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Jul 25 2012

“Scientific” Racism Among Atheists (Updated)

Greta has started a conversation about racial inclusivity in the atheist and skeptical movements.

We talked about how, as difficult and painful as our community’s conversations about gender and sexism have been, at least we’ve been having them — in a way that we haven’t been, nearly as much, about race. The community has done a lot more work on gender diversity than we have on racial diversity, and we’re a lot further along in making practical progress. We talked at this lunch about some of the reasons this might be. (Some ideas floated: Our society is often racially segregated, and white people can ignore race in a way that men can’t ignore gender. Also, liberals and progressives often see race as a minefield, and are often scared to even talk about it for fear of starting a fight, opening old wounds, or saying something stupid.)

We talked about some of the obstacles to increasing racial diversity and making people of color feel more welcomed in the atheist movement. And we talked about what specific, practical action items people could take — individuals, local groups, national organizations, thought leaders, etc. — to improve this situation. I wanted to share that list, and talk about it, and solicit other ideas.

The reaction to that conversation should not surprise anyone who’s been following the gender inclusivity discussions. Greta specifically made that comment thread off limits to those who want to question the existence of a problem, but that hasn’t stopped people from doing so elsewhere.

The Twitter account for the MySpace Atheists & Agnostics group covered the gamut yesterday. There was the “How do you know underrepresentation is a real problem” response.

@ @ What is the evidence that the predominance of white #atheists at events is the result of racism? #atheist
@ATHEISTAGNOSTIC
ATHEISTS & AGNOSTICS

There was the the “It isn’t a problem for me” response.

@ @ Do U have any examples? Again, I am a #Latino & I've been made to feel MORE than welcome at #atheist events
@ATHEISTAGNOSTIC
ATHEISTS & AGNOSTICS

There was the “Attack all the pieces without acknowledging the pattern” response.

. @ Examples: Speakers at cons mostly white. Speakers at local groups mostly white. May PoC report bad experiences at events.
@GretaChristina
Greta Christina

@ 1st 2 still require proof racism is the cause. It can be cultural also. Can you give an example of the 3rd?
@ATHEISTAGNOSTIC
ATHEISTS & AGNOSTICS

There was the “But the problems are all in the past and everything is better now” response.

@ Sorry, but no. Initial racism in a culture can lead to severe cultural differences that are very difficult to overcome.
@ATHEISTAGNOSTIC
ATHEISTS & AGNOSTICS

There was the “Let’s define the problem out of existence by concentrating on extremes” response.

@ Actually ALL racism is an act of hate, no matter how minor. Mere cultural differences happen as groups adopt mere patters.
@ATHEISTAGNOSTIC
ATHEISTS & AGNOSTICS

You get the picture. It’s all so familiar that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this user has been retweeting anti-Rebecca Watson accounts and unironic #FTBullies tweets.

Eventually, Greta put up a post requesting examples of the racism that people of color face in the atheist and skeptical movements. She’s received a number of interesting answers to date. One that has come up a couple of times is something that I’ve seen myself, both on my own blog and on science blogs that address racial categorization. That something is scientific racism.

To be specific, there is a current of thought among some atheists and skeptics that differences in the living conditions of various ethnic groups are due to unchangeable (e.g., genetic) differences between those groups. More blacks arrested than whites in the U.S.? Blame a “propensity” toward violence. Socioeconomic inequalities? Blame group differences in IQ and claim that they’re inherited. You get the idea.

Now, there are published studies that have been done that claim to support these ideas. Of course, they’re generally old and frequently not well-designed or well-controlled. They ignore other documented causes of inequalities. They can’t explain the magnitude of the differences observed. But that doesn’t stop atheists and skeptics from hauling them out and masticating them publicly–exactly the same way they do with studies that purport to show that gender inequality is some fixed, unchangeable thing.

Now, admittedly, the fact that these people comment on the blogs of atheists and skeptics isn’t enough to tell us that they are members of our communities. Nonetheless, if these arguments are held on our blogs, this is still something that people of color who want to participate in our movements have to deal with. For some, it may be enough to see communities arguing against scientific racism. Others will turn away, because they can get the same crap in places where people don’t expect them to be activists on the behalf of those arguing for their racial inferiority.

But there are easily identified members of our movements who make these arguments too. One of the most vocal people around these parts on the topic of genetic determination of IQ is Bryan Pesta. He’s published one study on racial IQ differences. He comments on Steve Sailer’s blog. He likes to ask what qualifications I have to argue with people who have published dozens of crap studies instead of explaining why those studies aren’t crap.

Atheist? Oh, yes. He’s spoken at conferences in the past. He gained some measure of fame when the MySpace Atheists & Agnostics group he founded was suspended. In fact, he appears to now be tweeting up a storm as an easily identified atheist (see tweets above). Update: Pesta says that it is simply a coincidence that a MySpace group tweeting under the name Atheists&Agnostics, that this is not his Twitter account.

So, when he wants to know what kinds of racism people of color face in our movements, tell him to go look in a mirror.

51 comments

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  1. 1
    Bridget Gaudette

    I can’t tell you the scientific reasons that people of color are underrepresented in the movement, but I will say that as a Black Atheist I feel a *responsibility* to be very open and visible and hope that that draws other Blacks(especially females)out.

    http://emilyhasbooks.com/a-minority-within-a-minority-within-a-minority/

  2. 2
    zekehoskin

    It might help not to use, and especially not to hear, “racist” as an unforgivable insult. As in, I’m white, some of the people I grew up around were racist, I’m not perfect, so I had some racist attitudes that I had no easy way of noticing until somebody pointed them out to me. So I’m a racist, doing my best not to be a racist. I realize that isn’t sufficient, but it’s a necessary first step. Meanwhile, my observations aren’t relevant to any claim of no-racism-here, and I depend on people who can see it to label it.

  3. 3
    Sarah E

    @zekehoskin well put! I would also like to reaffirm that whites are not the only people who have unconsciously absorbed racist attitudes (about ourselves and others). We are a product of out culture but pretend we arose in a vacuum.
    These are going to be awkward conversations but being willing to have them is the first step on both sides.

  4. 4
    Sivi

    Short list of massively racist scientific authors:

    Arthur Jensen, JP Rushton, Richard Lynn, Helmuth Nyborg, Tatu Vanhanen, Satoshi Kanazawa, Richard J. Herrnstein, Charles Murray, DI Templer, H. Arikawa, and basically all their coauthors.

    Their studies are badly designed (like, in one on national IQ levels, Lynn and Verhanen tried to correlate IQ and predominant skin colour, and assigned skin colour by asking three grad students to estimate, based on their personal judgements, the predominant skin darkness in 104 countries on a 1-8 scale).

  5. 5
    Sivi

    “I would also like to reaffirm that (men) are not the only people who have unconsciously absorbed (sexist) attitudes (about ourselves and others). We are a product of out culture but pretend we arose in a vacuum.
    These are going to be awkward conversations but being willing to have them is the first step on both sides.”

    Check yourself, eh? Is this really a “both sides need to admit their failings” kind of thing?

  6. 6
    Sivi

    Hm. That might have been a bit hasty – obviously, in my re-write it’s true in fact that women perpetuate and enforce patriarchy. And yes, PoC can be racist.

    But that has its biggest effects among persons of colour, not in a “reverse racism why can you say cracker but I can’t say the n-word” kind of way. It’s true people can be biased against white people, but I would side-eye the hell out of anyone who called it racism.

  7. 7
    Avicenna

    I had a free test with MENSA (I was curious about IQ this year so I went along), I did ask them about IQ and stress and they admitted something I found quite amusing.

    Many MENSA members don’t put much stock into IQ because your IQ can vary by upto 2 to 3 Standard Deviations either way over the course of a day due to a variety of situations ranging from interest (if you are bored of doing something you become very very stupid), sleep deprivation, hunger and immediate stress. It’s why you choke on exams and why the army has “drill” and “formations”. To make drill instinct rather than thought has the advantage of reducing the chance of choking under stress…

    IQ is mere puzzle solving ability. It can translate to intelligence and useful skills depending on how you use it. But you know what?

    Hard Work, Dilligence, Integrity, Standing up for Yourself and Be Genuinely Nice (Rather than a Nice Guy)will do more for you in the real world than IQ. If you ever, ever, ever use your IQ value as a qualifier in an argument then you are sadly doing something very stupid.

    Hell, I have seen IQ tests on spatial awareness being used to claim that women are genetically predisposed to sucking at videogames. Having a huge IQ is like being the world champion of Sudoku. Nice Title, but it depends on how you use it.

  8. 8
    Otrame

    @6. Sigh

    If you base assumptions about people on the color of their skin you are a racist. It does not matter what color your own skin is.

  9. 9
    reneerp

    @8
    That’s a “common sense” definition of racism, but conversations in social justice circles tend to distinguish between prejudice based on skin color and racism, which implies institutionalized and (to some extent) systematic discrimination against people of color.

    I don’t think your comment moves things forwards, but maybe Im missing something.

  10. 10
    Sarah E

    @Sivi I’m not sure the words really matter. PoC (women, homosexuals, immigrants, and all “other” groups) have preconceived notions about other people based on their group status (which in the case of heterosexual, Judeo-Christian, male, “white”, college-educated) tends to evoke the norm through instionilizatiom and the media since they have the most socio-economic power proportionally)., the labels only allow us to intellectually separate ourselves. Everyone has a bias, a perspective, it doesn’t matter what we call it right now– it would be a revolution of everyone admitted it. I believe te term racistay be too evocative to be helpful and doesn’t reallly get at the totality of the issue.
    I think these conversations get bogged down generally by exchanges of guilt, blame, accusations, and defensiveness. I think stopping a minute and accepting everyone’s inherent humanity (fallibility) is the best place to start.

  11. 11
    rq

    The Crommunist Manifesto has a nice explanation of the use of the word ‘racist’ vs. ‘racism’ as a concept, somewhere in the FAQ (http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2011/07/26/youre-not-a-racist-youre-just-racist/).
    Also, for those who have a hard time believing that racism actually exists in today’s society, there is a LOT of information about how subtle and invasive and pervasive (and difficult to identify) racism can be. I recommend. I know I’ve certainly learned a lot.
    (And yes, this is not the only blog for such information; it’s just the one I’m most familiar with.)

  12. 12
    Winterwind

    Otrame:

    If you base assumptions about people on the color of their skin you are a racist.

    That’s too simplistic. I realise you can’t be expected to write a manifesto in a comment, but that definition is so simplistic as to be unhelpful. If I assume that someone with paler skin than me will burn after a shorter period of exposure to sunlight, I am making an assumption based on their skin colour but I am not being racist. Similarly, if I assume that someone with dark skin and stereotypically East African features has an ancestor from East Africa, I am not being racist.

    However if I make assumptions about a person’s intelligence, personality, values, education etc. based on a person’s racial background (e.g. Blacks are lazy, Arabs are violent, Asians are studious) then I am crossing into racist territory by making unwarranted generalisations and perpetuating dehumanising stereotypes.

    Also skin colour does not equal race, and using it as a shorthand is probably not helpful.

    It does not matter what color your own skin is.

    It does, actually, because not all “races” have the same status and privilege in our racist social hierarchy. There is a difference between a straight person calling a gay person a “homo,” and a gay person calling a straight person a “hetero.” You can call the gay person “heterophobic” but to pretend that that is anywhere near equal to homophobia is just ignorant. Straight people benefit from being the dominant majority group in society. They don’t experience the same discrimination that gay people do. The same applies to race.

    Sarah E:

    I’m not sure the words really matter. PoC (women, homosexuals, immigrants, and all “other” groups) have preconceived notions about other people based on their group status (which in the case of heterosexual, Judeo-Christian, male, “white”, college-educated) tends to evoke the norm through instionilizatiom and the media since they have the most socio-economic power proportionally)., the labels only allow us to intellectually separate ourselves. Everyone has a bias, a perspective, it doesn’t matter what we call it right now– it would be a revolution of everyone admitted it. I believe te term racistay be too evocative to be helpful and doesn’t reallly get at the totality of the issue.
    I think these conversations get bogged down generally by exchanges of guilt, blame, accusations, and defensiveness. I think stopping a minute and accepting everyone’s inherent humanity (fallibility) is the best place to start.

    Words do matter. There’s no point in making people feel guilty and ashamed for things they can’t control. But they should feel a bit guilty when they say or do something racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise discriminatory, because it harms other people. If I went to a party and made a social faux pas like getting drunk, vomiting on the table and groping the other guests, I would feel guilty, and the guilt would motivate me to behave better in the future.

    Yes, all humans have biases. Some people’s biases are more damaging than others because they are reinforced by social structures. If I say white people are lazy, stupid, ugly underachievers, no white kid is going to take my comment to heart because every mainstream movie, book, TV program, music video, magazine cover, Congress session and scientific study is telling her a different story. If I make the same comment to a black kid, she’s going to say, “Yes, it’s true. I know my people are dumb and ugly. That’s what I’ve been told since the day I was born.”

    Words have power. Stories have power. We can use that power to make the world a better place. But if we’re too afraid of using words like “sexist” and “racist” because we might step on people’s toes and make them uncomfortable, nothing is going to change

  13. 13
    Bjarte Foshaug

    I always cringe when people start bringing biology into discussions about the rightness or wrongness of inequality. To me anti-racism, like feminism, is first and foremost an ethical position, not an empirical claim about the precence or absence of staticstical differences between groups. I oppose discriminating against people of any group because it goes against my core values whether or not there are such statistical differences*. As Steven Pinker puts it in The Blank Slate, “It is a bad idea to say that discrimination is wrong only because the traits of all people are indistinguishable”, as this seems to imply that discrimination wouldn’t be wrong after all if any innate differences turned out to exist.

    * I’m not claiming that there definitley are such differences, only that it’s irrelevant with respect to the wrongness of discrimination.

  14. 14
    Sivi

    Okay, I need to not write comments late at night, since I do stuff like @4 where I just submit without finishing half my sentence.

    Other issues with studies by the racist authors I listed above are that they get published in peer-reviewed journals, and that they’re typically publishing the sort of tired old racist stereotypes that have been around for hundreds of years, so it’s not even new or interesting racism.

    As for the rest, I’ll basically just +1 Winterwind’s comment about how some racial prejudice has weight behind it, and some doesn’t.

  15. 15
    Tyrant of Skepsis

    I want to second #13: gender-, race-, etc… -equality is a value which we choose to honour and enforce in our society because we have decided that it’s the ethical thing to do. What statistical differences actually do exist between groups due to biology simply doesn’t enter the equaition. Anyone arguing that the latter is supremely important has a very high chance of being a privileged asshat.

  16. 16
    Tsu Dho Nimh

    “If you base assumptions about people on the color of their skin you are a racist. It does not matter what color your own skin is.”

    Color is a handy marker for the likelihood of sickle cell anemia (whether full-blown or carrier state). It’s far more common in people with sub-Saharan ancestry than any other group.

    So if I (working as a ski patroller) saw an adult POC in my clinic with problems breathing, or with a complaint of upper-left quadrant pain, or painful, bloody urination … one of my first assumptions is going to be that they might be a carrier and their symptoms are triggered by strenuous exercise at 10,000 feet causing their defective hemoglobin to do its thing. And that we need to know if they have ever been screened for it. Because it can kill them. Fast. Unless they have a confirmed negative, the assumption will be that they are positive and the treatment will take that into account.

    Am I being “racist”? Racist would be failing to give them the proper care – not asking about their sickle cell status – or not bumping them past the sprained wrists and other mild injuries because they are a POC.

    Way back in the 1970s, units of blood collected for transfusion indicated the apparent race of the donor … it no longer is, and I missed that information when I was working blood banks later. One specific antigen that can cause problems in transfusions is far less common in people with sub-Saharan ancestry …. so when looking for a LewisNeg units we would pull units with “N” in the race field and check them. It meant less work for us, and a faster crossmatch for the patient. Except for that situation, blood got used in a FIFO queue

    Were we being “racist”, or just being pragmatic?

  17. 17
    ischemgeek

    @zekehoskin Actually, Crommunist has a good point about it. I forget which post of his it’s in (I’ve read pretty much every post of his since October, so that’s a lot of posts, and it’s entirely possible the point is talked about in more than one post… so all I can really say is go read his blog if you don’t already because it has some of the best thoughts on racism on the internet), but he basically argues that the phrase “a racist” is meaningless when you’re immersed in racist culture. There’s really no such thing as “a racist” when everyone is “a racist” to some degree. Add in that the phrase demonizes and others racism, which makes it hard to call people on racist views and have any meaningful discussion past, “I’m not a racist!”

    Though, speaking as a white person, it’s sometimes useful to deadpan, “I am,” if you get the “I’m not a racist!” response, just because it shocks them enough for you to explain that our culture is racist and everyone absorbs racist views to an extent so everyone is a racist in our culture, and the shame is not in having racist views, but in not combating them when you recognize or are called on them as such. But that’s not something you want to say in public unless you know people there will hear out what follows.

    And a final word to the wise: don’t do that with an immature person, because they will probably still have a very black-and-white view of the world and probably won’t be able to grasp the nuance of it (I say this as someone who had a teacher relay that exact argument to me in high school – though he used teenagers with too many facial piercings as an allegory to race because it was safer than blatantly opening up the racism can of worms – as a teenager and had it go over my head for a few years. Though I still disagree with the man on a lot of things, I have grown to realize he was a lot wiser a person than I recognized at the time).

  18. 18
    Stephanie Zvan

    Tso Doh Nimh, racist. Color is not a handy marker for sickle cell anemia. Ancestry in parts of the world where malaria is common is. If you rely on skin color for that, you’re missing a whole bunch of people who need the same consideration.

  19. 19
    A Hermit

    Bjarte Foshaug says:

    I always cringe when people start bringing biology into discussions about the rightness or wrongness of inequality. To me anti-racism, like feminism, is first and foremost an ethical position, not an empirical claim about the precence or absence of staticstical differences between groups.

    THIS^

    Exactly. Judging an individual on the basis of the perceived qualities of some general category is simply unjust.

    I’ve made this argument with anti-gay marriage types; I can usually get them to admit that some gay couples can be good parents. Then I ask them how they can deny those good parents the right to have a family…

    Of course that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also challenge those categorical misconceptions. Sloppy science should always be met with rigorous debunking.

  20. 20
    beth

    Bjarte @13

    I think you make an excellent point. Clearly differences exist between groups of people. Men are generally taller than women. People of desended mainly from Africans generally have darker skin than people descended mainly from European. It’s likely that other differences, not so easily discerned and quantified, correlate with the differences we can observe. I really like your Pinker quote.

    It’s an ethical position that all people should be treated the same rather. It’s an ethical position that making assumptions about individuals based on their membership in a particular group is wrong. It’s an ethical position that atheist organizations should make special efforts to include members of groups that have been excluded in the past.

    These are ethical positions that I can agree with and strive to live up to. They are not empirical questions to be settled with further scientific study. Even if the claimed differences were proven to exist, it would not matter. My ethical position is that all human beings are created equal and that a society of equal opportunity for all is a worthwhile goal.

  21. 21
    Dunc

    To me anti-racism, like feminism, is first and foremost an ethical position, not an empirical claim about the precence or absence of staticstical differences between groups. I oppose discriminating against people of any group because it goes against my core values whether or not there are such statistical differences*.

    Precisely. This is why it is still wrong to discriminate against (for example) short people, even though there clearly are measurable differences in people’s heights. We do not need to assert that everybody is the same height in order to argue against height-based discrimination.

    The really strange thing is that, when you phrase it appropriately, almost everybody will agree that people should not be discriminated against because of arbitrary factors over which they have no control. It’s only when you then pin them down to specific arbitrary factors (such as race, gender, or intelligence) that they change their tune.

    Which raises an interesting ethical question – to what extent is it acceptable to discriminate against stupid people? After all, it’s not their fault, yet they tend to get shoved to the bottom of the heap and stuck with all the shit jobs. And on the flip side, the factors that enabled me to succeed in formal education and land a well-paid, high-status job were mostly outwith my control – to what extent is it legitimate for me to enjoy the benefits of such arbitrary good fortune?

    Sorry, went a bit off-topic there…

  22. 22
    Sivi

    @Dunc,

    The thing with the example of “stupid” people is, well, yes there are issues with intellectual discrimination.

    But it’s also kind of sketchy to say “yet they tend to get shoved to the bottom of the heap and stuck with all the shit jobs” either. That starts to imply what lots of people say, that stupid people tend to accumulate in lower socio-economic groups, and smart people in higher ones. This is patently pretty untrue, as there are clever and stupid people at all levels, working all sorts of jobs.

  23. 23
    Dunc

    Good point Sivi, that was poorly expressed of me… Still, you get what I’m saying, yeah? Namely, that those of us with the good fortune, through no effort on our own part, to be well-suited to formal education, have access to opportunities that less-fortunate people don’t.

  24. 24
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Avicenna:
    IIRC, IQ also strongly correlates with education, particularly early childhood education. Early childhood education correlates with SES, of course, and given the discrepancies in SES on a population level among ethnic groups (itself an entirely and demonstrably social rather than biological problem) that would appear to be the parsimonious explanation for any observed variances in average IQ. I suspect that breaking the same data sets used by the ‘scientific’ racists down by family income rather than ethnicity would back me up, too.

  25. 25
    Sivi

    @Dunc: Yeah, no worries

    @Dalillama: There’s a couple other factors in there too, like black kids often basically being second-language learners in school, since they often grown up speaking AAE rather than SAE. And there’s a ton of arguments about IQ – very few studies that talk about intelligence are using Intelligence Quotient measures, and the term “IQ” itself is so vague as to be useless, since there are virtually no intelligence tests these days that measure something called “IQ”.

  26. 26
    Martha

    Thanks for this post and for the interesting discussion. I was appalled by those tweets. I wish I could say I was shocked, but I can’t honestly say that.

    I was amused recently by a friend, originally from South Africa and now a New Yorker, who told me that other Americans don’t believe her when she says some of the reaction to Obama is due to race. I laughed and said of course it is! The more I’ve thought about it, the more worrying it is to me that people of good will deny the effect of race in judging Obama’s presidency, as it means we’re not examining our unconscious biases. I recently read a reference to a study showing that a resume with a stereotypical African American name like “Tyrone” needs an additional eight years of experience to be evaluated at the same level as one with a stereotypical white American name. This is not a small effect, and most of us will have to work hard to overcome it.

    The issue of terms like sexism & racism is also an interesting one. I agree with Sivi #6 that all of us are affected by a patriarchal and racist culture. In the case of gender, studies show that men and women evaluate “Mary” resumes more harshly than “John” resumes to exactly the same extent. The difference is, when you point this out to women, they tend to compensate better than men do. I guess I’d be a little surprised if PoC discriminated in this way to the same extent as the larger culture, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t an effect.

    People generally respond better to being told they have an unconscious bias than they do to the terms “racist” or “sexist,” and I can understand why, especially if equality is a strong part of their ethical worldview. I like Ian’s idea that people aren’t racist, but actions are, but I’m not completely sure I buy it. I know people I would consider racist or sexist, above and beyond our societal level of bias. It’s comforting in a way to have a different name for them than for the general level of cluelessness in our society. Nonetheless, we all have a moral obligation to examine our own attitudes with respect to race & gender, and failing to do so is sexist or racist.

  27. 27
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Sivi:
    Yeah, I was definitely oversimplifying there. I haven’t got any children, and my perspective on education is colored by that; I tend to focus a bit too much on technical/administrative problems, and have a particular hair up my ass about the lack of a national curriculum and the catastrophic and blatantly racist way in which school funding is handled in the U.S.

  28. 28
  29. 29
    Sivi

    @27 Dalillama,

    For sure. I know up here curriculum is set at the provincial level – is it at the state level down there, or at the local level? I know a lot of the church/state issues in the States come up with local school boards, but I don’t know much about the jurisdictional stuff.

  30. 30
    Sivi

    Also, speaking of hairs in bums, “scientific” racism is a big one of mine, so that’s why I’m a bit hair-trigger in this thread.

  31. 31
    A Hermit

    On the IQ thing, I remember my brother buying a book of sample IQ tests when he was in high school and practicing the skill of taking IQ tests. Raised his scores rather dramatically as I recall…

    The idea that such tests can be used to determine strictly biological differences is, frankly, absurd.

  32. 32
    Jim Lippard

    “there is a current of thought among some atheists and skeptics that differences in the living conditions of various ethnic groups are due to unchangeable (e.g., genetic) differences between those groups”

    When, in fact, “these groups” are largely socio-cultural constructions that do *not* correspond to real biological categories. Everybody go read chapter 6 of Bowker & Star’s _Sorting Things Out_ (1999, MIT Press), about racial reclassifications under apartheid in South Africa: http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=4003&mode=toc

  33. 33
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Sivi:
    In the States, curricula are determined at the state level in Texas and California, but everywhere else they are set at the county, city, and sometimes district level.

  34. 34
    jesse

    OK, I will throw in here of some real bigotry among atheist circles that masks itself as being “rational” about religion.

    Whenever the discussion turns to Islam, the comments about how silly it is or horrible it is start to come up. I remember once on Ed Brayton’s blog, a year or two ago when a discussion of Jewish law or custom came up.

    Ed wasn’t trying to be racist. But he said that the concept of an eruv seemed silly. Well, it is, at one level. But a more religious Jew was a little miffed. As was I, and I am only half Jewish and not religious in the slightest. In a similar vein, whenever Islam comes up the language gets a bit ugly.

    Now, I hear all the time, “I’m not making fun of/criticizing Jews/black people/Arabs, just their religion.” Well, strictly speaking, that’s true, but only if you completely ignore the racialization of Islam in the US, or the entire history of the Jewish people viz. Christians, or the fact that black churches played a very important and specific role. Or the fact that the American Indian Movement, to name one, was a primarily religious phenomenon — there wasn’t any “logical” reason to value one parcel of land over another.

    That’s the kind of stuff that really, really rubs me the wrong way. I almost feel like I am about to hear someone go off about how “primitive” those “others” are, an if only they were smart, enlightened atheists like us they would be better. The fact that it sounds an awful lot like the old assimilation/cultural destruction talk of the last century seems to be lost on a lot of people.

    Now this doesn’t mean religion shouldn’t be criticized. But there is a vast, gigantic, chasm-like difference between saying “Wow, those benighted Muslims/Jews/whatever sure are silly” and “Hey, these practices don’t make a lot of logical sense if one takes it on its face.”

    The other issue is that the argument is so freaking trivial. Even religious Jews don’t think that kosher laws, for instance, make logical sense that way. They would be the first to acknowledge that it’s a matter of group identity as much as faith in God.

    The same with black churches. There is a reality that white atheists especially seem to not really acknowledge, and that is that being religious isn’t just a matter of being stupid and brainwashed. And when you you are dealing with people who are not part of the dominant culture you have to think a wee bit about how identity is constructed. In a perfect world ridiculing Jewish or Islamic custom in the United States would be the same as ridiculing Catholic custom. But it isn’t.

  35. 35
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Hmmm. I generally try to treat people like, you know, people, regardless of race, gender, etc., because that’s how I’d like to be treated.

  36. 36
    michael

    Great Article, really good topic. I agree that people are a product of their environment and its nice to hear people highlight this, that it is not only white males to blame for the whole racism/sexism issue. Ie. it makes no more sense to attribute the blame for previous white males on white males now.

    I am at a complete loss as to why the major demographic in the atheist community is white males, is it because all of us atheist white males secretly or unconciously are racist and sexist? Sure some are but this is probably no different, perhaps better, than most communities.

    It would be nice to have the free thinking community free from bigotry all together

  37. 37
    jesse

    @michael —

    part of the answer is simple. If you are white and male, you can afford to be a bit of an eccentric, or even reviled by some other people around you, because all the other advantages you get (being W & M, for one) can offset that.

    That’s not complete, of course, but imagine yourself as a woman of color. You haven’t got the automatic slack that people cut a white dude who has some quality (liek atheism, perhaps) that other people find sort of objectionable. In fact, you depend on your community a lot more, and being an atheist, or not fitting to gender norms, has a much bigger cost. ‘Cuz nobody cuts you any slack.

  38. 38
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Damn, the whitesplaining going on in this thread….

  39. 39
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    What, Daisy, white people aren’t allowed to have opinions?

  40. 40
    Winterwind

    Do you always respond to use of the phrase “mansplain” with “What, men aren’t allowed to have opinions?” Hint: they are.

  41. 41
    Godless Heathen

    Glad Greta brought this up. I’ve been waiting for it to start being discussed in the community at large. I figured the responses would be similar to the responses to sexism, but worse, because there are so many fewer people of color in the movement than there are women.

    Although, the responses to sexism were pretty bad, so…

  42. 42
    Bryan

    Hi Stephanie.

    1. That’s not my twitter account. I have one account there; haven’t used it in something like a year.

    You should present even some tiny bit of evidence the account referenced above is mine, or retract?

    2. I do not consider myself active in the “movement”. To the contrary, and to the extent that FTB is representative, I take pains to distance myself from the movement. The only skeptical place I post regularly on is the JREF.

    The Myspace group’s fame was a fluke. It was originally called Community (of) United Non-Theistic Skeptics (Counts, of course). The group hasn’t existed on Myspace in years, and I never use the monicker “Atheists & Agnostics”. As proof, see the shell group on Facebook. It has the group’s original name.

    3. I do not consider you qualified to comment on many things scientific. I bet lots that if you were male, there’s no way in hell Scientific American would post your thoughts as written there (nice privilege, btw). These are my opinions only.

    4. I imagine that if a thread like this were posted by me against you, the ensuing drama / charges of “isms” would be epic. I bet laden would even show up at my door with a pipe wrench.

    Perhaps you need a mirror too.

  43. 43
    Bryan

    5. Show many anywhere on here or “science” blogs where I state race differences on IQ tests are caused by genes.

  44. 44
    Stephanie Zvan

    Bryan, I mentioned what led me to believe it was your account. The post has now been updated to show it is not.

    I do not comment on “many things scientific”. I comment on this particular topic, and you choose to attack my qualifications instead of my arguments. I think that says all that needs to be said on the quality of my arguments.

    I imagine that if you’d posted a thread like this about me, I’d roundly ignore it. At most, I’d leave a comment to tell you you were wrong. I seriously doubt I’d indulge in gratuitous sexism while doing so. Greg, with whom you’ve argued quite enough to know that your statement is defamatory, would probably just post another post with your name in the title, describing how you showed your ass to the world this time.

    As for your number five, I have no intention of looking for evidence of something I didn’t say. When I talk about IQ and genes, you show up to argue. You’ve put more words in on the topic on my blog than anyone but me.

  45. 45
    Stephanie Zvan

    Tsu Doh Nimh, your epidemiology link requires a subscription. The other two tell you the same information that I did. How does this justify ignoring the possibility of sickle cell anemia in people who don’t look African American? How does it make it not racist to base medical care on skin color, etc.?

  46. 46
    Bryan

    Stephanie, thank you, but the update is disingenuous.

    As a skeptic, don’t you think you have some obligation to present evidence that the twitter account is mine?

    Please correct the update to include whatever evidence you have that I use that twitter account. Otherwise admit it’s rather irrational speculation on your part.

  47. 47
    Stephanie Zvan

    Bryan, are you having another one of those episodes where you shouldn’t be commenting on the internet?

  48. 48
    Bryan

    Looking for clarity, Stephanie.

    You said: “I have no intention of looking for evidence of something I didn’t say.”

    You didn’t say it?

    Wait.

    You feature my name in a thread about supposed racists. In the thread, you mention several people who are racist precisely because they claim genes cause race differences in IQ. Later in the thread, you state: “One of the most vocal people around these parts on the topic of genetic determination of IQ is Bryan Pesta”. You then cite an article I wrote (wherein I never say this, btw).

    You don’t think this creates any obligation to find a single instance (in my 100s of posts here and on “science” blogs) where I claim genes cause race differences in IQ?

    Worse, when I question this, you mock my presumed mental state?

    This is the freethinking you want to display here?

    p.s. It took me 6 days to notice this thread. Is that the hallmark of an activist tweeter intent on ensuring his white supremacist views get attention?

  49. 49
    Stephanie Zvan

    Bryan, I already explained the “most vocal” comment. Look up a couple of posts. If you have to ask about things I’ve just written, you may want to give it a break.

  50. 50
    dogeared, spotted and foxed

    Just for a little background info: Pesta started a thread on JREF titled “Sexual harassment at TAM?!’ which was basically an excuse to rehash EG as proof that RW was exaggerating. He made no good faith effort to discuss actual harassment or solutions, and instead focused on the cliche’ Green Eggs and Ham approach – If it only happens once, if the guy isn’t hot enough, if I only touch her elbow, if the guy is shy or has some social disorder, men are pigs and we can’t help it, etc. It’s the full bingo card. After bragging about writing a paper on harassment in the workplace, he started going after the obviously female posters on the thread.

    The thread is here: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=237174

    But really, it’s not worth reading. There’s nothing new in it and it’s primarily Pesta and some young earth creationist hoggling over Rebecca Watson.

  51. 51
    Arzin Chibber

    Just for a little background info: Pesta started a thread on JREF titled “Sexual harassment at TAM?!’ which was basically an excuse to rehash EG as proof that RW was exaggerating. He made no good faith effort to discuss actual harassment or solutions, and instead focused on the cliche’ Green Eggs and Ham approach – If it only happens once, if the guy isn’t hot enough, if I only touch her elbow, if the guy is shy or has some social disorder, men are pigs and we can’t help it, etc. It’s the full bingo card. After bragging about writing a paper on harassment in the workplace, he started going after the obviously female posters on the thread.

    Poisoning the well. And a bit of lying…

    There’s nothing new in it and it’s primarily Pesta and some young earth creationist hoggling over Rebecca Watson.

    The thread is 92 pages. Kind of silly to claim that it reached that length due to 2 posters.

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