Diversity Matters For Skeptical Conventions And Conferences

Diversity Matters For Skeptical Conventions And Conferences April 18, 2017

On an earlier post I said I’d talk about this, so here we go. There’s a lack of diversity among speakers in skeptical events and conferences. And it’s annoying. It’s even worse because this is not a challenging thing to overcome. It’s actually really easy to move past this, not from an activists point of view but from an organizers point of view. Just invite diverse people.

Diversity of race and ethnicity is a simple type of diversity but it still matters. Image credit: pixabay.
Diversity of race and ethnicity is a simple type of diversity but it still matters. Image credit: pixabay.

Why A Lack Of Diversity Is A Serious Problem:

A lack of diversity is a serious issue. A lack of diversity will impede the growth of secular communities. Sure, some people like myself will be motivated by the lack of diversity (or the appearance of a lack of diversity) but a lot of people won’t. A lot of secular individuals won’t be encouraged to celebrate or even voice their secularism so long as we refuse to embrace diverse voices. We need diversity in the secular movements emerging worldwide and we need to embrace it. Otherwise some of the people who might do the best things for our movements and communities won’t feel that they have a place in the global secular community.

One of the real problems here is many ordinary people (as in non-activists and non-organizers) in secular communities seem to think that the global secular community isn’t a diverse place (this includes individuals from diverse origins as well because I’ve spoken with Hispanic and Latin-American skeptics who’ve said that skepticism among Hispanics and Latin-Americans is a new thing, and I bet skeptics who interact with other skeptics of color from different places think similarly among their communities). This reveals something in the people who think that way, something unpleasant, and hard to properly identify. I think it’s a lack of interest. If you think the secular community isn’t diverse my first reaction to that will be that you aren’t interested in this, which frankly I can’t blame you for. If you aren’t an organizer or activist, and just are a secular individual I can’t blame you for not being aware of skeptics of color and other types of minority skeptics (such as ex-Hindus, ex-Wiccans, LGTBQIA skeptics, etc.). It can be frustrating at times, but honestly I get it. You’ve got other stuff you need to do in your life which take priority and major skeptical organizations don’t often spend a lot of time signal-boosting the work of minority skeptics. But this is still maddening because this sort of thinking can make it harder for minority skeptics, particularly skeptics like myself who want to be speakers, organizers, and activists, to get noticed by people outside of our local communities.

A Lack Of Diversity From An Organizer Is Different:

Diversity matters and I’m going to hold organizers to a different standard here than non-organizers. If you are a skeptical organizer I expect you to know about diverse skeptics and to celebrate them. If you devote part of your time to organizing conferences, conventions, or even just monthly community meetings, you are going to be held to a different standard. If you don’t know about diverse skeptics from a variety of backgrounds I want you to at least enjoy learning about them. I would love for you to want to know more diverse speakers and to keep yourself and your partners in organizing open to inviting guests from unusual backgrounds, such as from other countries, skeptics who aren’t white, LGTBQIA skeptics, skeptics in unusual careers for skeptics such as politics, religion, etc.

If you host a secular convention or conference and your guests are all the same race or share other traits in common, I want you to have a good reason for that. There might very well be one. I’m not going to write you off by definition just because your event has all the same types of speakers from the perspective of race or ethnicity or have other things in common like career choices. But I will question you about it, unless you provide an explanation of why that’s the case from the get-go. And if you know you’re going to be questioned about it and don’t like it there’s an easy solution: invite diverse speakers. This is not a difficult task, and if you say it is you aren’t doing it right. Shooting someone an email is not difficult. If someone says no that’s fine, but seriously shooting someone an email or reaching out to groups for help isn’t challenging.

I’m in contact with some of the leaders of Freethinkers, Agnostics, Atheists, & Secularists Of The Triangle (FAAST) because they wanted to be a bit more diverse and starting looking for speakers of Hispanic and Latin-American descent in North Carolina (where I happen to live in case you forgot) and they reached out to a page that features Hispanic skeptics and freethinkers and that page contacted HAFree, and I saw it and responded. It’s that simple, and it’s that easy. All it took was a guy leaving a post on a page’s Facebook wall. Making your groups more diverse isn’t challenging. And if you have resources and have a national platform it’s even easier than it is for local groups and community organizers.

Why I’m Focused On Conferences And Conventions:

I focused this on conferences and conventions because in my opinion these are the easiest places to grant someone a megaphone which they can use to signal-boost their own work. Having speakers at conferences and conventions allow a multitude of secular individuals who contribute fascinating content to the global secular community to discuss their contributions and their perspectives and in many cases introduce voices that attendees of the conferences and conventions hadn’t heard of before then. By not allowing diverse individuals to be speakers at these events we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are preventing potential collaborations that could result in brand new projects, podcasts, blogs, and organizations. We are making it harder for diverse skeptics to become more universally known and making it harder for some of us to learn about the real diversity already existing within the secular communities nationwide and worldwide.

Additionally, while conferences and conventions are not at all easy to plan, they are easier to plan than long term meetings and speaking schedules that take place over the course of a few months. I think that granting diverse skeptics more opportunities to speak at conferences and conventions (in addition to assisting those of us who want to try and plan our own conferences and conventions in terms of helping us figure out how to acquire the necessary resources) is the easiest way to help us shatter the idea that the secular community isn’t diverse.

We are diverse. We have people from all over the world and all sorts of backgrounds in the global secular community and the secular communities of the United States. It’s high time that we worked more concretely to recognize that, demonstrate it, and perhaps most importantly: celebrate it. And there are easy ways to do that. Whether its by working with your local secular groups to give diverse speakers the chance to speak at your local community groups, or by supporting the work of diverse skeptics, or by pressuring conferences that fail to have diversity among their speakers, there’s a lot that can be done and most of it can be without investing much time (and oftentimes without even investing financially in the task at hand). Of course this can’t be done alone. It takes multiple groups, and people working in sync to achieve results this way and to pressure groups that ought to be representative of all of us and events that ought to share multiple types of voices not just similar voices talking about different things.

And yes, there’s the convention in North Carolina happening in a couple of days. No I’m not a fan. Yes I questioned them about it, and I wasn’t satisfied with what I heard (and I’m far from alone in my assessment and reaction to this). That being said: if you’re going I hope you have a great time, and I will work hard to make sure that next year is better. I don’t want this convention to fail, in fact I want it to be the best possible because in North Carolina these sorts of events don’t often get the publicity they deserve and ReasonCon has. I’m critical of this event because it’s important to me that it not only succeeds but does so as universally as possible. ReasonCon could demonstrate that diverse speakers contribute greatly to secular conventions and conferences instead of reinforcing the idea that the only skeptics worth following are white. For lots of North Carolinians this will be their first ever convention and I want it to be deserving of their financial investment in it. If I had gone it would have been my first ever convention. I’m not going and I’m happy about it. But I don’t want to give them a lot of my time and energy until this convention is over (partially because I have already). That being said, April 23rd I will be messaging them a list of Hispanic and Latin-American skeptics to consider inviting to next year’s convention (or whenever their next convention happens to be). Next year will absolutely not be like this year.

Skeptical Groups Of Color That Deserve Your Love:

If you don’t know of skeptical and secular groups of color that are deserving of some love, allow me to show you some of them. Check these groups out to potentially learn about atheists among groups that aren’t often considered secular.

Black Nonbelievers Inc.

Secular Latino Alliance

South-East Asian Atheists

These are dope pages that deserve more publicity. Check them out! A really easy way to begin to diversify your own conceptions of secularism and irreligion is to support these pages and to share them with your friends. I also shared the pages of HAFree and Latino Atheists earlier in the post, also consider checking them out.

Also if you like my work you can check out my patreon. I’d love the support, and if you have an opinion on what I wrote and want to share it with me, comment down below!

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