An Excerpt from Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars

Despite all the press we’ve seen in the past few years, the number of atheist books on the market is still pretty small.

It’s even rarer to see a book about atheism from a female perspective.

It’s even rarer still to see a book about atheism from a black female perspective. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the only person who comes to mind. But I’m happy to say there’s now someone else contributing to the literature.

Sikivu Hutchinson is about to release a book called Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars (Infidel Books, January 2011).

An exclusive excerpt from her book is below:

The counting starts as soon as my friend and I step foot in the convention hall. One, two, three, a negligible four, hovering tentatively at a vendor table, darting past with averted eyes. We can tick off the number of people of color at the 2009 [Atheist Alliance International] convention in Burbank, California on one hand. We savor the old familiar counting game ruefully, sardonically. Having both attended predominantly white universities and sat on nearly all white boards we’ve become experts in the anthropology of white settings. The laser-like stares that people of color elicit from curious whites in protected communities. The feeling of black hyper-visibility and invisibility. The specter of white folks’ oblivion to the history and power of white crowds. The creeping sense of being transported back in time, to a galaxy not far away. Though a few minutes away from downtown Los Angeles’ ethnic polyglot, Burbank is a largely white professional enclave dominated by TV studios, industrial parks, hotels, strip malls, awkwardly configured streets, and an airport. Like similar cities in L.A. it has a robust history of racial profiling and segregated schools. So, coming in to the convention we know the drill. But the thriving online community of atheists of color has led us to have higher expectations for some “real time” presence.

As in most social movements before them, people of color in the atheist and humanist movements are constantly being called on to school, teach, and otherwise “mentor” white folks wanting guidance on matters of race and “diversity.” Such tutorials can get tiring and enraging for even the most patient “native informant” guiding her charge out of the “Eden” of innocence and white entitlement. Reflecting on her experiences working with predominantly white humanist organizations, Mercedes Diane Griffin of the [Institute for Humanist Studies] recounted the ritual of “turned heads” whenever she enters the room at humanist conferences. Accustomed to being the sole person of color at many of these confabs, she believes that the Eurocentric emphasis of humanist atheist discourse is symptomatic of the racial schisms within American society as a whole. Noting that the contributions of women are also given short shrift in leading secular organizations she commented that:

(The) [American Humanist Association] and Secular Coalition of America…are best suited to normalizing humanism within the broader context. These organizations are the most progressive in terms of engaging women and younger people in the movement and in leadership roles. However many of the other organizations are dominated by older people and it is very much a good old boy’s network. When women speak it’s as if they’re talking to the wall. People don’t second their motions, people challenge their authority. The issue of women not being taken seriously in the humanist movement is very real. Women are not brought in as speakers, they’re not in leadership roles. Humanist organizations need to adopt a concrete plan of action to make women visible in the humanist secular movement.”

Similarly, Naima Cabelle, a long time activist in the Washington D.C. secular humanist and atheist communities, notes, “I’m concerned about the entrenched white male establishment found in national secular organizations. There seems to be no room for any form of leadership other than their own; no room for any ideas other than their own. Likewise…too few African American atheists have come forward to actively support efforts to promote atheism, build alliances and friendships even with each other, and to begin to work to build a foundation which promotes transparency, openness, diversity, and activism in the secular community.”

Being marginalized is not a revelation for most African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American folk accustomed to invisibility in all white institutions. For example, despite conservative claims of a left wing academic “mafia,” buttressed by preferential treatment toward so-called minorities, American academia remains a largely white preserve powered by cronyism, favoritism, and affirmative action for white elites. The majority of tenured faculty, permanent administrators, presidents, and chancellors at American universities are white. The struggle that academics of color frequently face getting hired and getting tenure has negative consequences (particularly in predominantly white fields like science and engineering) for recruitment and retention of students of color. Tenure, publication, conference presentations, and participation in committees determine status, visibility, and career longevity in the academic community. All are key factors in the dissemination of scholarship. So it is no coincidence that many of the major figures and spokespersons in the humanist atheist movements come from academia (such as Oxford, Tufts, Stanford, and the University of Minnesota), where they have benefited from the ivory tower politics of faculty recruitment, hiring, and tenure. Yet for some reason many white atheist humanists believe that just being an atheist magically exempts them from the institutionally racist belief systems and practices of the dominant culture. In other words, why the hell do we need to be culturally proficient when we’re the masters of the universe?

Cultural proficiency is an approach that is used to train educators about the influence of culture on teaching and learning. It is based on the belief that there is a dominant culture that affords advantages and disadvantages to individuals and communities based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, and class. It holds that these advantages and disadvantages come from systemic institutional practices, and not what white anti-racism activist Peggy McKintosh has characterized as “individual acts of prejudice.” In this regard “systems of oppression and privilege are the societal forces that affect individuals due to their membership in a distinct cultural group. Systems of oppression do not require intentional acts by perpetrators; they can be the function of systemic policies and practices.”

Becoming culturally proficient involves more than just acknowledging that racism exists, and being able, as a white person, to move on. More specifically it involves developing critical consciousness about how white supremacy (in concert with other systems of advantage and disadvantage) informs the way power and authority are constructed locally, nationally and globally. Greta Christina summed up the prevailing attitude of whites irritated with critiques about the whiteness of the atheist movement as “How dare you accuse me of unconscious racism and sexism — I’m not the problem, the unique personality and culture of women and people of color is the problem?”

And why would it be otherwise when American society naturalizes white supremacy? During the AAI convention an older white man approached me and lamented how wrongheaded religious blacks were. Speaking in a hushed confidential tone, he proceeded to tell me that religion was the primary cause of intimate partner violence among African Americans. It was a tragedy that more blacks didn’t realize it. He was clearly an expert on all things Negro because he’d taken black history classes in college, a tidbit that he revealed in parting. In the era of Obama and hip hop, becoming an “expert” on blackness doesn’t require any special talent. It is one avocation that many whites seem eager to claim as existential sport and national obsession, salting their dialogue, when they want to be bold, nasty or dangerous, with “black” dialect, “black” inflections, and “urban” pop culture references. Blackness is a body of knowledge, because as Frantz Fanon said, “the white gaze, the only valid one is already dissecting me. I am fixed.” In his classic meditation Black Skin White Masks, Fanon considers the violence of the white gaze as a means of asserting universal subjectivity, transforming black bodies into objects of knowledge. Hence, Western empirical traditions enshrine blackness as a known object while whiteness remains epistemologically “mysterious.”

It’s sad to say, but I’m still surprised when women tell me about sexist things that have happened to them in the atheist community — I’m surprised because I didn’t notice them happening. An awkward stare, a dismissing of an idea, a degrading comment, a full-on proposition, whatever. I feel like I should be more cognizant when those things happen as someone who’s aware of the problem, but it turns out I’m as guilty of ignorance here as anyone else. Even as a minority myself, I can’t claim to know what it’s like being a black atheist.

So I can’t wait for this book to come out. It’s a perspective I’m not used to hearing about and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from it.

You can get your hands on a copy of the book, but it won’t be easy.

I’m asking for your stories.

Tell us about a time when you felt excluded from an atheist group. Or a story about someone you know who felt excluded. Or, hell, a story where you were the one doing the excluding (knowingly or not).

Or perhaps a group you were involved with did something to make sure people didn’t feel excluded. What did you do?

In any case, if you’re living in the US and you’d like to be in the running for a copy of the book, just put the word “jacket” at the end of your comment and I’ll contact you next week if you’re the winner!

  • bigjohn756

    I was glad to see, at last, more Negros(am I still allowed to use that term?) at TAM8 than at TAM7. And, guess what, they were just like anyone else I met at the conference…DUH!
    I did not, however, get to say hello to a certain young, brown man I admire and wanted to meet. I’ll get you this year though Hemant.

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

    I’m an atheist of color, though my literal color is light enough that I usually pass without drawing too much attention. In a way it’s frustrating, because the more obviously “ethnic” (I hate that euphemism so much) people tend not to take me seriously when I talk about issues facing minorities, in much the same way Sikivu felt toward the older white man she spoke to at the AAI convention.

    Our atheist meetup group is largely white, but that’s honestly no fault of our own. We don’t advertise beyond Facebook and Meetup, so it’s not like we’re targeting/excluding anyone intentionally – though to be fair, those two media may by their very nature attract a different crowd than others like radio, newspaper, Craigslist, etc. ads would. We do have a few other minority atheists who regularly attend our get-togethers, and I haven’t observed any of the sort of weird fascination Sikivu described in the excerpt. Maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention… but maybe it’s also not happening here. I would hope that’s the case, but it might be a good idea for me to keep an eye out for it.

  • ThatOtherGuy

    I never did understand why people of african descent, descendants of people who got ripped from their homelands, were so quick to adopt the religion of their oppressors.

  • Lysistrata

    As for women authors they were at the forefront writing before the horsemen showed up-
    Jennifer Michael Hecht -Doubt
    Susan Jacoby -Freethinkers.

    Great example of how women are marginalized in the Atheist movement. These writers don’t even come to mind when people think of Atheism.

  • http://moltosostenuto.blogspot.com vltava

    I’m quite aware of Sikivu Hutchinson. I follow her excellent blog, blackfemlens.

  • Justin

    I’m not the typical aged college student, I’m 28, so when I first starting showing up to my local university’s atheist club meetings, I was getting the stare for a while whenever I walked in the room. I guess I didn’t really feel excluded, more uncomfortable than anything.

    But as expected, within a month the rest of the group was befriending me on facebook and even starting inviting me to their parties and such. So yeah, not really a tale of exclusion, but its the best I could come up with.

  • Siobhan

    MikeTheInfidel: We don’t advertise beyond Facebook and Meetup, so it’s not like we’re targeting/excluding anyone intentionally – though to be fair, those two media may by their very nature attract a different crowd than others like radio, newspaper, Craigslist, etc. ads would.

    By limiting your outreach to computer-based communication, you’re automatically selecting a predominantly white (and relatively affluent) audience.

    On another note… I read things like the excerpt above, and I am dismayed. I know this stuff happens. I’m a woman working in tech. Just like I know women are marginalized in tech, and I’ve experienced how pernicious this can be, I’m still as puzzled as Hemant about the whole race thing. It boggles me that it still is even an issue, after all this time.

    What I’d like to know is (and perhaps this book will tell me) HOW do I STOP being the sort of person that people of color tell anecdotes about? What can *I* -do- about this “stare” thing (that I’d never heard of before?). As far as I can tell, I look at everyone around me (probably because I watch way too many spy shows/movies and I like to pretend I’m a spy way more than is probably normal).

    I try not to stare at anyone in particular, simply out of general civility, but I just like looking at people. I try to acknowledge people with smiles and nods.

    I never know if I’m “doing it wrong”. Or making people feel singled out, or ignored. WHICH am I supposed to do? How can I tell what the right thing is? I don’t WANT to be acting on unconscious biases, but I know I am. I strive to be aware of my biases, and to stop or mitigate, but I very often have no idea what the correct behavior is.

    I read loads of stuff that tells me how wrong this, that, or the other thing are, but I very seldom see anything that tells me what I should be doing that would be right.

    Probably it’s not an easy answer. Maybe it’s as varied as every human situation, and I can’t know what the right thing is. I just wish I could get cut some slack because I try, even if I get it wrong, but why should I when so many people get it wrong out of pure ignorance or pig stubbornness?

  • Mike G.

    As a christian, I get tons of blank stares every time I tell everyone at my local atheist meet up about God’s love for them despite their obvious hatred towards him.

    Once I told them how they’re all going to hell if they don’t accept Christ’s love. They kicked me out! I think I forgot my jacket….

  • allison

    Well, the last AHA conference I attended was long ago……young, female, and willing to volunteer to help out, I got stuck on coffee duty for the entire time I was able to attend. This despite the fact that I didn’t drink coffee and had never made it on my own before. I enjoyed talking to the people I met in the break room and didn’t mind learning a new skill to help out, but I would’ve liked to attend a talk or two as well.

    Gotta go! My kid is outside, and I forgot to tell him to put on his jacket.

  • gwen

    I am a middle aged black atheist, second generation to boot. With third generation atheist children. Whenever I go to an atheist meeting, we are ALWAYS the ONLY blacks in the room, no matter the size. Ben Radford came to our town last year, with one of the SGU crowd. I am a big fan of both podcasters, so when a skeptics in the pub was announced, we were determined to go. When we went to the very crowded pub, and attempted to look for the skeptics, we were met by very uncomfortable stares of people who looked like they were assuming we were lost and could not possibly be coming to a skeptics meetup. It was so uncomfortable we left without meeting or even seeing either of them. I don’t know if I would attend a Skeptics in the Pub again. At the meetings, at least we are familiar faces… Jacket

  • Claudia

    I never did understand why people of african descent, descendants of people who got ripped from their homelands, were so quick to adopt the religion of their oppressors.

    They didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter. They weren’t asked to convert, they were ordered to do so and failure to do so could lead to extremely ugly consequences. In any event even if African Americans reverted to whichever supernatural beliefs their ancestros held I would hardly call that an improvement.

    I’m particularly interested in the issue of black people “mentoring” whites on issues of diversity. I can appreciate how this can become tiring, but I wonder then what the writer reccomends as a solution? The only way to get us whites to kick our bad habits is by having them pointed out to us. Sadly atheists of color aren’t numerous enough to do this on their own, so ideally they should have white allies who can be educated to identify and root out prejudice. However this would be much easier with some training from people of color. I know this ironically can have the effect of tokenizing the individual, but until more people of color enter the movement, it would seem that the single most useful thing an atheist of color can do (unless they are specifically trained like Tyson or Hirsi Ali) is help make the community more welcoming for people of color. I’m pretty certain most atheists mean well and I’m also sure that many would be happy to unlearn bad racial habits.

    Can’t wear any jackets, because I’m not in the US :-(

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    This sounds like a really fascinating book, and I also like to read books from a different perspective. My family’s from India and I’m female, so I’ve had the experience of being the only one (or one of few people) in a particular group with a different skin color.

    I’ve never felt that someone I know in my own life was actively trying to discriminate against me due to my skin color. I live in an area where there is a decent sized population of people from India and their families. However, I have felt that certain politicians, tv personalities, etc. were being discriminatory.

    I do remember that when I was in AP Biology, a boy in the class commented that he thought a different girl (who was African American) would have an easy time when applying to college, etc. due to her race. I found this discriminatory (though I’m ashamed to say I did not say so to him at the time). She was very intelligent and it made me sad that someone would look past her good grades. I find it insulting that there are people who think that a minority person must only have gotten ahead to due to special treatment. I think this is somewhat related to what Hutchinson writes in this excerpt, since any attempt to encourage more people from minority groups to go to college is seen as unfair.

    I can understand what Hutchinson means when she says it can feel weird when people look at you when you’re the only one with a certain skin color in a group. It can feel like others may be judging your entire group based on what you do. I think people might automatically assume I’m Muslim (or maybe guess that I’m either Muslim or Hindu) based on where my family is from.

    For me, being treated differently due to my gender has been a bigger issue, especially when people give me advise based on my gender. For example, when I was in high school and applying to colleges, I often got advise about which careers are “good for girls” from some religious family members and family friends.

    I’ve never been to an atheist meeting or organization, so I can’t really comment on how I felt there. I’ve always felt welcome when commenting on blogs, discussing issues online, etc. (The site that has the worst, most discriminatory comments section I’ve seen is YouTube. I tend to watch the videos and ignore the comments section.)

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    bigjohn756: Sikivu was using the word “Negro” with a sardonic tone — i.e., this supposed “expert” was so uncouth that he would use the word Negro when declaring his expertise on black culture to a black person. (He probably didn’t really say it, but she is using this slight exaggeration to demonstrate how poorly a smarmy declaration of hipness to black culture is perceived by a black person.)

    So, the answer to your question is no, unless you want to be perceived as a relic of the 1950′s, or (at best) as a well-meaning but unintentionally racist buffoon. Even a sarcastic usage of the word “Negro” by a white person can be difficult to pull off effectively, because a sarcastic tone is often overlooked in writing, and the default assumption that you are in fact a bigot is often taken at face value.

  • http://happyatheists.com SlickNinja

    Our atheist group here is in the minority as having more females than male, and more of the elected body as female than male. However, that said, we’re largely white bunch. Truth of the matter I must say, is that ethnic minority + atheism = double minority. If I’m not mistaken, even in 2010, well over 70% of the US still identifies as white. Just in a numbers game, especially in a very white state like Oregon, we’re just gonna have a lot of white people.

    Also based on religious affiliation over ethnicity, some ethnic groups are waaaay more religious than others. Asians and Whites have the highest percentages of non-religious, where as African Americans are on the other end of the spectrum. It’d be great to have variety to our faces, but while her criticism may be somewhat true, we’re also dealing with larger cultural issues that are beyond just our atheist communities.

  • http://www.alejohenaophoto.com Alejo Henao

    I am hispanic atheist, born in Miami, FL. I served in the U.S. Army as well.
    I’m unsure which one of those two factors has provided me more challenges as an atheist.
    My entire family is extremely religious, just as much as the average South American household, and it wasn’t easy for them to deal with my direct questioning that started as early as the age of 11.
    Catholic school was interesting to say the least. It was the best choice for a decent education in Colombia where I grew up, so I pretty much had to fake it just to go unnoticed.

    The military was probably the most hostile environment I had to deal with as an atheist. The problem is this: It is OK in our society to be bashful and hostile to atheists. People don’t even try to hide it or tone it down. It is encouraged and widely accepted to exclude those of no faith.
    I remember in my early years as a service member that those who didn’t attend the religious services on sundays had to clean. We were given the worst “details” of the week and I remember in an occasion being mocked by a supervisor who said: “I bet you guys wished you believed in god now eh?”. To which I replied: “I bet you are glad he doesn’t exist to judge you for that jackass comment”. Needless to say, I had a long time to think about that one during my “extra duty” but it was worth it.
    When I was issued my “dog tags” I was told I needed to put something in the religion line. Since “Atheist” apparently was not permitted (this was that clerk’s call by the way, not ARMY policy as I later found out) I opted for “Shaolin Monk” and kept it that way for 9 years of service. I grew fond of those tags and still wear them today.

    The hispanic community is very tight in the military. Families usually invite single soldiers over their homes during the holidays.
    I remember a particular high-ranking hispanic individual who I worked with coming to me once and explaining why I was the only person of our team not invited to his holiday party.
    “I don’t understand Henao, you are such a nice individual. You volunteer for charity more than any of us, you like to spend thanksgiving helping out at the shelters, hell!, you don’t even eat meat for christ sake! Yet I heard you don’t believe in god. My friend, you sure are strange! I like you and respect you very much as a soldier, but I don’t think it sends the right message to my children to have you over for dinner. I hope you understand and know that anytime you want, you can come with us to church.”

    By the way, these anecdotes pale in comparison to all the great experiences with other people I’ve met, many of them christians, who were the absolute opposite and welcomed me to their homes with open arms. They never once pressured me to attend church but made it clear I could come if I ever felt curious about it.

    I had a friend in the ARMY who was black, gay and a southern baptist. He used to say to me: “I know I am going to hell because I am gay, but I still believe in the lord and I want to go out praising him.”

    I guess I was the strange one after all…

    and jacket… (couldn’t think of anything clever to say)

  • Inferno

    I never did understand why people of african descent, descendants of people who got ripped from their homelands, were so quick to adopt the religion of their oppressors.

    Check out the video “Science and Faith in the Black Community” on RDF’s Youtube. It answers that question at some point. The short answer is that there is an inherent need of an oppressed mass to become like the oppressor in an attempt to elevate itself and make itself more acceptable. It’s conditioning, the same way smacking a child every time he does something bad will eventually get him to change his behavior. That’s the reason that you see them as much if not more vitriolic against gay rights and atheists than their white counterparts. I’m sure that as the rest of the Bible Belt changes in terms of views towards minorities then you’re going to see a corresponding change in them as well.

  • Gander

    I didn’t yet even know we had a real “community” that…like….”communed”. Even less so that we had one that was ready to exclude (whether by meaning or default).

  • Tizzle

    @Siobhan –

    I’m not sure why you’re staring at people. Are you shy? If so, then work on shyness in general.

    As to making black people feel welcome at a group…I have gone up to black people at my local gay bar and said hi just cause I was so excited to see them there. If you want black friends, say hi to black people. Simple as that. When I was a church-goer, I used to say hi to anyone new. I try to apply this skill to other situations, although I do get shy and sometimes it’s difficult.

    A part that stood out for me in this excerpt: that white folk will sometimes try to be cool by talking like black folk…this is funny to me. I always speak as I am, as I normally do; it doesn’t prevent me from making friends with anyone but Republicans. White people really don’t have to prove that they are cool or hip to talk to ‘minorities’. Just talk about whatever floats your boat. Science, maybe?

    Actually, the nearest I felt to excluded recently was at a party full of breeding straight white couples. I kept having to bite my tongue. In my normal crowd, talking about children is always done with loathing. I was not excluded, by anyone there exactly, but I felt a bit awkward. I looked at it as a personal growth experience….look at me – making new kinds of friends, ha.

    jacket

  • thatblackgirl

    I think I’m probably out of the mainstream in most of my self-identifiers, so I know exactly what Hutchinson is talking about in being the “only” in the room. I had to steel myself to others’ stupidity and insensitivity, probably to my detriment: my initial internal reaction now to people I don’t know is not “hello” but “what dumb thing are you going to ask”?

    jacket (with matching skirt of an appropriate length)

  • Lana

    Your final comment, about not always recognizing sexism when it occurs around you, really resonates with me.

    I remember once trying to explain to a close male friend the systemic fear of rape taught to all women. The conversation, horrifyingly enough, came up because he felt the rape scene in a film (Descent w/ Rosario Dawson) wasn’t “horrific enough,” due to it’s lack of physical violence.

    That conversation was when the meaning of the phrase, “______ privilege” became suddenly, viscerally real to me. Somehow, despite the sexism entrenched in my religious community growing up, I had always felt that all people know it is right to treat everyone equally, it’s just entrenched habit that propagates exclusionary behaviors.

    For the first time, I realized that part of the whole racism/ sexism/ classism dynamic is a complete and utter inability to see where the victim is coming from. When I tried to express my horror about this conversation to my husband later, he sympathized — but I could see the bafflement in his face, the confusion as to why this was an issue for me. He knows I’ve never been raped, so why would it be so disturbing? It simply didn’t compute to him that all women live with the fear of rape on a daily basis to some level. All women unconsciously check dark shadows when walking to their car, all women make sure their keys or something other defense is at hand when walking through an isolated area. It’s just how we’re taught to relate to the world: in a context of rape, violence, and sexual harassment.

    Obviously, life isn’t horrible for most women, and by pointing out that this is a constant thread throughout our lives, I’m not by any means downplaying the advances we’ve made.

    But it’s interesting, because when I try to point out that there can be improvement, I get, “Can’t you be satisfied with how far women have gotten? I don’t see any sexism where I work!”

    Ever since that rape conversation incident, I’ve always wondered what levels and layers I am missing — what daily assumptions I simply cannot comprehend — when it comes to racial conversations. There is a thread of white male privilege running through my world that I have only begun to really see in the last decade, although I’ve been aware of it my entire life. And there is a thread of white female privilege that must run through my world, and I am as unaware of it’s effect on others as many men are of the effect they have on women.

    It’s fascinating and interesting and heartbreaking all at once.

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

    Siobhan:

    By limiting your outreach to computer-based communication, you’re automatically selecting a predominantly white (and relatively affluent) audience.

    Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about.

    Mike G:

    As a christian, I get tons of blank stares every time I tell everyone at my local atheist meet up about God’s love for them despite their obvious hatred towards him.

    Har de har har. Maybe part of the staring is a reaction to the detection of the superior attitude that comes with (intentionally?) misinterpreting someone else’s position in accordance with your own worldview.

  • http://chunkymonkeymind.blogspot.com/ Palaverer

    I am female and the president of the SSA affiliate group on my campus. Our vice president and treasurer are also women, so we’re pretty inclusive in that way. We have only one person of color in our group (also female) but as we are a small group and the school is mainly white, that ratio is to be expected.

    I would like to address any issues or feelings of that one woman of color, but I’m not sure how to let her know that without making her feel like all I see is her skin color (frankly, I’m not even sure what race she identifies as). I’d also like to see more non-white people join the club. I’m not sure what the appropriate ways to address these are.

    I am very interested in the book.

    Jacket.

  • Frank

    Judging by this excerpt, it looks like this book isn’t much more than a rant about being marginalized with lots of big words but very little substance. In just one paragraph here Hutchninson accuses all of academia of being racist without a single example. The closest thing to a concrete fact that she presents to support her position is that “The majority of tenured faculty, permanent administrators, presidents, and chancellors at American universities are white.” Are we supposed to view that as either a surprise or a problem? I mean, three quarters of the population is white, so I would be surprised and worried if it weren’t the case that the majority of faculty, administrators, and presidents of universities were white. If that and some fancy vocabulary is the best she can do to back up her allegations of racism, I see no reason to read the rest of her book.

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

    I used to moderate the website Atheist Nexus. Once, I made the “mistake” of creating a post where I pointed out how our membership was comprised of mostly white males, and how maybe we could improve that imbalance. I have never received so much hate in so little time, nor received so many accusations of being racist and sexist, as I did that day.

    Apparently it’s discrimination to simply observe that white men are running the show! “I’m leaving the site because of this!” white man after white man proclaimed. “What do you want us to do about all the white men? Force them out? Drag blacks and women in?” I tried making the point that maybe we should start talking about issues that involve minorities more often, with no luck.

    Then, since this was right before Skepticon 2009, I pointed out how all the speakers were white and most were men, and how we could have done a lot more to put some different people up front. “But then we’re replacing good speakers with inferior ones!” (Note that assumption is prevalent in atheism: that by default, blacks and women are inferior speakers.)

    Since then, Facebook has created new groups, and I’ve joined a few (or rather, they invited me in) that are primarily composed of blacks and women, even though I am neither. It is so much more enriching to talk with these groups of people than any others I’ve been with before, because the perspectives vary so much, and I learn so much about what it’s like to be human, beyond what it’s like to be atheist as instructed by white men only.

    jacket

  • http://selfra.blogspot.com dantresomi

    I can’t wait to cop this book.
    and yes i am working on my own.
    i will say that the atheist group i belong to has been tremendously welcoming to me and my family.

    i will say though that there are some issues we need to address as atheists so that people of color don’t make assumptions.

    i think the issue is that white atheists, like most white people, are completely oblivious to the history of people of color in the US and the world. and they tend to forget that science has not been very nice to people of color.

  • Jeanette

    This was a really interesting post, and I am really interested in her book. Thanks for letting us know!

    Alejo Henao, that was a really interesting story! I agree that your awesome comeback was worth it, jackass indeed :)

    Also The Nerd, that story resonates quite a bit with me. I’m always JUST about to think maybe there isn’t much sexism left in the world and things are about even until I see a situation where someone very reasonably suggests maybe getting a few new perspectives (as in, not exclusively white males running the show like you said), and people start going crazy with the racism/sexism. Totally agree.

  • Jagyr

    I definitely don’t have the experience of being excluded due to my race. Hopefully that doesn’t put me out of the running, because I’m hoping that reading this book would be very enlightening for someone like me, who has to constantly remind himself of the privileges he enjoys.

    Jacket.

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    … science has not been very nice to people of color.

    Care to elaborate? In your answer, it may help to distinguish carefully between “science” and “scientists” — and in the latter case between “all scientists,” “many scientists,” “a few scientists,” and “one scientist,” and to discuss whether the niceness or lack thereof in any of the above categories bears any relation to the definition of science itself.

  • Demonhype

    It’s sad to say, but I’m still surprised when women tell me about sexist things that have happened to them in the atheist community — I’m surprised because I didn’t notice them happening. An awkward stare, a dismissing of an idea, a degrading comment, a full-on proposition, whatever. I feel like I should be more cognizant when those things happen as someone who’s aware of the problem, but it turns out I’m as guilty of ignorance here as anyone else. Even as a minority myself, I can’t claim to know what it’s like being a black atheist.

    At least you’re aware that you’re unaware of these things. A lot of people in positions of entitlement are not. And the first big step is to be aware that your experience is not the be-all and end-all of the issue, rather than qualifying it and trying to bend over backward to either justify it or deny it exists.

    I never noticed the subtle digs at skepticism and atheism until I was one. Now I’ll get annoyed at some subtle or not-so-subtle anti-atheist message in a movie and I’ll be accused of “reading things into” the movie and making things up. All my companions, all believers, will insist that there was no such insult in the movie, even when it was blurted out directly and without any kind of veiling.

    And I’ve been accused of that for years as a woman and feminist, even from women who have been trained to ignore that from birth, or to regard such an attitude as “normal”. I’ve even been told by my dad, who technically believes in sex equality, that the glass ceiling is a myth because every boss he’s ever worked under has been a woman–which is not even true, since he’s told me stories of male bosses he’s reported directly to, but exhibits a sad misunderstanding of what the glass ceiling entails. He has also cited examples of a couple of women who make more money than him, therefore there is equality across the board and women need to stop whining. And he cannot see the sexism that is happening all around him. And when I complain about some movie or show in the media that caters to men at the expense of women, or the broad social and media trends that create such a double standard between men and women, my brother gets pissed at me, insists that he’s “not like that”, insists that it’s “just as bad” for men or, when called on that, insists that half-as-bad is just as bad anyway.

    A lot of that has to do with double standards about looks, and the impossible and often artificial standards of beauty for women vs. men, and how any guy who looks attractive to women is immediately dubbed “gay”–in complete dismissal of the vast numbers of women who are saying “this is what I find attractive”, the menfolk say “no, you don’t, little lady, you like a beer-gutted, hairy-ass-cracked jerk, and if you deny that it’s because you don’t know any better and that’s why I have to do your thinking for you, now watch these shows where a supermodel is all over some fat mushroom of a guy.” If I point that out in any way, my brother gets incredibly upset and insists that “not all guys judge women by their looks” and that he, at least, is not like that. So I ask him if he would have gone out with his girlfriend if she had asked him while she was still so fat she looked like a beach ball on top of another larger beach ball, and he hems and haws and tries to sidestep the question while still insisting he’s “not like that”. I kept asking “yes or no, simple question”. He kept refusing to answer, while attacking me at the same time.

    Or that time he complained that the men’s sizes are getting smaller and “you have to be a man-model just to fit anymore!” I simply replied “welcome to our (the women’s) world!” And you wouldn’t believe the viciousness of his attack on me for that.

    These are both guys who are otherwise very equality-minded and can’t stand men who try to control women, and who have both, in isolated situations, mentioned while watching All In The Family that they would hate to have a wife who cringed away and fell silent if they yelled at her, that they both prefer a woman who fights back and speaks her mind even when it’s a pain in the ass at the time.

    But all this has taught me that, as a white person, I should not be dismissive when a person of color has a similar claim or complaint. What really amazes me is when someone can lament their own situation and the dismissal of their own position, but can then turn around and be dismissive of another disenfranchised group. Why is it that all those injustices can happen to you and no one can notice them, but for some reason that other minority/disenfranchised person is just a whiner? Could it be that there are racist behaviors I haven’t noticed because I am white and do not have to deal with that, in the same way that obvious sexism is often invisible to even the most egalitarian man because it is not something directed at him, that he has to deal with? In fact, I think I began to be aware of the casual racism in my family about the time I started in on my feminism–because I had decided that if I didn’t want to be referred to by demeaning sexist terms, I shouldn’t use racist terms.

    And even if it’s something I know for sure I don’t do, I take the advice of Greta Christina: This isn’t about you. If you aren’t one of those men/whites/straights/whatever who does that, that’s great, and no one is necessarily accusing you of anything. Can’t you just let someone from a disenfranchised group complain about an injustice they experienced without having to qualify everything? Just as I’m not necessarily talking about “you” when I’m complaining about social/media sexist trends, a non-white person isn’t necessarily talking about “me” when s/he complains about social/media racist trends–or even complaining about some racist s/he might have encountered at some point. Shut up and listen, you might learn something.

    I have to admit I can be a little afraid to talk to people of color because I am from such an exclusively white background, but in my case I am afraid that I will say something that I don’t realize is racist. I grew up hearing a lot of casual racist slurs and insults, mostly behind closed doors, but even though my parents were generally careful to explain that these phrases were “not nice” and “not to be used in public”, I’m always a little afraid that some terminology might have ingrained itself in there without having been tagged. And I’m a little afraid that the person I’m talking to will be nitpicking my words for any hint of racism–and while I understand why someone might have gotten so sensitive, it is still nerve-wracking. So I find myself thinking “I’m talking to a black person, OMG, what do I say, what do I NOT say!”

    Of course, once the conversation is going and I get a bit unwound, it’s obvious that they are just people like anyone else. :)

    Um, okay, to be fair my brother, at least, shudders with me whenever the casual racist slurs come up. We tried to point them out, but after a few rip-roaring family fights we realized that it’s not something they’re willing to look at. We feel guilty that we can’t do anything, but what the heck can you do? Besides, in the practical sense they mostly are receptive to what we point–when I point out racial disparities in prisons and the application of the death penalty, for example, or how the hysterical indignation of some people over Obama’s presidency is far greater than if he’d been a white man. My mother is a great admirer of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, though she has trouble getting the name right every time. And when they actually deal with an actual non-white person, they’re open and friendly without a hint of contempt–at least, the folks do. I think it’s a residue of having grown up in the fifties for them, as well as the fact that they have little interaction with anyone who is not white to challenge their preconceived notions. The two of us still shudder a bit helplessly whenever we hear those casual slurs, nonetheless.

    My sister, on the other hand, is an unabashed and unapologetic racist, as are my uncles. And I will not even attempt to relate the shit I’ve heard from them, which is not nearly as subtle and insidious as the attitude from my folks.

  • Sean

    Then, since this was right before Skepticon 2009, I pointed out how all the speakers were white and most were men, and how we could have done a lot more to put some different people up front. “But then we’re replacing good speakers with inferior ones!” (Note that assumption is prevalent in atheism: that by default, blacks and women are inferior speakers.)

    Or the assumption was that speakers were chosen on merit, and the results roughly reflect the demographics of interested speakers. So artificially increasing the number of non-white or non-male speakers out of the same skewed demographics would necessitate making sub-optimal merit decisions.

    Now I suppose we could count race and sex as part of ‘merit’ if we think we can’t get more women and non-whites interested — and start to fix the skewed demographics — without picking (otherwise worse) speakers from their own demographic categories. In other words: put speakers up there for their race or sex so later on we can have diverse speakers naturally.

  • Revyloution

    I call myself lucky, in that I was raised by parents who told me that ‘some people have different melanin levels in their skin’. That’s it. Nothing more. Some people are taller than me, some shorter, some wider some narrower, some lighter, some darker. What ever, we’re all people. Being raised like that, I see Emenem and JayZ as the same ‘type’ of person, just as I see Condeleezaa Rice and George Bush as the same type. The color of skin is irrelevant to me. The culture that you come from is the measure that I prejudice you by. And I hold that prejudice lightly. Pre judging someone is necessary, you need to get a hold of who someone is when you meet them. I hold that prejudice lightly though. Once I get to know someone personally, the preconceived notions fall by the wayside.

  • AxeGrrl

    Lana wrote:

    it’s interesting, because when I try to point out that there can be improvement, I get, “Can’t you be satisfied with how far women have gotten? I don’t see any sexism where I work!”

    To anyone who frequents the SGU forums (Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe), this won’t be news, but we’ve had plenty of ‘drama’ over the issue of sexism in the community…

    Sexism in the Skeptic Movement

  • AxeGrrl

    I think that this is a fascinating and hugely important topic. Hemant, I’ll be looking for this book, thanks :)

    And thanks to everyone who’s already contributed to this thread ~ there have been some really thought-provoking comments made so far.

  • http://Religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I found the excerpt and comments interesting and would like to read more about being pre-judged due only to physical characteristics.
    Jacket

  • Siobhan

    @Tizzle:

    I don’t really stare at people. I like to look at them. People are interesting and they do interesting things, sometimes amusing things. I’ve learned a lot about interactions from watching them, and I also learn a lot about sorta “reading” them. It’s not so much shyness… It’s like… Ok, here’s another example of what I’m driving at.

    People in the service, in uniform. I want them to know how grateful I am for what they’ve been doing. The thing is, I see people thank them. Mostly they’re gracious about it. I want to thank them, but I usually don’t because I know people go out of their way to thank them all the time. I’ve had friends in the service say when they’re on leave they won’t wear their uniforms as much because people keep thanking them and it’s annoying/embarrassing. I don’t want to annoy/embarrass anyone.

    So if I go up to and speak with a person of color where I’m at, do they feel singled out, like the white woman is trying to pin them down? Or do they feel included? Sure, in some situations, it’s really clear that what I’m doing is ok. I was at a conference and there was an Indian woman there, we were talking about our problems flowing data to the EPA. It just came out naturally and the situation lent itself to my speaking to a variety of people. I know how to handle that.

    I guess, part of it might be shyness afterall. I don’t go to a lot of clubs/meetings that sort of thing. I’m pretty much a hermit. So if I attend something like that, I’d feel awkward talking to ANYone, not just the people of color who might or might not be there. That awkwardness has nothing to do with them, but will they think it does? What can I do to make them not think it does? I can’t, really. Except to just wear a tee shirt that says “I’m socially awkward, I don’t mean to offend” or something like that.

    Jacket?

  • http://www.youratheistneighbor.blogspot.com keystothekid

    I’m wondering if I have any merit to commenting about this because I’m not a very social person. I don’t really attend any ‘groups’ and I have a fairly small friend circle. But I’d like to bring up one phrase that we should all be familiar with as atheists, “correlation does not imply causation.” Like Frank said, just because the majority of academics are white doesn’t necessarily mean there is some larger conspiracy to keep the minorities held down.

    Also, as far as the story about the kid in high school making the comment that the black chick could get into college easier because she’s black, that’s definitely a silly statement to make. I’m sure her getting in still heavily relies on her academic success, however, when it comes to paying for the education there are quite a few scholarships that are minority only scholarships.

    It reminds me of a time when I was in high school. When I was in second grade my parents decided we needed to be in a better school district. So, after doing research we ended up moving to this town that had a reputation for better public schools. The majority of townies were certainly white. Unfortunately, a lot of them were idiotic rednecks. However, I attended school in that school system from second to tenth grade. Once tenth grade came, my family moved about 30 minutes north of the town I basically grew up in. I was excited about moving from a school district that was 98 percent white to a more 50/50 school. However, I had an insane amount of trouble making friends at the new school. I’d had enough trouble fitting in at my old school because I was a weird little kid. I started getting bullied a lot, mostly by black kids. (I have come to realize that the way that teenagers act, in no way reflects how adults of the same culture act.) Anyway, I told my mom about the situation and she made some calls to try and get me back into school I had left, where all my friends were. The lady on the phone told my mom that it wouldn’t work. The reason it wouldn’t work was because the school I was currently in was about 60 percent African American/Hispanic and 40 percent whitey, and the school I was trying to get back into was so vastly white that the only way they would allow me to transfer back there was if I was a minority.
    So, if I had been any other color besides white, I would of been allowed to make the drive back to the school where all my friends were and graduate with them.

    It was definitely a kick in the nuts. I do realize and believe that something needs to be done in every facet of life to make sure that people should feel included. However, just because someone has had experiences with idiotic white men trying to maintain some sense of power, doesn’t mean the entire atheist community is that way. Also, how much responsibility falls on the people who stand out for being minorities for making themselves welcome? If the author constantly attends these conventions but makes no serious effort to fit in then of course she’s going to constantly feel excluded. Just like if I showed up wearing a dorky outfit and only hung out with my group of other dorky outfit wearing friends. Maybe people wouldn’t approach me because they’re so worried about saying the wrong things or not fitting in with me?

  • Rollingforest

    I agree that we atheists as a community need to reach out to minorities because we need to link up to everyone who agrees with us, helping our numbers grow. That being said…

    Every time I see an article saying that “this organization is very [sexist/racist/homophobic ect]” and the inevitable rebuttal article from the organization saying “No, actually we love everyone!” I know that 9 times out of 10 these articles are going to be almost entire subjective and hearsay.

    Since we Atheists like to call ourselves logical, don’t you think we should do something, you know, scientific to determine the truth of these matters? For example, figuring out whether minority races are given their far share of leadership positions should be easily testable. Even if minorities are rare within Atheist circles, if you take a large enough sample size this won’t be a problem.

    Sampling Atheist groups across the country, record what percentage of the group is of a minority race and what percentage of the leadership is of a minority race. If the second number is considerably lower than the first, instead of looking for people to blame, just work to be more supportive of minorities running for leadership positions.

    A similar test and solution could be implemented for the issue of whether comments from minorities are considered to be of equal merit to those at whites at meetings. This system works much better than the current screaming about who is a “privilege denier” and who is “playing the victim”.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jalyth Tizzle

    @Siobhan — If you’re not the outgoing type, then it doesn’t have to be/shouldn’t be your job to welcome people. No point in stressing out over something that isn’t your forte. If you act the same way around everyone, you’re not doing anything wrong. Don’t let white guilt make you (even more) anxious in social settings.

    Forgive me if I sometimes boil a comment down to what I believe is its essence, for the sake of brevity, but you don’t recognize your point. I do read entire comments. But oversimplifying is something I can’t stop doing.

    @Rollingforest: Science is great, but sometimes all we’ve got to work with are anecdotes. It’s hard to accurately analyze social situations. It’s also hard to accurately pin down people’s motives. I can’t imagine any organizer of any event or meeting saying to themselves “Hmm…how do I exclude black people, and should I allow Asians? They’re pretty much white.” I think if we wait for peer-reviewed articles on this subject, we’ll already be working behind schedule on inclusivity.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    ThatOtherGuy wrote:

    I never did understand why people of african descent, descendants of people who got ripped from their homelands, were so quick to adopt the religion of their oppressors.

    Claudia already pointed out that the embrace of a slave master’s religion may not have been voluntary.

    Furthermore, the Bible and Christianity are both full of diverse and often contradictory messages.

    It would be very common for white slaveowners to quote the Bible passages attributed to Paul that tell slaves to obey their earthly masters.

    It would also be very common for black slaves to incorporate the Exodus stories where Moses says to Pharaoh let my people go and the Hebrew slaves are freed from bondage.

    Same bible and same religion — different messages.

  • GentleGiant

    Tell us about a time when you felt excluded from an atheist group.

    Pretty much every time Hemant digs up a new interesting book and puts it up for grabs… but only for atheists who live in the US!
    ;-)

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    Claudia wrote:

    I’m particularly interested in the issue of black people “mentoring” whites on issues of diversity. I can appreciate how this can become tiring, but I wonder then what the writer reccomends as a solution? The only way to get us whites to kick our bad habits is by having them pointed out to us. Sadly atheists of color aren’t numerous enough to do this on their own, so ideally they should have white allies who can be educated to identify and root out prejudice.

    This issue has come up in a different cultural situation that is predominantly white — Unitarian Universalist congregations and groups.

    Some white Unitarian Universalists will mention that they view the world through a “color-blind” perspective. I hoping that Stephen Colbert’s parody of this idea (“Now, I don’t see race … People tell me I’m white, and I believe them, because I own a lot of Jimmy Buffett albums”) will move people towards some self-reflection before they think about saying something like this.

    Some Unitarian Universalists are working to change attitudes towards race that Unitarian Universalists and atheist groups share — situations like the ones described in Sikivu Hutchinson’s book.

    A black Unitarian Universalist minister named Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley wrote an essay where she talks about who should point out the bad habits that some white folks may have. She said that people of color should not be expected to do the “spiritual domestic work” involved in pointing out these habits. This should be something that while allies should do — we should be cleaning up our own mess.

    For an atheist setting, I’m thinking that this metaphor would work … all one needs to do is change it from “spiritual domestic work” to “domestic work.”

  • Karen

    In the 90s, at my evangelical church, I became involved in the “racial reconciliation” movement that aimed to address racism (subtle and not-so subtle) in the evangelical church.

    It was enlightening to talk candidly about race with other Christians and learn how marginalized they, and black churches in general, had been. The movement still exists, though it ran into some of the same “clueless” opposition (“hey, leave me alone, I’m not racist!”) that Sikivu Hutchison describes here.

    One of our solutions was “intentionality” – moving to invite leaders and speakers of color in white churches where they would not otherwise be included.

    As a woman, I found my input was often ignored or dismissed in male-dominated small groups, both at church and at work, then a man would bring up the same point I’d made five minutes later, and everyone would applaud him.

    I thought I was the only female experiencing this, but I’ve learned pretty recently that it happens to a lot of women. Ruth Ginsberg even complained of the same phenomenon at Supreme Court meetings!

    Oh, and Jacket!

  • http://amillionwordstogo.blogspot.com aynsavoy

    I haven’t tried to join any atheist groups (yet), so I don’t have any stories about exclusion. And I consider myself lucky that no other real examples of exclusion based on my sex (not race) come to my mind easily, though I have been trying my hardest to stand up for others whenever I can.

    I think because I don’t necessarily know what it’s like to experience exclusion based on external characteristics, that this book would be a good one for me to read.

    Jacket.

  • Jay

    It’s been my experience that those who do the oppressing do so without their own awareness, or more precisely from a deficiency in perspective-taking capacity. They simply don’t or can’t imagine the logical implications of their own statements as understood by their audiences. The oppressors sincerely believe they aren’t being oppressive, and will go to great lengths to protect themselves from that terrible truth (often to extremes proportional to the extent to which they believe they are “good” people).

    The key to successfully confronting such oppressors, as either peer or target, would therefore be to disarm their defenses with your initial response to an ethically horrific comment. For example, one of my favorites is to respond to people saying “that’s so gay” with “so it mates with others of its own gender?” and laughing. Humor is particularly effective, in my experience, at disarming self-defense mechanisms; the target of your witty retort is forced to either laugh at their own ill-conceived comment or defend it and look like a total prat. The choice is obvious to most.

    Oh, and in Blink 182 terms, take off your pants and “jacket.”

  • AxeGrrl

    To the request:

    Tell us about a time when you felt excluded from an atheist group.

    GentleGiant replied:

    Pretty much every time Hemant digs up a new interesting book and puts it up for grabs… but only for atheists who live in the US!

    YES! ;)

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @Alejo Henao: Wow. Thanks for sharing, and it was definitely worth it.

    @The Nerd: Concerning people not wanting to talk about discrimination, I think too many people misinterpret someone bringing up the topic as an accusation against them personally. We’re stuck with all these problems of discrimination that we’ve either inherited from people in the past or from other people in our own time, and we’re affected by it and stuck with solving it. It annoys me when people think avoiding the problem will somehow solve it.

    @dantresomi: Do you mean hiring discrimination or misuse of science or science itself? I think it’s important to distinguish, since there’s not actually a scientific basis for discrimination, but there have definitely been people who misuse science to pretend that their discrimination is justified and who discriminate in hiring/school.

    Concerning the “stare” and how to approach someone different in a group (@Siobhan, @Tizzle, et al.):

    I’m sure I do the “stare” thing as well, and the point about soldiers in uniform was a good one. I’ve always wanted to go up to soldiers, police officers, etc. and thank them, but I never do, since I feel like maybe it would be annoying. People may just stare at anyone who’s different, not necessarily due to race. I’m shy, too, so I hesitate to go up to people. However, I’ve found that it’s better to just get to know someone first — talk about anything: books, movies, school, or as was suggested, science. I think the topic of race is easier to talk about if it’s with someone you know. For example, I’m friends with a group of girls at school, and one day the topic just came up of what countries our families are from and it was no big deal. (On the other hand, if someone comes up to me and their first question is about what country my family is from, it’s a bit awkward.) I think it’s easier to talk to someone about race or about what country I’m from if I already know that the person likes me and that we’re friends, so I know they’re asking out of curiosity and not out of a desire to pre-judge me. It’s really amazing to me how we can all talk to each other about so many different things, and despite our different outward appearance, we’re really so similar in so many ways!

    @Demonhype:

    What really amazes me is when someone can lament their own situation and the dismissal of their own position, but can then turn around and be dismissive of another disenfranchised group. Why is it that all those injustices can happen to you and no one can notice them, but for some reason that other minority/disenfranchised person is just a whiner?

    I think that’s an excellent point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 Donna Hamel (muggle)

    so it’s not like we’re targeting/excluding anyone intentionally

    Did they or did they not kick me out of the group within the hour for daring to defend a local blogger for coming out in a manner they didn’t appove of and for criticizing Dawkins? You know damned well they did.

    I’ll give credit where credit is due because a few members did e-mail me and were outraged that I was kicked out for merely voicing a difference of opinion but, overall, the meetup group and its president in particular acted like scumbags.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 Donna Hamel (muggle)

    Also, Mike, the meetups were often arranged in places not accessible to the handicapped. I hopefully made them aware of that before they got pissed off at me for knocking the Atheist pope.

    Any chance this book will make it to Kindle? I’m pretty much sticking with Kindle both for price but also because it’s easier on my arthritic hands and because I don’t want the clutter of stacks of books any more.

    Although I asked for and got “Earth the Book” for the holiday. That one really wouldn’t work on Kindle so I’ll make an exception.

  • staceyjw

    I really want that book- but Ive never been excluded at an Atheist group or meet up. I am a white woman, and all the groups I’ve gone too have had lots of women, several had a good ethnic mix as well. This is in Austin TX (mostly white, but so is the city, lots of women), Denver CO (Lots of women, some non whites), andSan Diego (lots of both women and non whites, YEAY!)

    Jacket

  • AxeGrrl

    Sharmin wrote:

    I think too many people misinterpret someone bringing up the topic as an accusation against them personally. We’re stuck with all these problems of discrimination that we’ve either inherited from people in the past or from other people in our own time, and we’re affected by it and stuck with solving it. It annoys me when people think avoiding the problem will somehow solve it.

    Fantastic point Sharmin.

  • Silent Service

    I’ve had a couple of people walk up to me when I was in uniform to say thank you for serving. It really is embarrassing as you never really feel like you did anything to deserve their thanks. I imagine that it’s much worse for anybody from a non-majority ethnic background to walk into a conference or meeting and get thanked for being the ethnic group member. You may have chosen to join the group where you’re at, but none of us choose our ethnicity. That seems to me like the worst kind of insult.

    It’s like somebody is telling you that they are so glad you are there to confirm for them that they’re not really prejudice. After all, they have you as their friend. How horribly insulting that must be. Nobody wants to be the token friend. If I ever thank anybody for being my friend because of their ethnicity, I hope they pop me in the mouth. It would be well deserved.

  • Vas

    Wow how about pointing out the the Minnesota billboard ads had a “whole lotta white people” on this blog? I (a white guy)mentioned it and some others mentioned it, (I don’t recall their race or gender) and the response was downright hostile, and yet this thread has a very different reaction and tone. One day it’s all about atheists don’t exclude, another day atheists do exclude. The whole thing is baffling. From my perspective it seems white people in general like to pretend white privilege is a myth, I don’t think it is, many don’t think it is, but a whole lot of people seem think it is and are not at all shy about saying so.

    Jacket

  • http://www.dgspeaks.com Mercedes Diane Griffin Forbes

    I look forward to the day when humanism is not just a pretty synonym for atheism and we recognize that through our collective efforts that we can make the world a better place. Only by confronting the barriers of race, gender, and class that exist in our community are we ever going to be able to transcend humanity’s bitter history and build a better world based on humanist principles and values. I believe we are on that path and I can’t wait til we arrive!

  • Greg

    Good Lord, it’s hard to know to begin in responding to all that self-righteous silliness, illogic and poorly-evidenced whining. It is a terrible injustice to compare A.H. Ali’s fine work with this junk. Some poor-old codger awkwardly wants to befriend her and she can’t wait to sneak a “negro” hand grenade into his thinking. She bemoans the fact that minorities participation is skimpy at atheist/skeptic gatherings and just hates all the extra attention she gets…and then she and her tiny band of buddies line up and shoot their own lasers at attendees of color. And somehow, it is a matter of fascination that whites make up the majority of leadership positions.

    I hope the rest of her book is more along the lines of “Nomad” and other well-argued and well-written works, and not some screed sounding like it came from the mouth of that Sarge in in “full Metal Jacket”.

  • http://kaleenamenke.blogspot.com Kaleena

    I’m going to “ditto” The Nerd’s story. I also think that age is frequently used to include or exclude. And I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been in Skeptical groups where I am the youngest by far and currently in a group of mostly young people and I imagine the older folks feel left out.

    jacket

  • Kayla

    @greg

    Actually the author was very clear why she felt the White dude’s comments to her were disturbing as he was generalizing Blacks. Why your reading comprehension is so poor that you didn’t read that is your problem, not the author’s.

  • Grimalkin

    I would say that perhaps the funniest example I can come up with is from a discussion I was having with two other women about how far even atheist communities still have to go in being really accepting of women.

    We were in the middle of talking about how we often felt like the males in the group would just dismiss us, or talk over us, when one of the guys in the organization *interrupts the woman talking* to say that it isn’t true at all and here’s why and why and why, our feelings are unjustified, case closed.

    Thanks for your input, dude!


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