No, *This* Is How We Get More Black People Involved in the Atheist Movement

by Guest Contributor Ian Cromwell, originally published at The Friendly Atheist

Atheism

I suppose I should say, by way of introduction, that this is something of an example of the squeaky wheel getting the grease. While Hemant was on a well-deserved vacation (this daily blogging stuff ain’t easy), he had a number of members of the SSA contribute guest blogs. I took offense to one of them, and got up on my horse to shout about it. In a fit of self- aggrandizement I tweeted a link to that post to him, and then promptly went on with my life, my rage spent. Upon returning, Hemant has invited me to write this response and expand somewhat on my argument.

To summarize as succinctly as possible, Derek Miller wrote a guest post in which the basic thesis was that in order to attract more members of minority communities (particularly, in that case, African Americans – it will be to this group I refer for the remainder of this post, but there are similar barriers faced by members of other ethnic groups as well) to the secular/freethought movement, the only thing that could be done was to make the movement more friendly and welcoming in general. A sort of Field of Dreams approach to attracting members of communities of colour – if you build it, they’ll start showing up. I was a bit apoplectic because Mr. Miller has clearly not consulted with, or bothered to listen to, anyone who has been talking about this issue from the minority perspective. This kind of laissez faire approach to recruitment is doomed to fail for reasons I will explain. I’ll also offer some of my own suggestions as to what steps can be taken to more actively include people of colour (PoCs) into the freethinking discussion.

Why don’t black people come to atheist meetings?

The freethinker community has been struggling with this question of late, as more and more speakers have become sufficiently emboldened to decry the lack of ethnic diversity at things like conferences, meetup groups, and other atheist-friendly activities. Increasingly, demands have been going up for a simple answer to this question, and have not been forthcoming. This was, I think, the general thrust of Mr. Miller’s post – there are no simple solutions to this problem. It does not follow, however, that there are no solutions to the problem at all, and we must simply wait for black and brown folks to get over their shyness and start showing up. There are a number of overlapping potential explanations, and until we can begin to see them as a larger context (instead of trying to tackle them one at a time), we’ll simply be spinning our wheels.

There are a few commonly-cited explanations for why black folks just don’t seem to show up:

Atheism as a ‘white people thing’

The face of atheism is, or at least has been, a white one. It’s intimidating for a member of any visible minority community to walk into a room and be the only dark face in the crowd. Whether or not people actually are staring at you (and yes, people do stare), it’s tough to get over the feeling that you don’t fit. Many black people, particularly those in the sciences, are used to being outnumbered, and have figured out a way to deal with it. At the same time, if you’re iffy about showing up to the campus freethinker club or the skeptics in the pub event or the atheist book club, knowing that you’re going to be an outlier is certainly not a point in favour of attendance.

Atheists being racist

If I can echo a statement made by Jen McCreight, it’s not necessarily the case that atheists are more racist than the general population (my suspicion is that we do a pretty good job, by and large), but that it’s more shocking to hear racist talking points from people who pride themselves on rationality and evidence-based decision making. When race comes up as a topic, I’m often mildly amused/horrified to hear the kind of 19th-century ‘scientific racist’ slogans that come out of the mouths of my confreres. I personally have a thick skin about it, knowing that people are well-meaning but just not well-educated. My experience is perhaps a bit atypical, and it only takes a couple of bad experiences to sour the whole idea for you permanently.

The black church

Much has been made of the disproportionate influence that organized religious organizations have over black folks, which may explain, in part, their (our) reluctance to show up to atheist events. The black church goes beyond simple regular religious instruction – in many communities the church takes the place that the government does as a focal point of organization and a social safety net. It’s the lynch pin in many black communities, and distancing one’s self from the church is essentially volunteering to go into exile. To the extent that this prevents many black people from coming out as atheist, this may explain some of the differential participation. However, there are lots of black atheists out there who have already left the church and yet still don’t show, so we can’t simply point at this as the biggest explanatory factor.

Poverty, education, and access

It is no secret that, as a population, black people (particularly in the USA) experience higher levels of poverty than the general population, and definitely a higher level than the white average. This is due to a whole host of factors that are probably outside the scope of the freethinking movement to solve in a timely manner. That being said, socioeconomic factors may have some explanatory power over why black people are less likely to participate. Not every black individual is going to experience more financial hardship than every white individual – to suggest this would be absurd. However, when we talk about this from the level of the population, there is more disincentive for PoCs than for non-PoCs.

Each of these on their own might dissuade individuals from making the decision to attend, but it’s not hard to see how the pressure against participation can accumulate for those who are doing their personal utilitarian calculus.

So how can we be more attractive?

Identifying the problems facing atheists of colour with respect to joining the community is not the same as solving them. One might be tempted to say that these are intractable problems, and all we can do is wait until they resolve themselves over time. That’s certainly how I interpreted Mr. Miller’s response, and many of the comments that followed it. It’s somewhat ironic to watch a group of people who are actively agitating for great separation of church and state, and for greater mainstream acceptance of atheists, to turn around and say “just give it time and it’ll sort itself out.” That line of reasoning coming from an accommodationist theist would be met with derision, and deservedly so. Problems can be solved by committed people willing to take action; we wouldn’t be doing any of this otherwise.

Just to briefly address the above 4 issues I raised as examples:

  • We can be more assertive about putting freethinkers of colour in highly-visible positions. I am not talking about bumping Jamal from the mail room to be king of atheism – the assumption that this movement lacks PoCs who are qualified in a variety of fields is wrong, primarily, and racist secondarily.
  • We can get serious about talking about race and racism. I’ve long been advocating incorporating anti-racism as a skeptical approach – applying methodological skepticism to racial topics as well as those that are strictly scientific. Just as it took us a while to adopt feminist thought into our lexicon, so too does the effort need to be made to add new tools to our utility belt when it comes to talking about race. While it may not be very interesting from a biological standpoint, understanding race is like understanding theology: just because it’s not real doesn’t mean it doesn’t exert a great deal of influence.
  • We can, as Mr. Miller may have been suggesting, make the freethinker community a true community that performs the same function that churches do (minus the chants). Above and beyond simply knowing that each other exist, we can begin mobilizing our collective strength to look out for each other, much the same way we did for Damon Fowler. This will be particularly challenging because of how remote we are from each other – churches are physical entities that are at the centre of both your social and physical community.
  • We can take steps to actively reach out to close some of the poverty gap. Major events like TAM or other large-scale events can offer a number of bursaries or scholarships for those that can’t afford to pay. Whether or not you make those tied to ethnic membership is really a decision to be made on a case-by-case basis – there are arguments to be made on both sides. My take on this is that you need to decide how important it is for your organization to have PoCs present, and whether or not you can tolerate doing something that might seem unfair.

Above and beyond these specific remedies, though, there is a larger issue that I think gets less press that was also part of my initial rant. Freethinkers and skeptics have our pet topics: alternative medicine, UFOs, creationism, church/state separation… you know the highlights. I am in no way trying to minimize these topics – they’re all deeply interesting and important. However, these are somewhat esoteric and fringe interests that don’t really speak to the passions of the general public. I know that I personally am more interested in applying skepticism to things like politics, poverty, race, and law. There are many people for whom those interests are part of their daily reality – failing to address those interests means that even those who are technically in your target audience are simply uninterested in debating whether or not chemtrails are more ridiculous than homeopathy.

Concerted effort can change minds.

How do we know that will work?

This is an excellent skeptical question, and I’m glad you asked it. The freethinker movement has, lately, faced two other major fights for increasing diversity. The first was/has been/continues to be the fight to include women. A few forthright women stood up and, despite the pressures against them doing so, spoke out about the lack of female voices in the skeptic community. They challenged many of the assumptions and traditions of the society from which freethought had sprung about the role and abilities of women. We continue to grapple with this issue today, and the fight is far from over, but it’s a lot better than it was say, 20 years ago.

The second major fight was for recognition of issues facing LGBT persons. Freethought is a natural ally in the fight for gay/lesbian/transperson rights, and while initially there was not a lot of enthusiasm for topics that didn’t really fall under the classic ‘skeptical’ umbrella, we eventually (thanks to the hard work of vocal, dare I say ‘strident’, people) made LGBT issues one of the central poles holding up our tent, if you’ll forgive the entendre. To be a freethinker is, now, to be assumed to be queer-friendly. This didn’t happen by accident or by passively making the freethought movement simply a friendlier place – it took effort and active recruitment.

In the same way that we fought and won those battles, we have an opportunity to put in work and solve the problem of a lack of ethnic diversity. We can learn to speak the language of anti- racism, and we can adopt causes that are friendly to those who might not otherwise feel at home in our midst. But above those, we can put actual programs into place designed to actively draw out those fence-sitters of colour who need that little extra ‘nudge’ to get them in the room at the next event. Depending on how well those programs work, we can ask people who come from underrepresented communities what they would do to effect change. Of course, this will also require us to start listening (or get better at listening, excuse me) when people tell us how we can make things better.

Again, all of these proposed solutions are contingent on the assumption that we, both as a community and as individuals, actually care about the lack of diversity within the movement and wish to see the situation improve. If our approach is going to be one of passive diffusion – wait for sufficient numbers of dark-skinned people to find their way into the room such that we can stop harping on this whole ‘diversity’ issue (what is that, anyway?) – then we can just continue to do little. If we don’t care, then we should just say so and be done with it.

(Image Credit: The Guardian)

  • Kewata9

    I think that most black atheist feel that there’s no point in going to atheist meetings. Some black people may ask themselves, “What positive impact can the atheist community place upon the world?”. Having left one organization with which they found dissatisfaction “the black church”, why should one take up the cause of another one? If more minorities knew the goals (provided that the goals are relevant and non-frivolous) of the greater atheist community perhaps they would join. 

  • Restructure!

    I insist on secular government as well,  but perhaps because I live in Canada, my government is acceptably secular to me.

    What I find to be more of a problem is that atheist evangelism becomes an excuse/motivation for unchecked Islamophobia.

  • Restructure!

    As a non-black person of colour who is technically atheist, but does not want to be associated with people who self-identify as atheists: The atheist movement appears to be based on the assumption that religion is the cause of oppression and violence in the world. They believe that if they get rid of religion, then everyone will think rationally, and there will be no more racism, sexism, homophobia, terrorism, and war. They seem to think that atheism was born from the Age of Enlightenment in the West, and the mission is to civilize the backwards brown folk and teach them Reason.

    They think that when they continually imply that non-white cultures are backwards and uncivilized, it’s “not racist” because they are talking about culture, not genes. The implicit assumption of this view is that we people of colour, who make up the majority of the world, are just not as creative as white folks, and we cannot think freely without the help of white people.

  • Tired

    Black. Christian. Used to be a “freethinker” (lol, so that’s what you guys call yourselves nowadays?), but went back. I’m guessing I’m a little backward.

    I get the same damn reaction whenever I mention that I’m Christian on the internet. Raging internet atheists will tear into me with criticism concerning my intellect and how I’m completely wrong to believe what I believe in. The arrogance I encounter among the crazy internet atheist community is astonishing. For people who supposedly pride themselves in their advanced reasoning, they have such a difficult time accepting other religions- more specifically, Christianity. Everyone is taking a blow at Christianity these days. It’s a fad, I’m guessing. Why else would anyone put up, “There’s probably no god” on anything so public like a bus and think to themselves “This is progress”? All it does is offend people. It sure as hell offends me.

    I appreciated atheism a lot more before I came across the dark side of the atheist community where, if you believed in a higher power, you were considered a moron. I actually recall mentioning on a forum that I was Christian and one of the responses was, “I’m surprised. I thought you were smarter than that”. The arrogance some atheists present is absolutely stifling. Yet, they say, they are “freethinkers”. I’d laugh, but this is getting ridiculous.

    Now, as for some of the posts here… some of them are just uncalled for, especially on a site such as this.

    “I’m really intrigued by your comment about not wanting to purge religion from public life. I came from a faith background where they really pushed us to get involved in politics and the military from childhood on to create an army for Jesus. (If you have seen Jesus Camp, much of that was how I was raised. My parents aren’t that hardcore and are generally reasonable, but they are quite lazy and the nearest church was hardline evangelical.) I react very, very strongly to anything remotely religious in the public sphere for that reason.”

    Here is what I got from this comment: my experience with Christianity was miserable, so now I have a good reason to generalise and dislike anything remotely religious.

    Yet I, as a spiritual/religious person, have to deal with seeing posters saying, “There’s probably no god” in big, bold letters while atheists talk about how they are “liberated from religion”? Totally fair. Good on you.

    “Many people ARE preoccupied with what their god wants them to do. It causes a great deal of suffering within families and communities. To those people, the message is simple: you can stop worrying about it.”

    I don’t know where to begin. I know quite a few Christians who live perfectly okay lives. If anything, the idea of a god enhances the family bond because, hey, at least they have something in common. Even then, I have a brother who is atheist in a Christian household. We were skeptical, at first, but we still treated him the same way. Sure, I agree that there is the potential of the concept causing a “great deal of suffering within families and communities”, but, admit it, that’s not the whole picture.

    People make people miserable. There, the answer to all problems. The argument that religion- a concept that was, originally, made to create order as opposed to chaos- is one of the causes of human suffering is very narrow-minded. People MISINTERPRET religious texts which equals malpractice which could potentially equal human suffering. Technically, the source of human suffering is actually the human.

    Religion also has guidelines on how to lead a good and healthy life. Sure, some things may seem out of place or ridiculous in this day and age, but that’s when people should use their brains and think, “Would God REALLY condemn me if I have gay thoughts?” Religion can actually lead to some good, as blasphemous as that may seem to some people.

    I’m not pissing on all the atheists out there because I’ve met some great people who are atheist. I’m good friends with someone who’s currently agnostic and leaning towards atheism. I really don’t care what you believe in or what you don’t believe in. I only get offended when people from one school of thought has the gall to come up to me and say, “You’re in need of some liberating or else you will be forever doomed by religion”. Really?

    I also understand that the atheist movement is meant to purge religion from public space. I would sympathise if it didn’t sound so hostile to me. It’s like telling me that if I put up a cross on, say, my front door, we’re going to have a problem. Or if I make a cross to commemorate something to show my respects you would want to take it down because it’s polluting the public sphere. A Jew wouldn’t care if I did it. A Muslim wouldn’t care. Nor would a Hindu or a Buddhist. Why should the atheist care? Because they had a bad experience with religion? One in particular? Isn’t that generalization?

    Despite my irritated tone, I meant no disrespect. God bless.

    • Anonymous

      You seem to be offended that not everyone share’s your views on religion. I’m not sure why you think, on a site like Racialicious, statements implying skepticism about religion or speaking about the way SOME (not all) Christians behave is “uncalled for”. You seem to be venting about your own prejudices against atheists and non-religious people as opposed to actually discussing the topic at hand.

      Also, your front door is not a public space. When people are speaking about religion in the public sphere, they are not talking about individual expression of religion but religious beliefs being used to set policy and police the lives of those not following those particular beliefs.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5YW7F65MA5WAVBWEPVR4SVSH7Q Daniel

    Gee any wonder why uninterested and Naki as people of color have chosen not to need the group affirmation of the Atheist Movement?…  You wonder why people of color, who are inclined towards non belief, agnosticism, or simply a non religious life simply prefer to live their views as matter of fact extensions of themselves, without going over to your movement?   
    The last thing a person of color would find enticing,  after a a few centuries of struggle to culturally define themselves beyond Europeanized definition,  are non people of color slamming them with a definition they don’t see themselves as….

    • Perpetual Explosion

       Anyone who doesn’t believe in a god or gods is technically an atheist. While Cody’s post may have been unnecessarily rude, the basic argument is still factually correct. There seems to be an image of atheists as bitter, cynical or nihilistic, which makes some atheists reluctant to identify themselves with the word. But they are atheists. To deny such would play into the misconceptions of those to whom “atheist” and “cute baby panda puncher” have about the same ring. Once we get rid of the popular image of the “Hollywood Atheist,” more people will be comfortable with the word.

    • Perpetual Explosion

       Anyone who doesn’t believe in a god or gods is technically an atheist. While Cody’s post may have been unnecessarily rude, the basic argument is still factually correct. There seems to be an image of atheists as bitter, cynical or nihilistic, which makes some atheists reluctant to identify themselves with the word. But they are atheists. To deny such would play into the misconceptions of those to whom “atheist” and “cute baby panda puncher” have about the same ring. Once we get rid of the popular image of the “Hollywood Atheist,” more people will be comfortable with the word.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10000635 Mike Price

    I think you can respect and give due credit to the positive influence that religion has played in civil rights struggles (and this next part is important) and then further unpack the reasons why religious and not secular figures were able to have that impact. The end goal, as I see it, should be that secular institutions and people SHOULD be able to have the same effect on civil rights policy as religious ones, and that is something work fighting for. 

    You don’t have to throw out the history, but I think it’s important to analyze and parse religious influence throughout history and not take it as given that King, Malcolm X, Tubman and Tutu succeeded BECAUSE of their religiousness.

  • Anonymous

    I was the commenter from the article Crommunist criticizes who said all of this:

    “I know what the atheist movement could do to guarantee more folks like ME to sign up:

    Do
    something about the people  who know nothing about black people, and
    who talk of us as if we’re in the abstract rather than as actual
    physical beings.  I’m talking about how I used to visit a certain
    popular atheist forum (*Internet Infidels* <– cough cough) on a
    regular basis, and I always saw these libertarian types arguing against
    Affirmative Action and ask WHY, OH, WHY do blacks always vote
    "Democrat?"  I mean, really?  And they also asserted stupid shit like we
    only vote for black candidates — we're racist!  I couldn't take it
    anymore after some conservative asked matter-of-factly whether, if Obama
    lost the election (this was September 2008), whether black people would
    riot.  When I tried to argue that what he said was racist, he became a
    condescending asshole, and none of the mods did anything about it, so I
    said to myself, "fuck this! I'm done with this stupid site."  Haven't
    been back since, and I'm better off."

    For whatever dumb reason, I deleted my previous three-year-old DisQus account out of sheer annoyance of the ISSA people swooping in to defend their bullshit (and in many other places, including here, I'm Linda Binda).  I haven't had a good past four months, so as silly and inexcusable as it may sound, I wasn't in the mood.

    I also go on about how Christianity will always be important to black Americans for *obvious* reasons, and that I don't particularly care for the Draw Muhammad Day bullshit the Friendly Atheist and the ISSA, which Mr. Miller is a part of, happily celebrate, which is also why I've stopped following the site and its Facebook page, although I haven't "unliked" it, yet.  I'm not interested in bashing Islam, essentially because American atheists are *Westerners* and Christianity has had far more effect on their lives and on the lives of others and all of the things they're concerned with, including Muslims and their concerns  as well, than Islam ever has.  I believe strongly that joining in on the Bash Islam bandwagon is to get into bad, stupid right-wing company.  I'm not interested in legitimizing the Pamela Gellars and Newt Gingrichs as reasonable people with valid opinions in this world, and I'm not interested in seeing Matt Parker and Trey fucking Stone as defenders of free speech, so No Fucking Thanks.

    I wonder if anyone thinks that my argument on that thread was good, decent, or agreeable in any way, so I'm open to criticism on that score.  (I'll never agree with Draw Muhammad Day, though, so don't bother arguing with me — it would be a waste of your time.)   I also agree with Rochelle and her point about Christian privilege, which is another reason why I refrain from bashing or constructively criticizing Islam:  I'm a black ex-Christian American, and I don't believe that, due to my background, even if it's the background of one with Igbo family members with legitimate gripes against discrimination against Christians and their ethnic group in majority-Muslim Nigeria, I can be reasonably trusted, by other Muslims at least, to have any ground to stand on to make a decent critique of Islam, especially 10 years on in the post-9/11 world, (as clichéd as that sounds).  I believe that I am too biased and privileged to make that critique without sounding like an ignorant ass.  I believe the only people who can judge Islam without falling into backwards Western paternalist imperialist narratives are actual Muslims themselves and ex-Muslims who have high familiarity with Islam and the Muslim World.  Call me a PC wimp if you like, but I don't agree that outsiders looking into a system they're not a part of can have any credibility or any real positive effect upon the members who actually have things to lose as a result of their meddling.  Only Muslims or ex-Muslims can change whatever is wrong with Islam or other Muslims.

    As for getting more black atheists to join?  Well, I'm more than familiar with majority-white spaces (my elementary school, all of the RPGs I play online and the atheist, political, film and other entertainment forums I used to lurk in and post), so being the only black face in an arena is not a big issue for me.  I just don't want to be in an environment where some backwards asshole spews hateful rubbish, I'm the only one defending myself, and no one else will have my back.  I loathe that like you would not believe.  I refuse to be yet in another situation where I'm arguing back and forth with a racist idiot, and everyone else in the forum will stay out of it, or even better, whine that we're "arguing too much," or we're "both losers," or some other conflict-avoiding bullshit.  I'm sick and tired of people running away from racial conflict and begging for the return of the status quo, and sad to say, too many white people on the Internet do just that.  I'm not interested in being in league with cowards.  If "movement" atheists will promise to dump that, as well as the sexism in their movement, and the more childish aspects of religious critiques, like "Draw Muhammad Day," no matter the "hey! My Muslim friends at the Muslim Student Alliance were OK with it!" "I have black friends!" bullshit used to rationalize it, I'll open up more.  I just hate dumb people on the Internet.

  • Rochelle

    This entire conversation demonstrates one thing: that our analysis on racial privilege is a lot more advanced than our analysis on religious privilege. This has both good and bad implications, but it’s a truism nonetheless.

    I really appreciate PoC calling the athiest movement(s) out on their racial privilege, as well as their class/education/gender privilege. I myself get extremely annoyed and put off by the most vocal athiest advocates  for this reason and that’s why I stay clear of them for the most part.

    But where’s the discussion on religious privilege? I know Racialicious has done stuff on this, so the regular readers have no excuse ignoring or palliating such issues. PoC Christians: I know some of you may not like to hear this, but you have privilege by virtue of your christianness! I’m not saying it’s ‘more’ or ‘less’ salient than race privilege, and I think such comparisons are counterproductive anyway. But the fact that no (or few) Christian commentators here have said “Yes, I have a leg up in society because its a Christian society” really disturbs me. Perhaps – like white people who can ignore race – the issue of religious bigotry is not as ‘important’ to you. 

    But for us religious minorities – I come from a Jewish and Muslim family – the issue of religious hierarchies in this country has had a profound affect on me. Growing up in a very white, protestant town, the fact that I was part Jewish was the source of many hurtful, hateful interactions. I had many individuals try to save me. I have had boyfriend break up with me because of my religion. I had to be the token voice of the ‘non-Christian’ population in classrooms. I was privy to stereotyping. I was denied access to many services and activities. The bigotry based on religion was just as institutionalized and systemic as the bigotry based on race, gender, or class. Indeed, I was ‘racialized’ due to my religious heritage, even though I could probably ‘pass’ as white if I was christian.

    I’m not letting Athiest movement(s) off the hook for their very serious faults vis-a-vis race (especially with non-Christian and non-white folks). But we need to stop this ‘Christian=victim’ nonsense. If you are Christian, you need to step up and recognize the privilege you embody in this society.

  • Rochelle

    This entire conversation demonstrates one thing: that our analysis on racial privilege is a lot more advanced than our analysis on religious privilege. This has both good and bad implications, but it’s a truism nonetheless.

    I really appreciate PoC calling the athiest movement(s) out on their racial privilege, as well as their class/education/gender privilege. I myself get extremely annoyed and put off by the most vocal athiest advocates  for this reason and that’s why I stay clear of them for the most part.

    But where’s the discussion on religious privilege? I know Racialicious has done stuff on this, so the regular readers have no excuse ignoring or palliating such issues. PoC Christians: I know some of you may not like to hear this, but you have privilege by virtue of your christianness! I’m not saying it’s ‘more’ or ‘less’ salient than race privilege, and I think such comparisons are counterproductive anyway. But the fact that no (or few) Christian commentators here have said “Yes, I have a leg up in society because its a Christian society” really disturbs me. Perhaps – like white people who can ignore race – the issue of religious bigotry is not as ‘important’ to you. 

    But for us religious minorities – I come from a Jewish and Muslim family – the issue of religious hierarchies in this country has had a profound affect on me. Growing up in a very white, protestant town, the fact that I was part Jewish was the source of many hurtful, hateful interactions. I had many individuals try to save me. I have had boyfriend break up with me because of my religion. I had to be the token voice of the ‘non-Christian’ population in classrooms. I was privy to stereotyping. I was denied access to many services and activities. The bigotry based on religion was just as institutionalized and systemic as the bigotry based on race, gender, or class. Indeed, I was ‘racialized’ due to my religious heritage, even though I could probably ‘pass’ as white if I was christian.

    I’m not letting Athiest movement(s) off the hook for their very serious faults vis-a-vis race (especially with non-Christian and non-white folks). But we need to stop this ‘Christian=victim’ nonsense. If you are Christian, you need to step up and recognize the privilege you embody in this society.

    • Grace

      OMG–this=YES!!! x1 bajillion, lol.

      I identify, among other things, as an agnostic theist, specifically a Christian agnostic. Like being bisexual, as I am, or (as some of my friends who are mixed (POC & white) would say) or like being mixed, being a Christian agnostic affords me some level of privilege in a culture that, well, privileges Christianess. I think, at the end of the day, I don’t have real or “full” privilege because, at the end of the day, I’m still agnostic. Add that to being bisexual, a believer in premarital sex, swearing, drinking, and being poly, and I can tell you most mainstream Christian sects would tell you flat out that I’m going to hell in a handbasket, LOL.

      Being that my anti-oppression awareness happened in college post-9/11, once the revelations about privilege and social hierachies manifested, it seemed quite clear to me that there is most certainly such a thing as Christian privilege in the West. I even touched on it a bit last year on my blog, while discussing the Islamic Center near Ground Zero debacle.

      Taking all that into account, Racialicious being the type of site that it is, when I read this the other day, I was utterly dumbfounded at the general negative atmosphere of the comments section–Christians playing the victim, people, even professed non-believers, not understanding why a movement for a marginalized group exists, etc.

      If, like race, gender, sexual orientation, immigrant status and class there is a hierarchy of religion, with the religion on top having privilege, so it should be understood that with the system of privilege comes SYSTEMIC, or institutionalized, oppression. You say this has been discussed here on Racialicious in times past, and I take you at your word, but for all the talking we (sometimes) do about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, privilege as it relates to religion is something that activists, within and outside, of the blogosphere is something O think we really need to do more of, which is why I’m glad Racialicious posted this. :-)

  • Nibalizx

    Three things:

    (1) It is exactly a result of white privilege. Let me give you an example. A white christian conservative preacher say something racist. White non-christians or non-conservatives, vis-a-vis their privilege see a crazy christian or crazy conservative. But a person of color sees a racist white person. The problem is that white privilege causes whiteness to be invisible. So critical white non-christians or non-conservatives perceive religion or political ideology to be the only moving variable thus blame the irrationality (the racism) on religion or political leaning. Then these same people are surprised or confused when racism is an issue in non-religious or non-conservative spaces.  Not to say that only white can have racial prejudice. Same applies for class, gender, and sexual orientation. I can say more but I’ll stop here.
    (2)  One thing I hate about the free thought movement is the assumption that all atheist are highly rational and progressive and all religious people are at most modestly rational and really conservative. You can claim a movement about free thinking and push against any kind of thinking its a contradiction. Call it an atheist movement but not a free thought movement (not to say that atheist are not free thinkers). I know many frighteningly rational Christians that are heavily engaged in liberal movements including LGBQ civil rights. In fact, I doubt the critical thinking skills of any one that starts from that assumption. Let’s not forget that there were many anti-religious totalitarian regimes in history. 

    (3) Finally, along the same reasoning as point one, when ever you start making claims about to groups, you have to be conscious of how your privileges, past experiences, and (sub)conscious agendas causes you to be blind to important factors while allowing less relevant ones receive undo significance (Omitted Variable Bias). If you do that, you might be surprised (or bothered) to learn that you have more in common with the group your trying to use a  foil. FYI: generally doing this is  really difficult, your best bet is to learn to listen to those from different backgrounds/beliefs. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m white and Jewish and don’t believe in God, and while I think I
    share some of the atheist movement’s concerns about the role of (some
    kinds of) religion in American public life, I have no interest at all
    in joining the movement.  In fact, I have pretty strongly negative
    feelings about organized atheism.  Obviously, I’m coming from a really
    different place than most people of color, but I wonder if some PoC
    might share some of my reservations.

    First of all,  while I don’t believe in God, I don’t have totally
    negative feelings about religion or religious believers.  Believing in
    God isn’t really central to my Jewish identity, and I feel like in some
    ways I have more in common with fellow-Jews who do believe in God than
    I do with atheists from Christian backgrounds.  When
    culturally-Christian atheists sneer at my observantly-Jewish friends
    and family members, I feel more allegiance with my fellow-Jews than I
    do with the members of the dominant group who are denigrating them. 
    That’s especially true because, in my experience, organized atheists
    tend to be pretty ignorant about Judaism.  For them, fundamentalist
    Christianity is the template for religion, and it’s ok to assume that
    all other religions are really just like fundamentalist Christianity.  
    I’ve also found that the atheist movement tends to oppose the
    accommodations that members of religious minorities need, while
    defending the ways in which the entire culture privileges mainstream
    cultural Christianity.  In fact, in a lot of ways I think that the
    atheist movement reinforces the dominance of mainstream Christianity
    and the marginalization of the rest of us.  They don’t particularly
    care about this, because to them the enemy is “religion,” and they
    refuse to acknowledge that not all religions or religious practices are
    equally privileged. 

    Second of all, I just don’t buy the premise that religion should
    necessarily be purged from public life.  Some people use religion to
    justify bigotry, and that’s bad and should be condemned.  But some
    people use science to justify bigotry, too.  It has been my personal
    experience that religious believers, motivated by religious convictions, can
    do some pretty extraordinary and positive things.  That doesn’t mean
    that all religious activism is positive, and it doesn’t mean that one
    has to be religious in order to be a terrific activist.  But if I’m
    going to fight something, it’ll be bigotry in politics, not religion,
    because bigotry is always bad.  Religion is, to my mind, basically neutral. 

    Finally, I don’t really see the appeal of becoming involved in
    organized atheism.  I don’t really crave atheist companionship.  I
    haven’t found that I get along better with atheists than with
    believers, and I don’t feel particularly oppressed or marginalized as a
    non-believer, even though I live in a relatively churchy small
    Midwestern city.  I can’t think of anything I would get out of
    organized atheism that I’m not getting elsewhere.  I’ve got limited
    time and energy for movement-joining,and I’m inclined to devote it to
    movements that seem important and relevant to me.

    • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

      Obviously, I’m coming from a really different place than most people of color, but I wonder if some PoC might share some of my reservations.
      [.........]

      But if I’m going to fight something, it’ll be bigotry in politics, not religion, because bigotry is always bad.  Religion is, to my mind, basically neutral. 

      Finally, I don’t really see the appeal of becoming involved in organized atheism.  I don’t really crave atheist companionship. [...] I can’t think of anything I would get out of organized atheism that I’m not getting elsewhere.  I’ve got limited time and energy for movement-joining,and I’m inclined to devote it to movements that seem important and relevant to me.I’m queer, Black, Jewish (almost), and female, and this resonates very strongly with me. It also echoes things that came up in exchanges with queer POC friends I’ve talked to.

    • K*

      Christians have a different idea of God than Jewish people do; I’ve heard the Christian understanding of God referred to as “Santa Claus”, whereas the Jewish interpretation is more ideological than a being who watches and preplans every single thing that we do.

      I’m really intrigued by your comment about not wanting to purge religion from public life. I came from a faith background where they really pushed us to get involved in politics and the military from childhood on to create an army for Jesus. (If you have seen Jesus Camp, much of that was how I was raised. My parents aren’t that hardcore and are generally reasonable, but they are quite lazy and the nearest church was hardline evangelical.) I react very, very strongly to anything remotely religious in the public sphere for that reason.

  • guark

    This is an interesting post. I am a black woman, though not an atheist black woman so I won’t be joining any sort of movement, but I did recently do a survey of all of my friends from all different spheres of my life and I realized that all of them except for two identified as atheist. It was actually sort of surprising and of the two that weren’t one is not overtly religious  (in part because she is non-Christian and to be overtly religious in America without being Christian can sometimes invite hostility) and the other one surprised me last year by converting to Christianity- it was quite a shock because she had been, up until that point, quite dogmatically atheist since the day we met when we were but wee children. But with all of my atheist friends my religious beliefs, practices, and occupation (religion stuff is my life) has never been an issue- mostly for one reason. Apart from never trying to convince me that God doesn’t exist (or me convincing them that God does) then they don’t say incredibly insulting things.

    Atheist non-friends that I encounter frequently hold up religion as all that is wrong in the world, as if eradicating religion would eradicate injustice, oppression, imperialism etc. Following that line of thought because religion= false consciousness then not having religion would result in seeing clearly and then people would no longer accept injustice and oppression (the masses will rise up and take what’s theirs, marxism yadda yadda).  This is just such an untenable theory. The idea that everyone in the whole world is deluded accept for atheists is just insane. Someone mentioned that atheists are just as tied up in cultural constraints as any religious person is and that’s very true. Additionally, atheists are kidding themselves if they think that taking religion out of the equation will result in a more equitable society. There will always be a way to justify oppression so long as you can rally enough people behind an idea.

    I realize that as a religious person I’m not at all the target demographic for this post but I recognize this as one of the biggest reasons why many of my friends are uninterested in having conversations with other atheists– this idea that they have all of the other answers and other people are deluded. Because my friends are good, reasonable people, they don’t enjoy calling everyone else in the whole world who doesn’t think like them a moron. I think that it’s the dogmatism (and the condescension) that drives people away. As people of color we get condescended to all the time and therefore if we’re reasonable then we wouldn’t want to take on the role of the person doing the condescending. We see that as a “white” role (condescension and arrogance is obviously not solely the domain of white people but it does get read that way sometimes). It can be read as a kind of cultural imperialism similar to European Christian missionaries in colonized countries, something that we’re especially sensitive to. And if POC’s are already wary of inhabiting a traditionally white space then we certainly wouldn’t want take on that role and be further seen in out communities as ethnic deserters or traitors or whatever POC’s call other POC’s who wander into white spaces. Now, obviously not all atheists are annoying assholes, but basically, if you’re looking to recruit people to your ranks then that’s the kind of attitude that would have to go first since thoughtful, reasonable people don’t want to be associated with nonsense.

  • Kat

     Wow, most of the comments here are the most jarring I’ve seen in a long while on racialicious. This is on how to get more atheist PoCs involved in atheist groups and not the place to say why atheism by its very existence attacks you as a Christian or why atheism is shite. Gee!

  • guark

    This is a very interesting post. 

  • Patty

    One of the things that irritates me most about the atheists I know is that many of them also adhere to the “individual first” mantra that runs through much of libertarian & objectivist thought.  This perspective unfortunately makes many of them blind to the entire concept of institutional sexism and racism, so any rational discussion about gender or race discrimination is impossible from the get go.

    A few years ago, an atheist objectivist Jewish friend of mine announced that he was not Jewish because he did not follow the Jewish religion and he would not be defined by his genes…to which I responded that anyone who looked at him would instantly classify him as ‘probably Jewish’ whether he liked it or not. I added that this classification would impact how others interacted with him; for example they wouldn’t tell jokes about Jews, they would avoid any mention of Israel except in passing, and they might even avoid him as much as possible if they really disliked Jews.  My friend then said my point was irrelevant to his self-identity, since other people are always free to act as they wish.  I retorted that the issue wasn’t one of identity but rather acceptance: it is stressful to continually assert a self-identity that society rejects as invalid.  He countered that society’s opinion of him was only as relevant as he let it be, and I countered that society’s opinion was relevant to the extent that it impacted his ability to live his life the way he wanted to.  The whole conversation derailed from there, and it was a while before we spoke again.

    PS – this issue reminds me of the many POC women who refuse to to ID as “feminist”, preferring instead to call themselves “womanists”.  

    • Anonymous

      Well it seems you were looking to take away this friend’s agency to create their own identity. That’s not a very good thing to do LOL…even though our identity is definitely influenced by outsiders, ethnicity is something that for many groups is a self-created thing. So self-identification is key and thus someone has a say so over that.

    • Anonymous

      Well it seems you were looking to take away this friend’s agency to create their own identity. That’s not a very good thing to do LOL…even though our identity is definitely influenced by outsiders, ethnicity is something that for many groups is a self-created thing. So self-identification is key and thus someone has a say so over that.

    • uninterested

      “One of the things that irritates me most about the atheists I know is that many of them also adhere to the “individual first” mantra that runs through much of libertarian & objectivist thought.  This perspective unfortunately makes many of them blind to the entire concept of institutional sexism and racism, so any rational discussion about gender or race discrimination is impossible from the get go.”
      Libertarianism and individualism will present themselves in whichever cultural landscape supports it.  It certainly isn’t limited to atheists, but it does take a dogmatically “scientific” spin instead of religious with them.  Either way, whether one is a believer or not, if one has incentive to maintain a system of privilege and oppression, one will.  This is why white atheists can be classist, or feminists can be transphobic, or some other group can perpetuate some other thing.

      Re:  Your Jewish friend.  I agree with DrHipHop.  Everyone is entitled to their own journeys with their identities.

      “PS – this issue reminds me of the many POC women who refuse to to ID as “feminist”, preferring instead to call themselves “womanists”.”
      You say that as if it’s an invalid position to take.

      • http://sharoncullars.blogspot.com/ Scullars

        “PS – this issue reminds me of the many POC women who refuse to to ID as “feminist”, preferring instead to call themselves “womanists”.”You say that as if it’s an invalid position to take.
         
        I agree with your assessment. Womanism is a valid alternative where the intersectionality of feminism and racism unduly impacts woman of color. Not all tenets of feminism raise up women of color and this often is not fully addressed in feminist forums. Womanism does attempt to address this divide.

    • Weedie

      Slight digression from the direct topic at hand, but what you’re saying regarding your friend makes complete sense to me actually. I don’t feel as though were attacking his ability to identify himself as he chooses; I think you were being realistic in terms of how society is going to treat him. I can go crying out loud about how I’m not a black girl until the cows come home, but at the end of the day, whenever I walk into the room that’ll be one of the first things to run though everyone’s mind. It might not be fair, but it’s facts. 

    • K*

      In my experience, Christians, especially more conservative Christians, are far more likely to espouse this sort of thought and behavior.

  • Soulsentwined

    As an undergraduate I attended one meeting of the “Students for Free thought” group. There were no other brown faces in the room. Nothing racist or sexist happened. I also didn’t make any connections there that would’ve made me return for a second meeting. I’m an introvert, to walk in there alone was hard. Maybe if people had been more friendly or if I’d known another atheist/agnostic to attend with I would have gone back. Or maybe better social opportunities would have helped.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10000635 Mike Price

    It’s amazing that the bare mention of “atheism” brings out detractors. The atheist “movement” is very, very decentralized and encompasses thousands of views and perspectives. Dawkins is not atheism. O’Hare is not atheism. Crommunist is not atheism.

    Where most atheists find common ground (and what compels them to organize in some fashion) is the belief that religious influence should be separated out from public policy. It’s fine if you want to keep your beliefs or lack thereof to yourself, but consider why you’re bothered by people who want to organize to achieve that goal.

    The “movement” has its share of problematic elements. In its efforts to destabilize religion’s influence, it often rides roughshod over the sensitivities of people whose religious beliefs play a central role to their identity. I, personally, don’t think that’s a very good way to convince people of the rightness of your cause, and I can see why for people of faith, “movement” atheism seems hostile, insensitive and in many cases, racist. But the answer to that — the way to improve the way politically and socially active atheists work to achieve their goal of decreasing religious influence in public policy — is through inclusion of minorities. More diverse voices will mean 1.) that culturally sensitive concerns will be heard more in atheist communities and 2.) that the media representation of atheism as monolithic, with Dawkins as its white, imperialistic, cantankerous figurehead, will give way to a more nuanced sense of who atheists are.

    • Anonymous

      Very well put…it definitely is some knee-jerk reactions to the mention of atheism and painting with broad brushes.

    • EndlessError

      Yes, THIS!

    • K*

      Thank you for this comment. I was thinking about skipping over this post once I saw the number of comments. I figured it would be full of people talking about how stupid atheism is, how atheists shouldn’t organize (lest we not be atheists), or about how atheists are converting people and are just as bad as Christians in that regard. I wasn’t wrong, but your comment made it better.

  • Horrified

    Ok, I find the phrase “freethinkers” ridiculously hostile. I’m a Christian and I’m… not free? Why are freethinkers free because they “reject” religion and embrace science? They’re not free from racism. They’re not free from patriarchy, ablism or any other cultural framework that they self serving refuse to reject. This isn’t a one-off – this is every atheist I’ve ever met. This is the entire skeptical community turning on a woman for daring to challenge misogyny. Where was the condemnation from the scientific community when it is said that “Africa is doomed because black people have a lower IQ”? It came from journalists who were then derided as politically correct. This community is not ignorant, they are racist to the core. Guess what people, you’re not “free”. You are bound in a bunch of self serving culturally constructed lies which maintain your power and perpetuate evil every single day. Sound like anyone you know?

    Problem 5: insufferable arrogance.

    I’m proud to be a Christian, and, yes, part of the black church. Communities are built around words and deeds. Societies handed power to religious organizations when they were the only ones willing to do anything to raise the welfare of the people around them. That’s how the Catholic church gained it’s power. That’s how religious organizations gained influence. Though schools, handouts, hospitals, civil rights  movements. What does the athiest community actually DO except give a platform to white rich private school Oxbridge educated old boys to put the rest of us down. 

    Even that stupid bus/t shirt is nonsense. If “freethinkers” understood anything about REAL LIFE they would know that the reason why churches put things on buses is that people are looking for HELP. If you think they need non religious help then GIVE IT. Put “there is probably no God, but we can all help each other make this world a better place” on the bus. The fact that they didn’t (don’t worry about it!) reflects an entire philosophy based around those who – literally – are at the top of the tree. They don’t have to worry about police brutality, or employment discrimination, or addiction, or rape, or oppression, or poverty. So of course if you shut every church or religious organization tomorrow, it wouldn’t bother Richard Dawkins or the skeptical community. They literally have no connection to the rest of society and how most people live.

    The guy writing this post is basically an apologist. “They’re not racist, they are just ignorant.” What does that even mean? They are racist, racist, racist. And stubborn and arrogant.
     

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10000635 Mike Price

      You make several good points, but I want to point out that many, many skeptics and atheists came to the defense of Rebecca Watson and did their best to call out others within the atheist and skeptic community on their misogyny. With regards to your assessment of scientific attitudes toward race and IQ, there were many scientists who opposed racist characterizations of that rubbish “science.” In the recent case of the psychologist who wrote in his Psychology Today blog about African-Americans being scientifically less beautiful, it wasn’t just those in the anti-racist communities who called him out on his racism; scientists did so, too, and demolished his piss-poor interpretations of his own results.

    • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

      I’m pretty sure that one of the main points I stressed in my post is that we need to shift our focus toward examining exactly the kinds of cultural biases and entrenched attitudes that you decry in your comment. Having a broad base of views within the community is a good way to accomplish that. So, insofar as you are critical of atheists as being just as closed-minded in certain aspects as those they (we) criticize, we’re speaking the same language.

      As far as James Watson is concerned, he was roundly criticized for his views by many scientists, and continues to be to this day. This doesn’t take away from the discoveries he helped make, but he’s generally regarded as a bit of a loon. Lots of Nobel winners are.

      Your general ignorance of how the Catholic Church gained power and influence can be forgiven. I would, however, recommend you take a look at church history the next time you consider asserting that it is through charity and magnanimity that the Vatican is sitting on such a huge pile of money and influence. As far as your ignorance about what the atheist community does for other people, you might want to Google Damon Fowler (mentioned explicitly in this article) or look at who the single biggest donor on the Kiva microlending site is. Atheists do quite a bit for each other and for the world.

      To say that atheists don’t have to worry about police brutality, discrimination, rape, poverty or oppression is frankly ridiculous. Do you think that all atheists are rich white men? Do you think that a broad swath of people don’t hate atheists? Do you think that no atheists are threatened with rape?

      Pro tip: if you’re going to put something in quotation marks, make sure it’s an actual quote. At no point did I say that people weren’t racist – I said they were well-meaning but not well-educated.

      Second pro-tip: atheists do not literally live at the top of a tree. We also do not literally have no connection to the rest of society.

    • EndlessError

      Do you actually know anything about the history of the Catholic church? Not saying liberation theology doesn’t exist but you might not want to spout out a bunch of lies ala Fox News to prop up morally corrupt institutions…

      • Ashish

        First of all, my apologies for the off-topic rant about to follow, but since no one else is calling out this example of religious intolerance:  

        “Do you actually know anything about the history of the Catholic church? Not saying liberation theology doesn’t exist but you might not want to spout out a bunch of lies ala Fox News to prop up morally corrupt institutions…”

        Right.  Like Glenn Beck has such a favorable view of Catholics?  It’s amazing how this type of religious intolerance (characteristic of many ‘Hollywood’ liberals) is allowed to slide because of the actions of a percentage of pedophile priests.  How is this any different from people who paint all Muslims as terrorists and wonder why the ‘peaceful’ Muslims aren’t more vocal in condemning these actions?  (It isn’t.)

        There are many Catholics (priests and otherwise) actively seeking various legal avenues to hold pedophile priests and the Catholic leaders they hide behind accountable for their despicable actions.  You never hear about this in the media because Catholic bashing is en vogue socially.  Maybe YOU should brush up on the long history of anti-Catholicism both in the U.S. and the U.K. and check your own bias.
        Catholicism has always acknowledged structural injustice, is very much congruent with socialist/communist political theory, is extremely anti-war, and has influenced rich African cultural traditions including Louisiana voodoo & Haitian vodou.  I’m sick & tired of people reducing Catholics to cartoonish Pope-clones and not being called out for it.

        • uninterested

          As someone who still IDs ethnically and culturally with Catholicism, I’m grateful for my Catholic upbringing and heritage, regardless of the fact that I really don’t believe in god.  I am southern Creole, and it’s very important to my family’s history in the US and French Caribbean.

          So I hope you feel me on this:

          The Catholic Church’s role in multiple genocides and ethnic cleansing campaigns throughout modern history is unacceptable.  Its position on AIDS and homosexuality is unacceptable in an era in which people still view the Pope’s words as gold.  Its position as an imperialist and capitalist force is unacceptable.  The pedophilia stuff is important, but speaks more to the Church’s need to update its doctrines rather than the idea that Catholics are inherently pedophile-y.  This is not to say other sects of Christianity are less guilty–they aren’t.  But I’m gonna call my people out.

          Someone else talked about black Christians inability to see Christian privilege.  I think matyrdom is very much a narrative woven into the Christian landscape.  However, Christians are not religious minorities in the US or UK.  A tea party candidate is far more likely to be Catholic than Muslim, believe that.

          • Ashish

            First of all, I’m an agnostic Hindu living in the U.S., complete with all of the dueling identities that this condition entails.  So I don’t necessarily have a God in this Christianity vs Atheism fight, so-to-speak. (But I do enjoy studying/discussing religion)

            “The Catholic Church’s role in multiple genocides and ethnic cleansing campaigns throughout modern history is unacceptable.”

            Couldn’t agree more.  I cherry-picked some potential positive aspects of Catholicism to balance out the cherry-picking of all the negative aspects (of which, there are obviously many).  But show me one society (secular or otherwise) that doesn’t have blood on its hands or at least, adhere to some sort of intolerant doctrine — this is a human problem, and not the exclusive domain of religion (see the secular regimes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc).

            And I make the Muslim-Catholic connection because recently, more often than not, they are the victims of hasty generalization (i.e. Muslim/Catholic leadership/doctrine is hostile to women, therefore all Muslims/Catholics must be hostile to women).  I believe that part of this site’s mission is to dismantle this type of ‘broad brush painting’, which is why I’m making this argument.

            “Christians are not religious minorities in the US or UK.”

            Granted, but when I hear the term ‘Christian’ without any other context, I assume it is referring to ‘white Anglo-Saxon Protestants’.  So while Catholics do benefit from Christian privilege, they have their own cultures/traditions/ethnicities that exist apart from (for lack of a better word) “mainstream” Christians — and I sometimes wonder if Catholic backlash is at least in part due to their culture/ethnicity, since those who identify as Catholic were (at one point in the past, or currently) considered minorities (Mexicans, South Americans, Irish, Italians, French) in the U.S. & U.K.

          • Ashish

            “A tea party candidate is far more likely to be Catholic than Muslim, believe that.”

            Well, if you are talking about Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly-style Catholics, you’re absolutely right.  But I don’t think that Helder Camara would be down with Tea Party bullshit.

        • K*

          Um, no. It wasn’t the actions of a “percentage of pedophile priests”. It was the systematic cover up of the rape of children for YEARS all the way up to the highest levels of the Vatican.

          YOU are an apologist, and you need to get your facts straight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

    When race comes up as a topic, I’m often mildly amused/horrified to hear the kind of 19th-century ‘scientific racist’ slogans that come out of the mouths of my confreres. I personally have a thick skin about it, knowing that people are well-meaning but just not well-educated. My experience is perhaps a bit atypical, and it only takes a couple of bad experiences to sour the whole idea for you permanently.

    I guess I’m “sketptical” about the “well meaningness” of  people (“freethinking” or otherwise)  who utter “kind of 19th century racist slogans”. How do you know that they are well meaning and what’s so amusing about these utterances?

    • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

      Surely you have non-PoC friends who occasionally say racially insensitive things out of sheer ignorance of the issue. It is no different in these circles, it just tends to get dressed up in sciency-sounding language. Most non-PoC atheists, like most non-PoC people, have not really spent a lot of time thinking about racism or race issues, so they stumble and say dumb stuff.

      It’s amusing because most of the time they are people I know personally to be inclusive and welcoming, but who just don’t speak the language yet. It’s usually an opportunity for discussion and instruction. Then again, your mileage may vary on how hard that kind of stuff hits you.

  • ShovaKLI

    Something about having to join a meeting and band together with other people in a set location to discuss a lack of religious beliefs feels a little, well… church-like to me. And convincing other people of your train of thought, atheistic or otherwise, and passionately wanting more people of color to join your side strikes me as very… evangelical. So this entire post is very contradictory to me.

    • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

      I’ll extend the benefit of the doubt and respond to you as though you’re not just trolling.

      There are benefits to being part of a community. Above and beyond simple tribe identity, being a member of a group allows you to do far more than you could individually. Churches are good evidence of this – they accomplish quite a bit (both positive and negative) because of their collective strength. Non-believers don’t have this option, so a parallel system is needed. And if you’ve ever been to an atheist event, you’d know that there’s far more discussed than simply everyone affirming they don’t believe in a god.

      Is it your position that people should not advocate for their position, or convince other people of the merits of that stance? Should we consider political parties or advocacy/awareness groups to be ‘just as bad as religions’? I’d say “of course not”, but that seems to be the statement you are making.

    • K*

      This is actually a pretty offensive thing to say. Would you say the same about women creating a feminist group, or POC starting an anti-racist group? There is more to being atheist than a “lack of religious beliefs”, but it is certainly not comparable to church, and there is NOTHING “evangelical” about wanting to make a group more welcoming to POC. I’m actually really angered by the amazing amount of ignorance in your comment here. Many of us are ex-Christians and grew up in evangelical faith communities, and we saw the damage that those beliefs caused and the hurt they caused. We are certainly not comparable to Dominionists. We don’t push our beliefs on people.

  • Anonymous

    At least this article does some reflection on the current state of the atheist movement and what it can do instead of taking a lax and uncritical “they will come eventually” approach that the one it is responding to did, but it’s still imperfect. It is off-putting to see people who routinely refer to themselves as free thinkers exercising the same tired loathsome forms of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. that the groups they routinely align themselves as superior to also utilize. We saw it recently with Rebecca Watson and how Dawkins. How do you feel welcome in a movement that resorts to the same alienating tropes that other movements do when they are trying to deny their culpability in oppressive and/or marginalizing behavior and as a byproduct, excluding you?

    • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

      I would argue that it’s even worse to see this kind of rank hypocrisy in a group that calls itself ‘freethinking’ and prides itself on finding rational solutions to problems. Atheists/skeptics/freethinkers are only human, and are not inherently impervious to making the same kind of boneheaded knee-jerk statements that we see from the general public.

      My position is that we should be talking about this issue more, and focus our attention on reducing the amount of exclusion we’re doing. That takes a lot of effort and determination, to be sure. As far as how I personally manage to feel welcome, I did make allusion to the fact that I am particularly thick-skinned when I hear people say bigoted things, and I am never too shy to speak up in opposition. I don’t expect everyone to be able to do that, which is why I say that as a community it’s of the utmost importance for us to put some actual effort into being more welcoming and increasing awareness of our own biases and blind spots.

      Of course, that assumes that the movement actually cares about these issues. If we don’t, then we should just admit that.

  • Scullars

    Oh, Jesus.

    Actually, even having grown up in the black church I often vacillate from a strong to a weakened belief in a higher power (I’ve been away from the church for over 20 years now).  When I do allow myself to believe in a higher power, I often believe in its malevolence more than its benevolence. Sometimes I just don’t know what to believe given any exigent circumstances when I feel abandoned. Therefore, I often find myself embracing the standpoint of  an “agnostic” than  an outright “atheist” only b/c it is hard for me to “unbelieve” a credo that somewhat defines me. A former friend with whom I no longer have contact designated himself an agnostic a long time ago and at that time I thought of him as an outlier just for expressing an unpopular (in the black community) stance. Now, I find myself vacillating toward that belief at critical times.

    As for the suggested campaign to get blacks to join the skepticism movement, this seems somewhat self-serving. It’s as though a lack of diversity interferes with the members’ self-image as that of progressive, non-racist folk. It is the diametric twin – but still the twin - of those socially passe groups who diligently fought to exclude POC and those of the Jewish faith so they could define themselves as “pure” white organizations. Ironically, now folk want to put on the “black” coat to dress themselves as non-racist progressives. At least, this is my interpretation of what I read above. It seems to me that these skeptical members are approaching the desired black membership as some sort of window dressing. Hardly any different from those folk who’ve grown up in a racially homogenous society (usually lily white suburbia) who move to the “big city” and suddenly find themselves socially irrelevant because they don’t have a “black” friend.

    If the skeptical community is serious about increasing membership of POC, the questions pondered should not focus on what the presence of blacks (and other POC) can do for the community but rather what the group can do for this desired demographic. The author does present one vital solution in that POC should be consulted in this campaign. Otherwise, the community’s efforts will tend to seem racially paternalistic.

    • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

      It’s a really good point you make about the tendency toward paternalism, and the need for ‘window dressing’. There are a whole lot of issues that are bundled up in this article which is long enough as is. However, I did write another piece on this issue a couple months ago. It’s definitely something that needs to be part of the conversation.

  • uninterested

    I’m black and I don’t believe in god.  I don’t ID as an atheist.

    My problem with the atheist movement is the fact that it’s a movement in the first place.  I don’t know about you guys, but my lack of belief in a god or gods is simply a matter of fact, and not really something I need to discuss in a group setting.  Certainly not something I’d join a “movement” over.  I’m not anti-religious either–god is just irrelevant to my life.  Atheists can be just as preachy and dogmatic as any other group.  And the idea that an atheist is a “freethinker” by virtue of being atheist is just as disingenuous as the idea that some white ex-Christian is an oppressed religious minority.

    The banner/t-shirt in that photo is irritating as shit, regardless of the race of the person wearing it.  Get a life.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed.  As another non-religious black person, I don’t feel the need to meet and organize.  Are there things that bug the ish out of me around the black community’s relationship to the church? Definitely!  But I’m not on a mission to educate, encourage or “liberate” black folks of color from Christianity because that feels too much like organized religion to me.

    • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

      My use of the word ‘freethinker’ was intentional – I am referring to a group in which not all members necessarily identify as ‘atheists’ or ‘skeptics’ but travel within the same circles.

      If you’re not interested in being part of the community then that’s your business. Many people aren’t. Some of us actually DO care about these issues. For many of us religion IS a major problem in our lives. You’re on an anti-racist blog – there are lots of people that don’t care about these issues either. Maybe all of us should take your advice and ‘get a life’ as well?

      Or maybe if you don’t care about something, you can just keep your opinions to yourself and stay out of the way of the people who are trying to do something to make the world a better place.

      • uninterested

        @ Crommunist

        Equating anti-racism with atheism is a false equivalency.  I mentioned atheists being disingenuous about their religious minority status–this is where that comes into play.  In the west, most atheists are ex-Christians.  The west and the larger sects of Christianity have specific cultural inclinations toward imperialism and domination, as well as proselytism.  Because western atheists are not born in a vacuum, they propagate these systems as well.
        Telling someone there’s probably no god is inflammatory and emotionally hostile.  Just as much as a similarly-stated Christian thing could be.  And telling me to keep my opinions to myself is…kinda controlling, innit?

        @ SayNay

        No doubt, the black community’s relationship to the church is problematic.  I’m queer, and I can’t say my realization of non-belief didn’t come from the heterosexism I’ve faced.  On the other hand, I was raised Catholic, so that’s a whole ‘nother bag of worms :)

        • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

          I must have missed the part where I said that atheists were perfect. Could you please point out that statement in the article? While you’re at it, it’d be helpful if you would point out where I made an appeal based on the minority status of atheists, rather than pointing out how your admonition to ‘get a life’ is nonsensical when applied as a general rule.

          “The west and the larger sects of Christianity have specific cultural inclinations toward imperialism and domination, as well as proselytism.  Because western atheists are not born in a vacuum, they propagate these systems as well.”

          Gee, it almost seems as though having non-western opinions added to the conversation would help improve the atheist movement. Almost as though diversity is a good thing! I’m glad to see we agree about that. I wonder how we get more people with diverse views involved? I sure wish someone would write a whole article about a topic like that…

          As far as “inflammatory”, if you’re going to clutch your pearls every time someone says something inflammatory, then you probably want to get off the internet. There will always be people who are offended by someone stating a dissenting belief. People are up in arms about similar posters saying things like “you don’t need to believe in God to be a good person.” Being non-inflammatory is a great way to be ignored as politely as possible.

          It’s particularly interesting to me to see someone saying that atheists shouldn’t express their opinions, then complain that I am ‘controlling’ you when I tell you that getting up on a soapbox and declaring how little you care is non-productive.

          • uninterested

            Hmm.  To clarify, I wasn’t telling you personally to get a life.  Moreso, the types who’d wear that t-shirt.  Assholish, and I apologize.

            “You don’t need to believe in god to be a good person” is a logical fact that, unfortunately, many people simply don’t understand.  However, “there probably is no god, so stop worrying and start living,” is 1) addressing monotheists directly, and 2) assuming that they are worrying and not living.  If there “probably” is no god, then you could easily say there “probably” is one as well.  Both claims would be equally unsupported.

            Does the “Atheist Movement” exist to espouse the joys and wonders of atheism?  To debate with believers of gods?  Believers in one god?  Christians?  Muslims?  Hindus?  To wear preachy slogan t-shirts and consider ourselves to be “dissenters”?

            As far as I see it, the “Atheist Movement” as it’s become is one intrinsically tied to classism and education elitism.  Religion is seen as some quaint, ethnic, backwards thing that needs to be left in the last millennium.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  But to organize an atheist missionary group to convert the brown and black people?  Nah, not down.

            Also, you’re stuck on this not caring thing.  I never said I didn’t care.  Obviously I do or I wouldn’t be posting.  I actually find this conversation to be quite refreshing.

            @ Mike Price

            I don’t necessarily see atheism as a monolith, but if it seeks to present itself as a movement, then I’m not sure what to say.  Is there a reform to the atheist orthodoxy?  A Church of Latter-Day Atheists?  lol, messing with you, but still…

          • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

            Many people ARE preoccupied with what their god wants them to do. It causes a great deal of suffering within families and communities. To those people, the message is simple: you can stop worrying about it.

            If I roll a die 6 times, I probably won’t get 2-2-2-2-2-2. It’s nowhere near “equally unsupported” for me to say that I probably WILL get 2-2-2-2-2-2.

            This post isn’t about going out and converting black and brown people away from theistic belief. I’m really not sure where you’re getting that. This is about bringing people who are ALREADY atheist PoCs out of the woodwork and getting them (us) involved. For some of us, that woodwork is just apathy, for others it is the woodwork of a church, which is why I mentioned that.

            You absolutely did say you didn’t care. You said that your atheism wasn’t something that was important enough for you to discuss. Not everyone feels that way about the issue, and those of us for whom religion does matter have found it useful to work together.

          • uninterested

            What is your atheist movement?  The original post didn’t attempt to define its tenants.  I think that would help me better understand where you’re coming from.

            “Many people ARE preoccupied with what their god wants them to do. It causes a great deal of suffering within families and communities. To those people, the message is simple: you can stop worrying about it.”
            How does the atheist movement reach out to these hypothetical preoccupied and worrying monotheists?  By telling them their gods “probably” don’t exist?  Is the goal to form a community with them?  Is it to convert?  Is it to antagonize?  The slogan used above is unclear.

            “If I roll a die 6 times, I probably won’t get 2-2-2-2-2-2. It’s nowhere near “equally unsupported” for me to say that I probably WILL get 2-2-2-2-2-2.”

            You wanna know what I don’t care about?  Debating whether or not god/s exist.  Boring.

            “You absolutely did say you didn’t care. You said that your atheism wasn’t something that was important enough for you to discuss. Not everyone feels that way about the issue, and those of us for whom religion does matter have found it useful to work together.”
            I said I wouldn’t want to discuss my lack of belief in a group, because I don’t personally need that kind of affirmation.  If others feel it’s important, I’m all for it.  Your original post is addressing the problem of getting black people into your movement.  I am presenting a possible reason why the movement isn’t reaching everyone.  It has a structure that some people simply aren’t interested in reinforcing.

          • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

            I am being asked to define the raison d’etre for the entire atheist movement, which is quite a tall order for the comment thread of an unrelated blog post. I’m also being asked to defend a bus ad that I did not create. Neither of those things really appeal to me, but if you want to e-mail me I will give it a shot. I will succinctly say that the several atheist communities that make up the overall movement are primarily about providing a ‘safe space’ for people to discuss their issues with religion. There is a subset of that community, of which I am a member, that engages in political activism and attempts at social change to move religion out of the halls of power and into the margins of society.

            “It has a structure that some people simply aren’t interested in reinforcing.”

            That may in fact be the case. Why would it be that PoCs are less interested in it than non-PoCs? Would the inclusion of a more diverse group of experiences and opinions help to change that structure? Should we be concerned with people that don’t want to get involved, or focus on the ones that might want to, but have some barriers to participation?

          • uninterested

            I did ask for you to define “your” movement not every atheist movement ever, but I can see how it’s a tall order either way.

          • Anonymous

            Even as a movment, movements are never monolithic…Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, LGBTQ rights, Labor Rights, etc all had a “face” but that didn’t stop them from not being monolithic. Just something to consider in this topic…

    • http://nakiahansen.com Nakia H.

      I totally agree. Religion and God are non-factors in my life and while I can hold an intelligent discussion as to why I feel that way, I’d rather not to. I don’t want to be in a group to discuss being Atheist or, rather, Agnostic. Probably better to say “indifferent” at this point anyway. To be clear, I’m not too knowledgeable about what “freethinkers” and/or Atheists discuss at meetings or what the movement is all about. I’d just rather be left alone to believe (or not believe) as I choose. I doubt that has anything to do with the fact that I’m black and female. I’m not understanding the push to bring POCs into the movement in the first place. For validity? To say you’ve addressed the diversity issue? To show how free-thinking you really are? Or do folks really think that their experience and success as a “movement” will improve by having a more diverse group of followers? 

      • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

        There are a variety of reasons why people might want to include more PoCs in the movement (atheist or otherwise). The reason why I want to do so is because there are points of view and perspectives that are missing from the discussion, and we can do a much better job reaching out to people if our conversations include those perspectives. There are certainly more cynical reasons to do it, which you’ve alluded to.

        Wince at the word ‘followers’. The only place I ‘follow’ anyone is on Twitter.I’ve explored this topic a bit if you’d care to read my take on it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Casher-Oneil/100002427586133 Casher O’neil

    Well, as a Christian I guess I am not welcome here.  This is the last time I will be visiting this site.

    • Anonymous

      If you can’t read an atheist’s explanation of issues within their movement without automatically interpreting it as “Christians aren’t welcome at Racialicious since we also discuss atheist issues,” then you are right.

    • Sanoe

      As a pagan, my mind is boggling at how you could interpret this post as being hostile to theists.

    • Anonymous

      I have to say while this post does not make me feel like Christians are not welcome, I would like to see a post on religions and POC. Maybe that is what you are implying…?

    • Shebahsaboodle

      How in the world did you interpret this article that way?  Ridiculous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10000635 Mike Price

    Your comment about it being more shocking to hear racist statements being made by people who profess rationalism rings very true to me. I’m not as up to speed on the atheist movement’s interactions with minority members, but the feminist equivalent of your point reared its very ugly head over the treatment of Rebecca Watson. It was shocking and disheartening as a member of atheist and feminist communities to see “rationalism” trotted out in service of such sickening, ignorant prejudices.

    • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

      I too was quite shocked at the ANGER present after someone had the temerity to ask men not to do something that makes many women uncomfortable. I can understand not getting it – I didn’t get it at first and had a lot of people frustrated with me trying to explain it, but at no point did it even occur to me to go on a misogynist tirade against the speaker. 

      It is getting better though, generally. Baby steps…

  • http://twitter.com/SallyStrange Sally Strange

    Great article! I really, really want to get more involved in the atheist movement. When that happens, I’ll be bringing my anti-racist and feminist worldview with me. This is extremely useful.