A Great List of British Atheists (Who Aren’t White Guys)

Quick: Name a British atheist!

If your answer was a white guy… well, join the club.

Alex Gabriel has done us all a favor and compiled a really fantastic list of 100 “secular thinkers you should know about, who aren’t white men.”

He adds:

This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with being white or male (I should know), but if white men are the representatives of the secular community, it means staying an isolated, largely male, largely monoethnic community where most of humanity is un- or underrepresented. That has serious consequences for our outreach and effectiveness.

Bingo.

I eat, sleep, and breathe atheism, yet the majority of the names on his list were unknown to me. Which is awesome. It’s like discovering hidden treasure — there are so many amazing activists on this list!

Do yourself a favor and check them out. And if you’re a conference organizer in Britain (or elsewhere, with the ability to bring in people from overseas), consider inviting them to speak at your event.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • JesseS

    Awesome list but… 11 and 15 are clearly white men.

    • just somebody

      Tsk tsk, JesseS. Those particular photos may cause them to *appear* to you as white, but they are not.

      Michael Brooks (#11), a renowned physicist, writes an article here: The Royal Institution Doesn’t Represent My Kind of Britishness in Science in which he notes being of Carribean descent.

      That took me two minutes to find.

      In penance for your assumption, I’ll let you redeem yourself by ‘uncovering’ #15.

      • JesseS

        Since when is being white and being from the Carribean mutually exclusive? You don’t stop being white being from Australia or South Africa.

        • just somebody

          First, if you had taken a moment to skim the article, you would see that it is entirely about the racism Brooks has encountered in school and in his scientific career. That indicates that he — and the people who have discriminated against him — consider him to be a person of color. Perhaps you have some kind of test to which you can subject him to prove to him that, counter to his experience, he is actually white. Please enlighten us.

          Here is another photo of Michael Brooks that might assist your imagination.

          Second, perhaps you are unaware of the very strongly mixed-race population in the Caribbean. Because of this, referring to one’s race as ‘Caribbean’ is a shorthand for indicated a mixed-race background most usually including African ancestry.

          From Wikipedia on Race in the Carribean“:

          “The majority of the Caribbean has populations of mainly Africans in the French Caribbean, Anglophone Caribbean and Dutch Caribbean, there are minorities of mixed-race and European peoples of Dutch, English, French, Italian and Portuguese ancestry. Asians, especially those of Chinese and Indian descent, form a significant minority in the region and also contribute to multiracial communities. All of their ancestors arrived in the 19th century as indentured laborers.

          The Spanish-speaking Caribbean have primarily mixed race, African, or European majorities. Puerto Rico has a European majority with a mixture of European-African (mulatto), and a large West African minority. One third
          of Cuba’s (largest Caribbean island) population is of African descent, with a sizable Mulatto (mixed African–European) population, and European majority. The Dominican Republic has mixed majority, primarily descended from West Africans, Spaniards, and Amerindians.”

          • JesseS

            First thing, you’re distorting your own position by claiming that “it is entirely about the racism Brooks has encountered in school and in his scientific career”. He makes one remark about being called “paki” throughout school, the rest is unrelated to him.

            Second, yah, he still looks white there in that second photo. See the problem is you can make a GOOD argument here that he’s not standard template British (I will but you good money the schoolyard taunting was related to his accent, not his looks), but he’s still a WHITE MALE.

            Third, I’m not unaware that there is a strong mixed race majority in the Carribean, having lived there I’m also aware that there are white people there too.

            If this was an article on minorities in the atheist movement, which would include disabled people, LGBT, white people from non-dominant majority white nations (like, say, Belize and India, but not Canada, the USA, the UK, Australia, New Zealand etc etc), I’d STFU and back away quietly.

            But its not.

            This is an article titled “100 of Britain’s secular thinkers you should know about, who aren’t white men”.

            And this guy is clearly white. Also, if shows a lot just how latent racism can be if you seriously think that being born in the Carribean means you can’t be white.

            He is a white guy, with a white name, with a non-British accent and background.

            Does that make him a minority, sure. Of course.

            But he’s still a white man. Y’know, the thing this list was explicitly NOT listing.

            • Noah Smith

              I think its up to Mr Brooks to decide what race he is. Personally he looks Indian/Pakistani (which would explain the Paki racist comment)

            • just somebody

              First, your point is correct that my wording was wrong. The entire article is about racism, with a small part of it about Brooks’ own experience with racism. I edited my comment and documented the edit.

              Second, if he had a Caribbean accent, he would not have been taunted as a ‘Paki’ for having a Pakistani accent.

              Third, my comment included a description of race in the Caribbean from Wikipedia and my comment noted, “referring to one’s race as ‘Caribbean’ is a shorthand for indicated a mixed-race background.” That is to say, if one is white, one usually refers to one’s race as “white.” Dr. Brooks’ ‘Caribbean’ self-reference means a mixed-race self-reference.

              Finally, perhaps you can view thisvideo of Dr. Brooks being interviewed about his book of scientist biographies (in which he has a very British accent, btw).

              But you are still free to think that he just seems like a nicely tanned guy with Caucasian features, despite all the evidence, including his self-identification.

              • Alex Gabriel

                To clear this up, at least from my point of view:

                1) Adam Barnett’s background is, I believe, Iranian.
                2) Michael Brooks’ is mixed, but partially black Caribbean.

                I’m obviously speaking form a white point of view here, so very happy to be corrected if I’m missing something important, but I think we need to consider that ‘white’ identity is not just about pigmentation. I have a mixture of Romani and Eastern European ancestry which means I have somewhat dark skin for a white person, but I still *am* white in any real sense: I’m practically never read as anything else, whereas I know are people who *are* identified as POCs (and identify that way) whose skin tone is the same as mine.

                Also, it’s worth considering how media representations sometimes favour very flash-heavy images which cause skin tones to look particularly light. Especially in the case of Michael Brooks, I was conscious of this, but also felt that I wanted to avoid choosing a particularly dark-skinned-looking photo to ‘blacken’ him, because his racial identity doesn’t need to validated by measuring how brown his face is. (The one I used is taken from his publisher’s and agent’s profiles of him, and I judged it to be approximately the same as the one on his personal site; Adam Barnett’s is taken from his Facebook page.)

                • just somebody

                  Alex, thank you for coming over here to contribute to this discussion.

                  Also please allow me to thank you so kindly for the useful list you compiled. Twice !

            • Alex Gabriel

              Last year’s list was more broad and inclusive, particularly on queer and trans* people and those with disabilities. I decided to focus on women and POCs this year because I think last year’s ended up denying most of the individual sub-groups enough space by trying to include them all. But I am aware this isn’t problem-free, and I’d be very open to creating the kind of supplementary list you describe, especially if there are people you’d recommend.

              You’re right that I’m white, so it’s very possible there are things I’m not getting here, and I’m receptive to that, but I think we can probably recognise that having paler skin/straight hair/a ‘native’ accent/an Anglo-Saxon name/whatever confers a degree or privilege, while also not using it to invalidate someone’s racial identity?

          • Angelo Angela

            In regards to the Dutch Caribbean, I have to disagree. Aruba and Bonaire have a large population of mixed-race people. Curaçao has a large population of African descent, but even them aren’t pure “black”. The same can be said about St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. In Aruba it’s very common to be a mix of different races. We have a lot of light colored and fair skinned people here, and a minority with darker skin. It’s not a strange thing for a blonde “white” Aruban to have a “black” grandmother or a “black” Aruban to have a white grandmother. The average native Aruban is 40% Amerindian, 40% European and 20% African. I’m als a mix myself of Venezuelan Amerindian, Italian-Venezuelan, Jewish, Afro-Caribbean and Dutch ancestry (and proud of it.) Also people from Bonaire tend to have dark skin with gem-like green/blue eyes.

      • UWIR

        There are white people in the Caribbean (note spelling). And while self-identification is an important part of ethnic identity, public perception is also an important part. Someone who “appears” white does not have the same life experiences as someone who does not.

        • just somebody

          As noted below, Brooks was talking, in that article, about his lifetime experience of racial discrimination because of what he calls his Caribbean descent. Therefore, to many people in his life, he has not “appeared” white and he does not consider himself white.

          Thanks for the spelling assist. (fixed)

    • rg57

      The goal was to create a list that did not contain “old, white, privileged straight men”. Therefore the list should contain people each of whom are young, non-white, without privilege, LGB, or non-male.

      #11 is young.
      #15 may not be white (race is funny like that… it doesn’t actually exist)

      • just somebody

        If you look at the title of Alex Gabriel’s article (linked above), it is “100 of Britain’s secular thinkers you should know about, who aren’t white men.” So the ‘young’ bit doesn’t fit.

        Adam Barnett, #11, is a member of the British Council of Ex-Muslims. By itself, this is not a clear indicator of race, since there are 1.6 billion Muslims around the world of all races. The plurality of Muslims (and, therefore, probably ex-Muslims) in Great Britain are of South Asian descent, but that doesn’t mean Mr. Barnett is.

        With respect to Michael Brooks, #15, you could have read one comment ahead and found my comment and link about Mr. Brooks.

        I agree with your assertion that race, at least scientifically, doesn’t exist in the same way that it exists sociologically. But the whole reason for this list is that it does exist sociologically.

        Further, may I note that it is surprising to me that anyone would seriously assume that a prominent blogger like Alex Gabriel would include on such a list men who do not at least consider themselves to be white and are not considered by Mr. Gabriel to be white. If I saw a picture on a list of non-white people and one didn’t appear non-white to me, my first assumption would not be that he must therefore be white. I would first assume that the photo might be not clear or that I might not be able to discern the race from the photo.

      • Alex Gabriel

        Why are you saying “LGB”, incidentally? Trans* people count.

  • onamission5

    Impressive list! Some names and faces I recognized, quite a few though who were entirely new to me. Thanks to Alex Gabriel, and to FA for boosting the signal, they won’t be new for long. :)

  • Rain

    Great list but some of them could use a haircut.

  • Tobias2772

    Maybe someone more knowledgeable than me could do an American list like this. That would be cool and do some good too.

    • just somebody

      The important point is, Tobias2722, in your assumption that there are folks out there “more knowledgeable than you.” All it takes to become knowledgeable is a bit of Internet research into past conference programs and atheist blogs, and a few emails to some atheist bloggers.

      Obviously, since this list does not yet exist, you can easily become the most knowledgeable person on this subject with a little effort. And if you have a techy friend give you a bit of help to set it up as a wiki, other people can add to it and sustain it. That would be cool and would do so much good.

      • El Bastardo

        If only someone else would create a resource for me to use that’d be great. *sigh*

      • Alex Gabriel

        Pretty sure it does exist – I’m fairly certain I’ve seen lists of atheist POCs and women on blogs like Crommunist, Greta Christina, Blag Hag. Michael Nugent has a long (like, 1000-long) list of atheist women around the world.

  • http://be.net/mattcoddington matt

    /conflicted. The liberal in me commends this list. The skeptic in me wants to argue that race/sex has abso-fucking-lutely nothing to do with atheism.

    • onamission5

      The skeptic in you maybe ought to be wondering why, if race has nothing to do with atheism and there is this quantity of human resource to draw from, the most prominent voices out there are still mostly white dudes.

      • http://be.net/mattcoddington matt

        I have wondered. And I’m sure there’s a reason (I assume something cultural/environmental). Still doesn’t affect who I should pay attention to. When it comes to atheism, I care about the human with the most interesting argument.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Lists like these help me find people who might have the most interesting argument though. I can only read/listen to people I know about, and it’s nice to find perspectives outside the white male one.

          • http://be.net/mattcoddington matt

            I’m embarrassed. In my haste to skip to the list itself last night I didn’t notice the list is labeled “100 Secular thinkers who aren’t white guys” and not “100 Atheists who aren’t white guys” as Hemant’s blog title for some reason suggested.

            Atheism is just science and philosophy, and while there’s a discussion to be had about why there’s more famous white-guy atheists than not, I don’t see how there could possibly be any racial or gender “perspectives” on atheism. That’d be like arguing a black guy has a different “perspective” on gravity or objective morality than a white guy. Makes no sense.

            Secularism, however, is completely different of course since it involves politics, economy, etc etc etc. Race/gender perspectives are obviously important when discussion secularism. And that’s what this list is about, “secular thinkers” not simply “atheists”.

            I apologize and retract.

            • Alex Gabriel

              There may not be black perspectives on “atheism”, but there are *definitely* black perspectives on “being an atheist, in the real world”. Read for example the stuff Siana, Clive, Leo, Yemmy or Lola have said about accusations of being un-African, or a ‘coconut’ (brown on the outside, white on the inside), or a cultural traitor; or just generally, how in the UK, black populations are often significantly more religiously observant than others, and being an atheist there can mean facing more pushback of the kind white atheists in the U.S. often encounter.

              Also, I didn’t say you should pay attention to these people because of their gender or race; I said the opposite. The fact they’re not white men isn’t why you should notice them – you should notice them because they’re talented, interesting, articulate and relevant – but it’s probably at least part of why you haven’t noticed them despite that.

        • Pattrsn

          So you were already aware of these atheists and were familiar with their arguments?

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      The math geek in me would like to point out that while correlation is not causation, correlation is indeed correlation.

  • Robster

    Inclusion! It’s something the other side has no hope, ever of offering.

  • rg57

    It’s a good list, and I’m glad to see so many new names.

    Still, some contributors are much stronger than others (and certainly the order is messed up). Maybe someone can work on integrating the best from this list of 100 into a list of famous British atheists we already know (how many is that, by the way?) who are straight white men, so it’s more reflective of the British population. It helps nobody to maintain separate lists.

    • just somebody

      “certainly the order is messed up”

      Ummm. Alphabetical is ‘messed up’?

      By what other comprehensive criteria and rating system would you propose ranking 100 people including atheists, secularists, humanists, science communicators, skeptics and rationalists.

      “It helps nobody to maintain separate lists.”

      If there were no racism and no sexism, then it wouldn’t serve any purpose. But there is, so it does.

      The main issue is that, for people who were raised in a racist and sexist society (i.e., all of us), the names that come to mind for any list are generally white and male. And so the non-white and non-male people don’t ever get exposure or invitations or fame because they are not invited to speak or write articles or books. Then, because they do not present or publish, they do not become famous. So they do not come to mind.

      So the point of this list is for conference organizers and journalists writing articles and book publishers and such folks with a secular or atheist or skeptical or scientific topic.

      Why? So that, when they are doing their planning and, because they as good people want to fight racism and sexism in themselves and their work, they think, “I ought to include women and people of color,” there is an easy resource for them to help them: a list of folks with varied backgrounds and interests, including research sources and contact information.

      • Ransford Hyman

        Thank you for making this wonderful point. I just had one of those “Somebody truly understands me!!” moments :=)

    • Alex Gabriel

      Why the fuck would we need a list of people we already know?

  • Jennifer T

    “Quick: Name a British atheist!”

    “Name a British non-atheist” would be more challenging.

    • rufus_t

      I’m pretty sure that the Archbishop of Canterbury might qualify. He’s supposed to be deeply religious, as well as being a chronic sufferer of foot-in-mouth disease.

    • baal

      Tony Blair.

  • God

    There should be no conflict of race, sex, or nationality….just a hell yeah that a majority of these people were not beheaded, stoned, set on fire, and most importantly broke free from the chains of their indoctrination.

  • endicot

    A significant (I think) omission: Barbara Smoker https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Smoker

    • Alex Gabriel

      She was on last year’s list, to which this links. :)

  • Kevin Jackson

    I guess what I find disturbing is that I think of you as an intelligent person whose opinions matter to me. I don’t think of you as more or less worthy by your skin color. I know why some groups are underrepresented and it makes sense. I don’t like the implication that we “choose” white guys. Show me another Hitchens of any color or gender and I will feel like I found a lost friend but sadly I don’t think any I have seen are in the same universe. (with perhaps the exception of Stephen Fry)

    • Alex Gabriel

      I don’t think there’s another Hitch, and there doesn’t have to be. Hitch is not the only paradigm for being engaging or interesting. And it’s not that people go “Oh, we can’t possibly have women or POCs at our conference!”, it’s that those were the people who were the biggest figures when the ‘movement’ started coming together, and we’ve kept going back to the same people, which is self-perpetuating: we give the same straight white wealthy cismen exposure over and over because they’re the ones who’ve had the most exposure. I say break the cycle and introduce new people.

      • Kevin Jackson

        At the end of the day, people go to see people whose names they are familiar with. Nothing wrong with coming up with a way to promote other names but if there was a speaking event, it is the recognizable names that draw attendance.

        Stephen Fry by the way is quite gay and also has mental health issues but I think anyone would feel thrilled to have him as a speaker. In the US, I might argue that we have an abundance of gamers and people not in the mainstream. They may not be as appealing to some. I would hope this community cares more about the message than the messenger but the reason that Seth has found a niche is that he is in a different model than what some have grown to expect. What plays at ComicCon doesn’t necessarily play in Oklahoma. We need voices from all areas but a scientist, an actor, an author, a teacher has speaking skills (that is one thing that really aids Seth (the Thinking Atheist) Being angry isn’t enough. There are some atheists I wouldn’t want to be associated with because they seem antagonistic because they like that model. If you turn off your base, you will likely be less than helpful with the general public you are trying to win over.

        Come up with a plan.

        • Alex Gabriel

          I’m certainly not advocating ‘turning off the base’ by not having any white men as speakers! I’m suggesting people who make great *additions* to our current roster of speakers. (Though I’d absolutely be supportive of all-female or all-POC speaker lineups at a dedicated conference for either.)

          It’s true that big names draw attendance, but so do big themes and interesting topics and challenging ideas. And how do big names get big, anyway? Largely being given exposure. It’s perfectly viable, and often incredibly fertile, to put lesser-known people with important contributions to make on panels or group discussions with famous figureheads. And I know I’m not alone in saying that very often, on returning from a conference, the highlight or great discovery is someone I hadn’t previously heard of.

          • Kevin Jackson

            I don’t think I disagree with you. There is a reason Hemant is a known entity, he has promoted himself. Perhaps others should do the same. Your last statement was a bit circular. My guess is that if the person who was the “great discovery” was on a future roster, you’d be more likely to want to go. If you are hosting a conference, that is the first thing that you are trying to do… fill seats. Not much different than a concert series.

            • Alex Gabriel

              Actually I don’t know that that’s true – as someone who has hosted conferences, I wouldn’t necessarily choose filling seats on the day over something going viral on YouTube, or being really influential to future discussions, or changing people’s attitudes. As I say though, people don’t only sign up to talks for the name on the bill. And yeah, absolutely it’s circular that we give people exposure who’ve already had it – that’s why I’m arguing we need to introduce new people who haven’t yet had very much, but deserve some.

              • Kevin Jackson

                We are talking past each other. The going viral person is likely going to be someone on the conference person’s radar or they wouldn’t be invited to speak. Should we try to find and develop more of those people certainly but part of that is on the person and perhaps part of that is on the organizers to educate the audience on why they would want to hear person x speak. If I am going to see someone speak, their communication skills and delivery are what make it worthwhile. Otherwise I can read their blog.

                • Alex Gabriel

                  Absolutely, and there’s no one on this list for whom I couldn’t think of an interested or appropriate speaking gig on particular themes, either solo or as part of a panel. (Moreover, there are several people already – and widely – on the speaking circuit I’d rather read than hear speak, or whom I’ve heard speak lots of times *because* they’re big names, and whom I can go without hearing speak again.)

                  Should we actively look for new people, including ones who might not’ve been noticed in part because of their gender or race? Yes – and I’d like to point out that there are *lots* of people on this list I hadn’t heard of before I started doing research, and whom I’m now crazy about. Certainly a degree of willingness to self-promote is required when you want to be a writer/speaker/public thinker, but I do think a major responsibility rests on leaders and organisers to ‘scout’ for new voices.

  • Gus Snarp

    It seems we have almost an embarrassment of riches: far too many people to keep up with. Fortunately that means that there’s a freethinker for everyone. Whatever your past religion, or the religion you’re beginning to doubt, whatever your ethnicity, sex, gender, or orientation, there’s likely to be someone like you who’s also a brilliant freethinker and can help lead you to rationality, or reinforce your rationality.

  • mcrotk

    I knew there was something I liked about Manjit Kumar… I was halfway through his book (Quantum) when work picked up; looking forward to returning to it when I finally get to the beach in two weeks.


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