Danielle Muscato has issued an apology to Mark Schierbacker. I respect her for it.

Danielle Muscato has issued an apology to Mark Schierbacker. I respect her for it. November 17, 2015

Many of you read my post the other day in which I said that I didn’t think Mark Schierbecker said anything racist during his panel at Skepticon despite several accusations that he did (on some websites even from people who weren’t at the event and hadn’t even seen the video, but boy, they were sure certain he said racist things).

It should be known that Danielle Muscato just posted an apology to her facebook page:

Hello all,

To begin, I apologize for not posting this sooner. I’m dealing with an unrelated, personal emergency that is still not fully resolved. Unfortunately, that had to take priority, even considering the gravity of the situation with Mark Schierbecker’s session at Skepticon.

Regarding Mark’s session:

I have watched the video of the session in full twice now. I have also consulted with friends and colleagues (including other activists who are POC) about what Mark said that I found offensive on Saturday, and which prompted me to end my role with him as his pro bono publicist, and to claim that he said “indefensibly racist” things in a statement.

After re-watching the video twice, talking to these people about it, and reflecting, I have concluded that I was wrong to claim that Mark said “indefensibly racist” things. For this I owe Mark a sincere and full apology, which I hope to make personally to him in private and in person soon, rather than online and publicly here. As I have said before, I believe Mark is a good person and that he is doing what he can to learn from this, as we all are.
As I said during the session, I am still unhappy with the role the media has played this past week (including Mark) in using Mark’s video to divert attention away from the news coverage of racism at Mizzou. It is my understanding that Mark feels similarly.

In the days following the “clash” incident last Monday, a mass death threat against Black students was issued on social media, and a white person was arrested for it. Independently (as far as we know so far), the sign in front of the Black Culture Center at Mizzou was vandalized.

Did the news media cover this?

Barely—and that is partially because they were busy interviewing Mark about his video. I see this as an example of white privilege, and it is what upset me on Saturday. I think that is both a serious problem and a learning opportunity for the media (including Mark, seeing as he is a journalist as well).

As I said during the Skepticon session, I am disturbed that the focus on Mark’s video has given “ammo” to racists to shift the narrative away from race relations, where it belongs, and where ‪#‎ConcernedStudent1950‬ has spent so much time, energy, and effort to gain national coverage of their cause.

I’m of course not saying I don’t support a free press, nor that I think the alleged assault by Mizzou Assistant Professor Melissa Click against Mark does not deserve real attention from Mizzou administration. What we seem to have here is video proof that a member of the Mizzou faculty (who does not have tenure) assaulted a student. To my knowledge, she was simply able to issue a personal and written apology, and that was the end of it from the University’s perspective. There has been no administrative investigation and she has not been placed on administrative leave. That is wrong and must be addressed.

What I am saying, though, is that I don’t think this warranted *news coverage* when simultaneously, there was an active shooter mass death threat against Black students (!), and an arrest was being made because of those death threats.

That is white privilege in action and I think it’s in the best interest of all of us to learn from this and make it better.

I have previously issued an apology statement for my role in hosting the Skepticon session with Mark. We should never have done so without having anyone from #ConcernedStudent1950 present, and POC represented on stage. I stand by that apology.

I hope that I will learn from this, and that my friends and colleagues, and especially Mark, will forgive me so that we can all get back to fighting the good fight.
Thank you for reading.

– DM

Concerned Student 1950

P.S. It should go without saying, but apparently can’t, that it is inappropriate and cruel to use this incident as an attack against people on the spectrum, and/or against trans people. The last thing we need is even more diversion. The point is that we all agree that we need to work together to fight racism. Thank you.

I want to use this to make a broader point.  Plenty of people said some pretty nasty things of Danielle (not just on validity of her statement but of her specifically).  I am sorry that happened.

I’m sorry because Danielle has such a long track record of working hard and doing very good things, not just for atheists like you and me, but for the world.  It could not be more clear that this was a person with a heart who stands up for what she believes who simply made a mistake.  Even good people make mistakes, you and I are no exceptions.  So what did I do?  I threw my hat in while reassuring her detractors.  I communicated frankly so people knew how I felt and I urged people to give her time to consider things since no mind is ever changed overnight.  I knew Danielle would review it, give it some thought, and approach it with a fair mind because that’s the type of person she is.

This is how you work with people you agree with on 95% of things without letting that god damn 5% or a single fuck up ruin your ability to avail yourselves of teamwork in the future.  If your criteria for good is 100% agreement at all times then I’m amazed you ever find anybody to work with.

The real pity about this whole situation is that it was mostly good people involved.  Sadly, there was also a lot of pride and a lot of emotion (which is understandable given the subject).  In those situations even good people fuck up.

And you know what?  Sometimes good people won’t always agree with you.  Danielle may have watched the video and not seen it my way.  I would’ve been disappointed and continued the conversation, but I damn sure would’ve worked with her on the next project where we cross paths.  Like I said earlier, this represented an exception to Danielle’s record in my eye, not the rule.

And you know what else?  Sometime in the future I’ll fuck up.  I will.  I’ve done it in the past by trusting people I shouldn’t or using my anger as justification for mistreating people.  I will make more mistakes in the future.  We all will.  And when it happens I expect Danielle to tell me (hopefully I won’t make my fuck up publicly so we can talk about it without stirring up the whole internet).  I may or may not agree with her, but so long as she doesn’t make it her goal to convince the world I’m a horrible person (and all of my friends are horrible too, because that’s how you resolve disputes, right?) we can still work together and I’ll be a LOT more inclined to listen to her.  I find decent people respond well to criticism, but not to demonizing, and it’s high time a lot of people in atheism learned the difference.

Now, there are some people saying Danielle’s apology isn’t good enough.  First thing’s first, I reached out to Mark:


JT Eberhard: Yo. You see Danielle’s apology?

Mark Schierbecker: I did. I was just in a radio interview and just got back. I read it a few minutes before I went on air.

JT Eberhard: Was it good enough for you?

Mark Schierbecker: It was courageous for her to admit she was wrong after she had so much invested in being right. I fully accept.

JT Eberhard: May I quote you?

Mark Schierbecker: Yep.

Boom!  According to the time stamps it took all of four minutes.  My initial thought is that if it’s good enough for Mark then it ought to be good enough for the rest of us.

Even if you think that Danielle’s apology was imperfect, can you not at least admit this is progress?  Danielle didn’t have to say a damn thing.  But she did.  Hell, I don’t even agree with every part of the apology.  For instance, I think the suppression of First Amendment rights is an important thing to talk about regardless of what else is going on in the world.  If you’re upset it takes attention away from another issue then maybe the blame should fall on the people who attempted to suppress those First Amendment rights, not the journalist who caught them doing it.

And I don’t think Mark’s video gave ammo to racists.  If anything did that, the terrible behavior of the Melissa Click and others did.  But for some reason everybody wants to shoot the messenger.

But you know what?  I might be wrong about these things, and people need to know they can talk to me about them without me immediately branding them as a social justice warrior (in the pejorative) or anything else.  They need to know I’ll be grateful they communicated, happy they felt comfortable enough to do so, and that we’ll still be friends even if they don’t convince me (though, let’s not confuse being passive-aggressive or outright insulting with questioning or criticism).

Even if I think Danielle’s apology is imperfect, so what?  She feels bad for much of what she did and she owned up to it.  Integrity isn’t always being right, it’s being willing to admit when you fuck up even though no two people will probably see eye to eye on exact where that is.  And we can try to work out the parts where we still disagree.

So many people in this movement are so god damn eager to look for any reason to drive themselves away from people who are on their same fucking side.  They want to treat people who don’t see eye-to-eye with them on one facet of an issue as they’re the opponents of equality as a whole, or as if they don’t care, of whatever else.  They make the atheist movement into a live drama that alienates people, good people, passionate people who could be helping, every single day.  This weakens us and for no good reason.  Many try to justify this collateral damage by saying we don’t want “those” people in atheism.  What, the people who don’t want to walk on egg shells among their fellow atheists for fear of being demonized for the smallest transgression?  The ones who don’t want to be branded a racist and have a bunch of people rush to pile social consequences on them if they naively say the wrong thing at some point?  Yeah, yeah we do want them.

For FSM’s sake, can we all just start giving each other the benefit of the doubt for a little while when disagreements like this arise?  The audience at Mark’s panel should’ve done it with him (yes, I know, they’re angry, but what is fair doesn’t change based on how angry you are).  We should’ve done it with Danielle (despite how justifiably angry some of us were).  Other situations will arise where we’ll have the chance.  I hope we don’t blow it then.

This never had to be the public spectacle that it was and it’s a damn shame that it wound up that way.

We have so much work to do for a variety of causes.  We’re a vast minority in a nation of people that largely treat us with suspicion at best, loathing at worst just for our position on god’s existence.  There’s plenty to fight against without wasting so much energy fighting each other.  Disagree.  Tell people when you think they’re wrong.  These are fine and dandy.  But it’s high time we stop being so fast to declare enemies by ignoring people’s entire history.  It’s high time we start being charitable in our interpretations of what people say and asking them to clarify when there’s doubt instead of assuming the worst possible interpretation and rushing to make them a public pariah.  This happens.  A lot.  It happened here.  And it’s getting pretty fucking old pretty fucking fast.

I’m glad I didn’t convict Mark based on the accusation of him saying racist things.  I’m glad I didn’t turn away from Danielle and ignore her entire history of doing good shit because she did something wrong.  There was a chance here for friendships to be destroyed and for each of us to lose somebody we may need help as activists from sometime down the road (which, I think, would make us less capable activists).  I’m glad Mark, Danielle, and I didn’t do that.

Admittedly, I’m a cynical person.  I really hope tomorrow we start taking this lesson away: that pretty much everybody here was on the same fucking side from the get go.  Danielle, Mark, and I all loathe racism, as does pretty much almost everybody who commented, I’d wager.  Isn’t that enough?  And yet here we were, many of us at each other’s throats when we should’ve been talking it out.  I hope that lesson gets taken away starting tomorrow rather than everybody hemming and hawing over who’s side Danielle is really on.  Jesus Christ, we’re all on the same side.  I hope we remember that.

God, I hope it so much.


I had told Mark I would publish any statement he wanted to make.  Here it is:

Saw the apology. A couple of thoughts:

Danielle Muscato is a close personal friend, and what happened this weekend was an exception to an otherwise great friendship. It took remarkable courage for her to admit she was wrong after she had so much invested in being right. I fully accept her apology.

Danielle is a human who made a *human* mistake. What Skepticon did was much more destructive to my character and emotional well-being. The organizers of Skepticon should have realized that Muscato made the wrong call. Skepticon has eight years of experience hosting conferences. They should have known better. Skepticon’s failures should reflect on themselves, not on its speakers. I am waiting to hear from Skepticon.

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