Stuff White People Like: Secular Tourists


By Sikivu Hutchinson 

A thriving brand of secular tourism can now be definitively filed under the category “stuff white people like”:  Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta has sponsored a crowd-funding campaign for a white male former pastor named Ryan Bell who—in a bit of brilliant PR stagecraft—“decided to…give atheism a try” for a year.  As a result of his “experiment” Bell was fired from two Christian schools.  Currently the campaign has far exceeded its $5,000 goal, generating over $16,000 from 700 plus donors in one day.  Bell joins a jam-packed, largely white, mostly Christian cottage industry of religious leaders who are capitalizing off of untapped reserves of atheist dollars, adulation and publicity by jumping onto the “maverick ex-pastor” bandwagon. 

But the campaign for Bell is just one of the more egregious examples of the backward race/gender/ableist politics of organized atheism. The meteoric rise and fall of ex-pastor Teresa MacBain—who, touting false credentials, scored a high profile job with the Harvard Humanist Center—was another example of privileged white atheist overzealousness and affirmative action.  It is highly doubtful that MacBain would have been considered much less hired for this elite post without a thorough vetting of her credentials if she’d been a woman of color.  In addition to the automatic privilege and preferential treatment accorded white women (of all class and professional backgrounds), MacBain benefited from the kind of white atheist cronyism that keeps the leadership and management structures of the major non-believer organizations (i.e., American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Richard Dawkins Foundation, etc.) predominantly white. Time and again, when it comes to hiring and promotion in the elite fields of academia and corporate America in particular, African American job-seekers typically must have more education and experience than white applicants. In studiesconducted by Princeton University researchers, white job seekers with criminal records were slightly more likely to be called back for and/or offered entry-level jobs than African American job seekers with no criminal record. According to lead researcher Devah Pager, “Even whites with criminal records received more favorable treatment (17%) than blacks without criminal records (14%). The rank ordering of (these) groups…is painfully revealing of employer preferences: race continues to play a dominant role in shaping employment opportunities, equal to or greater than the impact of a criminal record.” 

As people of color with the highest unemployment, foreclosure and criminalization rates in the nation, we should all be so “blessed” to have atheist fairy god-people swooping in to save us from insolvency, ostracism and career marginalization. As I noted last year in my article “The Trouble With Those Atheists”, “For white folk, centuries of racial apartheid, de facto segregation, and white supremacy in education, housing, employment and the criminal justice system are a source of “invisible” power, privilege, advantage and identity. Nonetheless, many white atheists believe non-believers of color should just be able to roll in any environment, regardless of whether the local research university employs more black service workers than it enrolls black students or whether white families have fled public schools for elite charters and private academies…For example, although many atheists profess a commitment to ‘science and reason’ there are still no atheist STEM initiatives that acknowledge the egregious lack of STEM K-12 and college access for students of color.  In their zeal to brand predominantly religious communities as backward, unenlightened and unsophisticated in the exceptionalist ways of Western rationality, atheist organizations are MIA when it comes to discussions about STEM college pipelining, STEM literacy and culturally responsive recruitment and retention of STEM scholars and professionals of color in academia.”  While white atheists give jobs, “atheist” pulpits and big bucks to American secular tourists numerous black churches support STEM tutoring, mentoring, college access and scholarship programs to confront the gaping educational divide between white and black America.  And because many progressive black and Latino churches and faith organizations work actively to redress the impact of structural racism and segregation closeted atheist pastors of color can’t afford to publicly waltz off from their communities to “experiment” with atheism for a year. Nor can non-believers of color rely on atheist organizations (as Heina Dadabhoy trenchantly observes in her latest piece, citing my efforts for the Women’s Leadership Project) to fully fund/support humanist social justice initiatives developed for working class communities of color outside the segregated neighborhoods that most white atheists—like their white Christian counterparts—live, work and congregate in.  By lionizing high profile white “defectors” organized atheism has become a sideshow that is just as demographically and politically clueless as the Tea Party in a multicultural nation with the greatest wealth gap between whites and people of color. 

Comments

  1. says

    Well-said, ma’am. As always. If I ever need to turn to the hearts’ goodness of the atheist community, I’m going to try and give half of what I get to charities supporting Black STEM students/projects. Thanks for helping me raise my consciousness.

  2. Bree Crutch says

    Not sure why Hemant, an Atheist of color, has appointed himself as an Atheist Ambassador, therefore making it his responsibility to be the ‘face of Atheism’ before The Church. His time, energy and monies generated could have been better utilized had he chosen to funnel it towards deserving, legitimate projects within the secular community such as the STEM initiative mentioned above. This incident as well as the incident Hemant wrote about previously (donation rejections) are clear indications-to me- that he feels it’s more important to outsource monies rather than put it good use where it’s need most-within the community.
    -Bria

    • says

      Hmmm…I can’t say I know Hemant well enough to know if he’s really “appointed” himself or if it’s more simply that he realizes he has a large audience and just makes use of that base for his various projects. In other words, I think your phrasing could imply a bit of a sinister intent behind this that may or may not actually be there. As far as I can tell, Hemant wants to get rid of the stereotypes of atheists being mean (hence why he calls himself “friendly”), but then goes about tackling this problem in some rather idiotic ways. And, yes, ways that could be seen as little more than self-serving.

      With that, I otherwise fully agree. I was like “Are you f***ing kidding me?!?” when I saw his post looking for donations for this Bell bloke. For starters, how many people are “legitimate” (i.e, not merely “trying on”) atheists who lose their jobs over their lack of belief? Where are the donations for those people? Shouldn’t they be first in line? Second, what you said.

  3. smrnda says

    I actually recall reading about quite a few studies demonstrating clearly the lack of attention the resumes of minority, particularly Black candidates get, regardless of qualifications. It’s not surprising the same issue goes on in the atheist world.

    Sometimes I wonder if the problem is just that white atheists just don’t know any Black people. I’m not sure if people realize this and don’t care to change it, or else just don’t even notice. I’m thinking part of this is just that actual geographic segregation is still such a thing.

    All said, as an educator you’d think Hemant might be touching on these issues. He’s from around Chicago, but teaches in the suburbs, not the city proper, but he can’t exactly *not know* how students of color are being shafted when it comes to an education, first through the whole ‘charter school’ bubble that was more about someone making money than educating kids, and now through school closings impacting mostly minority kids.

  4. fredericksparks says

    wow. And with the studies showing that white people believe they experience MORE racism than black people, I don’t expect this blind spot to clear up any time soon. I’d do cartwheels on Figueroa if we were able to raise $16000 TOTAL for the First in Family Humanist Scholarship

    • says

      The demand that people make room at the table for those they used to kick under it seems like a horrible discrimination.
      For every person who gets a job/whatever who is not them, surely that person only got the job because they are a minority, and then people loudly say that we need to promote minorities, which just proves that . Rince and repeat until they feel like the poorest kicked puppy in the world

    • blackskeptics says

      Indeed, but ain’t gonna happen given the mentality! We would both be out there all up and down Vermont, Western, Normandie, Van Ness…

    • smrnda says

      I saw that study too, it was a huge WTF? moment. Exactly what horrible instances of racist discrimination have these white people been subjected too? I suspect it’s mostly in their heads; people who complain that *unqualified minorities* have been promoted but who ignore unqualified white guys who got ahead by personal connections, or people who feel that the fact that there’s a Black history month but not a white history month is ‘discrimination.’ I would like them to explain how ‘white history’ would really differ from the white-washed history they still teach in many schools in the US, or if they’d really like to critically examine the notion of ‘white.’ Are police officers detaining white people for trivial offenses?

  5. thinkfree83 says

    re: ex-pastors bringing Christian culture into the atheist movement

    Unfortunately, I don’t know if this can be avoided, since the church culture is the only point of reference many people have for what a moral community look like, whether they were actually raised Christian or not. It will probably take at least a hundred years before a distinctive atheist community structure is formulated.

    • econonoir says

      I agree with thinkfree83 above statement entirely! This is also the dilemma facing Blacks globally. Because Islam, Christianity and Judaism create structure both in the home and economically!

  6. Edward Gemmer says

    Atheism certainly seems to be mostly online and mostly among middle to upper class white people. I certainly haven’t observed anything that makes me think as a whole it cares much about lower class people or minorities. There seems to be a profound lack of respect for other human beings that is at the core of a lot of the more high profile activities.

    • says

      There are tons of atheists who never discuss their atheism online, from all walks of life. The online atheist forums/communities (let’s not pretend there is any singular atheist community) just get all the publicity because atheists write things down there where other people can read them, share them, criticise them, misrepresent them and/or call them out for their shortcomings.

      Unbelief in general has no social divisions, but like many other discussions of issues/interests online, some voices dominate the discussion to the detriment of others.

    • Onamission5 says

      I am… unsurprised how many comments on that post basically amount to one of the following:

      Well they must be doing something wrong, then (aka, it’s not bias, it’s bad marketing)
      and
      It’s my money I can do what I want fuck anyone who says otherwise
      and
      Well feminism is stupid
      and
      How dare you call ME a racist

      Sigh.

  7. says

    Secular tourism is exactly it. He thinks he can walk right in and spend his vacation in the exotic Land of Atheism and be welcomed with open arms as though this were his home, only to rush off a year later with arms full of trinkets to share with his Christian folk as evidence that he truly indulged in our strange ways. Well excuse me, I live here!

  8. Gene in L.A. says

    Just how, exactly, does white atheism differ from white religionism when it comes to hiring? This story is meaningless without a comparison.

  9. says

    Would I give him some money if I could ? Yes I would. But what if he is lying ? I am not a mind reader so I shall have to let that one go. But if you knew later that he was lying would you ask for your money back ? No because once I hand it over to him it is his. However having read you and this is the first time I have I would consider helping others that you mentioned. But I not American so that point is moot but just saying. I always like it when someone makes me think so thumbs up for doing that. If I come back I expect to be educated more. That is because I am ignorant on these issues. Not being American is no excuse though it is a fact

  10. Griffingaddie says

    Hello?

    Republicans have been trying to drive a wedge between minorities and secular liberals for decades; this article falls for that ploy hook, line, and sinker.

    The fact is that secular people – especially secular Jews – were the legal backbone of Civil Rights.

    Don’t fall for this stuff.

    By the way? Secular people very, very strongly support government programs to aid the poor. While our allegedly Christian republicans opposed Universal Health Care. Here in Texas, they strongly oppose Medicaid too.

    Let’s sit down and think about this, brothers and sisters. As republican strategists well know, destroying the liberal/minority coalition will be the end of Civil Rights.

    • says

      Republicans have been trying to drive a wedge between minorities and secular liberals for decades; this article falls for that ploy hook, line, and sinker.

      Implicitly claiming concern-trolling or some other “false flag” attack in response to specific criticisms does not make those criticisms magically disappear, try again.

      By the way? Secular people very, very strongly support government programs to aid the poor.

      I can’t hear you over all the libertarian atheists like Shermer, Penn and Teller, Ayann Hirsi Ali, et cetera, who regularly advocate for the dismantling of such programs (Penn and Teller are fellows at the Cato Institute, Hirsi Ali has worked with the American Enterprise Institute — to say nothing of her association with the racist Dutch politician Geert Wilders) and regard the development of such programs as the road to totalitarianism.

      • Griffingaddie says

        You’ve made a useful distinction then: between 1) the traditional secular community that strongly supports Civil Rights and integration, over and against Privilege, and their own selfish interests.

        Vs. the 2) new ungodly Right. The Ayn/Ann Rand-ite crowd.

        We should all keep that useful distinction in mind. Rather than condemning “atheists” in general.

        In the meantime? Keep in mind the fact that the core strategy of the Republican Party for the last 10 years, has indeed been to try to run the few minority persons (Ted Cruz, etc) who support the conservative status quo. In its attempt to grab the “minority” that is demographically more and more important. This Republican effort fails to follow the newest initiatives in Liberalism though. Which are designed to free everyone from simple, serf-like obeisance to what many would call the real, capitalist status quo; Big Money.

      • abear says

        Setar Elven Kitty: Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a woman of color and you are a privileged dingbat cracker (no you are not an elf). Your white middle class upbringing in a prosperous part of Canada makes it clear you have you have less than zero of a clue what sort of obstacles she has faced.
        Racists like you have no tight to judge her politics.

        • shivar says

          You’ll have to forgive Setar. He rarely puts down his bong and video game controller long enough to write more astute comments.

        • Great American Satan says

          Setar may be a racist sometimes, I know I am. Hopefully knowledge of the ways racism creeps up on the most well-intentioned of progressives helps us change the way we do things and make the world a better place.

          But to say we can’t judge the politics of shitheel planet-killing fuckfaced conservatives because of their color or background? I take exception to that. By that reasoning, all the libertarians that want to dump dioxins in poor and predominantly colored neighborhoods need to do to get a pass is to hire somebody who has been brutally oppressed in the past to come around and say it’s all good.

          Fuck all conservatives and fuck anyone who tells me to say otherwise.
          -

          • says

            Commenting to subscribe to this blog via email.
            Commenting here specifically because it’s as high a quality comment as the rest of this sub-thread.

          • Great American Satan says

            Hey, Governor Wallace called, he’d like his racist language back?

            Maybe I used a racist term because I’m not up on all my SJW lingo. I’m down with education. Am I to avoid “colored” or characterizing areas in that way or what, precisely? But my point still stands.

            And I specified that poor PoC would be negatively affected by conservative policies out of proportion to whites because it’s fucking true, and it seemed relevant when people are being told to ignore that somebody is a conservative piece of shit because they are a PoC & had a hard life and whatnot.

            Hirsi-Ali did the secular equivalent of selling her soul – buddying up to xtian dominionists to spite islamists. That’s fucked up like a football bat, and if Setar & I are not allowed to say so because we’re white, by all means, let’s get a black person in here to spell that out.

          • Great American Satan says

            As I think about it, that last line could sound like a “why don’t moderate moslems denounce yadda?” argument of a type I loathe, so let’s put it less combatively.

            Should Setar have simply left Hirsi-Ali off the list specifically because she is black and it’s racist for whites to criticize blacks even if they are promoting fucked up horseshit that we despise? Because I could be convinced that this is true. Just give me a reason.

            I mean, I’m sure Setar could have made the point without mentioning her. Penn & Teller would have been sufficient.

          • abear says

            GAS: spoken like a true cisgendered white supremacist dudebro.

            And I specified that poor PoC would be negatively affected by conservative policies out of proportion to whites because it’s fucking true, and it seemed relevant when people are being told to ignore that somebody is a conservative piece of shit because they are a PoC & had a hard life and whatnot.

            Thanks for whitesplaining the truth of PoC’s experiences. A little condescending of you to tell someone which
            politics is best for them don’t you think?

            Setar may be a racist sometimes, I know I am. Hopefully knowledge of the ways racism creeps up on the most well-intentioned of progressives helps us change the way we do things and make the world a better place.

            Here’s the thing; as a self admitted racist you aren’t interested in learning anything from PoC. Your arrogant attitude proves it “because it’s fucking true”.
            If you really are interested in learning something about people from other backgrounds maybe you should listen to them instead of just plugging your ears and say they’re “promoting shit we despise”.

          • Great American Satan says

            Hirsi-Ali’s current allies:

            “Some AEI scholars are considered to be some of the leading architects of the second Bush administration’s public policy.” -wikipedia

            Really seems like that’s all I need to know about her beliefs at this point, right?

            Or how about her saying christians should proselytize to muslims in africa?
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EcD0EZ_mXM

            Have I listened to enough of her words yet?

            Though I dig you in one sense. I suffer oppression on one axis rather badly, and it puts me in a state of mind to flip birds at anyone on the other side of that divide. If a middle class person were to try to tell me what’s classist and what isn’t, I’d be inclined to kick their ass.

            So on the basis of that, I will concede that if you say I’m being racist in this, I’m probably being racist in this. Until someone actually answers my questions though, I won’t know why hating conservatives makes me racist. But I will concede that it is probably so.

          • Great American Satan says

            Wow, I got about halfway through that and unless the PoC changes his tune before the end, he’s looking like a world class piece of shit. I couldn’t watch anymore. Also, Boots Riley isn’t a genuine Brother because he isn’t an antifeminist shitstain? I watched that much of your video because I was curious if you were interested in making your case, and all you did is demonstrate my original position.

            Though I’ll be a better human being than you and change my evil ways in the future here: I’ll refrain from criticizing PoC when I’m in a black space (like here), even if they’re regressive slime. Because if you’re right about one thing, it’s that white people don’t have the right to tell black people what their politics should be, even if their beliefs are toxic slime, oppressive to others, and foolish as fuck. You’re under no obligation to be a decent human, it’s true.

            Well, I got up the strength to put up with the rest of that shitty video. “Sparky” does have a point that racism should not be used as a metaphor for other types of struggles. Otherwise, I hope he enjoys being reblogged by the reprobates at A Voice For Men.

          • abear says

            You really hate people that disagree with you don’t you GAS?
            Are all “decent humans” as self righteous as you? Of course all decent humans are entitled to judge the “others” as subhuman toxic slime I nearly forgot that.
            I guess since you’re refraining from preaching your politics here I will need to go to some place like Stormfront to get enlightened by decent folk like you.

        • Great American Satan says

          Until someone actually answers my questions though, I won’t know why hating conservatives makes me racist.

          Hang on a tick. This is totally a “how will I know if oppressed people don’t educate me?” whine, which is something else I despise and do not want to be a party to. So I retract the question and flounce with this concession:

          If you’re PoC, you’re the arbiter on what’s racist or not. You say it’s racist for a white to say “fuck a conservative” when they are black, and I’ll admit you’re far more likely to be right than I am on this issue. If I want to understand why badly enough, I’ll go do some homework.

    • plutosdad says

      you mean “since Bacon’s Rebellion in 1663″

      And that is an argument FOR being more careful of how we spend our charity dollars, not to give based on emotion. If we do the second, we just keep on giving to those that look like us, or have the most effective marketing. That is not “supporting civil rights”, it is just saying we do.

  11. Tank 1906 says

    Wow. A much needed piece all the way around. I generally like the Mehta’s work but this just oozed with desperation. I’ve never understood why people who spend most of their time talking about evidence just race to these types of peoples defense without ANY evidence. I believe it’s up to 25k now. Just wow. I wonder how many science books 25k could buy? Oh well, lets line this guy’s pockets for making a mockery of atheism. Sheesh.

  12. Roxee says

    In Mehta’s defence his fundraiser had a goal if $5,000. It was the atheists and believers donations that took the amount to it’s lofty heights. I didn’t donate btw. I’m an Australian white person so am not really qualified via skin colour or personal experience to comment on the ongoing problems of institutional/societal racism people of colour actually experience in the US. I understand the points you make though and as you state them they seem valid. Why don’t you start a campaign to approach the RDFRS and the atheist/ secular charitable organizations to start fundraising for getting people of colour into STEM programs?
    The small amount of research i’ve seen related to this topic shows the African American community as being the most religious community in America along ethnic lines. A problem that needs addressing if this community is to be encouraged to enter into the mind set of using science and reason to solve problems. Why not start a Kickstarter campaign yourselves to raise money to get children of your community into STEM programs?. I’d donate and I don’t live in the US, but see the benefit of supporting such an initiative for creating more rational reasoned American citizens.

  13. Roxee says

    Ok. I didn’t mean to anger and offend and I clearly have and am sorry for that. I’ll leave you to it. I have you’re FB site on my feed so if I ever see I can offer any practical help i’ll do that and keep my clearly misinformed opinions to myself. Sorry again. I hope you achieve your goals whatever they may be.

  14. kevinkirkpatrick says

    “keep my clearly misinformed opinions to myself”

    This is nonsensical. If you feel your opinions are misinformed, surely you’d be seeking to change them, not keep them – right? I mean, why would anyone aim to keep opinions that were misinformed?

    Or were you being facetious? In middle of an apology? If so – why? Was your apology not intended to be sincere?

  15. Rhonda says

    Black people are hurt by religion more than any group because they have fewer opportunities in this society – they are taught to be happy with less and then they’ll get to heaven and it will all be equal – wake up and smell the coffee people, you’re being duped!

  16. plutosdad says

    I don’t give to any of these campaigns, whether it’s for sick people, animals, ftb bloggers, etc, for similar reasons. If I have the spare dollars to give away, then why am I not already giving them to a charity or cause I have identified as worthy of my money? I should have already given that extra money to them.

    It seems if these people are throwing money away based on emotion, maybe they need to be doing more research and giving more in the first place. Those dollars would go a lot further if they took that time to do that research, and the giver would be deciding where to give in the first place, so it’s still their own choice. And if we give up front more, more people would be getting help.

    The other problem is these gifts are unrestricted, the receiver can spend it however they want. If they buy a nice new truck you can’t say “hey I gave that to you for food/medical care” – it’s not your business and you have no legal standing, unless they committed fraud in the first place. (such as they were not fired, or did not have the disease).

    Of course the third problem is what is pointed out here – we help people like us. Giving to a charity that is required by law to not discriminate is far better than over-giving to a few people that remind us of ourselves.

    It’s much better to give to a charity that you have read up on and vetted, since you know where the money is going, and you know it will go a lot further, and you can better society far more.

  17. rilian says

    I hypothesize that the reason some white people think they are victims of racism more than people of other races are is because they’ve seen a handful of cases where it’s plausible that a person of non-white race was given something because the people doing the giving were afraid of a perception of racism if they didn’t. But they’re ignoring all the cases where not-white people are treated unfairly because of race. That’s definitely a million times more common than the potential unfair “affirmative action” whatever. Maybe those white people don’t see the instances of racism against not-white people because they are so used to such a racist world they think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

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