraged to join atheist and sceptic movements.

Shaha acknowledges there’s no conspiracy afoot, but urges groups to purposely reach out to non-white atheists whenever possible:

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

I have not written this to accuse anyone of being racist, but rather to plead with those who are in a position to do something to stop turning a blind eye to this important issue. I know from personal experience that there are many black and Asian atheists out there who feel very alone — please reach out to them specifically, not generally.

I think I know what he’s trying to say.

All non-US atheist groups should be inviting me to speak at their conferences.

I accept your invitation (along with all travel and lodging costs).

You’re welcome, white people.

Obviously, there are a lot of non-white atheists who are outspoken atheists. I hope more of them start to feel comfortable speaking out.

One of the problems with just “reaching out” to minorities, though, is that a lot of atheist groups don’t “target” certain people. I’ve seen a lot of atheist organizations simply say, “Look! We exist! If you feel the same way we do, come join us!” Then, they wait and see who shows up.

I’m not sure how they could target minorities specifically. But if some minorities became more prominent — and the national groups promoted them (and their works) more often (at conferences, websites, etc) — there’s no doubt it would help.

Paul Sims extends this idea even further:

If it is to become less taboo for atheists from, say, Muslim backgrounds to speak openly of their non-belief, then change will ultimately have to be driven from within those communities. Humanist groups can help by remaining open and inclusive (something which, I would argue, comes very easily to humanists) and, hopefully, as more and more people from ethnic minorities get involved, the knock-on effect will be that like-minded peers will feel more comfortable joining them.

Is there anything non-theistic groups should be doing to attract more minorities?

  • Rieux

    I’m not sure how they could target minorities specifically. But if some minorities became more prominent — and the national groups promoted them (and their works) more often (at conferences, websites, etc) — there’s no doubt it would help.

    I don’t disagree with you or with Shaha, but it’s hard not to see this post as a Make Hemant Rich And Famous scheme!

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    sorry, Hemant. what they’re really saying is that *I* should hit the speaking tour. after all, i’m not just not white, i’m female and gay too! i check all the PC boxes, darnit! bring on the cushy speaker’s fees and fat honorarium! ;-)

    more seriously, atheism is a bit of a luxury. in the sense that it’s usually the product of education, and in this country, many minorities don’t get enough of that. it’s also the case that in too many places in this country, being an atheist means not getting a job, or other things necessary to survival. so being an out and proud atheist is a lot easier if one is middle or upper class. but really, there are lots of atheist minorities out there and atheist groups could do a better job at finding them and inviting them to the photo ops, at the very least.

  • Bill

    He’s getting a good arse kicking in the comments section though, mainly along the lines of ‘what atheist community’?

  • ignoramus012

    My parents combined their genetic material and I happened to come out a white male.

    Then later in life I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in any deity.

    Should I apologize for this?

  • Beth

    If atheist and humanist organizations actively spoke out and worked against racism and sexism, that would be a good start on the project of being a more welcoming, diverse community. It’s fine to say your organization doesn’t discriminate, but that really doesn’t say anything about values or priorities. If an organization says that one of its main values is equality for all, then it could follow through by, for example, publicly protesting a business that has been racist or sexist in its hiring practices or treatment of customers. Actively being an ally to oppressed people is a step in the right direction.

  • Lauren

    Idea for colleges:

    Maybe getting involved in charities with groups on campus like the black students union, or Asian student alliance (List not inclusive, etc). then people in the overlap can find their way into both groups.

    this way good things happen all around. and even if atheist student groups don’t find new membership, at least new friends can be made and charities get help.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    Is there anything non-theistic groups should be doing to attract more minorities?

    Keep having these discussions – often and in public.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I’m only half white. Do I count?

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    ignoramus012: Who asked you to apologize? This isn’t about you. It’s about making sure that people without the same genetics you have get accepted in the atheist community.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    @ignoramus012:

    Should I apologize for this?

    Did anyone ask you to?

  • pmsrhino

    Just as a general comment you have pointed out before how many atheist campaigns and billboards and such often have a vast amount of white people and often no people of color. Simply including minorities in these ad campaigns can go a long way into making them feel more welcome into the movement.

  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com Tony

    As usual, something is the white man’s fault.

    Whitey isn’t doing enough to reach out to minorities. It’s not enough to put up signs around the globe saying “You are not alone.”

    Apparently whitey has to go to the inner city and knock on doors “Are you a non-believer? We have a blog for you.”

    Apparently whitey has to setup minority friendly meeting places, whatever the heck they are, so minorities know they can come visit.

    It’s 2010. There are no White/Colored entrances at meetings. Want to join a local atheist group? Go join! Sitting on your ass and saying “Oh I’m afraid! Whitey needs to do more!” is bullshit excuse.

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

    I may be white and straight, but at least I’m a woman. I hope they include me in their tally. ;)

  • Beijingrrl

    “if, as so many of us want, we are to be given the same standing in society as people who identify with a religious group”

    I don’t want this. I want a person’s standing in society to be based on that person’s actions. I know, I’m a bit of a dreamer.

    I do understand that, ironically, in order for atheism to become a non-issue in our society that we probably do need to make an issue of the fact that atheists are just as likely to be good people as theists. It irritates me, though.

  • Richard P.

    ignoramus012
    Should I apologize for this?

    Yes!! You should god damn it. What gives you the right to be white and a male?
    And that not believing thing, you should just go crawl under a rock.

    You should also apologize for that dick-wad thing you did to your neighbor the other day, yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

  • cat

    Hemant, as sad as this may sound, as someone who has gone to several atheist events on a single campus, one of which was yours, the rest of which had white male speakers, you audience did actually have a much higher percentage of non-white students in the audience than the others. The saddest moment was when there was a conferance about Africa-China relations in the same building where one speech was scheduled (it was moved at the last minute), and you could spot who was going to which pretty damned easily along racial lines. And, in the highly infuriating category, one of the speakers was a monogamous vanilla hetero male who spent a considerable time pontificating about other people’s sexualities, which included a considerable amount of noticable sexism. I think that the people who arranged this event honestly did not think of anyone but white dudes to have come in and speak. That in and of itself is a problem, because there are plenty of others who would be equally or better equipped to deal with a lot of these topics. Atheist groups that purposefully or unthinkingly center their activities around the needs and interests of rich white males turn around and act shocked when they attract rich white males. Well, I’m not surprised in the least.

  • Anonymous

    You’re welcome, white people.

    Rofl!

    …Here’s Razib Khan’s take on it.
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/11/most-atheists-are-not-white/

  • TychaBrahe

    The problem with minorities in atheism is the same problem as minorities in any progressive movement. I remember being a clinic defender in the 1980′s and marveling at how very many of the women in Southern California turning out for choice were White. Surely there were Black and Hispanic and Asian feminists.

    Social change is largely the doing of the leisure class. In the West, this tends to be White. Those not in the leisure class are generally too busy surviving to speak out.

    The problem in working for minority inclusion is that Whites cannot go into the Black/Hispanic/Asian community and tell them to join. It looks patronizing. All we can do is make minorities welcome when they do show up and publicize the heck out of minority-focused groups, as you did earlier this week.

    *sigh* Last Sunday I went to hear Tom Flynn speak on “The Problem of Christmas” at UIC. Among all of the 50+ suburban crowd, I was very pleased to see three college aged people, one White, one Asian, and one Black. Then, during the Q&A, the Black gentleman identified himself as a BAC, and made a lot of non sequitur attacks on the presentation, which only demonstrated that he hadn’t understood Flynn’s purpose and was merely taking it as an attack on his own faith.

  • Vas

    MikeTheInfidel Says:
    I’m only half white. Do I count?

    As you know mike, no matter what the issue I always count you as one and a half.

  • http://www.twitter.com/TominousTone Tom J. Lawson

    One reason:

    Non-whites and women are not attacked by the religious for fear of appearing racist or misogynist. And without these attacks there is no reason for these atheists to go on the defensive and reciprocate at that level. No reciprocation equals no publicity.

    The only religious groups that attack all atheists equally are Muslim fanatics, but that is not breaking news nor is it a group that white Christians and Jews want to side with.

  • Ben

    An “atheist community”? Sounds dangerous to me since the only thing we all have in common is the idea that there is no reason to believe in a god. We can be liberals, conservatives, racists, secular humanists, socialists, communists, nhilists, sadists, etc. Being a political / social movement sounds like a difficult task. We’re all not liberals (although, I am).

  • Peterson, C.

    While I can understand where Alom is coming from, the idea of actively seeking out minorities in order to encourage their participation seems a little shady to me. It’s sort of like saying that we need more legitimacy among minorities, so quick everyone go make friends with a black person.

    I know that’s not what is being said here, but actively targeting specific ethnic groups because you don’t feel you have enough in your organization just doesn’t sit well with me.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    @Tony:

    Sitting on your ass and saying “Oh I’m afraid! Whitey needs to do more!” is bullshit excuse.

    Who’s doing that? Do you really think that this is what minorities are doing? Seriously? Together with your knee-jerk response treating this is an attack on white people, this just shows that racism is not quite as dead as you’d like to believe.

  • Revyloution

    As one of the ‘angry white males’ that dominate the atheist community in the US, I have an admission to make:

    Of all the prominent atheists in the world today, the two I’d most like to sit down to dinner with are Hirsi Ali and Hemant Mehta. If I had dinner with, say Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, I think it would be a lovely evening. I would be sure to gain some new insights to their respective fields, but it would most likely not change me too much. If I were lucky (blessed?) to have dinner with Hirsi and Hemant, I have little doubt I would get a view into a part of the world that is completely alien to me. Both the Jain and the Muslim religion are so foreign, I have an easier time relating to the aliens of Star Wars.

    Anyways, consider it an open invitation if your’e ever in my part of Oregon.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    as i said in my post (linked in the comments above) there are plenty of “minority” atheists. they’re usually just east asian. south asians, middle easterners, etc., come from really superstitious cultures, and white liberal atheists are often PC about challenging them. some that have done so, like dawkins and harris, get accused of being racist. also, in the case of muzzies you also don’t want to get death threats. much better to attack fundy white xtians who are less bite and more bark.

    religion is just much more important to some cultures (e.g., black american, british south asian, etc.) than others (e.g., chinese, japanese). until you change that structural factor somehow all this “outreach” is going to be for naught.

    alom saha also points out that many brown british are stupid and racist in an earlier article.

    Bangladeshi Student (clearly excited and a little proud at encountering their first Bangladeshi teacher): “Are you from Bangladesh, sir?”

    Me: “Yes.”

    Student: “You must be a Muslim then.”

    Me: “No, I’m an atheist.”

    Student (now a little bewildered and visibly disappointed): “But you’re from Bangladesh, you must be a Muslim.”

    stupid because bangladesh has the world second or third largest hindu community (depends on the % you give, as it it close with nepal).

    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. Some of my Bangladeshi friends still find it awkward to socialise with my white friends, despite the fact they get on perfectly well with their white colleagues at work. This doesn’t make them racist and it isn’t necessarily because they feel white people are racist, it’s just a consequence of the same thing that makes goth kids gravitate towards other goth kids and Asian kids gravitate towards other Asian kids on the first day of college.

    if this was a white person you would accuse them of being racist. so these bangladeshis are racist. which makes sense, muslim south asians in the UK have the lowest outmarriage rates of minorities, even though they’re only 3% of the population.

    the fixation with identity politics of some left-liberal atheists is as pathetic as jumping around the idol of a bronze age sky-god.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    I have little doubt I would get a view into a part of the world that is completely alien to me.

    yeah, this is one of the issues with many white atheists. they’ve bought into hardcore cultural relativism. really islam isn’t that alien, it’s the same superstition dressed up in alternative garb. the idol has a different name. there are cross-cultural differences, but there are also human universals.

  • http://blaghag.com Jennifurret

    My head just exploded at Tony’s comment. I love it when people prove that racism still exists when trying to disprove it.

  • Michael

    It is a mistake to say “change must be driven from within-” …any group, actually. Don’t discount the opportunity to drive change from one group or another. He’s effectively saying “Minority atheists need white atheist leaders to help them.”
    No, they don’t.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    It is a mistake to say “change must be driven from within-” …any group, actually. Don’t discount the opportunity to drive change from one group or another. He’s effectively saying “Minority atheists need white atheist leaders to help them.”

    it’s not a dichotomy. anti-clericalism spread throughout catholic europe thanks to french influence in the 19th century.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib
  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com Tony

    Racism is far from dead. You will never have a society that embraces all races equally. As humans we just can’t do it.

    My response is racist but an article saying that “the white leadership” is ignoring issues important to minorities isn’t? Again, I say “bullshit!” Why was it important to point out white leadership? Why not just, leadership?

    What bothers me is seeing somebody say one race isn’t doing eough for the other races. Sitting on your ass saying “Woe is me! People aren’t doing enough for me!” is a pathetic excuse. Get off your ass and go to meetings. Speak out and form your own group. Don’t cry about it, do something about it!

    Which white leader did Hemant have to go to with his hat in his hand saying “Oh please sir? Can I announce my lack of faith too?” He didn’t and neither does anybody else.

    Good thing there isn’t anybody out there saying there aren’t enough women in the new atheist movement. If there was you might see somebody speak up and say that’s wrong.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    Disgusting that so few of you do not point out the not-so-subtle anti-white racism in Alom Shaha’s piece.
    Tony may have been a bit unpolished in the delivery of his message, but I get his point, crude as it is.
    Before my fellow travelers from the extreme left side of the aisle get their collective panties in a twist – I’ve experienced racism and ethnic intolerance first-hand from whites throughout my entire life.
    I have suffered contusions, broken bones, denied Federal employment, went through periods of isolation, friendlessness, etc. all because I happened to be darker in color and have an Arab name and a Muslim background. It hurt, but most whites are not bad people. It angers me to no end to see that those very enlightened people who inspired me on my trek out of the darkness are now being accused of being racist, even if it is unintentional racism. What an evil thing to do. If anything, these are the very people who have arguably done more than most to fight racism, sexism, etc. Now it is their fault because some jackass feels shy?
    Racism was not invented by Caucasians, neither are they the only ones to practice it. I’ve seen it practiced by every race and ethnic group I’ve ever had the misfortune to run into in my many trips around this rock we live on. Humans are shit and they are gods all wrapped up in one package. Grow the hell up and deal with it instead of trying to push your poorly thought out, preconceived notions of political correctness on others. This is just as bad – if not worse- than what the religious right does.
    By the way, what in the fuck is “accidental exclusion”?

  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com Tony

    By the way, what in the fuck is “accidental exclusion”?

    I’m still trying to figure that one out.

    Yes, I’m vocal. So many people want to treat issues with kid gloves. Screw that. I’ll keep you talking. ;-)

  • Rieux

    An “atheist community”? Sounds dangerous to me since the only thing we all have in common is the idea that there is no reason to believe in a god.

    But that’s not true, at least not in much of the world. In the U.S., for example, we are all members of a broader American community that dislikes, mistreats, and marginalizes atheists. We have common interests because the majority treats us as a common entity.

    We can be liberals, conservatives, racists, secular humanists, socialists, communists, nhilists, sadists, etc.

    So can African Americans. So can Latino/as. So can GLBTs. So can disabled people.

    All of the above are cognizable communities because that’s how society treats them. Those groups have even wider differences, ideologically, than atheists do. And yet there are indisputably African American, Latino/a American, GLBT, and disabled communities in this country. For very good reason.

    Being a political / social movement sounds like a difficult task.

    It is. Too bad. We are one whether we like it or not.

    The operative question is not whether or not we are a community; that’s foisted on us without asking. Instead, it’s about how we’re going to work together to deal with each other, and (especially) with the broader society we live in. Obviously there are lots of different approaches to that challenge, and lots of internal disagreement is inevitable—as is true for every minority.

    We’re all not liberals….

    Indeed not. GLBTs aren’t all liberals, either—and yet that community has created HRC and NGLTF and GLAAD and GLSEN and COLAGE and Lambda Legal and countless other community organizations.

    We have community institutions, too (such as most of the organizations listed here), and few of them are limited to “liberals.”

    As long as being an atheist remains a controversial and significant thing to be in American society, there will always be an atheist community. Even if we wish there weren’t.

  • http://blaghag.com Jennifurret

    Tony, I think you have “vocal” confused with “mind numbingly ignorant.”

    If I was a non-white atheist and saw you as an example of people active in the atheist movement, I wouldn’t want to come to meetings either. Ugh.

  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com Tony

    You want to know what the biggest problem is with the atheist movement? The vertically gifted leadership ignores the needs of Little People. The leaders of the atheist movement, all over 5′ by the way, are not doing enough to reach out to Little People that are also atheists.

    You want to know what the biggest problem is with the atheist movement? The male leadership ignores the needs of females. The leaders of the atheist movement, all men by the way, are not doing enough to reach out to women that are also athesists.

    Is Alom’s article starting to sound stupid yet?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    and Jennifurret’s sensitivities are the lowest comment denominator?

  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com Tony

    Tony, I think you have “vocal” confused with “mind numbingly ignorant.”

    If I was a non-white atheist and saw you as an example of people active in the atheist movement, I wouldn’t want to come to meetings either. Ugh.

    Then don’t go to meetings. Look at yourself and say “Hey! I’m an atheist. I’m going to speak out about what I believe. I’m going to make my voice heard.”

    Oh wait, you did that already.

    What white leader had to take you by the hand and say “It’s ok Jen. You can create a blog and motivate people around the world.” ? Which white guy said “What we really need is a boobquake to prove how stupid some religious leaders are.” ?

    Did you sit on your ass waiting for somebody to hand it all to you or did you speak up for yourself?

    As we are obviously on different sides of the fence I am curious, what are you going to do to reach out to the minorities and encourage them to join the rest of us?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    As usual, something is the white man’s fault. …

    Tony, it is not about you.

    This is a minority complaining that there aren’t enough minorities making themselves known as atheists and getting involved in freethinking communities.

    You take this to mean that you, a white man, are being asked to fix things for us. This is a subtly racist (or at least ethnocentric) attitude – that we somehow assume you’re automatically meant to solve our problems, as a white person and thus our better.

    Whether you mean to be or not, you’re being patronizing and dismissive, not to mention self-important. We have a problem. We don’t need you to fix it. We need to figure out why the problem exists. That doesn’t mean that white people need to do it for us. Get over yourself and stop thinking that every complaint is a call for you to do something. We aren’t asking for your permission or your help.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    Tony, Alom’s article isn’t what’s starting to sound stupid.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    @MikeTheInfidel,
    I always enjoy your take on things, but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on this one.
    The piece indeed comes off as asking whites to accept responsibility for, and fix a perceived problem.

  • http://blaghag.com Jennifurret

    Tony, the debate isn’t that we need to go and hold non-white atheists hands. The point is there are plenty of non-white atheists already blogging, writing books, and generally doing awesome stuff, but they’re accidentally or subconsciously being ignored. If we give them the credit they’re due by, for example, inviting them as speakers, they become more visible and make the environment more welcoming to other minorities who may not have been motivated to attend meetings before since it seems like an all-white club.

    And what have I done? I invited non-white and female speakers to my student group when I was President. I encouraged minority students to give their own presentations to the club. I held a joint event with the GLBT student union.

    What have you done other than shout insensitive garbage?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    What white leader had to take you by the hand and say “It’s ok Jen. You can create a blog and motivate people around the world.” ? Which white guy said “What we really need is a boobquake to prove how stupid some religious leaders are.” ?

    This is exactly what I’m talking about. Shaha is not blaming white people for the lack of minorities, but you’re interpreting his article as saying that we need white people to make the community more welcoming to minorities. Thank you for your patronization, but no, we can figure these things out on our own.

    You’re right, no white leaders had to tell Jen what she could do. And the same goes with this. Nobody is asking you for anything, but you’re jumping into Exasperated White Guy That Has To Fix Everything For Those Lazy Minorities mode.

  • anthrogeek

    What the ‘community’ needs is obviously a gay/bi, identifying as female, non-white disabled person. That would solve everything.

    On a more serious note though I’m usually (as in every time but once) the only physically disabled person at atheist talks and it’s kinda depressing. A lot of ‘help’ for disabled people is religious in nature, either you or your parents are dirty sinners who needs to pray more or you’re disabled ‘for a reason’. So it’s hard to break away from the perceived comfort and support of a religious community, but relieving to know your disability is not your fault.

    I think the ‘community’ does need to be aware that these differences occur and that they make atheism difficult for some. But disabled/non-white/gay/whatever people need to and do speak up.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    this colored man agrees with godless monsters. but perhaps a colored person i lack the objective lens some of you have ;-)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    The point is there are plenty of non-white atheists already blogging, writing books, and generally doing awesome stuff, but they’re accidentally or subconsciously being ignored.

    really, there aren’t plenty on a relative scale in certain communities. that’s a statistical truth. i have a british cousin who is bangladeshi who gets alom’s viewpoint, he’s asked how he can be atheist all the time by other bangladeshis. they’re stupid, but they’re not statistically naive. there aren’t that many.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    TGM:

    The piece indeed comes off as asking whites to accept responsibility for, and fix a perceived problem.

    Where, exactly? When I read things like this, I see it as “the community has an image problem, and that’s why minorities tend to shy away from it”:

    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. Perhaps some people are genuinely unaware of this, but perhaps others are just hoping the problem does not really exist.

    If there aren’t enough minority speakers at events, white people are not entirely to blame. There are lots of minority atheists who, for whatever reason, don’t feel a need to get involved in the atheist ‘movement,’ and their absence is seen by other atheist minorities as an indication that it’s not a minority-friendly environment. And when Shaha calls on us to reach out to minority atheists:

    I have not written this to accuse anyone of being racist, but rather to plead with those who are in a position to do something to stop turning a blind eye to this important issue. I know from personal experience that there are many black and Asian atheists out there who feel very alone – please reach out to them specifically, not generally.

    I see it as a call to everyone, not just white people. Yes, the majority of the visible atheist ‘community’ is white, but being asked to help diversify a community isn’t a matter of “we need white people to do something” – it’s just the fact of the situation that most of the people who could do something will be white. It’s not a “get whitey to do it” thing. It’s a “get someone to do it” thing, and most of the someones happen to be white.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    But disabled/non-white/gay/whatever people need to and do speak up.

    ? is there really an underrepresentation of gay people in atheist organizations? that wasn’t my experience. not that there’s anything wrong with that ;-)

    as for non-whites, we’re not all the same. east asians are relatively atheistic, and i ran into a fair number at student atheist groups. OTOH, blacks are rare. if the person was a south asian, usually from a non-muslim background.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    Whatever happened to the ideal or goal of a color-blind society? Why can’t atheists take the lead in such a thing?
    Race is an issue only when people MAKE it an issue.
    A non-white atheist writer makes an issue out of race and then so many in this thread are upset when a member of the race that is being singled out is a bit defensive? If I was white, I’d be upset, too.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    and their absence is seen by other atheist minorities as an indication that it’s not a minority-friendly environment

    people shouldn’t stereotype so much ;-) and get over their fear of a white planet. pragmatically your point is probably somewhat correct, but there’s no reason in my book why every group/organization has to be perfectly representative. the black american church has a strong hold on that culture for clear and obvious historic reasons. in contrast, the christian church is not so central to the identity of chinese (or buddhist temple). outreach will have different yields in different communities.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    If by “is a bit defensive” you mean “attacks minorities for blaming everything on whitey”, yeah. I think it’s reasonable to be upset by that.

    Treating people of different races equally is one thing. Ignoring that racial distinctions exist is another. When I as a minority notice that I’m the only minority (or one of few) getting involved in something, it makes me wonder why others aren’t getting involved, and if there might be something I’ve missed. I don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s a bunch of racist white people who aren’t being welcoming enough to minorities; I just wonder what I’d need to do to introduce a bit of broader diversity. I believe that any group that becomes too homogeneous will almost invariably suffer for it, and ignoring the homogeneity out of a (perfectly reasonable but potentially taken-too-far) liberal sense of racial blindness doesn’t help. YMMV.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    and a lot of this stuff about comfort and sensitivity. be careful about what standards and arguments you use, they’re used against atheists all the time. our very existence is uncomfortable and insensitive to many ppl. i think those views are stupid, but their sincere and real, just like colored people who are irrationally terrified by a room of whites.

  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com Tony

    What have you done other than shout insensitive garbage?

    I’ve given people a focal point and the ability to alieve themselves of their white guilt.

    You know how the white man is. Always looking to keep people down. After all: These are issues that the white “leadership” of the atheist and sceptic movements have largely ignored because they are not issues that concern them.

    Guess that includes Jen. Now I feel guilty. Wait, no I don’t.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    @MikeTheInfidel,
    Sorry Mike, but I’m not budging on this one. You are indeed a better (and infinitely more clever) wordsmith than I, but your well-crafted response just does not hold water with me.
    The white “leadership” of the so-called atheist “movement” is being singled out as a problem.
    There’s something inherently racist in the overall tone of the piece and I will not be persuaded otherwise.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    @Tony,
    While you had a valid point to begin with you are starting to grate on my nerves. There’s something to be said for having the grace and intelligence to know when to STFU.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    You both seem to be stuck on that sentence. I assume you’ve read the next one?

    These are issues that the white “leadership” of the atheist and sceptic movements have largely ignored because they are not issues that concern them. But these issues should concern all atheists…

    This is certainly not singling out white people as the problem – it’s saying it’s everyone’s problem. If you don’t feel it’s your responsibility to bring further diversity into the community, that’s fine; it’s not everyone’s forte. But this article isn’t blaming white people alone, or charging white people with solving the problem. It’s saying it’s everyone’s problem. Minorities are just as culpable, if not more so, for our absence from visibility.

    I read this article as Shaha telling atheist minorities that we need to to figure out how to make the freethinking community more attractive to our fellows who might otherwise not make their nonbelief public. I appreciate your perspective on the article, but like you, I’m not likely to be convinced otherwise.

  • Rieux

    No one likes to see themselves as connected to someone else’s misery, no matter how remote the link. Usually their first response is to find a way to get themselves off the hook, and… there are all kinds of ways to do that. As a result, they leave it to someone else to take care of the problem, which, of course, doesn’t happen, and for pretty much the same reasons.

    The fact is that we’re all on the hook because there’s no way to avoid being part of the problem. People in subordinate groups are on the hook every day. Dominant groups are, too, but they’re more likely not to know it because they have so many ways to act as though they aren’t, and privilege usually allows them to get away with it. But the more aware we are of all the ways there are to fool ourselves, the easier it is to wake up and make ourselves part of the solution.

    DENY AND MINIMIZE

    Perhaps the easiest way to get off the hook is to deny that it exists in the first place.

    “Racism and sexism used to be problems, but they aren’t anymore.”

    “The American Dream is alive and well and available to everyone.”

    “There are no people with disabilities where I work, so that isn’t an issue here.”

    “Affirmative action has actually turned the tables—if anyone’s in trouble now, it’s whites and men.” Or, as a cover of the Atlantic Monthly magazine proclaimed, “Girls Rule!”

    Closely related to denial is the minimization of the trouble by acknowledging it exists but then claiming it doesn’t amount to much. When women and people of color are accused of “whining,” for example, they’re essentially being told that whatever they have to deal with isn’t that bad and they should “just get on with it.” When you deny the reality of oppression, you also deny the reality of the privilege that underlies it, which is just what it takes to get off the hook.

    When people in dominant groups practice this kind of denial, it rarely seems to occur to them that they’re in a poor position to know what they’re talking about. For them to act as though they know better than others do about what they are up against is just the sort of presumption that privilege encourages. Privilege invites them to define other people’s experience for them, to tell them what it’s like to be them regardless of what they say it’s like. Adults do this all the time with children. A child falls down and cries and an adult might say, “Now, now, stop crying, it doesn’t hurt that much,” when in fact the adult doesn’t know just how much it hurts. Or the child wakes up with a nightmare and adults might tell them, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” when that may not be true at all for the child. In similar ways, members of privileged groups are culturally authorized to interpret other people’s experience for them, to deny the validity of their own reports, and to impose their views of reality.

    – Allan G. Johnson, Privilege, Power, and Difference, 2d ed. 2005, pp. 108-09

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    Tony: stop being such a drama queen. goodness. no one is “blaming whitey” and you really didn’t have to go there. get over yourself already, or go hassle a cadillac driving welfare queen who is stealing your social security. /eyeroll/

    1. most atheist groups are made up of at least somewhat affluent people.
    2. in america, most affluent people are white.
    3. nonwhites in america tend to have to work harder, and do more, just to “get by” in the same way as their white peers. even Tony admits racism is real and alive in america today. google the Harvard study about the job seekers and race, in which a black man with identical qualifications was able to get something like 1/3 of the jobs a white job seeker was able to, in that study. but the point is: nonwhites often have less time for atheism meetings and activism.
    4. MLK. Chavez. (i’m ignorant of the right Asian-American example but i’m sure there is one for both Buddhism and Hinduism). it’s really, really hard to be an atheist of color. harder than it is for white people. nonwhite people who reject faith aren’t just rejecting religion, they are also perceived to be rejecting a whole community, a community under siege, at that.
    5. student groups are all about “reaching out” and imho, those are the groups most affected by the article’s critique. sure, the Neighborhood Atheist Club may not have the ability or reason to reach out to minorities, but student and campus groups? they very much do, and should. “interfaith” meetups of all kinds- political, religious, academic, sports- these happen on most campuses all the time. student atheists are the atheist leaders of the future, in as much as *some* will go on to have a career promoting atheism. those folks, right now? mostly white guys. it would serve them well to fatten their ranks with a little spice and color, and that’s really the only relelvant point.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    it’s really, really hard to be an atheist of color. harder than it is for white people. nonwhite people who reject faith aren’t just rejecting religion, they are also perceived to be rejecting a whole community, a community under siege, at that.

    this is false. it is hard to be a black person who is an atheist. apparently it is hard to be a south asian who is an atheist (i have never had this problem personally, but perhaps i’m just too awesome, others have attested to this issue). perhaps it is hard to be a mexican american and an atheist, i don’t know (hispanics are a lot less religious than the stereotype people have of them, see ‘the american religious identification survey’). but it is not hard to be an east asian and an atheist. east asians are the most secular societies in the world, and the east asian diaspora is secular. the largest number of atheists and irreligious people in the world are east asians.

    http://www.americanreligionsurvey-aris.org/reports/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf

    27% of asian americans have no religion, this would be higher if you limited to chinese, korean and japanese (most south asians and southeast asians who aren’t vietnamese identify with a religion)
    12% of hispanics
    11% of blacks
    16% of whites

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    i’m stupid, but how do i get a headshot? i like looking at mys

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    btw, i think the socioeconomic correlates of religiosity are very important. but it can’t explain everything. south asians in the USA are the wealthiest group, while east asians are wealthier than average. but south asians are highly affiliated with religion, while east asians are not. cultural context and origin matters.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    The atheist and sceptic movements are dominated by white men and I think this is a problem…

    White men dominate pretty much everything. Why are people acting like it’s some sort of failure in the atheist and skeptic movements that the trend carries over there?

  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com Tony

    Guess I’m just another over privelaged white guy.

    Or maybe, just maybe, I’m one of the people out there sick of hearing the bullshit about how one’s race is holding them back.

    Hate me if you must but I’m the reality you don’t want to face.

    Yes I’m hung up on the white leadership comment. Has anybody here taken an ethics in writing class? The “white” comment was not needed for the point of the article. The author made an effort to poit out white leadership. I am making an effort to point out it is a racist article.

    “The atheist blogger went on to say we need to do more to help the homeless.”
    “The black atheist blogger went on to say we need to do more to help the homeless.”
    Why do I need to bring race into it? I don’t. Neither did Alom.

    It is ok for you to hate me. Really, I don’t mind.

  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com Tony

    Hemant,
    Sorry to rant so much on your blog.

  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com Tony

    @razib
    You need to create an account with WordPress and associate an image with it. Then when you log in to your main WordPress account and post here the profile image will show.

  • Greg

    Couple of things (hmm, having written this, it’s become quite long… sorry! =/):

    1) This article was written in the UK, not the US, and is one that means to address atheism as a whole, so please don’t try to reduce it to American society, people. Thanks – as a non-American, that kinda irritates me.

    2) Atheists are not a community, however, there are communities which are atheistic. The people saying ‘what atheist community?’ are spot on (if slightly missing what the point is meant to be imho). Now: there is the Humanist Community, you might mention, or the Freethinker Community, or the Sceptic Community; and the comments would be far better addressed to these groups. For want of a better way of putting it, these communities are selling something; there are active attempts to bring people into the folds of these societies.

    Just being an atheist does not make you part of any society – for one thing, there is nothing about being an atheist that automatically makes you want other people to be atheists too. Many people who are atheists specifically want nothing more than to not be placed into a society because they do/don’t believe in a god. Trying to force these people to become part of some kind of atheistic society is futile, and a stupid idea in the first place for that matter.

    3) (Okay, not a couple of things, a few then…)

    … Anyway …

    3) Yes, the article was slightly racist against whites – to be honest, immediately you divide groups up into ‘white’ and ‘non-white’ groupings, you are pretty much fated to be somewhat racist. You’re grouping people together by skin colour, and making generalised judgements about them. Yeah, that’s racism pretty much. Grouping all ‘non-white’ people together as a group is particularly bad imho, given that there have been plenty of cases of racism in the UK from the families of African immigrants to the later arrived Asian immigrants. It isn’t a matter of being whites v everyone else, and yet using groupings like that suggests it is.

    However, he did have a point there that he could have phrased rather better (along with (2), above). If atheistic groups like Humanism, say, want to reach out to everyone, they should look at whether or not there is an even spread amongst ethnicities at their events. If there is a ‘shortfall’ amongst one group of people, then maybe they should look at things they can do to change this.

    4) Maybe the reason for the discrepancies relating to skin colour (and other ethnicities), in atheistic movements isn’t a result of things these atheistic movements are or aren’t doing, but rather a result of things rival movements are doing. Perhaps finger pointing at each other isn’t the best way to go about this – rather than saying ‘you aren’t doing enough’, maybe say, ‘what more can we do?’

    Anyway, personally, I would think the worst thing that could be done would be to invite people to speak at an event because they are not white. If that is the reasoning, then that is racism both directed at white people and non-white people. What could be more condescending then to give someone an invite to speak just because they are ‘black’? Invite them because they have interesting views that people want to hear, otherwise you’ll just be making things worse, even risking creating a divide between ‘whites’ and ‘non-whites’ that wasn’t there before. That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t want a talk about religion amongst African Americans to be given by an African American – but that’s because that ethnicity is relevant to the topic.

    Hemant’s selling point as a speaker has nothing to do with his ‘race’ or ‘skin-colour’ and everything to do with what he is talking about.

  • Peterson, C.
    These are issues that the white “leadership” of the atheist and sceptic movements have largely ignored because they are not issues that concern them. But these issues should concern all atheists…

    This is certainly not singling out white people as the problem – it’s saying it’s everyone’s problem.

    See, I read that passage a little differently. To me it says, “The issue should concern all atheists, but the white ‘leadership’ isn’t concerned when they really should be.” He goes on to say that he doesn’t mean to imply that there’s any purposeful discrimination, and it’s most likely the case that white people don’t really understand that how intimidating it can be for a minority to enter a group composed almost exclusively of white males. Thus he suggests that atheist organizations begin specifically targeting minority groups in order to encourage them to join up.

    I do think that the article was targeting white individuals. I don’t think it was meant as an attack. Rather I think it was more of an, “Look, here’s an issue that you may not have noticed because it doesn’t directly affect you.”

    In any case, I still disagree with the idea of atheist organizations specifically seeking out minorities in order to get them to join. When I see some corporation’s billboard that has a Black guy, an Asian girl, a white girl, and a Hispanic guy on it, I don’t think “yay diversity,” I think of it as a carefully calculated move in order to show that the corporation is definitely not racist and everyone should buy their product.

    Imagine if the Tea Party, often criticized for being predominately white, started going door to door in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. I wouldn’t see that as an attempt by conservatives to reach out to minorities who may be too intimidated to join, but rather as the Tea Party attempting to gain greater legitimacy by actively recruiting Blacks and Hispanics into their organization.

    Maybe I think this way just because I am white. I don’t know. It just seems a little underhanded to start targeting minorities just so that atheist organizations start looking more diverse.

  • Rieux

    Greg:

    Atheists are not a community, however, there are communities which are atheistic. The people saying ‘what atheist community?’ are spot on (if slightly missing what the point is meant to be imho). Now: there is the Humanist Community, you might mention, or the Freethinker Community, or the Sceptic Community; and the comments would be far better addressed to these groups. For want of a better way of putting it, these communities are selling something; there are active attempts to bring people into the folds of these societies.

    And your response to my argument directly to the contrary is… what?

    What, pray tell, are ethnic communities “selling”? How does the GLBT community “attempt[] to bring people into [its] fold”? D’you think they give out toaster ovens for converting folks to The Lifestyle?

    I submit that you’re introducing irrelevant criteria that have nothing to do with the sociological and political reality that atheists, just like any minority that is treated in measurable ways by its corresponding majority, are a community.

    Just being an atheist does not make you part of any society – for one thing, there is nothing about being an atheist that automatically makes you want other people to be atheists too.

    Again, that’s a total non sequitur. The members of the South Asian community in England do not “automatically want other people to be English South Asians too.” And yet they are a community. You’re gesturing at irrelevancies.

    Many people who are atheists specifically want nothing more than to not be placed into a society because they do/don’t believe in a god.

    And I imagine there’s a person of African descent in the world who “want[s] nothing more than to not be placed into a society” because of his or her ethnic background. Too bad. The fact that societies treat various minority groups in particular ways unavoidably renders those minority groups communities, whether anyone likes it or not.

    If you are an atheist in the United States (and I realize that you are not—I beg your forbearance to stoop to listen to the experience of those of us not as fortunate as yourself), you live among well over a hundred million of your countrymen who bear deep antipathy toward anyone who lacks a belief in gods. This puts you at risk of a wide range of invidious discrimination, up to and including losing custody of your children for your irreligion. All of the whining anyone can muster about “want[ing] nothing more than to not be placed into a society because they do/don’t believe in a god” does nothing to change that treatment.

    It’s simply the reality of being a minority in a society in which that minority status has significant political salience. Atheists are a community because society treats us that way, and it makes no difference whether anyone likes that or not.

    Trying to force these people to become part of some kind of atheistic society is futile, and a stupid idea in the first place for that matter.

    And a ridiculous strawman that comes from no one’s actual argument.

    Atheists (and humanists, freethinkers, skeptics, agnostics, rationalists, etc.) have every bit as much in common as gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and queers do. And the GLBT(QQIAA…) community is a force to be reckoned with—indeed, in many respects it’s a model we would do well to emulate.

    An atheist can deny her membership in the atheist community all she likes—plenty of gay folks do that too, for understandable reasons, and there’s an obvious furniture-related term for it—but the societies we live in do not care about that denial. We are who we are, said societies treat us the way they treat us, and those political realities persist no matter how much anyone denies or bemoans them.

    Being an atheist in an atheophobic society doesn’t obligate you to join some formal organization. It does, however, mean that you have certain unavoidable things in common with all of the other atheists in that society. No one can change that until society at large changes.

    community
    noun (plural communities)

    1 a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common:

    Montreal’s Italian community

    the gay community in London

    the scientific community

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Tony:

    Guess I’m just another over privelaged white guy.

    Or maybe, just maybe, I’m one of the people out there sick of hearing the bullshit about how one’s race is holding them back.

    If you think it’s entirely bullshit, then yes, you probably are blissfully ignorant of the reality of white privilege. The fact that some people falsely claim that their race is holding them back does not mean that all such claims are false.

    And again: it’s not all about you. You’re the one who made it about you, so don’t get huffy when people object to you doing so.

    “The atheist blogger went on to say we
    need to do more to help the homeless.”
    “The black atheist blogger went on to say we need to do more to help the homeless.”
    Why do I need to bring race into it? I don’t. Neither did Alom.

    This is a really bad comparison. This article is specifically about race, so mentioning race is relevant. In an article where race isn’t the subject, mentioning the race would be irrelevant.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    Mike, my brother. heh. you’ll never make them understand. those poor, oppressed white guys. they are just so sure that the fact that niggers and dykes like me can speak openly, and poke holes in their racist, stupid arguments are allowed to exist? to them, it’s the End of The World. fact and logic mean nothing to them, nor nuance. all they can do is personally insult people who try to discuss matters of fact with them. discrimination? that only happens to rich white guys! sexism? that only happens to the victims of ‘feminazis.’ no, these aren’t people who have anything other in common with us other than they like to smoke pot and have casual sex. they got busted, when they were members of some stupid religious cult. that’s why they’re on “our” side. if not for that? they’d be right there with the rest of their brainwashed, inbred brethren, calling for our deaths. and they know it.

  • http://extro1.wordpress.com Extro

    Actively recruiting a freethinking atheist/humanist or unbeliever of any sort is ,as a wise man once told me, a bit like herding cats. Humanists and freethinkers of various sorts tend not to be joiners. Don’t much focus on recruiting, freethinkers of all brands are already out there and the memberships is there for the taking is they want it. For anyone to play the race card or even give a shit about how politically correct our membership may or may not be is distracting us from more important things.
    P.S. Chicago Dyke, you rock.

  • MelissaF

    I have always thought atheists were very inclusive, non-racist, open minded people. I fail to see how it is the responsibility of “white leaders” in atheist movements to attract minorities in particular. Isn’t it up to an individual to decide to be atheist and be active in the atheist community? I don’t know why race is perceived as important. In New Zealand, if a Maori or Pacific Islander said their race wasn’t represented enough in the atheist community, people would say, “then join, do something, get vocal!”. They wouldn’t go on about how the fact that more white people being visible in the atheist community was somehow indicative of whites not doing enough. They would see it as being simply that more whites are atheist than Maoris and Pacific Islanders, for cultural reasons or whatever. And why is that a problem to be placed on atheist organisations? Just get your atheist message out there, and people will either identify with atheism or not, regardless of race. Race shouldnt be a serious consideration. Anyway thats how I see it…really an irrelevancy :) Long-time NZ lurker

  • Greg

    Rieux, either I failed really badly to explain what I meant, or you just ignored it. Certainly I would say if you understood what I said then your whole argument would be a strawman. (Plus I wasn’t replying to you, anyway, I was making a general comment). If I were replying to you, I’d have used quotations, and your name – as it happens, I don’t think you had made that post when I wrote that – I don’t recall reading it, anyway. However, I think 1) in my post deals with much of it…

    The issue in the article Hemant linked to isn’t an American issue. It’s a UK issue, or at best for your point of view, a worldwide issue. Hate to break it to you, but the world, and atheism, does not revolve around America. Indeed, your first sentence in that post above pretty much defeats your entire argument. Given that you’ve admitted that not every atheist has to deal with the issues you deal with in America, you can’t then use those issues you deal with in America to create a unified global atheist community.

    Anyway, enough of that.

    First off, let’s look at the word “community”. This is your provided definition:

    community
    noun (plural communities)

    1 a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common:

    Montreal’s Italian community

    the gay community in London

    the scientific community

    You’ve taken a definition which is solely about living in the same place, or having a characteristic in common (interestingly, neither of which exactly apply to atheists unless you really stretch the boundaries of the word “characteristic”), however, there are many other definitions that also include active participation. That is the kind of definition I was using. From a quick Google, I’m guessing you got your definition from Oxford Dictionaries. Well, some of the definitions on the same site would do adequately. For example, no. 2:

    2 [mass noun] the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common:
    the sense of community that organized religion can provide

    (bold emphasis mine)

    Indeed, that is the only definition that makes sense in the context, for in this case we are talking about a community with certain attitudes and interests in common. This is rather a truism, given that if there isn’t an agreement as to the goals of the community within the membership, there is no point in persuading them to achieve these goals, which is what the article was attempting. That is why I suggested naming actual societies would make more sense, and, indeed, were the people the original author really meant to address. Did you not read this in my post?

    2) Atheists are not a community, however, there are communities which are atheistic. The people saying ‘what atheist community?’ are spot on (if slightly missing what the point is meant to be imho).

    My whole point with this was that whilst they are technically correct, they are missing the fact that this was clearly meant at people who are part of an organised group of people. You seem to have really blown this out of proportion.

    What, pray tell, are ethnic communities “selling”? How does the GLBT community “attempt[] to bring people into [its] fold”? D’you think they give out toaster ovens for converting folks to The Lifestyle?

    My first thought was that you were deliberately misrepresenting what I was saying. However, just in case you weren’t:

    I was not talking about ethnic communities. I was talking about humanistic, or sceptic communities (or societies), who as stated goals want to spread their ideals to other people. After all, it makes far more sense to direct instructions to people who are trying to ‘convert’ people, to organisations that are actually trying to ‘convert’ people.

    Again, that’s a total non sequitur. The members of the South Asian community in England do not “automatically want other people to be English South Asians too.” And yet they are a community. You’re gesturing at irrelevancies.

    Again, are you deliberately misrepresenting what I was writing? I’m not talking about ‘communities’ in that sense. I’m talking about a society as in: an organisation/club/etc.

    And I imagine there’s a person of African descent in the world who “want[s] nothing more than to not be placed into a society” because of his or her ethnic background. Too bad. The fact that societies treat various minority groups in particular ways unavoidably renders those minority groups communities, whether anyone likes it or not.

    And that person of African descent is clearly not part of any society unless they want to. Now they are part of that ethnicity whether they want to or not, but that’s a different matter. It seems you are conflating the two.

    If you are an atheist in the United States (and I realize that you are not—I beg your forbearance to stoop to listen to the experience of those of us not as fortunate as yourself),

    You’ll have to forgive my snarkiness, but I can’t let this pass by without informing you that I have been the victim of acute prejudice because of my nationality, for most of my life (after having moved country soon after I was born). I have since moved out of that country, but you can skip the lectures on enduring hardship thank you. I had it just by opening my mouth.

    And despite that, although I was part of an ethnic group, I was never a member of any society.

    Given that everything else you wrote has even less relevance, I’ll stop here.

    And yes, as I said, I know I’ve been snarky in this post, I’ve tried not to, but there is something that really gets my goad about being lectured pompously by someone who has made little effort to understand what I was actually saying.

    I’ll probably regret not going back and altering this to make it more polite, but to be honest, at the moment, I feel the tone of your post deserves a response like this. Don’t necessarily expect me to keep replying however, I have no intention in descending into a flame war, and I find it hard to believe it will go anywhere else if your last reply is any indication of the direction it will go. Take that as a victory if you like, I honestly don’t care.

  • cat

    I’m going to link to Peggy Macintosh’s famous white privilege checklist, because some of you really need it right now http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

    And here’s a paper about white privilege and community building, which is worth linking because it discusses the issue in very minute detail with background information http://www.capd.org/pubfiles/pub-2005-01-01.pdf

  • Aj

    Apart from disparaging the charge that there aren’t enough minorities in the “atheist community” I see no point in specifically targeting minorities. The idea that people are being “excluded” is ridiculous, accidental or not, that was a poor choice of words. Do we welcome and accept minorities, do we treat people equally? That’s enough for me. There’s often calls for more diversity, but there’s never much justification along with it. I don’t understand why minorities are worth more than non-minority members.

    The article is right, minorities often have to deal with a lot more coercion to be religious, they’re not going to be as comfortable socializing with others of different cultures, that’s why if you want to campaign or set up an event you shouldn’t be targeting them because the reward (members) is not going to be as great. This (and the myriad of other articles about this) are basically saying, “guys, lets pick the high hanging fruit because they’re a different shade”, well fuck that, if they’re both of equal value I’m going for the low hanging fruit.

    Also, while you’re making yourselves more inviting to minorities, remember not to alienate the existing members, if minorities are turned off by the existing culture then it only makes sense that changing that would turn off those that belong to the existing culture.

    I don’t like the idea that if I was raised differently because I’m white and male the same effort wouldn’t be expended towards me. I’ve always seen myself as more of an individual and I’ve always liked the egalitarian and libertarian nature of many secularist groups.

    Thanks Anonymous, Razib Khan’s article made great points. I thought this part was strange: “All the Hemant Mehtas and Alorn Shahas will not change the structural parameters”. Wait, there are multiple Hemants?

  • Ben

    @Tony, I agree with you 100%. You’re spot on.
    As an atheist I don’t think there is a need to believe that a god exists. If THAT alone makes me part of a community, then I guess I belong to that community. But it’s a flimsy community. We’ve just seen it all play out here.
    To me, this post has almost devolved into a liberal-PC-self-loathing-fest: whites who are straight males dare not express an opinion for fear of being subtly racist or unintentionally racist. I’m sorry but I accept people for who they are unless they’re total assholes. And an asshole just isn’t someone who disagrees with me or doesn’t get my point of view. I’m way more grown up than that.
    Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been kept back and those white men have been keeping her and others (Salman Hushdie) back? Come on. Read Christopher Hitchens “Portable Atheist” Atheists come in all stripes and have contributed greatly.
    For me, there seems to be a lot of political airing of grievances on a social level that goes way beyond just “being an atheist” going on here.

  • Vas

    I’m amazed that there are white people who don’t recognize their white privilege, truly baffling.

    Mike is on fire today, wow, like I said I count Mikes opinion as one and a half. Really I hear you loud and clear mike, Dyke also for that matter. Good on both of you.
    In the end I’m glad to see this discussed here and wish the conversation could go on all the time until things get straightened out. Hey even I’m kind of uncomfortable in an all white all male crowd, it kind of creeps me out to be honest. I always wonder where the hell everybody else is and why they stay away. Maybe if I knew why the others, (that would be everyone except the white guys) stay away I might decide I don’t really want to be around either. I stay clear of all atheist based activities precisely because “that’s a whole lotta white folks” and it makes me kinda uncomfortable.

  • Lesilu

    It would seem, from reading many of the comments over at guardian.co.uk on Shaha’s article, that many atheists in the UK feel a lack of an atheist community. Seems like a huge roadblock if one is trying to recruit more people into a community most don’t feel exists. Never having stepped foot in the UK, I can’t comment too much on that.

    I can certainly see his points resonating more with atheists in the US though. If a group wants to, say, get the “under god” part out pledge of allegiance or do away with it entirely, it helps to have numbers and visibility throughout various cultures and subcultures.

    The article is mostly talking about minorities that are already atheist or non-religious joining groups. In an ideal world, those that would be inclined to join a group like the SSA would join regardless of the racial/ethnic makeup. In the real world, a lot of people feel more at ease around those they assume have a similar cultural background and gravitate towards them.

    Jennifurret had some great suggestions for campus groups. Gaining numbers from these arguably untapped markets means being visible to them. If atheist groups really want the minority atheists, they could take a page corporations. McDonald’s, for example, has altered menus in areas with large Asian populations, has commercials featuring Latino and black leads, and advertises in other languages in places that have a large bi/multi-lingual groups.

    However…I don’t know about others, but as Peterson C pointed out, these feel very calculated and condescending. Personally, as a black female, I don’t really care about the gender or race/ethnic makeup of a group. When joining a club/community I join for whatever issue it’s about. I’d join an atheist group if there were one near me, until then I’ll stick to the various communities on the internet.

  • Craig

    Ha ha ha! I *literally* woke up people in my house when I laughed out loud at “You’re welcome, white people.” You’re awesome, Hemant. :-)

  • Jeanette

    Wow, I weep for my race. Fellow white people, seriously?? Cat linked the Peggy McIntosh white privilege article, for fsm’s sake please go read it. I mean, most of us atheists know what it’s like to have wildly inaccurate assumptions made about us and to be treated differently upon the realization that we’re atheists. Now pretend it’s like that, but all the time, with no “closet” to come out of, and that it’s immediately apparent just…visually. All this article is saying is that we want to make the atheist community a place where that doesn’t happen. And wow, I honestly thought we were already well on our way to being that place until I read the comments. Thanks a lot Mike, Chicagodyke, Jen, and all the other commenters not allowing that racist bs to go unchallenged.

  • A Portlander

    To run the risk of attracting some of the kneejerk, rather disappointing ire that Tony’s caught, I have to say that too much “help” from the “white atheist leadership” would do more harm than good. Minority cultures in America have made religion a major element of their identity, from Baptist blacks to Catholic latinos, etc. If atheistic traction doesn’t grow organically from inside those communities, it won’t be regarded as genuine.

    Hemant’s been a gateway to plenty of windows into the black atheist experience in the last couple of months (and thank you); it looks like, at this moment, black atheism hasn’t reached the critical mass past which it can fuse with mainstream, white-dominated public atheism and not be regarded as sellouts and race traitors. Hell, look at Greydon Square and how quickly he retreated from vocal atheism after he was criticized by the hip hop community for being New Atheism’s token black guy.

    For the most part (and fuck off, pedants) we are humanists. We should be inclusive of everybody who wants to get on board, with an appreciation for every perspective they can add to our self-examination; we should turn no-one away and we should help wherever we’re invited. A business we shouldn’t be in is butting into delicate, internal transformations of cultural identity because we feel we aren’t doing enough to uphold the white man’s burden.

    We condescend to the religious enough, let’s not do it to minorities, too.

  • http://amillionwordstogo.blogspot.com aynsavoy

    Buffy said:

    White men dominate pretty much everything. Why are people acting like it’s some sort of failure in the atheist and skeptic movements that the trend carries over there?

    Maybe because we expect better of our community? As skeptics, shouldn’t we question this trend?

    The fact that it carries over from society at large serves to provide historical background, but I don’t think we should stop there. Are white men dominating the atheist/skeptic scene because there are more of them? Because they are categorically better than anyone else at speaking on these topics? Or is it simply because that’s the way it’s been? I don’t think a positive answer to the third question, in light of “not necessarily” in answer to the first two should mean that we don’t have to try to change anything.

    Admittedly my own flavor of atheism has a strong humanist bent, but I think we should see a carryover of this trend as a failure in the atheist/skeptic movements because we should want to be better than society at large.

    (And yes, I’m taking “better” to mean “more inclusive.”)

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    To run the risk of attracting some of the kneejerk, rather disappointing ire that Tony’s caught…

    No, I think you got it just about right. Tony caught so much heat because he came right out of the gate complaining about how the minorities were asking white people to do just what you said white people shouldn’t do. It was the implication that white people need to take the reins rather than let things happen organically as you said. It’s a very ethnocentric viewpoint.

    I think folks glossed over the quotation marks around “leadership” in the phrase ‘white “leadership”‘. For one thing, the idea of having atheist leaders seems a bit tongue-in-cheek; for another, these “leaders” are really just the more publicly visible ‘big names’ in atheism. I don’t know many people who would actually expect them to lead us in anything; certainly not just because they’re white.

  • Anonymous

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali will be at Alberta’s Festival of Ideas on Sunday the 21st along with Mende Nazer
    http://www.edmontonjournal.com/health/passionate+rebel+with+cause+against+Islam/3847628/story.html
    http://www.festivalofideas.ca/

  • Tony

    Tony caught so much heat because he came right out of the gate complaining about how the minorities were asking white people to do just what you said white people shouldn’t do. It was the implication that white people need to take the reins rather than let things happen organically as you said. It’s a very ethnocentric viewpoint.

    I think of it as more of a “I had to fight for everything I have viewpoint as being white has not gotten anything handed to me.”

    I guess I shouldn’t have given the author so much heat for coming right out of the gate complaining how the majority isn’t doing more for the minority. I guess he wanted special treatment. Can you hear the sarcasm here?

    I’ve lost jobs to Indians. I’ve worked for and been promoted by African Americans. I’ve also lost jobs to white people. I’ve also worked for and been promoted by white peopole.

    As another said, the article created two groups: whites & non-whites. That’s complete bullshit.

    I think it’s Hemant’s fault (stick with me on this one Hemant) that we don’t have more open atheist minorities. Here he is with a well known blog, speaking opportunities and we don’t see him saying “Hey non-whites! This is the place for you! We’re going to talk about brown people stuff here! Yay brown people!”

    You see, Hemant doesn’t play the race card. He’s an atheist, a friendly one at that, and he’s vocal about it. That’s all that matters. Given his popularity he easily fits into the “leadership” (notice the quotes?) role of the new atheists. I hate that term too by the way. Is he to blame for the lack of minorities in this grand movement? No! And neither are the white people that are the “leadership” of this non-organized organization.

    Consider me guilt free. I am where I am because I’ve earned it.

  • Mr Z

    At the risk of sounding prejudiced, I have to say that I have a problem with this. I’m not anti-theist because it is demographically correct. I’m anti-theist because I’m anti-theist. Wanting to make such non-belief demographically correct is to ignore what being anti-theist is. I’m not kind to believers or apologists, and I feel no particular reason to be especially careful that there is a wide and even mix of ethnicity of people who understand the world as I do.

    Quite the contrary, I think that EVERYONE should see the world as I do. I’m not going to sit in my room and pout because it seems like only white people in North America are thinking like me. The vast majority of those who do not believe in gods are not white.

    This is one of the stupidest ideas about atheism and anti-theism yet. WHY would I care? Absolutely everyone should see the truth, how can I show deference to perceived minorities and still hold my world view? This is ridiculous. If you need hand holding to look at and understand the truth of the world… I’m not your babysitter.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    the fixation with identity politics of some left-liberal atheists is as pathetic as jumping around the idol of a bronze age sky-god.

    @razib: Praise be to razib!

    I dunno razib, as an atheist isn’t it my absolutely binding moral duty not just to have yard sales, but have atheist yard sales?

    He’s effectively saying “Minority atheists need white atheist leaders to help them.” No, they don’t.

    @Michael: Take minority and white out of that sentence and you’ve really gotten to the heart of the matter. Atheists do not need atheist leaders to help them. Most atheists are not identity politicians – they’re just regular people who happen to be atheists.

    Why was it important to point out white leadership? Why not just, leadership?

    @Tony: Why is it important to point out leadership period? I’m not looking for a new messiah. Are you?

    By the way, what in the fuck is “accidental exclusion”?

    @The Godless Monster: It’s just a synoynm for voluntary non-participation.

    Have you ever noticed how many atheist ‘leaders’ blather on about liberty and freedom of choice, but then bitch and complain when atheists exercise their free choice by spending it on something more productive than organizing atheist bake sales? What’s the motivation for this combination of views? ‘You’re free to choose what I say you should choose?’

    All of the above are cognizable communities because that’s how society treats them.

    @Rieux: Do you define your identity by how other people define it?

    We are one whether we like it or not.

    @Rieux: If by ‘we’ you mean human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, class, religious affiliation (or lack thereof), and so on and so forth – then yes, I agree.

    The operative question is not whether or not we are a community; that’s foisted on us without asking. Instead, it’s about how we’re going to work together to deal with each other, and (especially) with the broader society we live in.

    @Rieux: I disagree. The only community foisted upon you is a geographical one. Outside of that all communities are social constructions that you can pretend are real or ignore at no peril.

    You want to know what the biggest problem is with the atheist movement? The vertically gifted leadership ignores the needs of Little People.

    @Tony: Believe it or not there is some truth to this – if by ‘little people’ you mean the little guy who doesn’t have much money to contribute to them. Like any ‘movement’, how much you’re worth to their leaders is directly proportional to how much moeny you give to them. If you get hit by a car tomorrow that’s OK so long as they didn’t lose a large donor. Just like with people who don’t put money in the plate at church.

    Wow, who would have thought that atheist leaders worship the same god as their fundamentalist enemies – Mammon!

    This is a minority complaining that there aren’t enough minorities making themselves known as atheists and getting involved in freethinking communities.

    @MikeTheInfidel: There aren’t enough Lutherans either. And it’s a real pity non-accidentally excluding them.

    If we give them the credit they’re due by, for example, inviting them as speakers, they become more visible and make the environment more welcoming to other minorities who may not have been motivated to attend meetings before since it seems like an all-white club.

    @Jennifurret: Don’t buy into the hype Jenni. Who wants to be a speaker at some sparsely attended meeting? It’s the speakers at the sparsely attended meetings who should be begging to guest blog at your blog, not the other way around.

    Ain’t the internet liberating? Atheists on the net have the greatest claim to a community, since they represent atheists on the street much more closely than any atheist organization. You don’t need to put out newsletters or ask for money or tell atheists what they should be doing with their time in order to be an atheist. Since most street atheists don’t do any of those things, net atheists have more in common with them than any movement atheists. Movement atheists are self-appointed bosses who lament their failure to attract underlings to do their bidding. When Dawkins says ‘out yourself’ they think you should reply ‘Yes, Master!’

    is there really an underrepresentation of gay people in atheist organizations? that wasn’t my experience. not that there’s anything wrong with that

    @razib: In my experience Lord of the Rings fans are underrepresented in atheist organizations. We really should do more outreach at ComicCon.

    nonwhites often have less time for atheism meetings and activism.

    @chicago dyke: Finally, someone points out the elephant in the room!

    You want more minorities to attend your meetings? Start offering them stipends to help them pay for the groceries. Until then, they’ve got bigger fish to fry than worrying about hanging out at the monthly atheist Olive Garden with you.

    sure, the Neighborhood Atheist Club may not have the ability or reason to reach out to minorities, but student and campus groups?

    @chicago dyke: except that people who attend campus, too, are more likely to be affluent, and thus more likely to be white. Anyone who can raise six figures per child to send them to a university doesn’t need the stipend.

    Many people who are atheists specifically want nothing more than to not be placed into a society because they do/don’t believe in a god. Trying to force these people to become part of some kind of atheistic society is futile, and a stupid idea in the first place for that matter.

    @Greg: Wow, now we have two elephants in the room!

    The members of the South Asian community in England do not “automatically want other people to be English South Asians too.” And yet they are a community. You’re gesturing at irrelevancies.

    @Rieux: I’m part of the community of non-bald people. Shall we organize? Anyone want to join my organization for people who drive to work, rather than walk?

    @Extro: ‘the membership is there for the taking if they want it’ says it all.

    I fail to see how it is the responsibility of “white leaders” in atheist movements to attract minorities in particular.

    @MelissaF: There aren’t any salamanders at my local atheist meetup either. Fucking speciesists!

  • Rieux

    Greg:

    Certainly I would say if you understood what I said then your whole argument would be a strawman.

    Nonsense. You asserted, repeatedly, that “Atheists are not a community.” My response specifically rebutted that assertion (as well as reiterating points I made before you ever showed up on this thread). That’s the antithesis of a strawman.

    (Plus I wasn’t replying to you, anyway, I was making a general comment).

    How nice. I gave a detailed explanation of why atheists are a community all of two hours before your comment, only to see my points ignored and gainsaid by you, as you ruled that “[t]he people saying ‘what atheist community?’ are spot on.”

    You waded into a thread containing an active dispute and declared one side a winner without addressing the other’s contentions. That’s rude.

    Indeed, your first sentence in that post above pretty much defeats your entire argument.

    Sadly, no. My argument and what you’re pretending is my argument are two very different things.

    Given that you’ve admitted that not every atheist has to deal with the issues you deal with in America, you can’t then use those issues you deal with in America to create a unified global atheist community.

    Which would be a cutting point if I had ever said a single word about “a unified global atheist community”—but of course I haven’t, and that notion is just a figment of your imagination. This exercise would be somewhat easier if you’d bother to pay attention to what’s actually being argued.

    First off, let’s look at the word “community”.

    Oh, let’s do.

    community
    noun (plural communities)

    1 a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common:

    Montreal’s Italian community

    the gay community in London

    the scientific community

    You’ve taken a definition which is solely about living in the same place, or having a characteristic in common (interestingly, neither of which exactly apply to atheists unless you really stretch the boundaries of the word “characteristic”)….

    Wow.

    After an eye-opening remark like that, I don’t know whether to blame your literacy level, or your honesty, or what—but the problem is that both the lack of belief in gods and the treatment that atheists receive in a given atheophobic society are, as a brutally obvious fact, utterly ordinary examples of characteristics. Your denying that nose-on-your-face semantic truism causes me to wonder what’s going on here.

    If you are seriously going to contend that atheists’ shared (by definition) lack of belief in gods “really stretch[es] the boundaries of the word ‘characteristic,’” I’m not sure that there’s much point in debating anything with you. It’s hard to conduct an honest or coherent exchange with a party who will straightfacedly deny that 2 + 2 is 4.

    however, there are many other definitions that also include active participation.

    Yes. Just as relevantly to this discussion, yet another definition of “community” is “a sitcom on NBC.” Now, atheists are not (AFAIK) a sitcom on NBC, so big problems for my argument, right?

    That is the kind of definition I was using.

    That does help to explain why your remarks have been so irrelevant and inapplicable to some very real communities that exist in the world. When you wrote “Atheists are not a community,” you meant “atheists are not a ‘community’ according to my personal favored definition of that word, a definition that bears no relation to the discussion I’ve just entered.” It’s an enlightening clarification.

    For your next trick, you’ll prove that football is not a game, because it’s not a “wild mammal[ ] or bird[ ] hunted for sport or food.” Brilliant.

    As I explained, repeatedly, atheists are a community in exactly the same sense, and for exactly the same reasons, that people of African descent in a given society, or GLBTs, or disabled people are a community. Your pretense that you get to ignore that reasoning because you can find a tertiary definition in a dictionary that doesn’t fit atheists (or GLBTs, or…) is simple sophistry.

    From a quick Google, I’m guessing you got your definition from Oxford Dictionaries.

    You had to Google it? You’re “guessing“? Well, chalk up another failure of attention, then: you somehow failed to notice the hyperlink I helpfully provided you to the OED page right in my very blockquote from it. Oh, well.

    Indeed, that is the only definition that makes sense in the context, for in this case we are talking about a community with certain attitudes and interests in common.

    No, “we” certainly are not. As I have explained repeatedly (and you have ignored for reasons that remain obscure and are getting increasingly irritating), persons of African descent do not have any particular “attitudes and interests in common.” Nor do GLBTs. Nor disabled people. Those are very real communities that people besides you very much are talking about. Your argument, such as it is, winks those communities out of existence in a feat of thoughtless illogic.

    Your dictionary method is just silly. Communities are a political and sociological reality, and they self-evidently do not require “attitudes and interests in common.” If you had just paid attention, you might have understood that that’s what was being argued.

    This is rather a truism, given that if there isn’t an agreement as to the goals of the community within the membership, there is no point in persuading them to achieve these goals, which is what the article was attempting.

    “Article”? The argument that atheists are a community does not depend upon an “article.” No one on this thread has cited Alom Shaha to support the notion that atheists in particular societies are communities; again, you’re tilting at windmill irrelevancies.

    Did you not read this in my post?

    I read it. It was irrelevant to the actual discussion going on. It still is.

    My whole point with this was that whilst they are technically correct, they are missing the fact that this was clearly meant at people who are part of an organised group of people.

    “This”? What “this”? Who “meant” it?

    “Community,” as that term was being applied to atheists (and GLBTs et al.) in this thread, was very clearly not “an organized group of people.” You seem to have missed that point, but that’s hardly anyone else’s responsibility.

    You seem to have really blown this out of proportion.

    You waded into a live discussion, paid little to no attention to what was actually being asserted, and nonetheless expostulated about who was right. You have continued to do so. I have criticized you for that.

    Perhaps you should, y’know, stop it.

    I was not talking about ethnic communities.

    Yes. I was. And I was doing so because they directly refute your argument: they are obvious examples of communities that do not meet your dubious definition of “community.” The existence of ethnic communities is direct evidence that your argument that atheists are not a community is unsound.

    I was talking about humanistic, or sceptic communities (or societies), who as stated goals want to spread their ideals to other people.

    Obviously you were. Just as obviously, the political and sociological concept of “community” is much broader than that, and thus your contentions utterly fail to refute the propositions you were attacking.

    After all, it makes far more sense to direct instructions to people who are trying to ‘convert’ people, to organisations that are actually trying to ‘convert’ people.

    Who’s “direct[ing] instructions”? Some of us are just trying to construct accurate models of human society. The notions you insist upon make those models less accurate.

    Again, that’s a total non sequitur. The members of the South Asian community in England do not “automatically want other people to be English South Asians too.” And yet they are a community. You’re gesturing at irrelevancies.

    Again, are you deliberately misrepresenting what I was writing?

    No. You’ve just missed the fundamental point of what was (and, outside of your comments, still is) being discussed on this thread about atheist community.

    Your abstruse notions of what a community is required to be are no more relevant to the actual discussion here than a formal social gathering for dancing is relevant to the question of whether a football is a ball.

    I’m not talking about ‘communities’ in that sense.

    Clearly not. Other people here are—not least because that’s a “sense” of community that matters enormously in sociological and political affairs. As the GLBT community can tell you.

  • Mike

    You all realize that you will never get the same amount of white and black atheists because of the population differences in the US right?

    1/2 the atheists I’ve come across also seem to be gay. Which from what I’ve heard would keep many blacks from feeling comfortable in these groups of people.

    In the US it is a “White” movement but only because of the huge white population.

    Whats needed is more “Ethnic” atheists willing to speak out in their communities. Which seems to get people harassed even more than in white communities. Which is saying quite a bit.

    Putting pressure on “ethnic” communities to be more accepting of atheists within them is not really going to come from “white” society..

  • http://blog.crispen.org/ Rev. Bob

    It’s an old term, and one the white right have tried their best to poison: “affirmative action.” Pasty looking people in leadership need to ask themselves consciously, “Am I including everybody?” People like to be asked, and in the kind of real world we have today, they sometimes need to be asked.

  • http://godlessmusings.wordpress.com/ Fiyenyaa

    This attitude that some of the anti-pc brigade have is really starting to grate with me.

    1: Political correctness is basically a derogatory term for being fucking polite. By being pc, you are simply trying not to use language that could cause offence – usually amongst people who you don’t know very well.
    Do you think that those of us who are left-wing bleeding-heart liberals are PC all the time? Of course not – but around those who we don’t know, why wouldn’t you just be polite?
    2: No-one is making you adhere to pc principles. You can say whatever the hell you want, and if you want to be rude, it’ll be no surprise that people react to that.
    3: White people have and do have priveledge in general. There’s no getting away from historical reality. It’s not true like it used to be, and it’s not true of everyone, but to just assume that racism is completely dead (or indeed has “gone the other way”) is to be blind to many contemporary issues and attitudes.
    4: Pc isn’t a fucking concession. Stop acting like it’s such an imposition because it isn’t imposed and it isn’t at all a meaningful sacrifice for anyone who wants to live in a polite society.

    It always seems to me that those arguing against political correctness are essentially saying “wasn’t it great in the days when we could openly pillory *X race* and not be thought of badly for doing so?”. Pc isn’t a law, it isn’t permenant, and it isn’t a fucking dirty word. You can still say whatever you want to, and people can react however they want to that.

  • Maliknant

    Is there anything non-theistic groups should be doing to attract more minorities?

    I’m a very attractive black atheist. I suggest putting me on billboards worldwide with one of my witty rational quotes. If that doesn’t appeal to the ethnic masses, I don’t know what will!

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    Whatever happened to the ideal or goal of a color-blind society? Why can’t atheists take the lead in such a thing?

    Because when you make yourself color-blind, you are closing your eyes to all the racial inequality that is still around. We should take the lead in exposing racial inequality – even in our own organizations, even if it would be a minor problem – instead of hoping it goes away by ignoring it. When did ignoring something ever work anyway?

  • Valhar2000

    Humans are very emotional creatures, even those of us who appreciate rationality. Going to a hall to watch a speaker and sitting down among people who are “like me”, compared to doing the same among people who are “not like me”, can have a huge effect on people.

    That’s why the idea of bringing speakers from racial or social minorities is recommended: it reduces the “not like me” discomfort among people who are susceptible to it.

    You can argue that having to do this is not fair, and that only ideas and arguments should matter, but until you can institute a world-wide overhaul on the genetic makeup of humanity this sort of thing is the reality we have to deal with. After all, aren’t we supposed to be the sort of people who understand that wishing for something will not make it so?

  • Matt

    I think there is a lot of off-topic talk trying to derail the focus of this post.
    I noticed some info on minority speakers being posted. Perhaps we could see more of this. People tend to gravitate toward those they are similar to. It’s not racist, it’s just human nature. At a speech given by a minority, there tends to be A statistically imbalanced ratio of similar minorities in the audience and fewer of the majority. Now, if we mixed that up and you started seeing more whites at a minority speaker, you’d see more cross culture networking and the next white speaker would see a rise in minority audience members too.
    I think cross-culture networking is one of the keys though.

  • SecularLez

    Considering the unemployment rate for minorities, I bet many of them would be hard pressed to shell out $$$$$$ for atheist conferences and such.

    In any case, I am of the thought like many people: If you want to join, join. It’s not THAT hard to find a Freethinker/atheist group these days. It’s also not hard to organize one.

    I’m black and I felt nothing but welcomed at the local Freethinker meetings in my area. I bet I was their first black person to attend a meeting and that’s fine with me. =]

  • ignoramus012

    @Deen

    Not in so many words, but there is an undertone of accusation whenever someone says one group or another isn’t diverse enough. The only time a group SHOULD be accused in this manner is if they are actively blocking the participation of those different from them. It is up to the individual atheist as to how active or vocal they are in the community. Make it known that all are welcome to join the discussion, of course, but actively seeking the participation of a certain group smacks a bit of evangelism…

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    SecularLez: You’re right, it’s not hard to find or organize such a meeting, but lots of the folks who show up at our coffee hours or bar nights say things like, “I never thought anything like this existed.” There are probably lots of people out there who would like to be part of a community or social group of nonbelievers, but have never considered that they might be around or don’t know where to look for them.

    (I had originally said “a community or social group of like-minded people,” but then I realized that this isn’t always true. We’ve got liberals, conservatives, libertarians, anarchists, etc. all rolled up in our group, and our differences go deeper than just our political philosophies. I think that no small part of the reason that we’re able to get into disagreements without hating each other is that we’re all aware that nobody’s going to pull the “you’re just saying that because you’re an immoral atheist” or “you’re just saying that because you’re a fundamentalist nutjob” cards.)

  • Rieux

    Maliknant:

    I’m a very attractive black atheist. I suggest putting me on billboards worldwide with one of my witty rational quotes. If that doesn’t appeal to the ethnic masses, I don’t know what will!

    I vote for this.

    I do think there’s a risk of starting a trend that would inevitably lead to http://www.nonwhiteatheisthotornot.com, though.

    And Hemant, as he implies in the OP, might wreck the curve. (Just look at those alluring puppy-dog eyes in the banner at the top of the page….)

    ETA: Oh hell, the commenting software turned that into a live link. Who wants to spend the dough to register that URL?

  • Greg

    Thanks Rieux – you proved to me what I suspected – you have no interest in reading what other people have to say, simply to self importantly ramble on about things, declaring yourself the winner in an imaginary debate.

    How nice. I gave a detailed explanation of why atheists are a community all of two hours before your comment, only to see my points ignored and gainsaid by you, as you ruled that “[t]he people saying ‘what atheist community?’ are spot on.”

    You waded into a thread containing an active dispute and declared one side a winner without addressing the other’s contentions. That’s rude.

    You said that, after I had said this:

    If I were replying to you, I’d have used quotations, and your name – as it happens, I don’t think you had made that post when I wrote that – I don’t recall reading it, anyway.

    Summation: I see no point in continuing this conversation.

    So long.

  • Rieux

    Greg:

    you have no interest in reading what other people have to say….

    What an ironic accusation.

    I don’t think you had made that post when I wrote that….

    Yes, well, if you’d bother to do the hard work of (FFS) scrolling upward in this thread, you might see that

    * you made your first post here on “November 18th, 2010 at 3:34 pm [CST],” whereas
    * a comment I wrote, at “November 18th, 2010 at 1:31 pm“—i.e., a little over two hours before your first post—contained material like this:

    [Atheists] can be liberals, conservatives, racists, secular humanists, socialists, communists, nhilists, sadists, etc.

    So can African Americans. So can Latino/as. So can GLBTs. So can disabled people.

    All of the above are cognizable communities because that’s how society treats them. Those groups have even wider differences, ideologically, than atheists do. And yet there are indisputably African American, Latino/a American, GLBT, and disabled communities in this country. For very good reason.

    So. Last night I contended that you had

    waded into a live discussion, paid little to no attention to what was actually being asserted, and nonetheless expostulated about who was right.

    You now respond by reiterating that you don’t “think [I] had made that post when [you] wrote that – [you] don’t recall reading it, anyway.” So to failure to pay attention you plead guilty. What are you complaining about, again?

    Summation: I see no point in continuing this conversation.

    How awful for us all.

    “Conversation”s are difficult to conduct when one party sees no point in “recall”ing, or indeed noticing, what’s going on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    I think I know what he’s trying to say.

    All non-US atheist groups should be inviting me to speak at their conferences.

    I accept your invitation (along with all travel and lodging costs).

    You’re welcome, white people.

    lol. I think you’re on to something there. I’d say you’re welcome but I’m not one of those white people with money and/or influence (not to mention I’m American so hold no sway with groups outside the US) so I’m afraid I don’t have the means to aid you in that endeavor. I can merely wish you luck with it.

    I do try to remember to access Amazon through your link so I help you there.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    @ignoramus012:

    Not in so many words, but there is an undertone of accusation whenever someone says one group or another isn’t diverse enough.

    Pointing out that the atheist community (or atheistic organizations) is not representative of society as a whole is simply pointing out a fact. Pointing out that people who are not mebers of minorities themselves will not necessarily see this as a problem is also pointing out a fact (as you and several other posters here are ample evidence of). That you think these are accusations sounds more like an “if the shoe fits…” situation than anything else.

    The only time a group SHOULD be accused in this manner is if they are actively blocking the participation of those different from them.

    Nonsense. This is way too low a standard to apply. In general you can do just as much harm by inaction as by action, and this is no different. For instance, when people keep repeating that racial equality is no longer a problem, you may not be actively blocking participation. But you are sending a clear message to people from minorities that their experiences don’t matter.

    Besides, why are you complaining about an “undertone of accusation”, while at the same time you’re saying that racism against minorities must be overt before people may say anything about it? Double standard much?

  • ignoramus012

    @Deen

    I never said racial equality is no longer a problem. It clearly is, particularly in America, due to the fact that it often ISN’T overt. Perhaps you are right and my standard was too low, and/ or perhaps I didn’t think through my statement well enough. But, I did not mean to say that “racism… must be overt before people may say anything about it.”

    What I probably should have said was this: simply because there is a lack of minority representation among the atheist community does not imply racism, overt or otherwise. Maybe there simply are less atheists among certain minority groups. Maybe they are less likely to be vocal due to the strength of religious convictions in their communities. Maybe because there are so many white males in the atheist community, others are hesitant to get involved. I have no idea, I’m just speculating. It’s probably a mixture of many different variables.

    I highly doubt, though, that racism is a factor. I’m not saying atheism necessarily excludes one from being racist (I’m sure there are some), but I’ve yet to meet one personally, or find racist (under or over) tones among the speeches, writings, and interviews of the modern atheists to which I’ve been exposed.

    Lastly, I’ll freely admit to tinges of “white guilt,” so perhaps my original post was a bit of a knee-jerk defense mechanism, and for that I apologize.

  • Heidi

    So… who else has seen images of “Privilege Denying Dude” around the web lately? (Google it.)

    Now back to your regularly scheduled argument.

  • UnHolyHandGrenade

    If I may, and I know that this is an article written in the UK, 73.1 percent of Americans are white. It is only natural that if the overwhelming majority of a country’s ethnicity is Caucasion, then any group not specifically affiliated with a specific race will probably have a white majority. It’s not about not having enough “non-white” (this is an extremely broad term, and I disapprove of its usage) atheists, it’s about the fact that the majority of the people in the country are white, so its predictable that the movement’s prime attention-getters are white. There are plenty of Black/Mexican/Asian atheists, it’s just the white chest-beaters who are getting all the media attention.

  • http://www.quietatheist.com Slugsie

    Sorry, but I have to say that this seems all the wrong way round. If ‘minority’ groups don’t feel represented it’s because not enough members of that minority have put themselves forward for representation. NOT because no one has been seeking them for representation. All of our outreach messages are *inclusive*. They don’t – and shouldn’t – target any demographic. All we as the Atheist community care about is … Are you an Atheist? If you are then you’re already part of the community, but it’s up to you to become active or not.

  • Brian Macker

    No Hemant, what he is really saying is that it is the white man’s burden, and therefore it should be a white guy who goes out and makes all the brown skinned atheists want to join groups dedicated to what the don’t share in common. Sorry.

  • Brian Macker

    Fivenyaa,

    For someone all concerned about being polite that was a very impolite comment. Let me return the favor.

    1. Bullshit. PC is about double standards and if it’s about politeness then it is about double standards in politeness. That article was extremely impolite to say the least, as was your comment.
    2. Liar. Kids are getting sanctioned under PC rules at colleges all the time. They are being forced to attend ahistorical one-sided PC courses, etc. Plus I’m forced to pay for PC speech in this direction via taxes. Forcing tribute from me to subsidize your speech is a infringement on my free speech.
    3. Another lie. Read some of the research by Thomas Sowell. When you correct for confounding factors discrimination evaporates as a potential explanation. You are just ignorant on the subject. Why? Because you’ve been indoctrinated under the PC banner.
    4.To quote you “Fucking” Liar

    As for the rest of your screed, well I don’t live in your fantasy world, so I don’t need to abide by it’s rules.

  • Brian Macker

    Deen,

    “Because when you make yourself color-blind, you are closing your eyes to all the racial inequality that is still around.”

    Nonsense, tell that to MLK.

    “We should take the lead in exposing racial inequality – even in our own organizations, even if it would be a minor problem – instead of hoping it goes away by ignoring it.”

    Garbage in this case. There are no litmus tests in being an atheist. You just declare yourself one. None of these groups limit membership based on race.

    Did you even read the guys article. He already is aware that it is a cultural thing when he states: “There are issues that black and Asian atheists face that white atheists do not, for example, greater pressure to adhere to the religion of the communities in which they live. Since first writing about my atheism in public, I have been contacted by a number of Asian people who don’t believe in God but feel they have to carry on the pretence of being a Muslim because they genuinely fear that the consequences of “coming out” would be unbearable. They fear being ostracised from their family and friends, and “not being able to get married”.”

    So what do you want me to do? Barge into their homes and tell them to grow up and abandon their culture? Force religious Muslim women to marry Muslim atheists?

    BTW, that was Thomas Sowell’s conclusion about the discrepancies in income that you would attribute to racism. It was cultural, and he made some very convincing arguments. He provided facts that could not be explained by discrimination.

  • Brian Macker

    Rieux,

    I had to laugh when I read that nonsense about White Privilege Theory. Tidy how it’s unfalsifiable if you truly believe in it (and that contradiction is permissible ala. post modernism). Unfortunately I’m a skeptic, an a pan critical rationalist, and the “theory” is little more that a self falsifying hypothesis. Truly lame.

    But, whatever allows you to shift your moral responsibility onto others. Go with it.

    I’m curious how many other irrational atheists are on the thread that agree with your “white privilege” quotes, from a point of rationality and morality.

    Hands up please. I want you to take responsibility for your error before I point it out to you.

  • Brian Macker

    Maliknant,

    “I’m a very attractive black atheist. I suggest putting me on billboards worldwide with one of my witty rational quotes. If that doesn’t appeal to the ethnic masses, I don’t know what will!”

    I’m not sure if this is sly mockery of the idea that atheist groups are about mingling with others based on looks, or a someone trying to be witty about themselves while buying into the notion that atheism should be advertised like a sports car.

    I don’t think atheism is about who has the better looks. If that were the case the most “prominent atheist” would be Natalie Portman and not some ugly old man who wrote and excellent book on the subject.

  • Brian Macker

    Comments are closed over there so I’m posting here:

    Alom,

    I’m going to fisk you.

    Alom: “these are the names of arguably the most prominent, outspoken atheists and “skeptics” in the world.”

    Well it is the “some” of them, and only if you restrict yourself to the western English speaking world.

    Alom: “There’s something else you should notice – they are all white men.”

    No, the first thing I notice is that you were obsessed enough to include only white men. For instance, you left off one of the most arguably famous atheists, Madeline O’Hare, a woman, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali a black woman.

    Alom: “I was commended for this piece by many women, who felt that what I had written was important and that it was particularly powerful for having come from a man.”

    I’m sure you were, and it is ironic that they thought a male origin was “powerful”.

    Alom: “I really don’t want to come across as an Asian with a chip on my shoulder, so if you’d prefer to hear an argument from a white person about the need for the atheist movement to engage with minority groups, please stop reading now and watch this brilliant lecture by Greta Christina.”

    I guess you think some people prefer to hear from women with a chip on their shoulder.

    I presume at this point that you plan on coming across as an Asian with a chip on your shoulder.

    Alom: “There are issues that black and Asian atheists face that white atheists do not, for example, greater pressure to adhere to the religion of the communities in which they live. …”

    Yes, and many other cultural factors. For example, many Far Eastern cultures are already atheistic, so there is really no need for them to argue the point. One would hardly expect atheist societies in communist China.

    Alom: “These are issues that the white “leadership” of the atheist and skeptic movements have largely ignored because they are not issues that concern them.”

    Care to back that claim up with facts? It’s widely understood, and discussed among these white male atheists that there are very different cultural pressures for Muslims. How about you read before you accuse.

    You know it really doesn’t help make you look like you have less of a chip on your shoulder, or less racist, by putting quotes around the word “leadership”. Especially if you are going to throw around baseless claims like they don’t care.

    Would adding quotes around the word help this sentence, “Jewish ‘leadership’ in the banking and movie industries don’t care who they hurt”.

    Your inner racist is starting to peek out. Later when you start accusing them of turning a blind eye to what they should be doing it comes out in full bloom.

    Alom: “But these issues should concern all atheists – because if we are to be a “community”, if, as so many of us want, we are to be given the same standing in society as people who identify with a religious group, then we must ensure that black and Asian people are not just made to feel welcome but actively encouraged to join atheist and skeptic movements.”

    No one sent me a special whites only invitation, or any invitation for that matter. Where do you get this idea that I want to have a community with other atheists. I don’t. No more so than I want to have a community with other people who fail to believe in leprechauns.

    In fact, I dislike a large segment of people who self identify as atheists. I outright don’t like Marxists and think their ideology is evil, I think Objectivists are cultists, and I’m not too keen on hanging out with mystic atheists.

    Alom: “I have been disappointed by the refusal of many atheists and skeptics I know to acknowledge that there is even a problem. Saying “there isn’t a big conspiracy to keep black and Asian people out”, is tragically missing the point.”

    No it isn’t missing the point. It’s true, and relevant.

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

    They are free to form their own atheists societies, and apparently, since you are whining, they don’t. Now why do you suppose that is?

    Could it be that cultural baggage you were talking about. Or the fact that most of them come from cultures that would say, “Yeah, so what, there is no god”.

    Alom: “… This doesn’t make them racist and it isn’t necessarily because they feel white people are racist, it’s just a consequence of the same thing that makes goth kids gravitate towards other goth kids and Asian kids gravitate towards other Asian kids on the first day of college.”

    Ok, so you’ve identified the cause and it’s the Asians choosing not to associate with whites. Again, what’s the problem here for whites? Do you want us to dress up as Asians, put on masks, adopt your accents and cultural idiosyncrasies, all to make you feel comfortable?

    Alom: “While black and Asian people may not be actively excluded from atheist and skeptic 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. Perhaps some people are genuinely unaware of this, but perhaps others are just hoping the problem does not really exist.”

    Perhaps you don’t understand what the word exclusion means, or worse you are trying to coin a intellectually dishonest phrase, unintentional exclusion, in order to assign guilt to white people for your admitted hangups. Unfortunately I know it is not the former. You know that there is no conspiracy to keep out minorities because when it was pointed out to you your reaction was “that’s not the point”. Your very next sentence clarified what the point was, you unease around white people, even ones you presume to share values with. It’s not like you dropped in on a meeting of the KKK.

    Why do you speculate with your last sentence. You give a false dichotomy of being unaware, or in denial of your supposed “problem”. This shows another problem you’ve got. Which is that you don’t listen to people when they tell you something. You’ve been told that atheist societies do not exclude minorities and therefore the lack of minorities is not a problem, meaning not their problem. They are not hoping a problem doesn’t exist. They know a problem doesn’t exist, for them.

    Now that you’ve explained that you’ve got a problem, well it’s not their problem, it’s yours. Apparently you’ve got a problem specifically with white people, since you lump blacks and Asians (meaning I presume ethnic Muslims.)

    You presume that if an Asian showed up at an atheist meeting and it was predominantly black then he’d just sit down and join it. What does that say about you?

    Were do you get these claims from in the first place. Did you sit outside many atheist meetings and count the number of Asians who showed up, looked at all the whites, and turned right around and exited the meetings?

    The only thing I see here is you using the anecdote of your own, and your Asian friends uncomfortableness around whites as evidence about why there aren’t many Asians at atheist conferences.

    Alom: “I have not written this to accuse anyone of being racist, but rather to plead with those who are in a position to do something to stop turning a blind eye to this important issue.”

    The phrase “turning a blind eye” is accusatory, and you are accusing the whites, otherwise your whole article wouldn’t make a damn bit of sense. Your hypothetical Asian who is uncomfortable around whites apparently wouldn’t feel it “wasn’t for him” at an all Asian atheist conference.

    Alom: “I know from personal experience that there are many black and Asian atheists out there who feel very alone – please reach out to them specifically, not generally.”

    I know from personal experience that there are many white atheists out there who feel very alone. You Asians need to stop turning a blind eye to this, [get over your avowed aversion to associating with whites], and reach out to whites specifically.

    However, first you have to found some atheist societies.

    Actually, I never reached out to lonely atheists either, and I don’t even recall any of these groups being about that. There are atheist dating sites, maybe you should bitch about that, oh, wait they don’t send out “specific” invitations to atheists either. Why? Because you can’t tell who is an atheist by looking at them, and the post office doesn’t keep some special mailing list.

    Alom: “religion hurts black people just as much as it hurts white people, in many ways more so’.”

    So do you think that when an white atheist fights against blaspheme law, or blues law, that we are going to somehow sneak into the law, “… is a right for everyone except blacks and Asians”?

    You’ve got some serious problems for sure, with whites, because of their race. That’s not my problem, it’s yours. I don’t believe in the white mans burden. Apparently you do and that’s racist.

  • Brian Macker

    MikeTheInfidel,

    You have things exactly backwards about Tony. It was Alom who suggested whites take the reins. That’s one of the reasons I thing his article racist.

    Your rationalizations were illogical and weak.

  • Brian Macker

    Chicago Dyke,

    Mike, my brother. heh. you’ll never make them understand.

    Sounds like a direct quote from the quran about non-believers. Translation: Don’t bother arguing (especially if you are losing) because these [ethical] subhumans aren’t worthy.

    “those poor, oppressed white guys. they are just so sure that the fact that niggers and dykes like me can speak openly, and poke holes in their racist, stupid arguments are allowed to exist? to them, it’s the End of The World.”

    No one called you a nigger or a dyke, except you. Play the race card much?

    Sorry to tell you this but Mike didn’t poke any real holes. Mike is blissfully unaware of illogical the white privilege argument is. Apparently you too.

    Mike made no racist argument. That’s all in your imagination.

    The rest of your comment was a fantasy argument you were having the white racist homunculus you keep in your brain.

  • Brian Macker

    Tony,

    If your first comment hadn’t included the word “whitey” I would have approved, but the guy never said “whitey”. You played the race card just like Chicago Dyke.

  • Brian Macker

    I wonder what Alom would think if I moved to India and joined whatever skeptic organization they have over there and said, “Ya know, I’m not comfortable around all these Indians, could you guys please invite more white people?”

    • http://twitter.com/hyperlocavore hyperlocavore

      I am white – and used to working in more diverse groups… It is a plus all the way around. I am over this false equilency dance in defense of what is a *NOT GOOD* situation for any group that wants to be a movement to be in. This is not about me, my needs as a “white person.” If you want to have a REAL movement you want to have a welcoming, diverse, collaborative and supportive network of people who work on things together. This is how movements attain their goals. Also…diverse groups are healthier, more fun and generally a much better place to be. Not sure why you need to fight this….but it’s about you. My question is always…how can we do this better?

  • Brian Macker

    MikeTheInfidel,

    You say, “Tony, it is not about you.” and stress “And again: it’s not all about you. You’re the one who made it about you, so don’t get huffy when people object to you doing so.”

    Care to support those false claims?

    Is not Tony classified as white? Did not Alom say there was a problem he’s noticed with whites. Didn’t he say that whites don’t care? Didn’t he say we should all behave a certain way and that whites weren’t pulling their moral weight.

    When you denigrate a group how do you figure that the individuals in that group have not been targeted?


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