In the wake of the firing of David Silverman after allegations of sexual and financial misconduct, American Atheists has named Nick Fish, formerly the national program director for the group, as the new president to replace him. I find this news to be quite disappointing and it has nothing to do with Fish personally.
I don’t know Nick at all. If I’ve met him, I don’t remember it, though it’s possible. He may do a fantastic job as the executive director of the group. I certainly hope he does. And I’ve heard from many mutual friends that he is a terrific guy, which I have no reason to doubt. But I’m disappointed that they didn’t take the opportunity to appoint a woman to lead the group. Especially in the wake of Silverman’s actions that led to his downfall, I think that would have sent a very important message. More than that, it would have helped bring a perspective that is far too often ignored, dismissed and even denigrated within the broad atheist community.
We need more women in positions of leadership, and more minorities as well. We need to stop being a community led mostly by old white men like me. We need to learn from the experiences of others and hear their perspectives far more than we have to this point. I think we missed a huge opportunity to put someone like Mandisa Lateefah Thomas, Sikivu Hutchinson or Debbie Goddard into a position with tremendous influence and power (I don’t know if any of those three other than Mandisa were even interested in the job, but I think they all would have been terrific choices if they were).
Old white guys like me have a crucial role to play in advancing the cause and fixing the problems within the atheist community, but we can best achieve that by boosting the voices of women, African-Americans, Latinos and LGBT folks and supporting them. By listening to them, learning from them and using the influence we have to help them get more influence.
I’m rooting for Nick to do well, I really am. I hope he is active in making necessary changes at American Atheists. But I think we will regret the missed opportunity here, not because he isn’t a good choice — I have no way of knowing that one way or the other at this point — but because other choices would have expanded the tent and bridged divides in a way that someone like me can’t.